What does it really mean to believe in Jesus?
If we are to qualify to benefit to from the death of Jesus Christ by being justified and forgiven we have to believe in Him. More accurately, we must believe on Him. That does not mean simply to believe that He exists, or even to believe that He is the Son of God, It is not enough in itself, even to believe that He is the Saviour, or that He died on the cross to take the penalty for sin.
All of those things are true and it is right for us to believe them all. However, in a certain sense, even those facts can be just head knowledge. It is perfectly possible for us to believe all those things as mere facts and still not be saved. Indeed, I fear that that is a very common condition and is true of many people.
What is needed is for us to believe on Jesus Christ in the sense that a man believes in a rope bridge when he steps on it to begin to walk across a deep ravine. It is one thing to have head knowledge that the rope bridge exists and even what it is made of. It is quite another thing to put your trust in it and step onto it and begin walking.
That is the kind of faith Jesus requires us to have in Him. He wants us to stake everything we have on Him and to rely on nobody else and nothing else except Him. In one sense, therefore, believing, or having faith, means to trust. An example of this was Abraham's willingness to leave his home and go to search for the Promised Land, when he did not yet even know where it was. Even more starkly, there was his willingness to sacrifice his (adult) son Isaac, through whom God had promised to give Abraham a multitude of descendants. That was an extraordinary act of trust.
Abraham demonstrated his faith by trusting God to raise Isaac from the dead, which is what Abraham fully expected to happen. So, when God saw his faith He was satisfied that Abraham (and Isaac) had real faith and God therefore called off the test and did not make Abraham and Isaac go through with it. However, the key point is that Abraham showed his faith by obeying and trusting:
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Hebrews 11:8-9 (ESV)
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. Hebrews 11:17-19 (ESV)
Believing means obeying and trusting - it's not just intellectual
In other words, we are required to believe in Jesus Christ in the sense that we must put our trust in Him and rely upon Him alone to obtain salvation. That means that we recognize that there is only one way that we can go to heaven and that is through Him. There is only one way that we can be considered righteous in God’s eyes. That is for the righteousness of Jesus Christ to be transferred over to us.
We have to accept that there is no other way to be saved except through Him. We must abandon all ideas of earning salvation or deserving it on the basis of our own merit. Instead we must stake everything we have on Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone for our salvation, based on what He did for us on the cross.
When the man in the illustration above walks across a rope bridge high above a ravine, there is nothing else that can hold him up in the air other than that rope bridge. If it breaks then he will fall. Yet he knows that in himself he cannot cross that ravine or hold himself in the air and that the rope bridge is his only way. He may have anxieties about whether it will bear his weight. Those anxieties may be so great that he is not prepared to set foot on it.
Yet, if the question was raised as to whether this man really "believes" in the rope bridge, all of us would agree that the answer would be found by looking at whether he steps on to it and walks across. The very fact that he is stepping onto it demonstrates that he really does believe in it sufficiently to risk everything he has on it, even his own life. If he will not step on it, how can he say he truly believes in the rope bridge?
A person can genuinely believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet, understandably, still have moments of doubt that trouble them from time to time. That is natural and happens to most people. The key is whether, in spite of all that, you still put your trust in Him and continue to rely solely upon Him for salvation.
It is the same for the man on the rope bridge. He may have his moments of anxiety, when he walks across and feels the wind blowing him. But the question is does he continue walking across it or does he turn back? If he carries on walking across then he is showing that he is putting his faith in the bridge, even if his mind is troubled with doubts.
That is the kind of belief or faith that is meant when the Bible speaks of believing in Jesus. It does not mean merely an academic belief or just agreeing with certain doctrines or beliefs. Likewise, merely knowing about the types of rope, wood and metal that the rope bridge is made of is important, but not enough, if you aren't convinced that it will take your weight. Having a really good knowledge of the Bible and of doctrine is extremely important. Even so, that is not what is meant by believing in, or believing on, Jesus Christ.
A man can have wrong or incomplete ideas about certain doctrines but still genuinely believe in and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ in the sense needed for salvation. For example, good and honest people hold different views as to exactly what will happen before the return of Jesus Christ and exactly what the sequence of events will be. Yet despite holding different viewpoints on these things, such men can all be genuinely saved. That's because they still sincerely believe in, and on, Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone for their salvation.
Equally we might hold different views about the use of spiritual gifts, or how we should conduct church meetings, or how we should dress, or whether to drink alcohol, or other forms of practice and procedure. But those are not paramount. I do not say that they are not important. It is very important that we believe correctly what the Bible teaches and have a good understanding of it. Yet our salvation, or being born again, is not based upon passing an examination on Scripture knowledge. It does not require us to be highly educated or academic.
The smallest child, or an old man lying on his death bed with only minutes, or even seconds, to live, can understand all that they need to believe to put their trust in Jesus Christ. Yet the most learned professor can totally miss the point. Believing is, therefore, not an academic exam and it is not just about head knowledge. Instead, it is primarily about sincerely putting our trust in Jesus Christ and resolving to follow Him with devotion, loyalty and love.
You could also say that, believing in Jesus is about 'calling on Him' or 'calling out to Him' in our distress to ask Him to save us:
for "whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:13 (NASB)
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NASB)
and he said, "I called out of my distress to the LORD, And He answered me I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. Jonah 2:2 (NASB)
18The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
Psalm 145:18-19 (NASB)
Nevertheless, though I want to emphasise all of that, there are still certain basic essential facts that we do need to understand and believe in order to be able to meaningfully put our trust in him. Otherwise, if you did not know or understand who Jesus is, what He is, and what He did, then what basis would you have to put any trust in Him? So, we do need to have at least some basic knowledge of the facts that the Bible teaches.
I will seek to list and explain these essential facts. I will break it all down into a series of basic statements of what we need to know and believe. After each one I will present a series of Bible verses to back it up. Rather than fully explain each of these, I will generally let the Bible speak for itself. If any of them are not clear, please refer back to the relevant chapter in this book where the point was covered in detail.
I am going to try to provide you now with a solid, thorough explanation of what we need to believe. However, I am not saying that you must fully understand or know all of these things in order to be saved. I have seen dying people come to believe in Jesus in the final minutes of their lives and validly put their trust in Him. They did not know or understand all of these points below. But they were still saved.
Even so, I want to be reasonably thorough with you. Hopefully, you are not in the final few minutes of your life. We therefore have the time to get things very clear, so as to avoid errors and wrong thinking later on.