What Does It Mean To Believe?
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the Acts of the Apostles. We are engaged in a series of discussions related to some very simple matters which I have designated Simple Questions Often Asked .

Reasons for this Study

I am emphasizing the simplicity of what we are going to talk about for two reasons. One is that as a rule, we deal with deeper things. Some of you may have an impulse to say, “What is he going over that for? We know that. We have known it for a long time.” We recognize that that could be true, but we are going over it for you who know it so that it may be fixed firmly in your minds, so that you may have these things at your fingertips to use when you are asked these simple questions.

There is another reason we are dealing with these simple questions, and it is that they are asked even in a group of people who profess to study the Bible a bit more in detail then perhaps some other people do. These simple questions are often asked.

We believe that God would have us deal with these for a period of time. I am not making these remarks by way of apology; I never apologize for what I bring from the Word of God. I am making these remarks by way of warning because I know the Devil, and I am not ignorant of his devices. Oftentimes when a minister mentions a text that is very familiar or a subject on which you feel you have heard everything you need to know, you automatically tune him out, and when you do, you may miss something that God has for you. So I suggest that we keep our hearts and minds open to the truth that we will be proclaiming as we think together about these simple questions that people often ask.

Notice the paragraph in Acts, chapter 16, which begins with verse 25:

Acts 16:

25And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
27And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

I would like for you to fasten your attention as a starting point on the question that the Philippian jailer asked and the answer that was given to him. He said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, and they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

To Be Saved

I want to suggest to you that the question which the jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, was related to the salvation of his soul. I emphasize that because men who do not accept the Bible as literally as I accept it, say that jailer wanted to know what he had to do to be saved from the earthquake and the jail's tumbling down. They say he said to Paul and Silas, “Fellows, can you help me? My neck is in the noose. When the authorities realize what has happened here, they are going to blame me for it. They told me to keep you safe, and here you are without your chains, and on top of that, the jail has tumbled down. I am in a fix. What do I do to get out of it?”

I say to you that when the jailer said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, he was not talking about salvation from an immediate physical catastrophe; he was talking about the salvation of his soul. The reason I can be so sure about that is found within the text itself. I believe that he was talking about the salvation of his soul because of the conviction of sin that rested upon him in the light of the things that had occurred. If you will notice in verse 25:

Acts 16:

25And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

The Jailer's Conviction

You can be sure that if the prisoners heard them, the guard heard them. I believe that the singing of the hymns and the praying of the prayers struck conviction to the jailer's heart as it has done all down through the centuries, and he realized that he needed something. He may not have been able to explain it in theological terms, he may not have been able to talk about the guilt of sin and the condemnation of the Word of God, but he knew he needed something.

I further believe that in the light of what I see in the text because I read in verse 32:

Acts 16:

32And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

If he had asked them, “What can I do to get my neck out of the noose?”, they could have given him some advice as to how to pacify politicians because Paul knew how to do that; but they knew what his need was, and they spoke to him the Word of the Lord.

Verse 33 indicates his response to the Word of the Lord, as does verse 34, so there is no question that when he said, “What must I do to be saved?”, he was talking about the salvation of his soul.

Emphasis on Believing in Christ

I would like to notice something else from the story itself, and that is the answer which the Apostle Paul gave: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Did you notice the answer? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” If there were any other way to be saved than this, then the Apostle Paul was doing an injustice to this Philippian jailer. I say it reverently, but I say it forcefully: then the Holy Spirit has done an injustice to us because the Holy Spirit reports everything which is recorded in the Word of God, and if anything were left out, then I repeat, the Holy Spirit has done us an injustice.

I do not believe anything was left out. I believe that when the question was asked, “What must I do to be saved?”, and the answer was given, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” that was the complete answer; believing on the Lord Jesus Christ is all that is necessary for salvation.

The question I wish to deal with today, a simple question often asked, is, “What does it mean to believe?” If you have agreed with me up to this point that believing is the means of salvation, you may have in your minds the question, “But what does it mean to believe?” If you do not have it in your mind, you have been asked it; and if you have not been asked it, you will be asked, and you may find it difficult to explain satisfactorily to seeking hearts what it means to believe.

The Meaning of Believe

So we deal with the question, “What does it mean to believe?”, by suggesting that we look at the basic meaning of the word believe itself. The word believe is a translation of the Greek word pisteuo , which means literally ”to have faith in, or to place your faith upon a person or an object. That is the basic literal meaning of the word pisteuo .

The jailer answered when he was asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?”, with the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Here the suggestion is that faith must be in a person. Now that is good, and we would not say anything to detract in any fashion from placing your faith in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But many people find it difficult to understand what we mean when we say, “Place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” for to them the Lord Jesus Christ is not a living, vital Person. He becomes such only when He takes up residence in one's heart.

I would suggest that you turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 1, and notice verse 16. Here is another approach to the question, “What does it mean to believe?”, other than believing in a Person. You notice the testimony of the Apostle Paul:

Romans 1:

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Here the emphasis is placed not on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Gospel simply means “the good news,” “the report about Jesus Christ.” The Apostle said, “If you believe the report about Jesus Christ, the very believing of it makes it possible for you to become a child of God—makes it possible for you to be a Christian. Believe the Gospel and you will be saved. Have faith in the Gospel and you will be saved. Rest securely on the Gospel and you will be saved. Believe the record.” That is what we are saying to you.

The Biblical Definition of Gospel

Turn to I Corinthians, chapter 15, for in these days of confusion, in these days when perhaps men who are declaring the so-called truth are not sure of what they are declaring, it is good to emphasize what the Gospel is. I would like for you to mark this passage of Scripture if you do not have it marked, for it is the simplest definition of the Gospel there is. If you do not abide by this simple definition of the Gospel, you will find yourself forced into admitting either by your silence or by the nodding of your head that there are a lot of other things related to the Gospel.

There are a lot of other things related to Christian living, there are a lot of things related to spirituality, but this is the Gospel, and nothing must be added to it or taken away from it:

I Corinthians 15:

1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.

Let us stop for a moment. When the apostle suggests that they keep in memory what he has preached, he is not talking about faithfulness in living. When he suggests, “…unless you have believed in vain,” he is not making the suggestion that some people make that you might believe and then fail to believe later on. When he talks in verse 2 about believing in vain, if should be interpreted in the light of verse 17, which simply tells us that if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then we all have believed in vain; we don't have anything to believe. Now notice verse 3:

I Corinthians 15:

3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, this is the Gospel how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The Gospel Presented

Stop right there. In those verses, you have the simplest definition of the Gospel there is in the Word of God. What is it? Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; Christ was raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures.

The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins. He was raised again, and in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the justification of the believer was made evident. That is the Gospel—the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ for you. Don't add anything to it.

Someone may say, “Where is baptism?” It is not here because baptism is not in the Gospel. “Don't you believe in good works?” Yes, we will get to it, but it is not here.

Someone may say, “What about works?” It is not here because works are not in the Gospel. “Don't you believe in good works?” Yes, we will get to it, but it is not here.

The Gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. Christ was raised again the third day, according to the Scriptures. This is the Gospel, and the Apostle Paul said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He said to the Corinthians, “Believe the record; Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.”

If I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins as is plainly stated in the Word of God, then I am a Christian. I am a believer.

Another Facet of Belief

I want you to notice another meaning of the word pisteuo because it may answer a further question you may have. Turn, please, to the Gospel of John, chapter 2. Oftentimes when I say, in answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” They may say, “Believe? You do that with your head. You mean just believe it? Just accept it intellectually?” Basically, yes. But there is something else related to this word believe that may help some of you who are wondering about a mental assent to a given truth, or what some other individuals may refer to as a heartfelt fact . Notice verse 23:

John 2:

23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

The background of the story is simply this: Jesus had performed many miracles. The crowds said, “This fellow has got something we haven't got. He has power. Let us make him king.” They believed in him from that standpoint. But Jesus knew what was in their hearts, and He refused to commit Himself to them; He was not interested in being made king for political reasons. He knew what was in their hearts. That is the story. That is all we are going to say about it because we are interested only in the words which are in it. Look again at verse 23:

John 2:

23…many believed in his name…

Yes, it is possible to believe. Look at verse 24:

John 2:

24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them…

The word believe in verse 23 and commit in verse 24 are from this same Greek word pisteuo and the suggestion is that when individuals believe, where there is no question and no doubt about what they believe, they commit. That is exactly what you do when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The question is, “What does it mean to believe?” It means to commit. What does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? It means to commit yourself to Him. We are talking about the eternal destiny of the soul, so it would mean that you commit your eternal destiny to the Lord Jesus Christ. Glance at chapter 3, verse 16:

John 3:

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Notice the word believeth . It is a translation of the word pisteuo . It could be translated by the word commit . Read the verse that way:

John 3:

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever [committeth himself to] him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Think with me individually as I ask you this very personal question: Have you committed yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you committed the destiny of your soul to Him? Have you come to the realization that you are in need of help? You are condemned before God; you cannot help yourself. But the Good News has been proclaimed to you. Christ died for you. Christ rose again from the grave. Do you believe it? Do you commit your eternal destiny to Christ in view of the fact that He died for you? Christ arose again from the grave. Do you believe it? Do you commit your eternal destiny to Christ in view of the fact that He died for you? That is what it means to believe.

Receiving Christ

I want to suggest that we look at some of the synonyms of the word believe as they are used in the Scripture in relation to salvation. You know what the word synonym means. It is simply another word which is used in place of the word we are thinking about. There are other words that are used in place of the word believe in the Scriptures. There are other words that describe the same thing that believing describes. Turn in the Gospel of John to chapter 1 and notice verse 11:

John 1:

11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

This is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. His own refers to the Jewish nation; He came first to the Jew. They would have nothing to do with Him, but we read in verse 12:

John 1:

12But as many as received him [His own wouldn't receive Him], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

You find the two words in this one verse—the word receive and the word believe . What does it mean to believe on His name? It means to receive Him. What does it mean to receive Him? It means to believe on Him. So the word receive is a synonym for the word believe .

An Illustration of Accepting

The word receive is an interesting word in itself because it is the translation of the Greek word lambano , which literally means ”to take” or ”to accept.” Turn to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 22, for a very interesting illustration of how this word lambano is used in the Scriptures, illustrating the subject we are thinking about. The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples:

Luke 22:

15And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer:
16For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
17And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:
18For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.
19And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
20Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Glance back at verse 17:

Luke 22:

17And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves:

An Explanation of the Story

Circle the word take either in your Bibles or in your minds, as I remind you that it is the translation of the Greek word lambano , the word which is translated receive . Get the picture firmly fixed in your minds. Here was the Lord Jesus Christ. His disciples were gathered around Him for the observance of the Passover Feast. They had one cup, not individual cups as we have now, and the Lord Jesus Christ reached over the table, took the cup in His hand, and said something about it. He said, “This cup represents the blood that I will eventually be shedding. I want to do this with you now because I will not have another opportunity to do this with you until we are together in the Kingdom.”

After He made His speech (not all of it is given in this record; the other is in Matthew), He held the cup out to His disciples, one cup, and said, “Take this, all of you; all of you have something from this cup; take it and divide it among yourselves.” What did they do? Did they sit there and look at Him and say, “We don't know what you are talking about?” Not at all. The first man in line took the cup and took a sip of it, then with a napkin wiped the rim of the cup off, and Peter passed it to John. That is the order in which it was done. John took it, took a sip of it and passed it on.

The Simplicity of Receiving Christ

There was no question in anybody's mind about what the Lord Jesus Christ means when He said, “Take ye this cup.” I say to you that when the Apostle Paul said to the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” he was saying, “Receive the Lord Jesus Christ.” When God says to you and me today, “Believe on My Son,” He is saying, “Here is My Son. He died for you. He is the complete sacrifice. Take Him.”

How do we believe? Why do we need to be so foolish? Why do we have to say, “I don't know what you mean by believe ?” Why don't we just reach out with the hand of faith and say, “I will take it.” It is as simple as that. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ.

Calling on God

Turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 10, for another synonym for the word believe . Notice verse 11:

Romans 10:

11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

There is our word again. Whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ will never be ashamed. There won't be anything for him to be ashamed about.

Romans 10:

12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Notice the word call . Recognize that it is used as a synonym of the word believe . What does it mean to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and what does it mean to call upon the Lord Jesus Christ? It means to make an appeal to him, for the word call is the translation of the Greek word epikaleo , which means ”to call upon” or ”to make an appeal to.” Here you are in a situation. Everything is against you. We are talking about the guilt of sin. What are you supposed to do about it? You are supposed to call upon the Lord. What does that mean? It means that you present your case to the Lord Himself for His handling.

An Illustration from Acts

Turn, please, to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 28, for a very practical illustration of how this word is used in the Scriptures. The apostle was describing to the Jewish brethren who were in Jerusalem why he was there. Remember, he had been taken prisoner by Rome. They were going to settle his case right there in the place where he was taken prisoner. They were going to execute him. He was under the sentence of death. There was no hope for him. What did he say as they were converging on him, ready to sentence him to death? “I appeal unto Caesar.” When he got to Jerusalem and visited with the Christians there, he said in verse 19:

Paul's Appeal

Notice, “I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar.” When he got to Jerusalem and visited with the Christians there, he said in verse 19:

Acts 28:

19But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.

Notice, “I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar.” The word appeal is the translation of the Greek word epikaleo . What are we talking about? We are talking about the fact that when the Apostle Paul was under the sentence of death, and nobody could help him, politically speaking, he knew where his help could come from. It could come from Caesar. so he said, “I appeal unto Caesar.”

Take this illustration and move it into a spiritual realm. There was a day in my life when I realized that I was under the sentence of death, and I realized that nobody could do anything to help me. I realized that I had to get help from somewhere else because burdened with my sin and condemned with my guilt, I knew that I was hopelessly lost. One night many years ago, in a little church, I knelt at an altar of prayer, and I appealed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

I did not know then what I know now. All I knew was that I had to have help, and Jesus Christ, according to what the preacher said, was the only One Who could help me, and I appealed to Him. Thank God, He answered my appeal, and I am alive and free from the guilt of sin today because I appealed to Him.

What does it mean to believe? It means to call upon Him. It means to appeal to Him. Have you appealed to Jesus Christ? It is as simple as that.

Coming to Christ

Go back with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, for one other synonym. The Lord Jesus Christ issued an invitation which has run down through the corridors of time to our present day, and men still hear the invitation and men still respond.

Matthew 11:

28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Notice the word come . It is a synonym for the word believe . What does it mean to believe? It means to come to the Lord Jesus Christ in response to His invitation.

A Precious Promise

Turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verse 37, and notice a precious promise that has stood believers in good stead all down through the years:

John 6:

37All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Don't be worried about whether the Father gave you to Him or not. He did, and everyone who is given to Him, will come. What does he say? He says, “If you come, I won't shut the door in your face.”

Conclusion

Let us put the responsibility in the right place. I don't know how many times people have said to me, “Maybe I didn't believe well enough; maybe I didn't believe hard enough; maybe I didn't mean it when I believed.” Let us put the responsibility in the right place. You either come or you don't come. There is no question about it. If I stand here with outstretched arms and say, “Come up here; I want to give you something,” you either come or you don't, and if you come, you come. You may hobble, you may fall down before you get here, or any number of things, but you get here. That is the emphasis. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “Come unto Me.” What does it mean to believe? It means to come to Jesus.

Closing Prayer

We thank Thee, Father, for the time we have been able to spend with the Word of God, and now we ask that hearts will receive the message we have tried to proclaim. Grant, our Father, that those of us who have come to the Lord Jesus Christ, those of us who have received Him, those of us who have believed in Him, grant that we may have a greater desire to tell this Gospel story to others. Our Father, Thou dost know the hearts of individuals; we don't. So we pray in the quiet of this closing moment that Thou wilt speak to hearts, and if there is one person within the sound of our voice who has never made his appeal to Jesus Christ for salvation, grant that he may make that appeal now. If there is one person within the sound of our voice who has never come to Jesus, may he come to Jesus now. This we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


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