This has been an exceptionally difficult study to put into words. Where does one begin? I found it difficult to identify a starting point, since the concept of belief is so widely misunderstood in the religious world today. I would like for us to start by reviewing the definition of pisteuo. As you recall, pisteuo is comprised of 3 parts:
1. A firm conviction
2. A personal surrender to Him
3. Conduct inspired by such surrender
The English word "believe" oftentimes does not carry the same meaning. Many people stop after the first part of pisteuo, and say they believe in Jesus therefore are saved. However, their conduct fails to satisfy the second and third parts of the original Greek word. Vine's emphasizes this application of belief in the latter portion of his definition of pistis and states, "All this stands in contrast to belief in its purely natural exercise, which consists of an opinion held in good "faith" without necessary reference to its proof." Jesus emphasizes the work involved in belief when He tells us that "this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him who He hath sent." (John 6:29) So, true belief in the Son of God is a work! Since belief in Jesus is necessary for salvation, and belief in Jesus is a work, then works are necessary for salvation!
Let's begin with a Biblical example. Moses was a well-known leader of the nation of Israel. He was called by God to leave his home in Midian and return to Egypt, to free the people of God from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 3:1-10). Eventually Moses obeyed the Lord's commandment and returned to Egypt. While in this great nation he demonstrated the awesome power of the Lord by performing signs and wonders before the people. After the death angel passed through the nation, Pharaoh relented and allowed the people of Israel to leave Egypt. However, he shortly thereafter changed his mind and began pursuing the Israelites. The people saw the pursuing Egyptians and were fearful, believing they were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:1-12). But Moses said to the people, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." (Exodus 14:13-14) Moses then stretched his hand out over the Red Sea, which was parted by the power of the Lord, allowing the Israelite nation to pass across on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22). The Egyptian army followed, and was completely destroyed when the Red Sea collapsed over them. This event occurred after Moses obeyed the Lord and again stretched his hand out over the sea (Exodus 14:26-28). What was necessary before the Lord could fight for Israel? Moses had to act! God's power was manifest after Moses lifted his rod over the sea as the Lord commanded.
The children of Israel then began a journey through the wilderness that would eventually take them to the land promised them by God. However, this journey was characterized by much complaining by the Israelite people. In Exodus 17 we read of an account of the people's discontent. When the congregation came to Rephidim there was no water for them to drink (verse 1). The people complained so bitterly about this fact that Moses was concerned they were going to stone him (verses 2-4). God instructs Moses to take the elders of Israel and his rod to Horeb, and strike the rock of Horeb with his rod (verses 5-6). Moses obeyed the Lord, and God caused water to flow from the rock (verse 6). Again, we see Moses had to act before the power of the Lord could be manifest.
Three months after the children of Israel left Egypt they came to Mt. Sinai. While on this mount he received the tablets of stone containing the commandments written by God Himself (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10). The Bible tells us that the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11). Later in the same chapter Moses makes a request of the Lord. Verses 18-23 read, "And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." Moses was given the privilege of seeing the physical presence of God Himself! In these few verses we learn much about the relationship between Moses and the Lord God.
Let's turn to the 20th chapter of Numbers. Again we see the Israelite nation wandering in the wilderness (verse 1). As in Rephidim there was no water for the people to drink (verse 2). Just as before we see the Israelite nation complaining about the lack of water (verses 2-5). The Lord spoke to Moses and gave him these instructions, "Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink." (verse 8) Let's read what Moses did: "And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also." (verses 9-11) Was the Lord pleased with Moses? Absolutely not! Please, very carefully, consider what God said to Moses: "And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." (verse 12) God tells Moses that he will not be permitted to lead the nation of Israel into the promised land! This is the same Moses that left Midian for Egypt, who performed miracles in the presence of Pharaoh, who led them across the Red Sea, who intervened on their behalf and turned God away from his fierce anger as He prepared to destroy them (Numbers 16:20-50), who received the tablets of stone containing the commandments written by the finger of God, who spoke to God face to face as one speaks to a friend, and who was permitted to see the physical presence of God! But why would he not be permitted to lead the people? Because "YE BELIEVED ME NOT"!! How could Moses have NOT believed the Lord? Did Moses doubt the existence of God? Absolutely not! As we've seen in the books of Exodus and Numbers, he spoke with God as a man speaks to his friend. There was no doubt as to the truth of the existence of God in the mind of Moses. So how did he fail to believe God? He failed to follow his firm conviction in the existence of God with complete submission to His will and obey His commandment exactly as given. We learn more of the Lord's attitude regarding Moses disobedience in Numbers 27. Verses 12-14 read, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin." What did God say? Moses REBELLED against His commandment! But what did the Lord command Moses in Exodus 17? He commanded Moses to strike the rock, after which water would flow. What did He command in Numbers 20? To speak to the rock. So in these two passages we learn a valuable lesson regarding the commandments of God. He may be pleased with one action at one time, but displeased with exactly the same action at a different time. There was an explicit commandment given Moses in Numbers 20. He was to speak to the rock. The explicit commandment was accompanied by an implicit commandment: Nothing else will do. We must consider the significance of implied commands in our relationship with God. If we have been given an explicit commandment, it is accompanied by the implicit command that nothing else is acceptable. Moses believed in the existence of God, but he failed in the second and third points of pisteuo. Because of this failure he received a severe punishment.
Let's consider another example. Abraham is another man of faith who was called God's friend (2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). In Romans chapter 4, Paul uses the word pisteuo in reference to Abraham. He writes, "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." (verse 3) James uses the same phrase in chapter 2, verse 23: "And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God." However, James tells us something more about this scripture: he said the scripture was fulfilled. What scripture did James say had been fulfilled? "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6) But what event took place in Abraham's life, which led to the fulfillment of scripture? "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" (James 2:21) In verse 22 James tells us something more about Abraham's faith: "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?" The Greek word translated "wrought" is sunergeo, and means "to work together, help in work, be partner in labour". Teleioo is translated "perfect", and means "to carry through completely, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end; add what is yet wanting in order to render a thing full; to be found perfect; to bring to the end (goal) proposed". I'd like for us to consider these 3 verses together: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God." What do we learn about Abraham's faith in these verses? His faith was incomplete until after he offered Isaac on the altar! His action (to offer Isaac) worked together with his faith to make his faith complete! But doesn't Genesis 15:6 say that Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness? Yes, it does. But how could God do that if Abraham's faith was incomplete? God could count his belief to him for righteousness, because Abraham's belief in God was all that he could possibly do at that time! It was impossible for Abraham to make his faith perfect at that time, because he was required to offer Isaac upon the altar to do so! Since Isaac was not yet born, Abraham could do nothing more than believe in God at that time. However, when God gave Abraham the commandment to offer Isaac and Abraham obeyed, that action worked together with his faith to make his faith perfect (complete), and the scripture recorded in Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled.
What does this event tell us about belief? It is not enough to be convinced of the existence of God. Only after one has submitted to His will and manifested actions consistent with submission will God impute righteousness unto him. In Abraham's submission to God's will and actions consistent with his submission we see all 3 components of pisteuo in effect. We spent a great deal of time considering righteousness and justification in a prior study. Click on the link provided should you wish to review this topic. Briefly, what did we learn about righteousness in this study? It is God who declares man righteous, not man declaring himself to be righteous! When does God declare man righteous? When he has obeyed every commandment given him by God! Where does a man stand should he believe in the existence of God, but fail to obey every commandment he's given? He stands in condemnation! Notice how James closes his account of Abraham's obedience: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." One who claims to have faith but does not have the corresponding works is not justified by God and faces eternal punishment should he fail to rectify the situation.
These passages tell us about Abraham, but what about us today? Many people teach that one is justified at the moment of belief in God, and that works play no role in their justification. This example of Abraham shows us the falsehood behind this teaching. When does God impute righteousness to us? When we've done all we can possibly do! For Abraham, God imputed righteousness to him once he believed God's promise that his seed would be as innumerable as the stars in the sky. (Genesis 15:5) Abraham could do nothing more than believe at that time. When he was given an additional commandment and obeyed, his faith was made complete and the scripture recorded in Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled. Just as with Abraham, God will not impute righteousness to us until we've done all we can possibly do. If there is any commandment we've not obeyed, God does not impute righteousness to us! Since God has commanded us to repent (Acts 2:38), confess (Romans 10:10), and be baptized (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38) in addition to believe before our sins will be forgiven, it is not until after we've obeyed each of these commandments that our sins are forgiven and God imputes righteousness to us. There are many people who are incapable of understanding these commandments. What does this passage tell us about them? God imputes righteousness to them when they've done all they are capable of doing in obedience to His commandments! For one who is mentally retarded and incapable of understanding these commandments, God does not require such a one to obey something they CANNOT obey! God imputes righteousness to them once they've done what they can. The same truth applies to an infant. Since an infant is incapable of understanding sin, repentance, confession, and baptism that infant is born with righteousness already imputed unto them. However, as they mature and become aware of God's commandments, they must then do as Abraham did and obey those commandments they now understand. When they fail to do so they no longer have righteousness imputed unto them and their sin is not forgiven.
Many people turn to the Philippian jailer and his household to justify their doctrine of salvation by faith only. We read of the jailer in Acts 16:23-34. Paul and Silas were put into prison. During the night a great earthquake occurred, resulting in the prison doors being opened and the stocks keeping the prisoners secure being loosed. The jailer saw the doors opened and the stocks loosed and prepared to kill himself. Paul spoke up and told him not to do so, for none of the prisoners had escaped. Verses 29-31 say, "And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house." What did Paul tell the jailer? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul used the word pisteuo when he told the jailer to believe. As we've learned, pisteuo requires action. So what action was required of the jailer? The American Standard version says the following: "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God." (verses 33-34) When did Luke say the jailer and his household had believed in God? After they were baptized! When did the jailer and his family rejoice? After they were baptized! What action was required of the jailer and his family before they were saved? Obedience to every commandment taught them by Paul and Silas (verse 32), one of which was baptism.
A brief grammar review
Let's review the words "faith" and "belief". As you recall in our word study, the noun pistis is translated "faith". Pisteuo is translated "belief", and serves as a verb. If you consulted an English grammar and asked the question, "What makes a complete sentence", you'd likely find an answer such as this: "In standard written English, a complete sentence must have a SUBJECT and a VERB within a MAIN CLAUSE." (I found this statement at the University of Oregon's "writing tips" website.) The subject of the verb is a noun or a noun equivalent (a word which acts as a noun). So we can see that whenever pistis serves as the subject in a complete sentence, it must be accompanied by a verb. A noun may also serve in a prepositional phrase as the object of a preposition. Let's define "preposition". The American Heritage dictionary defines preposition as follows: "A word or phrase placed typically before a substantive and indicating the relation of that substantive to a verb, an adjective, or another substantive, as English at, by, with, from, and in regard to." Grammatically, a "substantive" is "a noun or a noun equivalent". So a preposition is a word that indicates the relation of a noun or noun equivalent to a verb, adjective, or another noun.
What we are to believe in?
Next, I'd like for us to consider what we are to believe. In Mark 1:14-15 Jesus tells those of Galilee to do 2 things:
2. Believe in the gospel
These two requirements are connected together by the coordinating conjunction "and". A coordinating conjunction is a word which connects two words or phrases of equal grammatical value (Merriam-Webster). Therefore, repentance and belief in the gospel are separate but equal. One can repent but NOT believe in the gospel. We all understand that, if the cake recipe says "add eggs and sugar", we need to put both eggs and sugar into the mixing bowl in order to have a cake. If we leave one or the other out, the product will not be what we hoped for. We must use the same common sense in our study of God's word.
Next, does the requirement Jesus placed on the Galileans apply to us today? Mark tells us that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. (Mark 1:14). Is this the same gospel that is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes today (Romans 1:16)? In Acts 20:24-31 Paul tells us that he hoped to finish his course to testify the gospel of the grace of God. He uses 3 phrases to describe this gospel:
1. Gospel of the grace of God (verse 24)
2. The kingdom of God (verse 25)
3. The whole counsel of God (verse 27)
So, Paul used the same phrase to describe the gospel he preached as did Mark to describe the gospel Jesus preached. Therefore, the gospel preached by Jesus was the same one preached by Paul, and it is the one with the power of God unto salvation today.
Next question: How does one repent? Since repentance is just as important as belief in the gospel, we must determine what one has to do to repent. Paul tells us that repentance comes about because of Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Paul contrasts two types of sorrow in 2 Corinthians 7: Godly and worldly. Notice how both groups of people are sorry. So what's the difference? Doesn't being sorry for something mean I've repented? No! Paul tells us that the Corinthian brother who had committed the sin he was addressing had demonstrated a particular type of sorrow: one which led to repentance. He defines this type of sorrow as "Godly" sorrow. However, not all sorrow leads to repentance. The type of sorrow which does not lead to repentance he calls "worldly" sorrow. One with worldly sorrow is grieved because they were caught. However, they have no determination to change their minds and actions. Once the sorrow is behind them, you'll find them returning again to the sin which caused their sorrow. This type of sorrow leads to death. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, works repentance unto salvation. Paul tells the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31 to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." In Galatians 3:22 he says that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Since salvation is available only to those who believe in Jesus, Godly sorrow must characterize those who believe in Jesus, since it worketh repentance to salvation. We learn in these verses that one who is saved is a believer in Jesus and manifests Godly sorrow. One with Godly sorrow experiences more than just feeling bad for getting caught in their sin. Such a one realizes the consequences of sin extends far beyond ones own life. His sin is the reason Jesus left heaven and was crucified on the cross. When one realizes the magnitude of the sacrifice made for their sin, their desire will be to sin no more. The sorrow they have works repentance unto salvation. But what did Jesus say in Mark 1:15? Repent AND believe in the gospel. Belief in the gospel must be added to the repentance which results from Godly sorrow. But what Gospel is the one with the power of God unto salvation? The gospel of Christ! (Romans 1:16) So one may have Godly sorrow, truly repent, but not believe in the gospel of Christ. What must we say about such a one? They do not believe in Christ! So even true repentance resulting from Godly sorrow is insufficient for salvation. Only when the repentant sinner believes in the gospel do they gain access to the power of God which saves.
What else do we know about the gospel?
The letter to the Galatians was written to the churches in Galatia. Galatians 1:2. (Since the Galatian letter was written to the churches in Galatia, the members receiving the letter were members of the church. Since the ones receiving the Galatian letter were members of the church, they had believed the gospel with the power to save.)
We'll have more to say about the gospel in the summary of this study. Please continue with me as we seek to understand Biblical Belief.