One of the foundational difficulties in discussing Christian discipleship is the diversity of opinion regarding the requirements for “salvation.” The question is, “What must I do to be saved?”
Of course, this is the question the jailer at Philippi put to Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30. Many Christians have memorized their simple answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your entire household.” This is frequently quoted by Christians. Just yesterday I passed a truck on an interstate highway with a sign on the tailgate that boldly quoted the King James Version: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
The problem with this simple verse is simply this. Many, if not most, Christians don’t understand what it means? I will seek here to explain why I think this is one of the most quoted but often misunderstood verses in the Bible.
Believing on or in Jesus is much more than believing certain facts about Jesus. Believing in or on Jesus means trusting Jesus with your life. It means making every effort to live by His laws and seeking to do His will day in and day out. The Greek word here translated “believe” is pisteuō. This means “to have faith in, to trust.” The word connotes trust that leads to obedient action. It is the word Paul used in Romans 1:5, “This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for his name’s sake.”
A few months ago I wrote an article for the Fall 2012 edition of Adult Bible Studies Teacher, published by Cokesbury, a publishing arm of The United Methodist Church. In that article I explained what Paul and Silas actually meant by this simple statement.
Since we normally define the word “believe” as “accepting something as true” many people assume that Paul and Silas simply meant the jailer had to believe certain facts about Jesus. However, the word used here is a form of the Greek word pistis. . . (which) means much more than an intellectual belief that something is true. It conveys the ideas of trust, conviction, and confidence.
This brings us to the understanding of faith that the apostle Paul taught and that we find in the other epistles of the New Testament. When Paul and others talked about believing they almost always meant believing “in” or “on” Jesus and/or God, not believing “about.”
For our best understanding we might read Acts 16:31 as, “Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Put your life in God’s hands. Make Jesus your “lord” (master). The Common English Bible actually makes this correction in another very important passage. Romans 10:9-11 in the NIV reads, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'”
The Common English Bible more clearly renders this passage, “Because if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame.”
The author of Hebrews lists numerous people from the Old Testament who demonstrated their faith by their actions. “By faith Abraham obeyed” God (11:8). By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice (vs. 4) and Moses led the people out of Egypt (vs. 27). But perhaps no book explains it more clearly than the little epistle of James:
“Someone might claim, ‘You have faith and I have action.’ But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that a faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions” (James 2:18-22 CEB).
A story is told about a man who performed a high wire act. After many amazing feats he brought out a wheelbarrow and asked, “How many of you believe I could take a person in this wheelbarrow from one end of my high wire to the other end. The crowd began to shout, “We believe you. We believe you.” “O.K.,” the man replied, “who will volunteer.” There were no takers!
Believing in or on Jesus is more than “believing Jesus can do it.” Believing in Jesus means trusting Him enough to get in his wheelbarrow and letting Him take us wherever He wishes.
QUESTION: Are you an obedient disciple riding in the wheelbarrow with Jesus on the high wires of life or are you among the crowd who only “believes” in Jesus? Please respond in the Comments section below.