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“What It Means To Believe in Jesus”

This is a transcription of a sermon by Dr. Charles F. Stanley, and part of a quality six audio-cassette series titled LEARNING TO WALK BY FAITH. The whole six tape series is available online at or by mail at INTOUCH MINISTRIES, PO Box 7900, Atlanta, Georgia 30357, or by phone 1-800-323-3747. IN TOUCH ® Copyright 1998 ©, ITM, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia, USA, used with permission. All rights reserved. This sermon transcription gives clear and concise teaching on just what it means to believe in Jesus, or in other words, to be born-again, to be a real Christian. If you answered an altar call, or were led to say the sinners’ prayer, did that alone make you a Christian? Find out from this informative sermon. Are you in Christ and He in you-or do you just think you are? Find out for sure. Continue reading.

“What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? All through the Bible I found these verses that talk about believing in him, but what does that mean? It’s very evident in Scripture that in order for a person to have their sins forgiven, in say, in order to go to heaven [receive eternal life, as some would say] a person must place their trust in Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Well that’s what I want to talk about in this message, because there are so many people who think they believe in Jesus Christ, but who do not really truly understand what that means. So I want you to turn if you will to John chapter 3, and that verse that’s the most familiar of all, John 3:16. You say, “Well I know that one by heart.” Well I’m sure that most of you probably do, but I want you to turn there if you will for a moment. I want us to read this verse. Jesus was talking to a very knowledgeable man, Nicodemus, about his relationship with God. And he said to him, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [More literally, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”] And so in the course of that discussion, Jesus comes down to say in verse 15, “that whosoever believes may in him have eternal life.” And then he says in verse 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” But what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? Well that is the purpose of this message, and what I want to do is explain, from a Biblical point of view, ‘What does it mean to place you trust in him?’ ‘How do you know that you’ve done that?’ And so it’s interesting in Scripture how very clear God has made it. For example, he says in John chapter 1, if you’ll turn there for a moment. In John chapter 1, in the 12th verse he says, “but as many as receive him, to them gave he the power (or the right) to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name.” Now to believe in his name, for example, the name represents everything a person is. So when a person believes in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is the same as believing in him. You recall in Acts chapter 16, verse 31 when the Philippian jailer and Paul were talking, he said ‘What must I do to be saved?’ And Paul said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ You recall in Romans chapter 1 Paul said, ‘I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God and the salvation to all who believe.’ That is, the gospel of Christ for all who believe in him. For example, he said in Romans chapter 5, verse 1, ‘Therefore being justified by faith’-which means to be declared no longer guilty, but now righteous, saved in the eyes of God-“therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God.’ He said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” You and I could go all the way through the New Testament, verse after verse, every single time it is placing our trust, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, the question is, it’s very clear that what you have to do-but what does it mean? Well I think there are a lot of people out there who are very deceived, who really and truly believe that somewhere along the way that they have believed in Jesus Christ, and therefore they are saved-they are comfortable that they are saved. So what I’d like to do is to think just a moment with you about what these people are thinking and how they think when they say ‘Yes I do believe.’ Well I think there are some people who are genuinely-would say to you-‘Yes, I believe the Bible, I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ’-and therefore they think that they’re saved. What they’re saying is ‘I believe the facts, that this is the Bible, this is God’s Word, I believe the Bible does teach about God, the Bible does teach about Jesus, I believe all those things.’ That’s talking about believing facts. Then someone comes along and says, ‘Well sure I believe in Jesus, my mother believed in Jesus, my grandmother believed in Jesus, my whole family’s believed in Jesus-sure I believe in Jesus.’ What they’re saying is, ‘I do believe in the fact that there was such a man as Jesus Christ.’ Now the truth is their degree and the quality of their belief is the same as if you said to them, ‘You went to school?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you believe there was a man George Washington?’ ‘Yes I do.’ ‘Do you believe there was a man Abraham Lincoln?’ ‘Yes I do.’ ‘Do you believe there was a person named Jesus?’ ‘Yes I do.’ Same category, same level and quality of belief, they’re believing facts about a person. That is not New Testament belief. So you come along and say ‘Do you believe in God?’ ‘Yes I do, I do believe in God, I’ve always believed in God. My mother believed in God, I believe in God-I’ve always believed in God.’ ‘Don’t think I’m an atheist. Just because I don’t live like you want me to live doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. I feel very comfortable that when I die I’m going to heaven-I believe in God.’ And what they’re saying is ‘I believe in the God that you talk about in the Bible.’ And so you ask somebody else, ‘Do you believe?’ ‘Well here’s what I believe. I believe there’s a God. I don’t believe in this whole idea of evolution. I believe there’s a God and if I believe in God I’m OK and I’m saved and I’m going to heaven because I believe in God.’ And then you ask someone else, ‘Well what do you believe?’ ‘I believe, but don’t get prying into my spiritual life, but I believe and believing is enough, so I believe and that’s it.’ The truth is, they don’t have a ghost of an idea what they believe, and the reason some people won’t tell you what they believe is because they don’t know. That’s the reason they don’t tell you. ‘Do you believe in the Bible?’ ‘Yes I do.’ ‘What do you believe about it?’ ‘Well, you know I believe it and that’s enough. I won’t tell you what I believe about the Bible.’ The truth is, they don’t know anything about it. Now, I’m simply saying this. Many people believe that they believe, according to the Scripture in God, in Jesus enough to have their sins forgiven or to go to heaven [a term he uses to mean to receive eternal life, the way some denominations look at it]. And they genuinely believe that, but what they’re doing is that they’re making a mistake. And here’s the mistake, the mistake is this. Just because you ascent, that is, you concur with something that, ‘Yes I do believe that’s true’ and ‘Yes I consider the fact that God said that, and the Bible is true’-that does not mean that you have New Testament faith.

There’s a difference between believing according to the Scripture and having, intellectually being willing to affirm or concur with someone ‘Yes I do believe those facts are true.’ And so, often times what they’re believing is they’re believing facts. They’re believing truth. And they may say ‘Yes I do believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God’-fact. ‘I do believe that the Bible was inspired by God’-fact. ‘I do believe that God is a good God and that he sent his only begotten Son’-fact. But know believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of their soul is an entirely different thing. And so I say to you my friend, and I say it in a loving sort of way, you can believe all that and be just as sincere as you can possibly be and be lost and separated from God. ‘Do you mean to tell me that if I believe that Jesus Christ was, he was a good man, that he was a preacher and teacher and a prophet and came from God-do you mean to tell me that I’m not saved?’ No, if that’s all you’ve got, no you’re not. Because believing in the fact of something is not New Testament belief. And I think a lot of people are very deceived. You say, ‘But listen, do you mean to tell me that if I sincerely believe, I’m still lost?’ My friend, being sincere is fine, but being sincerely wrong will not get you to heaven [into the kingdom of heaven]. And you say, ‘Are you being critical of my faith?’ No, I’m just saying, I want you to understand what it really means Biblically “to believe.” You see, if sincerity mattered, these verses of Scripture would not be in the Bible. I can remember reading these Scriptures as a kid and it sort of frightened me. Turn if you will to Matthew chapter 7. People say ‘I don’t believe a lot about the Bible, but I do believe in the Sermon on the Mount.’ Well, you know what? You believe in the strictest portion of the entire Word of God. And it’s interesting to hear people say ‘I don’t believe in all of it, but I believe it.’ Well you’d better read those three chapters again. Listen to what he says in these verses. I can remember as a kid reading these and thinking ‘Lord, could this possibly happen to me?’ Listen to this, watch this. If sincerity would get you [into the kingdom of] heaven, these verses wouldn’t be here. Listen if you will. Beginning in the 7th chapter, and I want us to begin reading in verse 21. “Not everyone who says to me” Jesus speaking, “Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven. But he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (which is to believe in him, and he says that clearly in another verse). “Many will say to me on that day” (the day of judgment) “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy (teach) in your name? Cast out demons, devils in your name? And in your name perform many miracles and wondrous works?” Jesus says, “And then I will declare unto them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness.’” My friend, if good works would get you to heaven [into the kingdom of heaven], that verse wouldn’t be in there. If just believing facts, and believing and being sincere about what you do would get you to heaven, that verse wouldn’t be in the Bible. He says it’s not that, but those who do the will of my Father and that the will of his Father is to believe in him-believe in his name. Now when it says believe in his name, remember we said to believe in his name means to believe in who he is and what he is and all the Bible says about him, because his name represents all that he is. And so sincerity just absolutely will not get you to heaven no matter what. There is a difference in intellectually affirming the truthfulness of a fact or intellectually affirming of the truth of what you say and placing your trust, your faith in Jesus Christ as your savior-all the difference in the world.

Now the question comes, that is, what’s the cause of this kind of deception that people live in? Well, I think some people genuinely do not understand, they misunderstand the Scripture when it says “believe.” They just put that on the level of daily belief-‘Yes I believe that piano is sitting there. Yes to believe I’ll be able to get up and go to work tomorrow, yes I believe my car will start when I put the key in the ignition. And so they put all this kind of belief in the same category. My friend that’s not what we’re talking about. And so they genuinely misunderstand. A second reason is this. I believe that people purposely, deliberately limit-listen-limit what they’re faith encompasses. And so, here’s what they decide. ‘Here’s what I believe. I believe there’s a God, I believe he’s a good God, I believe one of these days when I die I’m going to heaven just like anybody else because I think I’m just as good as anybody else is, and therefore I believe in God.’ And so, what do they do? They don’t want to get into the Scriptures, they don’t want to get into this thing about Jesus Christ and being born again. They deliberately limit the quality and the degree and, listen, they limit the stretch of their faith. They’re only gonna limit it to what?-to their lifestyle. If I am expected to believe something that interrupts my lifestyle, if I’m expected to believe something that limits the way I want to live, then my faith is limited to believing in God and in Jesus, the kind of person I think he was and the kind of person I think God is and therefore they misunderstand. It is a deliberate misunderstanding. And my friend, listen, you’ll never get to heaven [into the kingdom of heaven] if that’s your idea of believing in Jesus Christ.

Then there are those people who have been misled. They go to church, and I think this is so very important, that this is why I am spending this time in this message, because oftentimes children go to Sunday school, to Bible school, to vacation Bible school, and often times in revivals things get hopped up and heaped up, and the pressure’s on-“Just as I am without one plea that thy blood was shed for me”-and someone is calling “Come on to Jesus, come on to Jesus, believe in Jesus” and often times the invitation is often nebulous, the invitation is so far removed from a Scriptural invitation that people walk down the aisle-and they’re not sure what they’re supposed to believe-just believe in Jesus. Well you know if I was sitting up there and somebody said ‘If you just believe in Jesus and come on down here and tell us you believe in Jesus and you’ll go to heaven when you die’--I’d run down here if I was lost-if that’s all it took. Because, you see, most of the time the idea is you believe in him as a fact. That is, believe in the fact that he was and is and so forth. That will not do it. Oftentimes people are being misled. Now I’m not saying somebody would deliberately mislead them, I’m simply saying this, we have to be very careful. When a child, for example, says, ‘I want to be saved’, that we help that child understand what is meant by ‘being saved’ and what it means to ‘believe in Jesus Christ’, because any child’s gonna grow up with parents who love the Lord and bring their children to church and say to them ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’ and they’ll say ‘Yeah I believe in Jesus, my mother believes in Jesus, my father believes in Jesus, my pastor believes in Jesus, I believe in Jesus.’ What does it mean to believe in him according to Scripture? So oftentimes a person is misled. And so they don’t really and truly understand what they believe. Now, what’s the consequence, what are the consequences of this? Well, let’s take, for example, let’s say here’s a person who says ‘Yes, I do believe in Jesus’ and they do not understand what it means, and so their idea is that they’re just believing in the “fact”. Well, what kind of consequences is presently, that is, right now in their life? Well, right now in their life they’re not saved. In John chapter 12, listen to what he says. He says a person who has not placed their trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation, here’s what he says, in verse 46 of John 12. “I have come as light into the world, that everyone who believes in me may not remain in darkness”, which means that a person who’s never placed their trust in Jesus Christ truly, that person is walking in darkness. You say ‘You mean to tell me that if I don’t believe just like you believe, I’m walking in darkness?’ No, that’s not the issue. The issue is, if you don’t believe the way God teaches in his Word. It has nothing to do with what I believe, necessarily, it’s simply, what does the Bible teach? And all I want to do is explain to you very clearly, unmistakably and certainly, very defensively (if I needed to defend it), exactly what the Bible teaches about believing in Jesus Christ-what it means to place your faith in him for your salvation. Because the Bible certainly teaches that the forgiveness of my sins is based on my faith in Christ, that my salvation, being able to die and go to heaven when I die is certainly based upon that. So for a person who is deceived, there is a consequence. First of all, they couldn’t be a very good testimony if they have never placed their trust in Jesus Christ, genuinely. They may be sincere-and say, what are they gonna do? [They’re gonna] say, ‘Well here’s what I did, I just believed in Jesus, and so I got saved.’ You may just believe in the facts about him, and that did not save you.

Well, there’s a second thing I want you to notice. That is, presently, what is the consequence? Now, what is the consequence in a person’s personal life? Now what about the consequence in their church life? Here’s what I’ve discovered. Now I’ve been a pastor for over forty years and here’s what I’ve discovered. That oftentimes people who have never truly placed their faith in Jesus Christ, have never truly been born-again, but who’ve believed all these facts about the Bible and facts about Jesus and facts about God, because that’s what they’ve been taught and their parents taught and their friends believe and so forth-here’s what happens-they come to church, they get in church, and oftentimes conflict and disunity in the church can be traced back to people who have never been saved but who claim to have been saved [not to be confused with a Christian who may start attending a local congregation, having come from another denomination, and finding that he or she doesn’t totally believe all the secondary doctrines of that new denomination they’re attending-which can cause some doctrinal disunity and disagreement. Another instance of this is being a part of a denomination that just went through major secondary doctrinal changes, which will oftentimes leave local members in many positions of differing secondary doctrinal interpretation throughout the congregation for years down the road-this happened within the Worldwide Church of God, and we still struggle with this condition. This form of disunity absolutely does not point to a lack of conversion in the attending members, so we must be very careful not to point fingers when such situations exist.] Likewise, you’ll find that those people are very hesitant to get involved in the work of the church and the life of the church. What happens is, they end up being spectators, they want to look on, because you see, ‘Don’t try to get me too committed, because my faith has a limitation, I’ve already said how much I’m gonna believe.’ ‘I’m gonna believe in God and I’m gonna believe in Jesus, but if you’re asking me to believe to the degree that’s gonna govern my lifestyle and tell me how I’m gonna live, no I’m not gonna do that.’ And so not only are there points of dissention, but oftentimes they end up being spectators and oftentimes when they do get involved there seems to be conflict that surrounds that kind of person. They’re trying to do a supernatural work in the supernatural power of God, and they don’t have it on the inside of them-because they’ve never placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins the way the Bible requires that, and so they just believe, and things don’t work, and they wonder why. And so likewise a person who comes to church and they’re a part of that, here’s what happens. Deep down inside of them things don’t seem to click, and they listen to the gospel and they listen to the message, and some things will maybe irritate them, or (they say) ‘You don’t have to believe everything in the Bible, you can believe part of it or some parts of it.’ What happens? That person is never quite satisfied. They hear the invitation and oftentimes the invitation irritates them. And what they don’t realize is the Spirit of God is trying to say something to them. They say ‘I’ve already believed, so it couldn’t be me-mustn’t be-give me a couple of Bufferin or something’-because they don’t want to deal with the issue the Spirit of God is trying to convict them of to show them the truth. It is the truth, the only thing Jesus said is the truth is what sets us free. And so oftentimes what happens to that person, they don’t understand why they get upset, they get confused about things-they don’t understand why their expectations are never quite there. Well, why? Because they have never genuinely been saved. They believe some facts and have been very sincere about it, but that sincerity is not enough. Now, that’s the present result.

What about the future result? Here’s what happens. The Bible says “It is appointed once to die and after that the judgment.” We’re all going to die and stand before our Lord and given an account. What are the two inevitable consequences of a person who dies and who has never placed their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sin? Two things are going to happen [according to many Christian interpretations in the heaven/hell scenario, but not all are in agreement, even to what hell is or who goes their. Happily these doctrinal disagreements will vanish at Jesus Christ’s return.]. Number one, shock, when they stand in the presence of Almighty God the Lord Jesus Christ to give account for their life-dying thinking ‘I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, everything’s gonna be safe-stand in his presence and recognize, no they never placed their trust in Jesus Christ, they placed their trust in thoughts, they placed their trust in themselves-they were good enough, they didn’t need to believe in this new-birth business and putting your faith in Jesus Christ so that it changes your life-shock! Secondly, eternal separation. [Turn to the article on this Webster titled “Battle Over Hell” to see all the differing views Christians believe about the doctrine of hell. Sadly there is no agreement or consensus of belief on this subject amongst Christians.] Those two words, they sum up what happens when a person stands in the judgment who has never placed his trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his or her sins. Shock, #1, and separation, #2.

Now, so we have to ask ourselves the question, “Then what does it mean to place your trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin?-and have the Holy Spirit come inside of you and live in your life.” What does it mean to know in your heart that you are rightly related to him in such a way that when you die, you can die singing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see” with absolute total perfect assurance? Somebody says ‘Well can a person ever really truly be that assured? Turn to 1 John, listen to what John says, he says, ‘This is the reason that I’m writing this epistle to you’(to those who were to be his readers). He says for example, verse 13 of 1 John chapter 5, he says “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”-very important that we understand what believe means, because our eternal life depends upon it. Listen to what he said now. Verse 13, “These things”, all these things that he’s written in these first five chapters, “These things have I written unto you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know”-he says-that you may know-“that you have eternal life.” God wants us to place our trust in him for our salvation, God wants us to know, he wants us to have absolutely unwavering, unquestionable assurance that we have a relationship with him, that absolutely cannot be tampered with by the devil or anyone else. Absolute assurance, that is the will of God for us. That being the case, then, we go back to what he said in John chapter 3, verse 16. He says, “Whosoever”-listen-“whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Now, I want you to jot three things down. I’m gonna give you three words, and you can jot them down on something, but you need to keep these somewhere. Put them in the back of your Bible somewhere. This is not the ultimate definition I want to give you, but it’s a very important part. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? Well, first of all, if I’m gonna believe in something I’ve got to have some knowledge. First word is knowledge. If I’m gonna believe in something, believe what?-what is this? Why is this? Where did it come from? What’s is the origin of it? What am I to believe? First of all, if I’m gonna place my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal savior, I’ve got to believe something. What is it that I am to believe? So, first of all there’s got to be knowledge. There are some very basic things that are absolutely essential for me to believe if I am going to be saved, if I’m going to trust Christ as my savior, if I’m going to heaven [to receive eternal life-a more accurate Scriptural term] when I die.

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