FALSE DOCTRINE: Just Believe
As of July of 2008, on the first page of the Google results for the query, “How do I become a Christian?” was the following article:
Here is an excerpt from that article:
‘ For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Jesus paid the price for your sin and mine by giving His life on Calvary’s cross. God brought Jesus back from the dead and paved the way for you to have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus. All that’s left for you to do is to accept the gift that Jesus is holding out for you right now.
‘If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.’
God says that if you believe in His son, Jesus, you can live forever with Him in glory.
‘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.’
Are you ready to accept the gift of eternal life that Jesus is offering you right now? If it is your sincere desire to ask Jesus to come into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, then talk to God from your heart: Here’s a Suggested Prayer:
‘Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to purchase a place in Heaven for me. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life.'”
The first problem with this teaching is that even if we just take the scriptures sited and nothing else, there is nothing in these verses that say anything about saying the ‘suggested prayer’ for salvation, that Jesus is ‘holding out a gift’, that one needs to be ready to accept the gift of eternal life, or about having a ‘sincere desire to ask Jesus to come into one’s heart’. If we were to just use these scriptures and no other scriptures, then all one would have to do is confess, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in one’s heart that God rose Jesus from the dead. That would be it. No other prayer or any other ‘work’ would be required.
Second, let’s look at the context for the Scriptures sited:
Romans 9:30-33 (HCSB)
30 What should we say then? Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained righteousness—namely the righteousness that comes from faith. 31 But Israel, pursuing the law for righteousness, has not achieved the law. 32 Why is that? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: Look! I am putting a stone in Zion to stumble over, and a rock to trip over, yet the one who believes on Him will not be put to shame.
Romans 10:1-13 (HCSB)
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation! 2 I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 Because they disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: The one who does these things will live by them. 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith speaks like this: Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down 7 or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. 8 On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: 9 if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 Now the Scripture says, No one who believes on Him will be put to shame, 12 for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, since the same Lord of all is rich to all who call on Him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
So in context we see that Paul is talking about how Israel rejected God’s righteousness by trying to be justified by the law without faith, but truthfully, looking at the context of this first passage sited by the author of the above mentioned website doesn’t disprove that all one has to do is confess with their mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead in order to be saved.
At this point, I believe it is important to think about how understanding works. Understanding builds upon prior understandings and definitions of words. If any of the prior understanding that our overall understanding is built on is flawed, we can be blinded by our very understanding! This being the case, I believe it is important to examine and recognize our prior understandings in order to make sure our conclusions aren’t also flawed.
1 Thess 5:20-21 (HCSB)
20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good.
For me, for example, when I first re-examined the following passage when doing this study:
Romans 10:8-13 (HCSB)
This is the message of faith that we proclaim: 9 if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.
…and specifically when I saw the text, ‘if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead’, my mind and heart automatically shouted, ‘meaning you confess “Jesus is Lord” before you are baptized and then believe while being baptized’. This may be true or this may not be true but I need to recognize this preconceived notion I have so that I can make sure it is not flawed. This is very difficult to do but I believe that in order to truly look at a passage of scripture with intellectual honesty, we must recognize and test our preconceived notions to make sure we are not blind to the simple truths of the Bible. In other words, we need to make sure we don’t rely on our own understanding over the plain meaning of God’s Word.
Prov 3:5 (HCSB)
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;
I also found my mind immediately saying, ‘but this passage says, ‘you will be saved’, meaning that in the future, if one really believes, then one will repent and get baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so it is true that one who confesses with their mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believes in one’s heart that God rose Jesus from the dead will be saved.’ The problem with this thought process is that I am not being consistent with this method of interpretation. What I mean is that in Act 2, we read:
Acts 2:38 (HCSB)
38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So I would not be consistent if in the Roman’s passage I say that, ‘you will be saved’ means that one will be saved in the future after doing something else, while in the Acts 2:38 passage, I say that ‘you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’, means one will get the Holy Spirit right then and there. In truth, interpreting the scriptures in this inconsistent way is doing nothing more than picking and choosing scriptures by applying rules to some scriptures while not applying these same rules to other scriptures.
But what about the context of Romans? Does the fact that Paul is writing to Christians, who were most likely already saved, change the meaning of what Paul was saying in Romans 10:8-10? In other words, was he saying, ‘you Christians will be saved if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God rose Him from the dead’? I don’t think that is the case because in the specific section where Paul says this, he is talking about unsaved people. He is talking about Israel. Also, we know that Paul is not telling the Christians who were in trouble that if they confessed with their mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believed in their hearts that God rose Jesus from the dead that they would be rescued from their current situation (as is sometimes taught) because in verse 10 of Romans 10 it states, ’10 With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. ‘ which shows that Paul is definitely talking about salvation and not being delivered from some situation.
Again, at this point I believe it is necessary to explain that if we are truly seeking truth from the scriptures, we must strip away ideas that are not sound. Although it is our tendency to explain away passages that don’t fit with our prior overall understanding of the Bible with fine sounding arguments, doing this is building artificial walls of support to bolster our position. I believe that our position should be based on Scriptures and not on faulty arguments used to explain away passages that we don’t seem to fit with our understanding.
So where does that leave us? We have not been able to legitimately explain by just using Romans 10:8-13 why Romans 10:8-13 does not mean that if one confesses with one’s mouth, “Jesus is Lord’ and believes in one’s heart that God rose Jesus from the dead that one will be saved. So in general, at this point in our pursuit for Biblical truth, we can either look for passages that further support the idea that belief is all that is required for salvation or we can look for passages that seem to be contrary to this idea. I believe the many times painful road to intellectual honesty points to us first looking for more passages that support the idea that belief is all that is required for salvation and after doing this, to look for passages that are contrary to this idea.
Mark 1:14-15 (HCSB)
14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: 15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”
Luke 8:11-12 (HCSB)
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 The seeds along the path are those who have heard. Then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
John 1:6-13 (HCSB)
6 There was a man named John who was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. 9 The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. 12 But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
John 3:16-18 (HCSB)
16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.
John 3:36 (HCSB)
36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.
John 6:28-29 (HCSB)
28 “What can we do to perform the works of God?” they asked. 29 Jesus replied, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the One He has sent.”
John 8:24 (HCSB)
24 Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [He] , you will die in your sins.”
John 11:25-26 (HCSB)
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever. Do you believe this?”
John 12:36 (HCSB)
While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become sons of light.”
John 20:30-31 (HCSB)
30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.
Acts 16:29-31 (HCSB)
29 Then the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Romans 3:21-31 (HCSB)
21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. 28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. 29 Or is God for Jews only? Is He not also for Gentiles? Yes, for Gentiles too, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 4:11 (HCSB)
11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also.
Romans 4:22-24 (HCSB)
22 Therefore, it was credited to him for righteousness. 23 Now it was credited to him was not written for Abraham alone, 24 but also for us. It will be credited to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
1 Cor 1:21 (HCSB)
For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached.
Gal 3:22 (HCSB)
But the Scripture has imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
1 Tim 1:16 (HCSB)
16 But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst [of them] , Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
1 Tim 4:10 (HCSB)
10 In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.
1 John 3:23-24 (HCSB)
23 Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commands remains in Him, and He in him. And the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He has given us.
1 John 5:12-13 (HCSB)
12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
So now that we have listed all of the scriptures that seem to say that all one has to do to be saved is believe in Jesus, in our pursuit of Biblical truth, what are we to do now? Do we just end our study and conclude that all one has to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus?
Matt 4:5-7 (HCSB)
5 Then the Devil took Him to the holy city, had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: He will give His angels orders concerning you and, they will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” 7 Jesus told him, “It is also written: Do not test the Lord your God.”
In the above passage, Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem, has Him stand at the highest point of the temple and tells Him to jump off reasoning with Him from the scriptures that angels would catch Him. Satan cites the following scripture to support his application:
Psalms 91:11-12 (HCSB)
11 For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. 12 They will support you with their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
So how does Jesus answer Satan’s application of scripture? Does Jesus just say, ‘That is what that one scripture says so it must be true.’? No, instead Jesus says, ‘It is also written: Do not test the Lord you God’, citing Deuteronomy 6:16. In essence, Jesus tested the validity of Satan’s application of scripture with other scriptures and concluded that Satan’s application violated other scriptures making it a faulty application. Since this is the way that Jesus, the author of the scriptures, tested applications of scriptures, we are walking on solid ground if we imitate Jesus in this regard.
So if we apply this principal to the application of the scriptures that claims that all one has to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus, what do we find? Just like how Jesus tested the validity of Satan’s application of scripture with other scriptures, let’s see if there are scriptures that the ‘belief only’ application violate:
First, are there any scriptures that directly speak against the application of scripture that says all one has to do is believe in Jesus and one will be saved?
James 2:14-26 (HCSB)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can his faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder. 20 Foolish man! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was perfected. 23 So the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by a different route? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
So in our quest for truth that requires intellectually honesty, in light of all of the belief passages and in light of James 2:14-26 above, what are we to do and what are we to conclude? I can only think of a few options that we have at this point:
1. We can ignore James 2:14-26 completely deciding that it is completely contradictory to what we believe the rest of the Bible says. (This is exactly what Martin Luther did in the 1500’s. He removed the book of James from the Bible calling in uninspired).
2. We can somehow explain that it does not mean what it clearly says.
3. We can take it along with the lump sum of all of the other scriptures to derive truth.
It seems clear that if we believe the entire original Bible was inspired by God that number 3 is the only choice that makes any sense.
Also, why can’t we use James 2:14-26 to refute the application that all one has to do is believe, the way that Jesus used Deuteronomy 6:16 to refute Satan’s application that Jesus should throw Himself down from the temple because the angels would catch him?
Second, are there scriptures that indicate that there is something else to do other than just believe in Jesus to be saved?
Acts 2:37-40 (HCSB)
37 When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles: “Brothers, what must we do?” 38 “Repent,” Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation!”
Acts 22:16 (HCSB)
16 And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins by calling on His name.’
Romans 6:3-5 (HCSB)
3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life. 5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.
Gal 3:27-28 (HCSB)
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 3:21 (HCSB)
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So again, since we have all of these belief passages and baptism passages, we can either pick one side or the other and then ignore or explain away the passages that support the other side, or we can take all of the scriptures together to derive truth. If we do the former we either derive that one is saved when they believe or that one is saved when they repent and are baptized. If we do the latter, we can derive that one is saved both when one believes and when one repents and is baptized. This derived truth takes all of the scriptures into account without ignoring or explaining away scriptures.
Now that we have derived a basic truth from the lump sum of all the scriptures, we would be wise to test our thesis by looking for scriptures that seem to support this view. Are there any scriptures that support that one is saved both when they believe and when they repent and are baptized?
Col 2:12-15 (HCSB)
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
This scriptures ties it all together perfectly, not ignoring or explaining away any passages of scripture.