“All you have to do is believe!”
Much talk floats around now, as always, through church history, about the necessity or lack thereof for sound doctrine. “Deeds, not creeds” and so on. “Why are we discussing these things – all you have to do is believe in Jesus!” True, but what Jesus? The Jesus of Mormonism? Of the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Of Islam? The Jesus of contemporary Christianity who is nothing more than your “buddy” and who would never speak an unkind word? (Tell that to the scribes and Pharisees, no?)
Just who Jesus “is” (thanks, Mr. Clinton, for making “is” a part of our ongoing dialogue in America) is for another time. But “believe?” Now, I’m just some redneck from the boondocks and not a giant of the faith like some and like one “giant” I’ll cite below.
John 3:16 is clear – “whoever believes” will receive eternal life. Just what IS belief? It appears that not all who “believe” receive eternal life. Some passages:
John 2:23-25 (ESV): 23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
So they “believed” but Jesus did not believe that they believed. I’d trust what Jesus’ thoughts/actions were.
John 8:31:59 (ESV):
31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
39They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
48The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
We have Jews who believed in Him (v. 31), who in v. 59 are picking up stones to throw at Him. Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus says in vv. 37 and 40 that “you seek to kill me” when they haven’t said or done anything yet to indicate that – all they have done is ask a question and then give a couple responses, none of which show a desire to kill Him? Knowing what is in our hearts better than we know ourselves, Jesus knows their desire to kill Him even as they “believe.”
Acts 26:24-29 (ESV): 24And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
Do we have evidence that Agrippa was “saved?” It appears not. Did Agrippa “believe” in a saving way or did he “believe” in the same way the demons do (James 2:19)?
Charles Stanley has a long-lasting ministry that has affected many people and bless him for that. However, his book “Eternal Security” (Copyright 1990 by Charles Stanley) presents some issues that are somewhat puzzling. I think both Arminians and Calvinists will have issues with what the statements from his book I’ll reference shortly.
I would affirm the 1689 LBCF on the perseverance of the saints, which says (from Founders.org):
A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
Rewritten in Modern English
©1975, Carey Publications, Ltd., 75 Woodhill Road, Leeds, U.K., LS16 7BZ
Reprinted here by permission
CHAPTER 17 – THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
THE saints are those whom God has accepted in Christ the Beloved, and effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit. To them He has given the precious faith that pertains to all His elect. The persons to whom such blessings have been imparted can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they shall certainly persevere in grace to the end and be eternally saved, for God will never repent of having called them and made gifts to them. Consequently He continues to beget and to nourish in them faith, repentance,love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit that issue in immortality. Many storms and floods may arise and beat upon them, yet they can never be moved from the foundation and rock on which by faith they are firmly established. Even if unbelief and Satan’s temptations cause them for a time to lose the sight and comfort of the light and love of God, yet the unchanging God remains their God, and He will certainly keep and save them by His power until they come to the enjoyment of their purchased possession; for they are engraven on the palms of His hands, and their names have been written in the book of life from all eternity.
Ps. 89:31,32; Mal. 3:6; John 10:28,29; 1 Cor. 11:32; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 John 2:19.
It is on no free will of their own that the saints’ perseverance depends, but on the immutability of the decree of election, which in its turn depends upon the free and unchangeable love of God the Father, the efficacious merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and the saints’ union with Him, the oath of God, the abiding character of the Spirit’s indwelling of the saints, the divine nature of which they are partakers and, lastly, the terms of the covenant of grace. All these factors guarantee the certainty and infallibility of the saints’ perseverance.
Jer. 32:40; John 14:19; Rom. 5:9,10; 8:30; 9:11,16; Heb. 6:17,18; 1 John 3:9.
In various ways-the temptations of Satan and of the world, the striving of indwelling sin to get the upper hand, the neglect of the means appointed for their preservation-saints may fall into fearful sins, and may even continue in them for a time. In this way they incur God’s displeasure, grieve His Holy Spirit, do injury to their graces, diminish their comforts, experience hardness of heart and accusations of conscience, hurt and scandalize others, and bring God’s chastisements on themselves. Yet being saints their repentance will be renewed, and through faith they will be preserved in Christ Jesus to the end.
2 Sam. 12:14; Ps. 32:3,4; 51:10,12; Isa. 64:5,9; Matt. 26:70,72,74; Luke 22:32,61,62; Eph. 4:30.
We then proceed to Mr. Stanley’s statements. Page 74 says, “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.” Page 80 says (emphasis mine): “God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved–only an act of faith,” and “Forgiveness/salvation is applied at the moment of faith. It is not the same thing as faith. And its permanence is not contingent upon the permanence of one’s faith.” Page 81: “Again, saving faith is not necessarily a sustained attitude of gratefulness for God’s gift. It is a singular moment in time wherein we take what God has offered.” The last one is especially shocking on page 93 (emphasis again mine): “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy. Christ will remain faithful.” Christ is indeed faithful. The teaching of the New Testament, though, is clear on the need for the Christian to keep on believing (testing one’s self, examining one’s self, e.g., 2 Cor 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10 and so). If you REALLY want to read something shocking, read pp. 126-128 and his view on the “outer darkness.” Terrifying.
People listen to what we say and what we teach. If memory serves, Gordon Clark, whom I greatly admire, says “belief” is “assent to a proposition.” I think he had a problem with the threefold aspect of faith (Greg Koukl on that topic) offered by the Reformers. I would fall into Koukl’s camp and therefore, MacArthur’s camp that Jesus must not only be Savior, but Lord as well. Paul, in 1 Cor. 15, discusses the Gospel they HAD received (past tense) and the fact those same people were BEING saved (present and ongoing), working out their salvation (presently) as Philippians 2 tells us. Praise God He is perfecting us imperfect people (Phil. 3:12) and that He will complete His work (Phil 1:6, Heb. 12:2).
That we would be careful in pronouncing anyone saved because they make a profession of faith. I didn’t even discuss Acts 8 and Simon the sorcerer and Peter’s rebuke of him. We are to proclaim how to be saved. By belief. Proper, biblical, saving belief. And make sure we are saved ourselves.