A Verbal Microcosm (2)
…for I know whom I have believed… 2 Timothy 1.12
The impossibility of unbelief
Christians tend to think of the world as divided into two camps: those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. In the Christian camp we say, “I believe in Jesus Christ for my salvation.” We refer to those who do not believe in Jesus as unbelievers, because they do not share our faith in the Lord.
But referring to such people as unbelievers is inaccurate. They may not believe in Jesus, but this does not mean they don’t believe at all. All people believe in something. They have to. Believing is inescapable, because we can’t prove everything we need to have confidence in before we put our weight down on it.
All people are believers of one sort or another. They all believe in some basic ideas about life, what’s best for them, the future, ethics, goodness, right and wrong, and much more. Ultimately, those who do not believe in God and Jesus Christ believe in themselves, or in others like them. They believe that what they desire in life is best for them, and that how they choose to live is what will enable them to achieve what they believe is best.
No one can prove any of this, anymore than we can prove that Jesus is God and rose from the dead. If we could prove that, we wouldn’t need faith; but Paul says we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5.7). We believe in Jesus because His Spirit has wrought a work in our souls which allows us to hear the Word of God, receive the gift of salvation, be born again into a new realm of existence, and experience the Presence of Jesus Christ at work within us, willing and doing according to God’s good pleasure (Gal. 4.6; Phil. 2.13).
Those who do not believe in Jesus do not not believe. They believe in something, something in the future which remains unseen, except as an exercise of imagination informed by experience and hope. No one can prove the truth of what they believe; rather, people believe what they choose, then spend the time of their lives trying to make progress in or toward that which they have chosen to believe. Paul says that such people have turned to idols rather than believe in God (Rom. 1.18-23), whereas Christians turn from the idols of the world to worship and serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1.9, 10).
Those who profess to believe in Jesus must be continuously on guard, however, for the temptation to believe in things other than the Lord for our happiness and wellbeing is always present with us. We can persuade ourselves that we believe in Jesus, yet a careful examination of our values, priorities, and activities might reveal something more like what we see in our “unbelieving” neighbors.
Paul wrote that he knew Whom he believed, and he was persuaded that this faith would see him through the present, to judgment, and on to eternal life. If God has revealed Jesus to us, we will only truly know Him to the extent that we believe as Paul did, and as the New Testament teaches.
What then does it mean to believe in Jesus like Paul did?
Paul’s faith in Jesus represented a complete turn of focus and change of life. Prior to Jesus revealing Himself to Paul, who was called Saul, he trusted in his Jewish heritage, learning, and social standing for his sense of purpose, meaning, and happiness. He was a go-getter, an up-and-coming zealot for the Law of God and the traditions of the Jewish people. He treasured his learning, prestige, and status within the community, and sought by every means – even to the point of harassing Christians – to advance his beliefs and status.
But when Jesus revealed Himself to Paul, all that changed. In his own words, the old things he cherished and sought passed away; he counted them no longer valuable, but as rubbish (2 Cor. 5.17; Phil. 3.8). Now he had a new objective in life: to “gain Christ and be found in Him” (Phil. 3.9). So suddenly and dramatically did his life change, that whereas he had gone to Damascus to persecute believers there, he ended up preaching Jesus in that same city (Acts 9.20). Those who heard him were “amazed” at the change in him (Acts 9.21), and those he formerly persecuted could scarcely believe it themselves (Acts 9.26-30).
For Paul, believing in Jesus meant a radical transformation in values, priorities, hopes, aspirations, and daily life. He did not expect everyone who believed in Jesus to become like him, a preacher, evangelist, and church planter. But he expected them, whatever their station or condition in life, to set their minds on Christ, exalted in glory; to seek Him and His glory in the Word of God; to be increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ; and to do everything in life to bring glory and honor to God (1 Cor. 7.17-20; Col. 3.1-3; 2 Cor. 3.12-18; 1 Cor. 10.31). In sum, Paul called all believers to imitate him, just as he sought to imitate Jesus (1 Cor. 11.1).
When he believed in Jesus, Paul received a new focus in life, a new foundation for all his activities, a new fount of life to well up in and flow from him, and new fruitfulness in living every moment of his life for Jesus. And all this was because he believed in Jesus Christ.
True faith is thus much more than merely confessing belief in Jesus. It’s even more than professing faith and adding “Christian” activities to one’s life. Indeed, Jesus envisioned that, at the judgment, many would appear before Him calling Him “Lord”, as they certainly must have done throughout their earthly experience. But He will turn them away where the evidence of true faith is missing (Matt. 7.21-23).
The writer of Hebrews wrote that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1, my translation). True faith has an inward, soul-transforming dynamic. Christ becomes the focal point of the conscience, so that all our values revolve around what matters to Him. He inflames the heart with desire and delight. And He leads us to think, plan, assess, and understand our world with His own mind, His own outlook and worldview (1 Cor. 2.16). As Christ thus fills more of values, affections, and thoughts, we are assured of Him Whom we hope for above all else.
Such assurance leads to a changed life – not all at once, but gradually and increasingly – so that the evidence of true faith becomes visible in us. All our words and deeds take on the priorities and character of Christ. The good works that accompany salvation (Heb. 6.9) become increasingly evident in us. In everything we do, we strive to be made new in Christ, to increase in Him, to gain more of Him, and to shine with His glory in all aspects of our lives (Phil. 3.12-16; Matt. 5.13-16).
We must not allow mixed beliefs to deprive us of the pleasure, power, and promise of knowing and believing in Jesus like Paul did. If we seek in things, circumstances, people, or any created thing that which God intends to give us through Jesus alone, we will compromise true faith in the Lord; and having compromised, we may find ourselves unable to stand for Jesus against the taunts, threats, and intimidations of an increasingly hostile world.
Look to Jesus. Look to Paul. Let your life become more like his who said, “For me to live is Christ…” (Phil. 1.21). True faith will flourish in you when you commit everything in your life to the service and glory of Jesus Christ.
1. How might you know when “mixed beliefs” were depriving you of the benefits of true faith?
2. Why does inward assurance lead to outward evidence of true belief?
3. How can believers help one another to have faith life Paul’s?
Next steps – Preparation: Review in prayer the ways God has changed you since you began to believe in Jesus. Ask Him to show you other areas of your life where you need to grow in Him.
T. M. Moore
To Know Him clarifies what it means to have eternal life in Jesus. What in Heaven is Jesus Doing on Earth? shows you the nature of Christ’s ongoing work from the right hand of God, and how you fit into it. You can purchase these books by clicking here and here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.