In listening to Bishop John Bryant of the AME church the other night, I was struck by how urgent the case of the gospel is, and how easy it is to assume salvation on people who have never professed to be Christians.
We might believe that the people who surround us in our social circles, in our families, and in our churches believe in God, and on some level they probably do. However, James 2:19 says: “You say you believe in one God, good, Even the Demons believe that and tremble.” Belief therefore biblically is not the bar to salvation. And if it is not the bar, then we must be concerned for those who may believe, but have not reached whatever other bar there is
I believe that we can make a distinction between belief and Faith (especially saving faith). Belief is knowledge. Belief might even be unprovable, unverifiable knowledge, like the belief in God seems to be. Faith, on the other hand, (especially when talking about faith in God) is a relationship. Faith is a trust that goes with belief. I can believe in gravity, but I have faith that gravity will hold me securely to the ground. Do not get me wrong, in popular culture, and common use of language, belief and faith are used often times interchangeably, and I have been guilty of this as much as anyone. But what I am trying to do is differentiate the two words for a theological purpose. I am trying to place a dividing line between belief and faith. In quoting James earlier, I am also thinking about James’ insistence that works are necessary for faith. And it is the works, or action, or change in behavior at least that I am interested in. The demons that James say believe and tremble, were still in opposition to God, despite their belief. When our belief begins to draw us closer to God, that I think is where we cross the line from belief to faith.
Often when people are trying to convert others to Christianity, they will say all you have to do is believe. And while this sentiment is true, there is so much more to Christianity then simple belief in God. This is a problem that we can actually see in many areas of Christianity, where the truth has been boiled down into a reduction, that somehow has lost all of its flavor. If we simply say “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” we are failing those we would hope to convert. Because if we do not follow up with these people and give them the opportunity to understand just what God intended for us to do when we believe, how our belief is supposed to draw us closer to God, so that we might have faith in the power of God’s salvation, then we are like the farmer sowing seeds on shallow soil, and those who we convert will fall away as their belief will be unable to carry them through life’s trials and tribulations.
There are people today who believe all sorts of crazy things. When I was in High School a class mate of mine convinced me to believe that the U.S. had never landed on the moon. I believed that for some time, but it did not change me in any way. Belief in God is similar. If all you do is believe in God, and it has not changed you, do you really have a saving faith in God? Some people like this, might be easier to recognize than others. There are criminals who murder and steal but claim they believe in God. There are people who spend more time kneeling before the porcelain throne after a night out, than they ever do kneeling before the throne of God’s grace. There are people who wear all sorts of religious jewelry and have religious tattoos and so on, but do not have time to make it to Church or Bible study. Then there are the people who grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday, and so they still go to church every Sunday but their Bible is sitting dusty in the corner because it never gets opened, because going to Church once a week is enough. And the Word of God has never actually entered their lives to make any sort of impact.
If all you do is believe but you do not know God, and you cannot testify to the great things that God has done, why are you bothering? Why are you coming to Church? There are certainly more interesting things to do on a Sunday morning than listening to a preacher. Church should be a time of renewal, refreshment, and recharging, instead so often people want it to be their only connection with God. Try talking to your spouse just once a week and see how long it will be until you are getting served with divorce papers. Thankfully God is much more forgiving than a human spouse, and so God is waiting for us to take our belief in God and make it our faith in God. God is waiting for us to step out into the water with our eyes locked firmly on Jesus saying I believe in you God, and I have faith that you will catch me if I start to sink.
We are in need of our own personal relationship with God. We cannot count on the pastor’s or our mom’s or Grandma’s faith, we need our own. And so much more than that, we also need to be helping to foster individual relationship with God with those in our circle, those who we might think believe in God, but we do not know if they have faith in God.
The gospel is an urgent gospel, and God desires for you to do more than just believe!