Words matter. And ubiquity weakens the meaning.
Take for example our use of the verb ‘LOVE':
- I love my husband
- I love chocolate
- I love to read
- and my common email/letter closing of ‘love, Maria’
The overuse and cross-categories application of ‘to love’ has so watered down this affectionate inclination that when we are told to love God, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.
Same with the idea of ‘BELIEVE':
- I believe that people are basically good
- I believe in family
- I believe in luck
- I believe in love
- I believe in being the best I can be
- I believe that 2 and 2 are 4
The Bible takes the exhortation to believe VERY seriously. It actually seems to be a matter of eternal life or death, what we believe. So how should we think about it? Does it matter how we believe or what we believe in? After all, the half-brother of Jesus taught us “…even the demons believe (in God) and shudder!” James 2:19b
Maybe a more precise question might be: How do we distinguish saving belief and simple factual belief? And does that preposition IN make the difference?
Blue Letter Bible is the name of a website/app that provides a wealth of examples in how terms are used. In their discussion of the verb ‘to believe’ (Greek verb # 4100 PISTEUO) they consider contexts both in the Bible and in literature preceding and after NT days. I found these nuanced meanings helpful:
- to rely on
- to place one’s confidence in
- to embrace with joy
- to make the foundation of your faith
In view of the richer and deeper concept of ‘to believe’ I now make a point to use one of these fresher substitutes. So in lieu of saying: I believe in Jesus, I substitute I rely on Jesus for all my needs.
I used to think many people were Christians when they said with easy confidence, “Oh I believe in God!”
But as I pointed out above, people believe in all sorts of things on a surface or shallow level, some of which are not even real (think – tooth fairies, conspiracy theories and a government that can fix our problems!)
I ask you then, does it matter what we mean by ‘to believe’? Actually it does matter. For what we believe and rely on….
…..determines where you and I are going to spend eternity.
Here’s one example. When Jesus arrived at Mary and Martha’s house after Lazarus had died, Martha berates her friend by postulating that her brother would not have died had he arrived earlier.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
The question then is, does everyone who mouths the words, “I believe in Jesus” receive ‘forever-life’ with God?
Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself by sharing pastor John Piper’s view of belief in Jesus.
“Believing is coming to Jesus to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus.”
So I see belief in Jesus to be a reliance on Him as my constant and never-ending source for every need, desire, joy, anxiety, and problem. He IS my treasure. He IS my greatest good. And His presence is rest and peace. That is belief.
And what we believe in can actually be what we truly LOVE. I’ll let John Piper have the last word tying the two together:
“So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money — belief (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy.”
Question: What is it that you believe or base your life on?