Amid this emphasis on the cost of following Jesus, you might wonder about passages in the Bible where it seems that salvation involves simple belief. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “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.” Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” According to the book of Romans, “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.” Based on these passages, you might conclude that believing in Jesus is all that’s involved in becoming or being a Christian.
This is absolutely true, but we must consider context in order to understand what the Bible means by belief. When Jesus calls Nicodemus to believe in him, he is calling Nicodemus to be born again—to begin an entirely new life devoted to following him. Likewise, when the Philippian jailer believes in Christ, he knows that he is joining a community of Christians who are being beaten, flogged, and imprisoned for their faith. The cost of following Christ is clear. In the same way, Paul tells the Roman Christians that to believe in the saving resurrection of Jesus from the dead is to confess the sovereign lordship of Jesus over their lives.
In each of these verses (and scores of others like them), belief in Jesus for salvation involves far more than mere intellectual assent. After all, even demons “believe” that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Son of God. Such “belief” clearly doesn’t save, yet such “belief” is common across the world today. Just about every intoxicated person I meet on the street says he “believes” in Jesus. Scores of people I meet around the world, including some Hindus, animists, and Muslims, profess some level of “belief” in Jesus. All kinds of halfhearted, world-loving church attenders confess “belief” in Christ.
We can all profess publicly belief that we don’t possess personally, even (or should I say especially) in the church. Hear the shouts of the damned in Matthew 7 as they cry, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus replies to them, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom.
As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying.
Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying.
Now I want to be very careful here, because we could begin to twist the gospel into something it’s not. Jesus is not saying that our works are the basis for our salvation. The grace of God is the only basis of our salvation—a truth we will explore further in the next chapter. But in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually followers of Jesus in the first place.
Platt, D., & Chan, F. (2013). Follow me: a call to die. a call to live. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.