“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.“
This is the second part in a two part series. We will only address the meaning of the word believe since it incorporates many ideas that need a concentrated focus.
There are two very important questions to ask here. What is the criteria to believe (in Jesus) and what happens if we fail to meet the criteria to believe?
Believe in the Greek – πιστεύω pisteuó (pist-yoo’-o) it is a verb and means to entrust: to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, to place confidence in. Another way of saying it is: everyone who believes, every believing person, or everyone believing;
In this context, it is generally accepted that it is a present active participle and implies the necessity of a continuous action. A continuous, active belief is the condition necessary for us to have eternal life. But what does this mean?
The Short Answer: Believing is putting your faith in the atoning work of Jesus, living for, and growing in God as best as you can in all the light you have: a complete and active commitment, continuing in the righteousness and Love of God.
The Long Answer
We know that if we continue in something we get better at it; in short we grow and begin to perfect whatever we are doing. Likewise, God expects your faith and knowledge to grow. So should you.
About the word faith: Many times in scripture “faith” is used interchangeably with the word believe.
So if I say faith or belief/believe/believing, I am referring to the general concept of the continuous act of putting our trust Jesus as noted in John 3:16.
Belief, its Meaning
When we believe in Jesus it is not merely acknowledging His gospel is true. Its putting our faith into action and placing our life into Jesus’ hands.
In Genesis, God told Abraham to do this exact same thing. Remember, Abraham is the father of the children of promise (those who have been saved). This call of his faith is highly symbolic and applies spiritually to those who receive the promise.
Take your son, your only son,
whom you love, Isaac,
and go to the region of Moriah.
Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering
on a mountain I will show you.
~ Genesis 22:2
The children of the promise are to sacrifice to God those things most sacred to them. We are to even sacrifice our life for Him. Abraham was to sacrifice the most precious fruit of his life by dedicating it (his son) to God.
I beseech you therefore, brethren,
by the mercies of God,
that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God,
which is your reasonable service.
~ Romans 12:1
Giving our life to God is considered our reasonable service. This begs the question, what may be considered unreasonable service? The next verse points us in the right direction.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
~ Romans 12:1
Those who choose to believe in Jesus must provide a service that is not conformed to the world, given over to the pleasures it offers. Because when we do, we fail to remain obedient to our calling and fall into sins of disobedience. The Apostle John explains this more concisely:
My dear children,
I am writing this to you
so that you will not sin.
But those who obey God’s word
truly show how completely they love him.
That is how we know we are living in him.
Those who say they live in God
should live their lives as Jesus did.
Do not love this world
nor the things it offers you,
for when you love the world,
you do not have the love of the Father in you.
For the world offers only a craving
for physical pleasure,
a craving for everything we see,
and pride in our achievements and possessions.
These are not from the Father,
but are from this world.
So you must remain faithful
to what you have been taught from the beginning.
~ 1 John 2:1, 5-6, 15-16, 24
Jesus’ Clear Examples
Jesus showed us four examples of the gospel’s effect on people’s lives. We will look closely at each one in order to understand what can happen to those who hear the gospel and fail to believe, those who believe for while yet do not remain faithful as John (and other apostles) warned, and those who continuously believe, building their faith through active trust and obedience.
The following are four classes of people and the results of their choices to act upon their belief (or faith). There are 3 possible outcomes for those who hear the word of God.
Let us review Jesus’ words found in Luke Chapter 8 below.
1. The Seed along the Path
A farmer went out to sow his seed.
As he was scattering the seed,
some fell along the path;
it was trampled on,
and the birds ate it up. (verse 5).
*(A farmer is someone who preaches truth. The seed is the word of God).
Those along the path are the ones who hear,
and then the devil comes
and takes away the word from their hearts,
so that they may not believe and be saved.
This first group are people who hear God’s word, they may feel moved in their heart, feel the Holy Spirit prompting them, but do not take the step and act to believe in their heart and trust in God’s word.
Many hear the word of God and just like seed on the path, His word is near, waiting to be planted in their hard, world trodden heart, but Satan comes along and steals the word out of their heart. This can happen many ways. Usually current worldly distractions lead them away and through the fruits of their continued sin God’s word and the prompting of the Holy Ghost is washed away. This person will perish in hell never receiving the work of God in their hearts.
2. The Rocky Ground
Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up,
the plants withered because they had no moisture.
Those on the rocky ground
are the ones who receive the word with joy
when they hear it, but they have no root.
They believe for a while,
but in the time of testing they fall away.
This second group are people who hear the word of God. They are convicted of sin, repent, and receive God into their hearts.
Their faith was soon tested (as it always is), and rather than being nurtured up developing strength, holiness, and perfection, their faith (or belief) remained in a heart that was fragile, carnal, and undeveloped in the ways of righteousness. Continuing in this heart-state kept them weak and led them away to perdition.
We must take a firm hold of the word of God, growing in grace daily, putting away all things contrary to His nature.
Unfortunately, those who don’t develop the seed God plants in their hearts will believe in vain if they continue in a state that facilitates falling away.
Now, brothers and sisters,
I want to remind you of the gospel
I preached to you, which you received
and on which you have taken your stand.
By this gospel you are saved,
if you hold firmly to the word
I preached to you.
Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
~ I Corinthians 15:1-2
Paul reinforces this principle about rocky ground, and encourages us to hold firm, to pull out the rocks of the world out of our hearts, in order to nurture our faith until it is strong, tested, and proven.
Those who God considers elect are those who hold firm in what they believe. We must stand firm on all the principles of God’s until the end. When Paul uses the words “you have believed,” it has the same connotation as John 3:16: He wants them to remain in an active and continuous saving belief.
Just prior to this, Paul told the Corinthians that they are saved. Properly, this means that they have been delivered out of danger and into safety. This is principally God rescuing believers from the penalty and power of sin – and into His provisions (safety).
~ HELPS Word-studies
As we actively and faithfully believe, we are being delivered from our previous acts of sin and its wages. Full deliverance is contingent upon our continued obedience until death (or the coming of Jesus).
Remember, if you believe, Jesus is delivering you from the penalty of sin, from having to commit any more sin against Him because it’s sin’s power over us has been vanquished. This is why we must persist, continuing to live out our faith in Him.
No longer are we to sin but to obey the same command that Jesus gave to the forgiven adulteress; Go and sin no more.
We know that our old sinful selves
were crucified with Christ
so that sin might lose its power in our lives.
We are no longer slaves to sin.
For when we died with Christ
we were set free from the power of sin.
And since we died with Christ,
we know we will also live with him.
We are sure of this
because Christ was raised from the dead,
and he will never die again.
Death no longer has any power over him.
When he died,
he died once to break the power of sin.
But now that he lives,
he lives for the glory of God.
So you also should consider yourselves
to be dead to the power of sin
and alive to God through Christ Jesus.
~ Romans 6:6-11 NLT
Once we believe, we begin to grow. We must remain in Him and allow Him to change our rocky soil. No grapes grow where there is no vine or husbandman. No vine grows where there is no nutritious soil. The seed has been planted in many hearts, yet only to whither on the vine.
Sin stops us from growing, destroys our connection to God, and leads to death.
I am the vine; you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
If anyone does not abide in me
he is thrown away like a branch and withers;
and the branches are gathered,
thrown into the fire, and burned.
~ John 15:5-6
No one who is born of God
will continue to sin,
because God’s seed remains in them;
they cannot go on sinning,
because they have been born of God.
~ 1 John 3:9 NIV
But now you are free from the power of sin
and have become slaves of God.
Now you do those things
that lead to holiness
and result in eternal life.
~ Romans 6:22 NLT
3. The Thorny Ground
Other seed fell among thorns,
which grew up with it and choked the plants.
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear,
but as they go on their way
they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures,
and they do not mature.
This passage is interesting because the words “grew up with it” indicate that the people believed, put their faith in God, and were growing in Christ but they do not mature. At the same time they were believing in Him, they were also engaging in worrying, gaining wealth, and enjoying many forms of worldly pleasures or getting lost in recreational activities.
This is the most troubling verse of all to me because most of Christianity envelops more time and thought in life’s worldly distractions than consecrating their life as living sacrifices, developing a noble and pure heart, which is the only reasonable service a Christian should do.
Jesus is saying that we need to be single-minded: not divided by a heart partaking in the things of this world and of Christ. A Christian should be markedly different focusing on God in daily living, acting, thinking, and all their intentions.
There is no keeping up with the Jones in the Christian life. We are to be completely free from those things that so easily entangle a carnal heart.
He gave himself for us to set us free
from every kind of lawlessness
and to purify for himself a people
who are truly his, eager to do good.
~ Titus 2:14 NET
Come close to God,
and God will come close to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners;
purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided
between God and the world.
~ James 4:8 NLT
4. The Good Soil
Still other seed fell on good soil.
It came up and yielded a crop,
a hundred times more than was sown.
But the seed on good soil
stands for those with a noble and good heart,
who hear the word, retain it,
and by persevering produce a crop.
Who has a noble or worthy and good heart? It is clear from scripture that all have sinned and none are righteous. So, this passage cannot mean the word fell on hearts that are good. Verse 8 is talking about soil: the place and things that nurture the heart.
agathós – means inherently (intrinsically) good; as to the believer, describes what originates from God and is empowered by Him in their life, through faith.
~ HELPS Word-studies
Strongs Concordance describes good as having developed a good constitution or nature: γῆ, Luke 8:8; δένδρον,Matthew 7:18, in sense equivalent to ‘fertile soil,’ ‘a fruitful tree,’ (Xenophon, oec. 16, 7 γῆ ἀγαθή, … γῆ κακῇ, an. 2, 4, 22χώρας πολλῆς καί ἀγαθῆς οὔσης) and that it corresponds to the figurative expression good ground, denoting a soul inclined to goodness, accordingly, eager to learn saving truth, ready to bear the fruits (καρπούς ἀγαθούς, James 3:17) of a Christian life.
Hearts are make noble and good by allowing the living word of Christ to flow freely within and without the whole course of our life.
When we first receive the word, it is clear from the preceding three types of soil and the whole tenure of scripture that all are unrighteous and deserving of death. There is nothing we can do to make our hearts noble or good.
And to the one who does not work
but believes in him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is counted as righteousness,
~ Romans 4:5 ESV
After ungodly sinners receive the word, their hearts begin to change. This is an instantaneous gift and yet can be a time consuming process that begins to reveal itself as demonstrated by the love of God emanating from an increasingly growing, consecrated, and submissive heart.
Pauls describes above God’s pardon and crediting our faith as righteousness. Christ justifies us while we are yet ungodly and guilty of sin.
As a result, God cleanses us from guilt of our all our past sin, frees us from the power of sin, and enables us to live a life that is truly righteous. This is a what true pardon means. Not only forgiving us but enabling us to be obedient to Him.
Therefore, my beloved,
as you have always obeyed, so now,
not only as in my presence
but much more in my absence,
work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling,
~ Philippians 2:12 ESV
Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation
in His blood through faith.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness,
because in the forbearance of God
He passed over the sins previously committed.
~ Romans 3:35 NASB
Faith is Reckoned as Righteous
When we get saved, God passes over all our previous sins. Our heart has not been made pure yet because the predisposition to sin, to do evil (carnality) still remain. We are pardoned the moment we are saved.
Our heart still needs to be purified. It still needs to be made noble as grows in that good soil that Jesus is developing.
This is where the act of salvation gets interesting. We have been pardoned. Not by any righteousness in us but by our belief in Jesus. He justifies the ungodly, not doing any work but having a faith (believing) that is counted as righteousness.
Keep in mind scripture does not say we are given Christ’s righteousness. We must always remember that God is just and He judges according to truth. Our salvation is based on faith and faith alone. We are still what we were in mind, body and soul. The work has just begun. He has only begun to make us holy. This is what He wants to finish.
Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to us as our righteousness. This is a common mistake based upon assumption. Scripture states that God reckons our faith as righteousness, which is conditional or us to be united with Christ who was raised for our justification.
Genuine saving faith is transformative and righteous at the outset. Jesus begins by imputing righteousness justifying our faith. Through obedience, our hearts being to filled with His love as He cleanses (purifies) our heart from of all its impurities stemming from sin.
Our imperfections remain since we are still human with limited in knowledge, perspectives, and understanding. It is our sinful character or nature that is being cleansed. Our memories, thinking, and habits remain as they become subject to His image and we become partakers in His nature.
seeing that His divine power has granted to us
everything pertaining to life and godliness,
through the true knowledge of Him
who called us by His own glory and excellence.
For by these He has granted to us
His precious and magnificent promises,
so that by them you
may become partakers of the divine nature,
having escaped the corruption that is in the world
by lust (by our evil desires or sinful nature).
~ Peter 1:3b-4
Partaking in His holiness is the natural outcome of continuous, active, saving faith. This can only happen in a consecrated life, undivided in devotion and commitment to Christ.
He wants to strengthen your faith, conform you to his image, so when He comes (or you die), you can be confident, lacking in nothing with a clear conscious, unblemished, and unblamable in His sight.
May he strengthen your hearts
so that you will be blameless and holy
in the presence of our God and Father
when our Lord Jesus comes
with all his holy ones.
~ 1 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV
Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
~ Matthew 5:8 KJV
The purpose of my instruction is
that all believers would be filled with love
that comes from a pure heart,
a clear conscience, and genuine faith.
~ 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT
For judgment will again be righteous,
And all the upright in heart will follow it.
~ Psalm 94:15 NASB
God wants to purify our hearts: to make it morally upright, noble enough to eschew (to consistently, firmly, and assertively turn away) from all evil and abhor sin (to regard sin as vile and utterly detest it all its forms) from the deepest recesses of your soul.
A christian pastor once tried to correct me and told me that the gospel is not about morality. This could not be further from the truth. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, their moral compass was skewed and and in need to correction. God wants to restore our moral compass so that we can be with him.
We are given a warning in Hebrews 5:7-14 about falling away and the importance of living a righteous life. Without the moral compass God wants to restore in our heart, we will be unable to distinguish good from evil and will remain in sin.
Therefore, whosover believeth in Him will have transformed nature because they have a continuous and active faith in the only holy, upright, and righteous savior, Jesus Christ.
Love Him with all of your heart. If you cannot truly and completely do this, it is because even a tiny part of your heart is at enmity with God. Ask Him to continue His work of purifying your heart.
He can do anything. Don’t give up.
Through it all: He will perform and do His good pleasure in you . . . if you believe.