I drove past a Lutheran church whose sign read, “God believes in you.”
“He does?” I thought. “But what does He believe about me?”
You see, faith always has content.
When you believe, you always believe something. And when you say you believe in someone (e.g., “I believe in you.” “God believes in you.”), you’re using an idiom that can have different meanings. As the Free Dictionary explains, it can mean:
For example, when an electrician comes to your house and tells you exactly what must be done to fix your lights, and you answer, “I believe in you,” what are you saying? The context is that your lights need fixing. So, when you say, “I believe in you,” you’re saying that you trust his expertise and his ability to fix the problem.
On the other hand, if a little boy writes a letter to Santa Clause saying, “I believe in you,” he’s saying he believes that Santa exists. Other children might not believe, but he does.
And if parents leave their children for the first time and tell the babysitter, “We believe in you,” the context tells you this is about taking care of children. What the parents are saying is, “We trust you to keep our children safe.”
Once you understand that “I believe in you” is an expression, it’ll clear up some common confusion about salvation.
Do you remember what Paul and Silas said to the Philippian jailer?
He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31).
The jailer wanted to know how to be saved, and Paul and Silas answered believe in Jesus.
What did they mean in that context?
Did they mean, “Believe that Jesus exists”? No.
Did they mean, “Believe in Jesus’ abilities?” Yes. But more specifically, Paul and Silas meant the jailer should believe something about what Jesus can do for the jailer’s salvation, i.e., that He can save both him and his family.
Just as believing in an electrician means believing he can fix your electrical problem, believing in a Savior means believing He can fix your salvation problem. That’s what He promised to do for every believer—give you eternal, irrevocable, and totally secure salvation. So if you believe in Him, you are saved. Period.
Coming back to that Lutheran church sign—does God believe in you?
Well, that depends on what the sign means.
If it means God believes that you exist, then yes, of course, He does.
But if the sign means God believes in your ability to save yourself, then the answer is absolutely not! God doesn’t believe you can do that at all.
But here’s the good news: it’s precisely because God doesn’t trust in your abilities to save yourself, that He saves you apart from those abilities. He doesn’t believe in what you can do, so He offers you eternal life as a free gift.
Thought for the day: Don’t believe in yourself for salvation. Leave it to the Expert.
Hi Jack. You asked, "Wouldn’t believing in Jesus mean that you trust his overall agenda? That it’s good to love your neighbor, wait until marriage, be forgiving, be kind, be selfless, be joyful, etc? Or are you saying that the above mentioned is discipleship, and that for salvation all you must do is believe in him for the promise of everlasting life?"
It would depend on the context. If the context is evangelistic, and Jesus is stating the fact that if you believe in Him, you will have eternal life (e.g., John 3:16), then "believing in Him" means believing in Him for that thing, i.e., eternal salvation.
Now, we should also believe in Jesus for everything else He has ever promised. But we don't need to import all those other things into the simple condition of salvation.
Back to the mechanic example. If a mechanic is telling you you need to rebuild your transmission and he can do it, "Believe me." Then you should believe in him to rebuild the transmission. But in saying that, he doesn't also mean should believe in him in the sense that he's faithful to his wife, pays his taxes, always returns the shopping carts at Walmart, and never kicks puppies. Those things might also be true. You might also believe in him for that. But they're not part of the conversation you're having about the transmission, so they aren't part of your object of faith.
Shawn, what if you believe in someone in the sense that you believe in the agenda they bring to the table or the ethics they stand for and you believe they are effective so you live a lifestyle based off of that persons dogma and doctrine. Wouldn’t believing in Jesus mean that you trust his overall agenda? That it’s good to love your neighbor, wait until marriage, be forgiving, be kind, be selfless, be joyful, etc?
Or are you saying that the above mentioned is discipleship, and that for salvation all you must do is believe in him for the promise of everlasting life?
Shawn, the Macmillan Dictionary online says “believe in someone” can mean: “to feel confident that a person or organization is good or reliable.”
In this use, believing in Jesus would mean that we are entrusting our lives to him because we believe that he speaks truth about how to live in His world (I.e. loving others, being forgiving, getting married and having kids, being humble, etc). So wouldn’t this use of “believing in someone” mean that we follow Jesus’ commands/ideaologies about how to live righteously in our time here on earth?
For example, in history past, there have been plenty of people who lead movements, organizations, etc and the leader of these movements had “followers” who “believed in their leader”. Meaning that the followers believed in the tenants and beliefs that the leaders’ social movement/organization stood for! For instance, if you had a leader for a political party who had new beliefs about fairness, social welfare, and giving to the poor, and these are the tenants the leader stood by to change society, then wouldn’t someone saying “I believe in this leader” really be saying they are supporters of this leader in the sense that they too are people who believe in the same tenants and their lifestyle is based on those tenants?
For example, can a die hard conservative ever say he/she believes in a democratic presidents tenants and politics when they don’t have the lifestyle or morality that backs up their claim?
I guess all I’m asking is this: Is believing in Jesus simply believing that he is the only person who can give you eternal life? Or is “believing in Jesus” believing in his way of living and what he says about behavior/righteousness in this world (such as choosing to be humble, forgiving, loving, kind, slow to speak, selfless, no getting drunk, etc)
To me, you can’t be a believer unless you believe you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness and grace. That’s only logical. It’s impossible to believe in Jesus if you do not believe you you’re a sinner. Now, if you do come to believe in him, and you truly think you’re a sinner, then it seems very sketchy that you would live like Hitler the rest of your life. Why? Because if someone “believed” then lived a lifestyle like hitler, then it would be really hard for me to believe that they actually consider themselves a sinner…. Because if you believe your a sinner in need of grace and forgiveness then wouldn’t your new nature (John 3:3) DEEP DOWN let you know that what you’re doing is wrong, and eventually you couldn’t stand it anymore and you would stop doing the bad things you’re doing? At that point you’d be in more pain/turmoil going against your born again, righteous nature than repenting and loving out that nature by living a godly life. It seems odd that the “old man” in you can outpower the spirit for someone’s ENTIRE life….most Christian’s I know couldn’t do it for few months… eventually they couldn’t take the pain and emptiness from sin and they would turn back to God…. That’s why it’s very sketchy to see someone say “I believe” and then NEVER SEEM TO CARE ABOUT SIN THEIR WHOLE LIVES!
Shawn, I recognize that one must believe in Jesus to be saved but is the term “believe” in John 3:16 speaking of one moment of belief or a continuing belief?
In John 3:16, that word actually functions as a noun. I will write another blog showing that the condition of salvation is one moment of faith.