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What Does a True Believer Believe?
What does it take to be saved? It seems a simple enough question—and it is. The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ and they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household’” (Acts 16:30,31). That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Believe . . . be saved.
The key word is “believe.” To be saved, the jailer had to believe in the Lord Jesus—but what does that mean? Believe Jesus existed? Even the Pharisees believed that—often to their dismay. Believe that Jesus died on the cross? No, the pagan Gentiles who crucified Him knew that was true. What then, do you have to believe to be saved?
There are three issues involved in salvation: the sinfulness of man, the Person of Christ, and the work of Christ. For salvation to occur there must be an understanding and agreement with God in each of these areas.
Sinfulness of Man
Most are in agreement on the sinfulness of man: “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:10,11). We are sinners, guilty and accountable before God. Because of our sin we are under condemnation and need salvation.
Work of Christ
The work of Christ centers in His death and resurrection. Apart from the finished work of Christ, there could be no salvation. It is the heart of the gospel. “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you . . . For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3, 4).
Person of Christ
The full title for Christ—used more than ninety times in the New Testament—is “the Lord Jesus Christ.” This title reveals the true nature of the Person of Christ. Therefore, each element of His title must be recognized and believed for salvation to occur. You cannot deny any of the aspects of His Person, revealed in these titles and experience God’s salvation.
“Jesus” is Christ’s human name—Jehovah is salvation. The leader Joshua of Old Testament fame carried this name also, but in this case it takes on deeper meaning. Not only is Jehovah the Savior, Jesus the man is Jehovah the Savior. Therefore, to be saved we must believe that Jesus is the incarnate God.
The title “Christ” means anointed one. It is a reference to the Messiah—the one anointed by God to be the king of Israel.
In John 20:31, John wrote, “These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John wrote his gospel to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, and that those who believe in Him find salvation.
From another perspective John wrote, “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). Denying that Jesus Christ is Messiah of Israel makes one an antichrist—one who cannot be saved.
So far these points have been fairly simple. We begin to run into difficulty with the title “Lord.” Some say, “Well, if you’re going to emphasize ‘Lord,’ why don’t you emphasize ‘Teacher’ and ‘Creator,’ and all the other things that He is?” I don’t do that because that’s not the focal point of His Person as revealed in Scripture. True, He is revealed as “Teacher” and “Creator,” but His title is “the Lord Jesus Christ.” These aspects are singled out as the critical elements of His Person.
Many emphasized that the word “Lord” simply means deity. I don’t have a problem with that, but there is a certain aspect of His deity being emphasized—that of master, ruler or sovereign. This word is used more than 700 times in the New Testament, always in the spirit of sovereignty.
For example, consider Luke 6:46: “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Christ poses a paradox, “You people call me ‘Lord’ but don’t obey Me.” The word “Lord” in this verse clearly carries with it the idea of submission or obedience—otherwise it has no meaning. (See Eph. 5:23; Rom. 6:17, 22; 8:7-9; 16:18; Eph. 2:2; 5:6.)
In studying the Scriptures, I see a stress on Jesus Christ as the sovereign one who demands our personal submission. He alone is worthy of our faith.
The idea of recognizing Jesus as Lord in a general sense is not true faith. After all, can there be a “general” recognition of sinfulness without it becoming a personal issue?
Not if you’re going to be saved. To be saved we must recognize our own sinfulness before God. Likewise, we must recognize and personally accept the fact that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel. And we must also personally recognize Him as Lord—master, ruler and sovereign.
Can a person be saved and deny that Jesus Christ is Lord? Can a person be saved and not submit to the Lordship of Christ? I do not believe so. Let me be clear: I’m not referring to the type of Lordship that says you must quit smoking, drinking and playing cards before you can be saved.
By Lordship I simply mean the recognition and submission to the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, just as we recognize and acknowledge that He is the Messiah. A person who says “I want Him to be my Savior, but not my Lord” cannot be saved. He has not yet come to grips with the reality of the Person of Christ.
As believers who have recognized Christ’s Lordship, we are to be constantly submitting our bodies to Him. His Lordship is being realized more and more in our lives. That’s part of the maturing process—”progressive sanctification” if you will. But we can’t become like a believer to become a believer. We come just as we are.
What do we have to believe to be saved? We have to see our own sinfulness. We have to believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. We have to recognize Christ as the Messiah and as God-in-the-flesh. We also have to recognize Him as the God-Master—the absolute Sovereign who is daily bringing us into submission to His final, perfect will.