The Essentials of Belief

Do you believe in God?

Despite the vocal outbursts of some atheists, most people in our great country believe in God, or at least in a supreme being.

Studies among Americans have shown:

  • 86 percent believe in God or a supreme being
  • 75 percent believe in life after death
  • 86 percent believe in heaven
  • 77 percent believe in hell
  • 69 percent believe in a God described as the “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect Creator of the universe who rules the world today.”
  • Almost nine out of 10 people (87 percent) say the universe was originally created by God.
  • Only 9 percent of Americans profess no religion at all.
  • More then 80 percent—including 71 percent of college graduates—believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.
  • 34 percent believe the Bible is the actual word of God to be taken literally, word for word.
  • And most Americans still to this day say they are Christians, with numbers ranging from 77 percent to 86 percent.

Yet we can’t escape wondering, “Is this true?” when we look at our society’s rates of crime, divorce, and babies born out of wedlock, plus other social ills.

The Bible asks this question: “Check up on yourselves. Are you really Christians? Do you pass the test? Or are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all?” (2 Corinthians 13:5 LB)

What steps must be taken to know that someone is truly a Christian?

That’s a question people have been asking from the beginning. In the Bible, a jailer in the city of Philippi put it clearly when he cried out, “What must I do to be saved?”

To be “saved” is a term in the Bible that describes having our sins forgiven, plus the assurance that we will go to heaven when we die.

It’s an apt term, describing perfectly the plight of a person without hope in this troubled world we’re living in. Not unlike a drowning person going down for the last time and in desperation calling out to the lifeguard for help.

Seeing how desperate our situation is, we call out to God for help.

Paul’s response to the jailer was significant: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NKJV).

Fine, you think. But what does “believing” actually mean?

Let me tell you what it does not mean.

To believe is not mere intellectual assent. To believe is not to simply acknowledge that a man named Jesus Christ lived, died, and even rose again.

To believe, as the word is used in the Bible, is “to put your trust in, to cling to, to rely upon.”

Do you trust in, cling to, and rely on Jesus Christ?

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (see John 3:16).

The word believe also implies letting go of something. If I’m clinging to one thing, I’m letting go of another. If I’m clinging to and trusting in God, I’m letting go of my sinful ways.

The Bible calls this process “repentance.” And indeed, one needs to repent to be a Christian as well.

The Bible tells us we are to “repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19 NIV).

Have you repented of your sins?

Let’s look at essential elements of the Good News that we must believe and receive to be certain that we are indeed Christians and will go to heaven.

1. Realize that you are a sinner.

This is a hard pill for some to swallow, but it’s an essential fact. Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NKJV). Sin has infiltrated the human race, and not one of us has escaped its effects.

The Bible tells us that this sentence of death goes all the way back to Adam, the first man, who with his wife, Eve, ate forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Sin entered the human race through Adam, and the human race has been trying without success to live above it, restrain it, civilize it, or get rid of it ever since. The history of the human race from that day in the Garden to today has been man’s futile effort to gain back the position lost by Adam’s fall.

We might protest and say, “Why should I be held responsible for what some guy named Adam did thousands of years ago?”

Look at it this way: Adam acted as the head of the human race, even as the president of the United States is the head of the American government. When the president acts, it’s really the American people acting through him. When the president makes a decision—whether we like it and agree with it or not—that decision stands as the decision of the entire people. In the same way, Adam acted on our behalf.

But don’t be too quick to jump down Adam’s throat.

If we’d been in his position, we would have done the same thing. In fact, every day of our lives, we face the same test that was set before Adam. We’re confronted with hundreds and even thousands of decisions to do the right or wrong thing. And let’s be honest here: So often we choose the wrong.

God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NKJV).

The Bible says that prior to coming to faith, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word used for “sin” implies “missing the mark.” The word “sin” is believed to have been used in Old English archery, representing the act of missing or falling short of any goal, standard, or purpose.

According to God’s standards, no human being in his or her own strength has ever “hit the mark”—not Billy Graham, not Mother Teresa, not Rick Warren, and certainly not Greg Laurie. Some of us may be farther off the bull’s eye than others, but not one of us has hit it. We miss that perfect mark not only in what we do, but also by what we fail to do.

Why do we miss it? Because God’s “mark” means absolute, total, complete, flawless perfection! Jesus said it: “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 NLT).

2. Repent of your sins.

I already mentioned this, but let’s define it further.

Repentance—that’s certainly a word we don’t hear often today. But it’s the first recorded word to have fallen from the lips of Jesus after He began His ministry: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 NKJV).

The Bible tells us “He [God] has commanded all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30 NKJV). Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5 NIV).

Obviously, repent is a pivotal word. But what does it mean?

It means to “change” or to “turn.” It’s like driving down the highway, pulling a U-turn and heading in the other direction. More than simply being sorry, it is a word of action. Many people feel remorse for their sin, but never truly repent. Remorse is being sorry; repentance is being sorry enough to stop.

Paul wrote: “God can use sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek salvation. We will never regret that kind of sorrow. But sorrow without repentance is the kind that results in death” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT).

In the story Jesus told of the prodigal son, the young man knew he was wrong—probably knew it from the beginning. But nothing changed until he acted on that knowledge, crawled out of the pigpen, and started down the road toward his father and home. He had a “change of mind” that resulted in a “change of direction.”

3. Believe in and receive Jesus Christ into your life.

While repenting is turning away from something, faith is turning to something.

In salvation, you are turning from sin to Jesus Christ. From darkness to light. From the power of Satan to the power of God.

And it’s a choice only you can make.

The Bible says, “But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12 NKJV). And: “For God so loved the world that whoever believes in Him should not perish” (John 3:16 NKJV).

This kind of faith means that you realize Jesus Christ is the very Son of God. He’s the One who loves you so much that He died on a cross for you 2,000 years ago to pay the penalty for your sin, then rose from the dead three days later.

You need to believe that and ask Him into your life.

4. Do it now!

Good intentions aren’t enough. Agreeing with what I’ve said in this article isn’t enough. You must admit you are a sinner, repent of that sin, and put your faith in Christ.

The prodigal son could have repeated his refrain “I am no longer worthy” over and over again. He could have said it the rest of his life and remained in the far country, separated from his father and home. But he did more than repeat those words. He acted on them. He got up and started walking.

You must do the same.

When? The Bible says, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2 NKJV).

As with the prodigal, that first step might be a difficult one to make. But how glad he was when he felt his father’s arms around him, and heard the words, “Welcome home.”

That’s what God wants you to hear as well.

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