Basics – Believe ~ 20120101 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/01 Basics – Believe
Today is the first day of 2012. Happy new year! The changing of the calendar can be a time to reflect, refocus, re-center, renew, resolve; take stock of where we've been and where we are going, celebrate past victories, evaluate past failures and arm ourselves to fight the good fight of faith, take a deep breath, fix our eyes on the goal, and get a fresh start on life with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve.
To serve us as a fellowship of believers in refocusing our affections on what matters most, I would like to take the next few weeks and look at the essence of what it means to be a Christian. I asked myself this question: “if you were to choose just three words that would most accurately sum up what it means to be a Christian, what would they be and why?”
Let me say up front, this kind of question does not necessarily have a right and wrong answer. If I asked each of you to write down on a piece of paper how you would answer that question, I would expect to get a wide variety of answers. I might even like your way of articulating it better than mine. I'm envisioning these three words as if they were labels for buckets. Each word or 'bucket' carries in it content or meaning or truth. Although the labels on our buckets may be different, I hope that the contents of our buckets are roughly equivalent. On the other side, you could take my three words and fill them with a different meaning, and although the labels would look identical, the contents may not be Christian at all.
So here are my three buckets or words, and I will spend the next few weeks explaining what the buckets contain – what I mean be the words. Believe, Worship, Love. Today we will tackle the first – Believe.
You'll notice I chose verbs. In my first draft, I used the word 'faith'. But faith is usually used as the noun form of the concept; we talk about it as if it were a thing we possess. He or she has faith. I received a faith that was handed down to me. I chose the verb form 'believe' because it is an action word. It is something I do. In summing up what it means to be a Christian, I wanted to choose a word that portrays not something I have – in my pocket or in a drawer at home, but who I am – who I am as defined by what I do.
What the Word Means
The bible uses both the noun and verb form of the word. The New Testament word is [πιστις - pistis] in the noun form and [πιστευω - pisteuo] in the verb form. It means to be persuaded of, to be committed to, to trust in, to have confidence in. It has at its root the idea of faithfulness or trustworthiness. To believe is to entrust yourself to the faithfulness of another. A classic illustration of the biblical concept of belief comes from Charles Blondin, the great tight-rope walker. He walked a rope stretched 1,100 feet across the Grand Canyon, 160 feet above the water. He paused in the center to do a back somersault. He pushed a wheelbarrow across on the rope. He asked the cheering crowds if they believed he could carry a man across. Everyone shouted their approval. But then he asked 'who will climb on my back?' The crowd fell silent. Finally, his manager stepped forward and climbed on. That is what it means to believe. To entrust yourself to the faithfulness of another.
The Gospel: Believe in Jesus
This is the essence of the gospel message. This is the good news. Paul and Silas responded to the question
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Saved from what? I didn't know I was in danger. Paul explains:
The good news is forgiveness of sins. The one who believes in Jesus is set free from condemnation as a lawbreaker. We have rebelled against God and violated his law. All who entrust themselves to Jesus
are rescued from the just consequences of our sin. Jesus teaches the same message to a Pharisee named Nicodemus:
Jesus draws contrast between perishing or being condemned or having God's wrath remain on you; and being saved or escaping condemnation or having eternal life. All this hinges on believing in him or entrusting yourself to him.
But how? How can Jesus extract us out from under the just consequences of our sin? Jesus pointed Nicodemus to the giving of the Son by the Father, the lifting up of the Son. What does this mean?
Our record of debt with its legal demands stood against us. The wages of sin is death. God forgives by giving us his only Son, God himself in human flesh, who was lifted up, nailed to the cross. John, pointing to Jesus, said “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn.1:29). Peter said:
We, guilty sinners, receive the gift of forgiveness, the gift of justification, the gift of God's righteousness, as a result of what Jesus did for us on the cross. In Romans 3, Paul talks about:
The death of Jesus as my perfect sin-bearing substitute satisfies the just demands of God's wrath against my sin, and purchases for me the gift of righteousness that God freely gives to all who will receive it by faith, to all who simply believe, or entrust themselves to Jesus.
This is the Christian understanding of faith – coming to Jesus, believing in Jesus, entrusting yourself to Jesus. Come as a sinner, come to him as the Savior, climb on and let him carry you, hold on to him alone for eternal life. What must I do to be saved? Believe. Depend. Trust in the finished work of Jesus that he did for you on the cross. Embrace him with heart and soul and mind and strength. Entrust yourself to his care. And then we find out in Ephesians that even my faith, my trust, even my ability to come to Jesus and cling to him, is a gift given to me by God to prevent my boasting (Eph.2:8-9; Phil.1:29; 1Pet.1:21; Jn.6:44).
Believing the Opposite of Earning
The bible explains what it means to believe by drawing a clear distinction between believing and earning in order to preclude boasting.
Works result in wages that are due and entitle you to boast. Believing is not working but depending on the goodness of another to give a gift that I need but cannot earn.
Jesus speaks of believing as the opposite of working when he was asked a question about what God requires.
Do not attempt to earn God's favor. Trust him when he says that he has paid the price in full. Believe him.
One of the more common names the bible gives to followers of Christ is 'Believers'. In the New Testament, we are called 'Believers' at least four times more often than we are called 'Christians'. This divides all humanity into two categories: believers and unbelievers. This title defines us – this is who we are; we are those who believe; those who entrust ourselves to Jesus. The bible talks about those who have believed – a past tense decisive action; but more often it refers to those who believe, those who are believing as a present continuing action. Paul urges Timothy to continue:
Paul defines the life of the believer this way in Galatians:
There is a decisive past action – I have been crucified with Christ. We who have believed in Jesus have been united with him in his death (Rom.6:1-6). God's resurrection power is at work in us. We have been raised to a new life. We have experienced a rebirth. Now Christ lives in me. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee (Eph.1:13-14, 2Cor.1:22;5:5). We have been given an inheritance in heaven (Eph.1:11). We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph.1:3). These are our present possessions as believers. They are decisively and irrevocably ours. But Paul also tells us that there is a continuing present action. “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith”. Already in possession of forgiveness as a believer, I continue to live life “by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The Christian life is the life of a believer, a life defined by simple trust in Jesus, the Son of God. We continue to entrust ourselves to the one 'who began a good work in you'; the one who will also 'bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ' (Phil.1:6).
Our faith is in a person. I know whom I have believed. I am persuaded that he is able.
The Christian life is a life of faith, a life characterized by belief. We live in continual dependence, reliance, trust in Jesus. We walk day by day in relationship with him. Jesus described this continued connection as 'abiding'.
We must believe in Jesus, abide in Jesus, draw strength from Jesus, follow Jesus. We are nothing and can do nothing apart from Jesus.
Belief in Jesus is the prerequisite to a relationship with God. Belief is the door through which we enter the kingdom of God. Belief is also the lifeblood of the Christian.
Are you a believer? Have you entrusted yourself to the faithfulness of Jesus? Are you living today in constant dependence, drawing your sustenance from Jesus? Is he carrying you?
Galatians 2:20 ...the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.