In response to last week’s blog, there was some activity as to what it means to “believe.” This is the really crucial question. I am starting to see more of a connection between the first part of John 3 (“enter the kingdom,” “born again”) and the latter part (“believe”). But while I am thinking about this, let me give you an answer to the question of what it means to believe.
Being a follower of Jesus is not about believing certain facts about God, like the fact that he exists. This is called “theism,” believing that there is a god, any god. Who are some of the greatest theists in the Bible, those with clear insight into who Jesus is? The demons! They see Jesus coming and cry out, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34). But they are not followers of Jesus.
Being a follower of Jesus is not merely a matter of saying that you are. My wife was chatting with a person on the plane once, and she asked him if he had any spiritual beliefs—her normal way to move a conversation to things that matter. Eventually she asked if he was a Christian. His answer was stunning, and sad. “Well, I celebrate Christmas, so I guess I am a Christian” was his reply, and the beginning of a good dialogue as to what a follower of Christ truly is.
While being a follower of Jesus does involve believing certain facts, it is primarily about being a follower of Jesus; a “Christian” is someone who walks in relationship with Jesus. It is about being a friend of God. It is about people walking in the Garden with God. God gave his Son so that if people would believe in him, in Jesus, they would be saved from the consequences of their separation and brought into fellowship with himself.
Biblical belief means that you no longer believe or trust in yourself but rather have moved that trust out of yourself and “into” Jesus. Biblical belief is leaving self-sufficiency behind and embracing Christ-sufficiency. Biblical belief is throwing yourself into the merciful arms of Jesus, believing that he will catch you. Biblical belief is trusting him for everything: forgiveness, salvation, life.
To state it more theologically, biblical belief is believing that Jesus is who says he is, and that he will do what he said he will do. It is to believe that he does for you what you could not do for yourself. What did he do? He provided the means by which our sins could be forgiven and we could be brought into fellowship with God. God’s love and Jesus’ death built the gate at the cross so that by faith the door could swing open and we could walk through.
But the Bible doesn’t just say “believe in,” it says “believe into.” The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language, and one of the frustrating parts in being a translator is that certain things simply cannot be restated in English. This is one of those passages.
John wants to make a point, and to do so he breaks Greek grammar. And he doesn’t just kind of break grammar; he makes a horrible “blunder” that is so bad we have no record of anyone else in all Greek literature making the same blunder. Of course, he is doing it intentionally to make a point. John doesn’t say we should respond by “believing in” but rather “believe into.” It is the “into” with the verb “believe” that is such bad Greek grammar.
Saving faith is a trusting in the person and work of Jesus (who he is and what he has done) such that we move our self-reliant trust out of ourselves, flinging ourselves into the merciful arms of God, believing and trusting that he will catch us, care for us, provide for us, protect us, and eventually bring us home to live with him forever.
So what do you think? How is this as an explanation of “believe”?