What does it mean to believe?
Please take a moment and think carefully on these questions:
What do you believe?
Why do you believe?
Do you believe everything you hear?
Do you believe in the gospel?
Do you believe in salvation?
Do you believe in eternal life?
Is believing a commandment?
Do you ever have a heart of unbelief?
Do you suffer in belief?
How faithful is your belief?
Do you have the power to believe?
So, what do you believe?
President Ronald Reagan said: "Within the covers of one single book, the bible, are all the answers to all the problems that face us today." Then he said: "If only we would read and believe."
I believe (no pun intended) you'd be very surprised at the vast wealth of understanding that the scripture provides us, through this one vital word, believe. In the split sermon here today, we're going to take a closer look at what it means to believe. So to make things simple for Mr. Griffith, I titled it "Believe."
The word believe appears 44 times in the Old Testament and 239 times in the New Testament. It's given a lot of air time in the scriptures. It's a word that we would do well to look into with more detail. Some equate belief or believe with faith. However, the two are non synonymous, they're not the same.
I'd like to start with the Hebrew and Greek words as we lay a foundation for this very important subject. In the Hebrew the word believe is aman, of course the translator read it into English. As I said it appears 44 times in the Old Testament. It means to support, confirm, be faithful, uphold, nourish, to be established, be carried, make firm, stand firm, to trust, to be certain or to believe in. That's nothing unusual or new to you necessarily. In the Greek the word is pisteuo, and it is translated as believe, 239 times. It means to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in and then the description said in a moral or religious reference, it is used in the New Testament of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative of law and soul. In a religious reference it means to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something.
G.K. Chesterton said he's often supposed that when people stop believing in God, that they believe in nothing. Alas he says, it is worse than that when they stop believing in God, they can believe in anything. As we heard in the first message earlier today, there has to be certain foundational laws and passages in scriptures that we go to understand, not just wisdom, but even what we believe. You don't want to believe in just anything and so we turn to the scriptures to find out what we are to believe.
Now this afternoon, we won't be able to cover anywhere near the more than 280 references where the word believe appears in the bible, but I do want to highlight some for you, some of the more interesting ones. At the end of my notes I have my own little appendix with a whole bunch of scriptures that I didn't use. Out of the 280, I pulled out 100 or so and then narrowed that down to a few used in the sermon and then kind of kept the rest in the back of my notes. It is really interesting when you just look at the word believe and actually after noting some of the more encouraging examples today, you may be inspired to go back and check out some of the ones we didn't cover in your own study. Now to get things somewhat organized, I've decided or divided the uses of the word believe into 9 easy to understand categories, but you'll see there are several many different nuances to the word believe. We'll be referencing quite a few scripture passages today so you may want to jot them down in your notes, maybe refer to them later.
The first section I outlined is one you're very familiar with, the first one is believe in the gospel. Nothing new here, but let's look at a couple passages. Believe in the gospel. This is a very good place to begin. What greater hope is there for you, me and all of humanity than the amazing message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God? That's our hope.
Mark 1:14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
Verse 15: and saying, "The time if fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. (And here we go) Repent, and believe in the gospel."
So this is one of the very first or initial sayings that came from Jesus, believe in the gospel, that's where He began. This is the cornerstone of our faith to believe in the gospel.
Remember Habakkuk, chapter 1, verse 5 back in the Old Testament using the word aman here.
Habakkuk 1:5 "Look among the nations and watch. Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you."
An amazing work will be done on this earth by our Father in heaven. We're told in other passages that this gospel that we believe in will go as a witness to all the nations before the end comes, an amazing work. You'll recall from Matthew chapter 24, verse 14 where we read:
Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
Isaiah 43 is a good place to turn as well in the Old Testament, believing in the gospel. Verses 10 through 12 because actually we see even our role here in this.
Isaiah 43:10 "You are My witnesses, says the Lord, (Speaking of the people of God, His people) and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.
Verse 11: I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no savior.
Verse 12: I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, and there was no foreign god among you; therefore (He tells His people) you are My witnesses" says the Lord, "that I am God."
So that's part of the work we are about is being God's witnesses. It's all to do with being a part of that amazing work that will be completed on this earth, believing in the gospel. The time if fulfilled, believe the gospel. A work will be done by God that will astound you. As His witnesses, we show that the Lord is God. So first, believe in the gospel. Wrap your mind around this very important concept as we move forward onto some other points.
Number two, believe in salvation and eternal life. Believe in salvation and eternal life. I'd like to turn to John chapter 3 and begin with a cornerstone passage that talks directly about our belief in salvation and eternal life. Verses 14 through 17.
John 3:14 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
Verse 15: that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Verse 16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Verse 17: For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."
So here we have eternal life, everlasting life being saved, if you believe. Despite all the bad press that John 3:16 gets, it's actually an amazing passage of scripture. Whoever believes in the fullest sense of the word will have eternal life. Be saved, it's an incredible concept. John 11 verse 26, go a few pages forward.
John 11:26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. (Then the passage concludes with)
Do you believe this?"
Do you truly believe this? What does it mean to have eternal life, to have salvation? It means to never die. Do you believe this? I John chapter 5, let's head back a little bit.
I John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
Powerful words. If you believe in the Son of God which of course in all of its fullness means obeying His commandments and living a certain way of life, then you will have eternal life. So secondly, believe in salvation and eternal life. Not just the gospel, but remember of the promises for you in salvation and eternal life.
The third point is somewhat related to number 2 and that is believe in the Resurrection. Believe in the Resurrection. As we move into section 3, we begin to see some of the nuances of the word. There's a lot more to it than you might notice at first glance. If we could go through all 283 biblical instances of the word, an even more majestic picture would unfold before you. Let's look briefly at our belief in the Resurrection. That will take us to I Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 14.
I Thessalonians 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
So just as Christ has risen, so will those who are God's as well, if we believe.
Romans 6:8 Now if we died with Christ (Paul says to the Romans) we believe that we shall also live with Him.
This is part of our faith, part of what we understand, part of what we believe in, that if we die in Christ, if we're baptized, gone into that watery grave, symbiotically having our own self die, we then shall also live with Him in newness of life. As we saw in point two, this belief to live with Him, our Resurrected Savior entails eternal living, salvation, never to die again. So believe in the Resurrection.
Let's switch tempo a bit now. Let's reflect on something that we all battle with from time to time. Remember in the introduction I asked you if you ever had a heart of unbelief. What about unbelief? I've titled this fourth section, Lord help my unbelief, Lord help my unbelief. Believe you are defeated, believe it long enough and it is likely to become a fact, first stated Norman Vincent Peale. Believe you are defeated, believe it long enough and it is likely to become a fact. You see there is certain danger in unbelief. Through the trials we face, through the hurts we feel, through the physical life we live, we battle with emotions, we battle with unbelief and we have our faith tested. We're not alone. It's part of the human experience. Look inside your bible at these instances of unbelief. Let's start with Mark chapter 9 verse 24.
Mark 9:24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
What greater trial can there be for a parent who is losing their child to an evil spirit. How often do we need to cry out to God in our own personal lives. I believe but Lord help my unbelief. Strengthen me. So there is such a thing as unbelief. Notice a warning in Hebrews chapter 3 verse 12.
Hebrews 3:12 Beware brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.
So even the early disciples battled with unbelief and were warned by it in Hebrews.
Mark 16, verse 14. This is one of my favorite passages in the book of Mark. This is after Christ had been crucified and was now resurrected and He appeared to His disciples a few times before finally going to heaven to be with His Father.
Mark 16:14 Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; (Of course the 12th was gone) and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.
They didn't believe that Christ actually had been brought back from the dead. In verse 15 He said to them and I'll paraphrase, I like to paraphrase this one:
Get up from the table, get off your backsides, get to work going into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature.
It's interesting here we see the antidote to unbelief is to get out there and preach the gospel which takes us back to our very first point, doesn't it? You see how some of these things go full circle after a while. A spirit of unbelief can be devastating. Notice how it affected Moses and Aaron in Numbers chapter 20.
Loosing belief in the promises of God can cause those promises to be taken away.
Numbers 20:12 Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron: "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them."
So, we too will say, Lord help my unbelief. We all want to enter the promised land, the promised Kingdom of God. So wrestle with this concept in your personal life and then pray for belief and pray that you'll be strengthened in your belief in the promises of God.
The fifth section I've titled Commanded Belief. Commanded Belief. The last point was a heavy one. Let's take a 7th inning stretch for a moment but don't stand up, I'll just stand up. I have an important story to tell you about my Chiropractor. It's hard to believe that these guys can really straighten out your back the way they do. There was a fellow in the office not too long ago who leaned slightly to the left. I suggested he go and see my Chiropractor and have his legs checked. After years of refusing, he finally went to the Chiropractor only to discover that one leg, his left, was 3/4 of an inch shorter than his right. However, a quick bit of adjusting later he was cured and both legs are exactly the same length now and he no longer leans to the left. The other day I said to him: "You didn't believe me when I told you my Chiropractor could fix your leg." He just looked at me and said: "I stand corrected."
Well getting back to the Godly plain for a moment. To believe is a commandment, a commanded belief. Did you know that? I John 3, chapter 23.
By the way, no truth to that story. If you're looking around for anybody with a longer leg here, in the office.
I John 3:23 And this is His commandment: that you should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ (It's a commandment) and love one another as He gave us commandment.
John 6:28 Then they said to Him: "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?"
And here is what Jesus said. Here is what we are supposed to do. Here is what we are supposed to be about. Here is what is commanded.
Verse 29: Jesus answered and said to them: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
We're commanded to believe in our Savior. So here is what we're supposed to do. Here is the work we are to be a part of. To believe in Him, Christ whom He, the Father sent. It's part of our job description. It's part of our work. It's part of our work description. It's commanded. It's commanded to believe on the name of Jesus Christ.
Number six is don't believe everything you hear. Don't believe everything you hear. So now I guess this is a caveat section because all that we see and hear may not be of value. All may not even be of God. There are times when we need to discern, to judge and make decisions based upon what we know to be faithful, true and correct from the word of God. I John 4 verse 1. We're spent a bit of time in the books of John here in this sermon today.
I John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
In fact things you hear may seem to come from prophets that sound good, however test them to see whether they are of God and in the end time they will be particularly important. Matthew 24, notice how Christ replied to His disciples when they inquired about the end of the age. Matthew 24, verse 21. We'll read through to verse 26. Here is an end time scenario now.
Matthew 24:21 "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.
This is an event that has not yet happened.
Verse 22: And unless those days wee shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened.
Verse 23: Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There!' do not believe it.
Don't believe everything you hear.
Verse 24: For false christ's and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
Verse 25: See, I told you beforehand.
Verse 26: Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it."
So at the time of the end, it will particularly important not to believe everything you hear. It's always important to compare the spirits; the intellects, the minds of this world against the word of God. Don't believe everything you hear.
Here's one more digression for you for the moment. Here's some things not to believe in. In the Christian religions of our day, hiring committees for large congregations have learned to be discerning when looking at the resumes of potential pastors. This is actually from a leadership professional named Dave Wilkerson from a piece called Resume Stoppers. With the number of applications pastor nominating committees receive, the first task is to eliminate applicants. So here then is a public service, a statement certain to stop a ministerial or pastor resume dead in its tracks. If you believe these things, you'll not get hired: "I believe I'm willing to sacrifice my family for the sake of the ministry. I believe I'm also willing to sacrifice yours. I believe I have learned to cope with financial crisis at every church I've served. I believe empathy is overrated. I believe in the 5 churches I've faithfully served in just the past 12 months. I believe my extensive counseling of church members has proved to be a rich source of pointed sermon illustrations. I believe Amway taught me everything I know about evangelism. I believe I've been told that every sermon I've preached is better than the next. Think about that one. I believe my personality has provided me ample opportunity to develop conflict resolution skills. Some resume stoppers.
Anyway, test the spirit. Don't believe everything you hear. That is very, very important.
Let's look at the seventh point which is believe faithfully. Believe faithfully. Now here is where we start to see a bit of connection between the words believe and faith. The Greek word for believe as noted at the beginning of the sermon is pisteuo. The Greek word for faith is pistis. In the Lexicon believe is word 4100 and faith is word 4102. They are right next to each other basically in the Lexicon. Pisteuo and pistis. They're certainly similarities, but the New Testament authors found it necessary to distinguish between the nuances of believe and faith. Sometimes they used believe, sometimes they used faith. Now remember that believe was used 239 times in the New Testament. Now pistis translated as faith is used 239 times in the New Testament, exactly the same number of times believe and faith is used. Now in the New Testament faith means of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it. In relating to God, the definition states the conviction that God exists and is the Creator and Ruler of all things, the Provider and Bestower of eternal salvation through Christ. If you start to see a relationship with God included when you use the word faith. In relating to Christ a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the Kingdom of God. So faith is slightly different than belief and it adds the element of holy fervor. So now notice how in some passages of the bible, both believe and faith are used in the same verse to expound a deeper meaning of what it is to have a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. Firstly in Hebrews 11, verse 6, of course the faith chapter. It's a very interesting way this is put together.
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
So we must have a believing faith. Both words very similar in the Greek are used together in this passage. Now the contrary comparison. Matthew 17 verse 20.
Matthew 17:20 So Jesus said to them: "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."
So to have this level of faith requires you to believe, you can't be filled with unbelief or else you're not be able to accomplish these types of things. II Corinthians 4:13. I know we've got several verses here and we're flipping back and forth a bit, but just make a note if you need to.
II Corinthians 4:13 But since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believe and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak.
So it's the same spirit of faith that causes us to believe and speak. So therefore believe faithfully. The two words are very similar, but not completely interchangeable and the New Testament writers actually distinguished between the two, sometimes even in the same verse.
Let's look at number eight which is suffer in belief. Suffer in belief. We're told that to follow Christ is a narrow path, not a wide highway. We're told that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom for example. The Christian life was not always meant to be easy. We have lessons to learn and godly character to develop. Let's turn to Philippians chapter 1 and notice how the Apostle Paul in his letter here to the Philippians paired up many of the words we've been covering today with believe and then added suffer as well. You'll see believing in the gospel, you'll see faith, you'll see salvation here in this passage, words we've already talked about. Then Paul adds suffer as well. I'm going to read through verse 30 at the end of the chapter.
Philippians 1:27 Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
Verse 28: and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation and that from God.
Verse 29: For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
Verse 30: having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
So not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. There may be times when it is difficult to do what's right, not the popular thing to do what's right. But, we can take comfort knowing that when we suffer trials, we are not alone in history. It's part of our Christian walk with God and even serves to strengthen our belief in Him. The reward for doing so, as we read here, is salvation, eternal life, and so suffer in belief, be patient in your belief, be long suffering in your belief.
Then finally, number nine, the power of belief. The power of belief. God does not leave us comfortless. As we noted during the Feast of Pentecost a couple weeks ago, God grants His children the power of His Holy Spirit in order that we may have the dynamic strength to move forward in our faith and belief. He give us the power of belief. Let's look again what Jesus said to the father whose son was overtaken by a spirit, causing convulsions and foaming at the mouth and that was back in Mark chapter 9. Let's go back there for a moment and read a little bit more of the story.
Mark 9:17 Then one from the multitude answered and said, "Teacher, I brought You my son who has a mute spirit.
Verse 18: And wherever he seizes him, he throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples that they should cast him out, but they could not."
Verse 19: He answered him and said: "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me."
Verse 20: Then they brought him to Him (To Christ). When He saw him, immediately the spirit convulsed him and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth.
Verse 21: So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood.
Verse 22: And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
Verse 23: Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes."
So here we see the power of belief. All things are possible to him who believes. Then that famous passage in Verse 24:
Verse 24: Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord I believe; help my unbelief!"
So there is a power from God that helps us in our unbelief that makes all things possible. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. Our belief is in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for the faith of Christ to live in us. There are other passages that talk about that, praying not for our own faith, but praying for the faith of Christ to live in us, praying that Christ and our Father in heaven will empower our belief, that will help us to believe so that all things are possible in our lives when it comes to believing how God wants us to live. Mark 11 chapter 24, just a couple pages over.
Mark 11:24 "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive them and you will have them."
Once again, the power of belief. Don't forget the power of belief that comes from God, working in a converted mind and pray for it. Pray for God to help you, to strengthen your belief so that you are not in unbelief. So to summarize here today we've just scratched the surface obviously of this word believe, there's a lot more to it, hundreds of words in the scriptures that are really interesting to go through. But to summarize, believe in the gospel, believe in salvation and eternal life, believe in the Resurrection, otherwise what hope do you have? Lord help my unbelief. Don't forget about commanded belief. Don't believe everything you hear. Believe faithfully. Suffer in belief and remember where the power of belief comes from.
Let's turn to one more scripture to finish up this topic. Once again in the book of John chapter 1. Here is our goal, here is what God has in mind for each of us, His children. Here is what makes it all worth the wait and the work to truly believe.
John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
To quote once again what we read earlier from the faith chapter. Without faith it is impossible to please Him for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).