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When Belief Isn't Enough

Believe statements about me.

Believe in me. Believe me.

~ Jesus.

Which is he most interested in? Which one are you most interested in?

I completed an outline of John’s gospel once, which highlighted the words and phrases most commonly used by the author. Two words/phrases stood out:

• Eternal life

• Believe

John is very focused on belief. The Lord calls for belief frequently in John’s telling of the story. And of course, what is a worldview/religion/thought system but a set of beliefs? Without beliefs, there is no Christianity. That’s why the church has produced numerous creeds – sets of beliefs.

When you think about it, we live out our most deep-seated beliefs, whether we’re aware of them or not. Many people don’t think deeply. They just live. But the choices they make are, in fact, driven by their beliefs. About themselves, others, the environment, family, work, and God (among others). For Christians, beliefs are central to our identity. We are Christians, in part because we hold to common beliefs about Jesus, the Bible, our purpose and destiny as God’s people.

So far, so good.

Does it make a difference what we believe? Yes, very much, which is why accumulating true beliefs about God is so important.

But there’s a problem here. The Bible is clear that simply holding true beliefs isn’t enough. It’s not nearly enough. Take, for example, James’ teaching on faith and works.

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2.9

For James, belief means nothing without works. Faith without works is dead. My concern is different. I think we sometimes focus too much on accumulating beliefs about God, and we don’t spend enough time learning how to believe God according to Jesus’ use of the term in John’s gospel.

Pistis – belief/faith.

Think of your average sermon. A great deal of time is spent explaining the meaning and the consequent beliefs we should hold that arise from the verses. So we increase our knowledge of what the passage says about God and ourselves. This is good and right. It’s essential that we increase our knowledge of God through reading his Word and listening to good teaching. Nothing wrong with that. However, if that’s all we do, or if we value the accumulation of true beliefs as our primary goal, then we’ve misunderstood Jesus’ use of belief in John’s gospel. These true beliefs we’re gathering aren’t “belief” as taught or encouraged by Jesus. At least not in John’s gospel.

Just believing that something is true leaves us no better off than the demons.

Instead, Jesus is talking about the combination of both belief and faith (pistis entails both.) Trust. Surrender. Belief in the statement, “Christ is Lord” is useless unless a person lays down his/her life before God, acknowledging that Christ is Lord.

During the pandemic, some of us have become painfully aware that mere belief gets us nowhere. Indeed, simply affirming statements we hold to be true has no power to tackle our fears. So while we have become very capable of assembling beliefs, we often struggle when it comes to living as true believers – people who actually believe Jesus when he says “Do not fear. Trust me.”

Christ looks not simply for people who believe that he is there, or believe truths about him. Not even stating “Christ is Lord” is sufficient. He seeks people who truly believe him, when he says “I am Lord. Trust me.”

We need both to believe in him, and believe him when he speaks. That’s a relationship of trust.

As leaders, that’s one of our goals – to partner with God in developing worshippers, people who don’t simply assemble beliefs, but exhibit faith, surrender, trust – words that come under the meaning of the Greek word pistis.

That’s the core of our faith. An intimate relationship with our God, based on faith.

Whole-hearted dependence, surrender, trust, involving our entire lives – our health, our families, our finances, everything. Absolutely everything.

We will be measured, all of us, not by the number of true beliefs we assemble, but by a life of faith.

If, on arrival in heaven, we confess that we had no idea what the book of Numbers was about, threw up our hands in despair when reading Ecclesiastes, ranted with the psalmist, and collapsed in a heap after reading Revelation . . .

But . . .

we have held firm during times of trouble,

we have trusted in God’s promises,

we have lived a life of surrender and trust . . . then we might arrive in heaven with a paltry number of true beliefs compared to our neighbour, yet still be greeted with the words “Welcome home, good and faithful servant!”


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