Do You Believe Jesus

April 12, 2006

By Darin Brink

“If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die on your sins” (John 8:24b).

Do you believe Jesus?

Consider the following account from the gospel according to John. In it, we meet Jesus who is having a conversation with a group of Pharisees. They have challenged His authority, and specifically His testimony on His own behalf.

Then they [the Pharisees] asked him [Jesus], “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, becasue his time had not come yet come. Once more Jesus said to them, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.” This made the Jews ask, “Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, ‘Where I go, you cannot come’?” But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”

John 8:19-24 (NIV)

Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe in a personal God? In a survey conducted in Great Britain and the US 90% of people polled responded that they believe in a personal God, and over 80% identified themselves as Christians. So perhaps there is no need for revival in this country, since nearly everyone already believes? Yet, there is a belief that does not lead to salvation. And, Jesus makes it very clear that “If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die on your sins” (John 8:24b). What does this mean?

There is a great difference between believing that Jesus did something, believing in Jesus, and believing on Jesus.

Belief has three components. Historically the philosophers and theologians have referred to these three components with Latin names: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.

Notitia refers to the belief that something is factual. To say that New York is a city in America or that George Washington was the nation’s first president would be examples. These things are thought to be true statements about reality and there is no moral or spiritual virtue in either believing or disbelieving them. If the facts seem convincing then a prudent person will believe them. If the facts are unconvincing then you would be prudent to be skeptical about believing (notitia) them. To “believe” in Christ we must certainly recognize certain facts about Him but there is no spiritual value in recognizing these facts. If the facts seem unconvincing then it is prudent to wait until more evidence is available.

The Bible specifically teaches that the demons have this type of “belief” in Jesus. Indeed, their belief in these facts is based on first hand observation. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.”
Yet no demons are saved.

This type of belief can be called “belief that”. A person may believe that the Mona Lisa is in Paris, and they may believe that Napoleon was a former Emperor of France. Their belief in either case is simply a belief that something is, in fact, true. Their belief may be based on firsthand knowledge (a person may have visited the Louvre and seen the Mona Lisa) or it may be based on authority (they believe Napoleon was an Emperor in France because they read about it in a history book) but it is simply a belief that the given fact is true.

This has two major implications. The first implication is that we must recognize certain facts as true. God the Son came to Earth and lived in the middle-east for 30 plus years, dying on a cross as a sacrifice for the sins of all who believe and then was physically resurrected from the dead three days later. If you find these facts difficult to believe because of convincing evidence to the contrary then it would make no more sense for you to “believe” that they are true then it would for you to believe that Oz is a land that can be reached from Kansas by a hot air balloon. However, most people that I have spoken with have no such evidence. Instead they choose to act as if the evidence is flimsy or preposterous because they do not want to believe. Of course, if we admit that there is a God in heaven who lovingly created us, yet whom we cannot approach as free moral agents because of our sin, then that obviously requires a drastic solution. Many would rather not admit such a problem and they hope to make it “go away” by pretending that it doesn’t exist. I submit to you that if you are such a person that you should return to the Scriptures, and read the gospel of John each day for two months, and before you read, say a prayer such as this: “God, if there is a God, please show me the truth regarding the matter of Jesus Christ and the claims in the Bible. I am an honest seeker and truly want to know the truth more than I want to be proved right. With Your help (if You exist) I will repent and believe the truth about Jesus if I am convinced of it.”

The second implication is that believing that “God exists” and that “He loves us” is not saving faith. The demons believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He lived on earth and died at the hands of Pilate, then was raised from the dead after three days. They know this from first hand experience. They were there. They witnessed it. Yet, as I already said, there are no demons in heaven.

Assensus refers to knowledge and approval of the facts. Nicodemus knew that Jesus had come from God, for he said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who had come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus believed that Jesus came from God, and he realized that Jesus’ miracles were real and that the miracles showed that God was with Jesus. Yet Nicodemus did not have saving faith. We know this because Jesus said to Him, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). While Nicodemus believed in Jesus he did not believe on Him. King Agrippa was in the same situation. When Paul stood trial before Agrippa he said, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27). Yet clearly Agrippa did not have saving faith on Jesus for he replied to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to become a Christian?” (Acts 26:27). In the cases of both Agrippa, and Nicodemus, knowledge and approval were not enough.

Fiducia is perhaps best described by the English word “trust”. It implies an actual placing of confidence in something and is typically manifested in action. The action itself is not the trust, but the action follows the trust as a logical consequence. A true story that illustrates this well happened over a century ago.

The French tightrope walker and acrobat, Blondin, was born at St. Omar, France, on the 28th of February 1824. His real name was Jean Francois Gravelet. When he was five years old he was sent to the Ecole de Gymnase at Lyons and, after six months’ training as an acrobat, made his first public appearance as “The Little wonder.” He combined remarkable technique with a flair for the dramatic, not unlike the famous magician, David Copperfield, in our own time. Blondin particularly owed his fame to his idea of crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope, 1100 feet long, stretched 160 feet above the water. He would cross carrying things, pushing things or blindfolded. On one occasion he stopped halfway and cooked an omelet. In 1869, while a great crowd gathered on the Canadian side of the falls watching him, he performed a new stunt. Legend has it that he never wore a rope around him, but this time he did. He walked over, slowly at first but gaining speed as he progressed. Once he made it over to the New York side, he walked back over. This time though he walked back pushing a wheelbarrow. When he got over to the Canadian side, he took off his safety rope and he asked the crowd if they thought he could carry a kitten, in the wheel barrow. Most of the crowd said that they thought he could, and he put his kitten in the wheelbarrow and proceeded over the falls with the kitten in the wheelbarrow. When he returned, he asked the crowd if they thought he could carry a man across in the wheel barrow. By now everyone in the crowd put up their hand, because they knew he could do it. But then, he asked for a volunteer. Suddenly there were no hands left up. “Surely one of you will volunteer” he asked again, but no one would get into the wheelbarrow. While all the observing fans believed that Blondin could do it and believed in Blondin’s abilities, none of them believed on Blondin. None of them got in the wheelbarrow.

True faith means placing absolute trust on Jesus Christ. When someone asks a child of God if he is going to heaven, the true believer does not say, “I hope so”, or, “I believe that as best I can.” The Christian with trust (fiducia) on Christ says, “Yes. According to God’s great mercy He has caused me to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for me. I am protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed at the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

This type of faith is composed of trust that Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25), trust in Jesus that He bought the Church of God with His own blood (Acts 20:28 ), and will work in it to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:12), and a firm trust on Him, knowing whom you have believed, being convinced that He is able to guard what you have entrusted to Him for that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

This type of saving faith always leads to changed behavior and a changed life.

“For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one can boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we may walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit — good works], for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says that he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? . . . Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 14, 17).

Does this mean that we are saved by works? No. If anyone had climbed into Blondin’s wheelbarrow he would have been brought to New York across the Niagara Falls. In fact, if he remained in Canada he would have to wonder if he were in the right wheelbarrow. The person’s faith would have resulted in the works of him being carried across Niagara to New York. However, the motive force for the trip across the falls would have been Blondin pushing the wheelbarrow. And Blondin would receive all the credit and glory.

Some people hearing this may realize that although they have always “believed in” Jesus, they have never truly “believed on” Him. They do not trust Him to redeem their life or to have His Holy Spirit direct their life and produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8 ). Perhaps you are such a person yourself. What should you do if you are even now aware of the fact that you know of Jesus like King Agrippa did, and that you approve of Jesus as Nicodemus did in the third chapter of John, yet you have not placed saving faith in Jesus? Perhaps you have attended church for much of your life yet you have never trusted Christ to forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, and to bring you into an intimate relationship with the Father and the Son (John 17:3) — one in which Jesus Himself is not ashamed to call you a brother or sister (Hebrews 2:11). Perhaps you would like to trust Christ in this way but you are unable? That very thing happened to a man who came seeking help from Jesus and His disciples for the healing of his son. In Mark nine we read:

“Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by an evil spirit that has robbed him of speech. . . I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit but they could not.” . . . Jesus replied. . . “Bring the boy to me”. So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “’If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

Mark 9: 17-27 (NIV)

This man believed in Jesus in two senses of the word. He knew of Jesus and His power over demons and over illness. He certainly approved of Jesus, otherwise he would not have gone through the trouble of seeking Him out. Yet, when it came down to it, he did not trust on Jesus to heal his son. Jesus explains that this man must believe in this third sense (fiducia). Perhaps like this man, you approve of Jesus, and have even traveled to find Him, going to church most Sundays to hear a word from Him. But perhaps, like this man, you have not truly trusted Jesus. What can you do? If Jesus is putting this desire in your heart then you may be certain that He will help you overcome your unbelief, for, God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3: 16)

Unless you believe/ know to be factual/ acknowledge and approve/ trust by placing your life in His hands — you will die in your sins.

If you are in a position of unbelief, then please cry out to Jesus as the father of the demon-possesed boy did: I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

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