December 6, 2015
Written by John Walvoord, Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and Pastor, Deceased 2002
Have you ever really believed in Jesus Christ? I was talking to my five-year old son. He replied quickly, “Of course, dad.”
“But have you ever really been saved? How do you really know you are saved?”
He replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,.” He ripped off the words as fast as his little mouth could phrase them. It was a verse he had memorized, and he had heard it explained so many times.
Perhaps you would have answered just as he did. “Of course I am saved. Of course I believe in Jesus Christ.”
Do you really believe?
It is not uncommon for children, as well as adults, who have taken the position that they believe in Christ, later to question it and to wonder whether they really believe. How can you really know?
The answer is found in a series of smaller questions, questions that are natural to our own thinking, and questions that are often raised in the Bible. Through the ages men have traveled on many roads, seeking some assurance that after this life they would have a blessed eternity. Really believing in Christ is the Christian answer to the way of entering a blessed eternity. But what is involved?
First of all, it means that you believe something about yourself. One of the plain facts that confront any reader of the Bible is that man is naturally sinful, and as a sinner, is far from God. This theme can be traced from Genesis to Revelation as the Bible records every known human sin. Man is revealed to be born a sinner by nature as confirmed by the fact that men universally have sinned. Obviously the problem of salvation is how to deal with sin.
There have been many answers. The most common answer, found in the non-Christian religions, is that the solution is to do better. An Orthodox Jew, if he follows his own theologians, believes that if his good works outweigh his bad works, he will have a blessed eternity. Heathen religions often prescribe the most torturous and painful ceremonies to make a person acceptable to God. In some religions, parents had to offer their infant children as a fiery human sacrifice to God. Salvation for many pagan religions is a painful, almost hopeless pursuit of some way by which they can appease the gods and find rest and peace in eternity. Most religions teach that salvation is difficult, not easily attained.
Is there a better way?
The Christian Gospel alone, among all the religions of the world, offers a different method. It is a method in which someone else — God Himself — supplies the salvation. Those who need salvation accept it as a gift from God. It is what the Bible calls salvation by grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).*
Salvation by grace recognizes that man is a sinner and that he cannot save himself. Accordingly, God does for man what man could never do for himself, that is, provide a perfect system of forgiveness in which man is forgiven of his sins. More than that, he is looked on by God as if he has always been righteous and has always done what is right. This is the famous doctrine of justification which Martin Luther rescued from oblivion in the great Protestant Reformation. God in His gift of salvation declares sinners righteous.
But it is obvious that not everyone is saved, at least if you accept what the Bible teaches. Christ said the way of salvation was narrow and the way to destruction was broad. Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Here we face the question again. How can I be saved?
The answer of the Bible is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This is what Paul told the Philippian jailer.
What does it mean to believe?
The Bible uses the word believe or the word faith hundreds of times to describe an act of trust. It is an act of the mind in that it involves comprehension of some truth, to at least a limited degree. The Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and enables us to understand what we should believe to be saved (John 16:7-11).
Belief is also an act of the will because it involves a decision on our part (John 7:17). Are we going to trust the facts about the person and the work of Christ? The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ was the God-man — all that God is from eternity, and all that man is apart from sin. The Bible also repeatedly presents, in both testaments, the fact that God Himself provides Christ as the One who would die on the cross for our sins. He was the lamb of sacrifice (John 1:29). He died in our place. He “bore our sins in his body” (1 Pet. 2:24). He died “the righteous for the unrighteous” to bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
How could another person die for us?
This is a difficult question to answer, but the Bible presents it as a fact, not as a philosophy or as a tentative solution. This was the divine method. God, recognizing we could not do it ourselves, provided a Savior to die in our place.
But did He die for everyone? Theologians discuss this question, but the Bible seems to indicate clearly not only the universality of sin, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way”; but also the universality of God’s provision that “the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). God’s love extended to all the world, as stated in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Christ died for the same world to which He came, a world that was without hope and without God, but a world that desperately needed what He had to offer.
But the world as a whole did not receive Christ and did not enter in to what He had provided. This is stated in John 1:11, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” But as the passage goes on to state, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
Believing is accepting as a fact and making a commitment of your own future to the promises of God to save you — simply by believing in Christ. This leads to the question …
“Do you really believe?”
True faith involves believing something about yourself: that you are a sinner. It involves believing that Christ is the Son of God. It includes believing that He died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins. It isan act of the mind. It is an act of the will. But it is also an act of the heart.
Sometimes the terms of the gospel are expressed in the phrase that to be saved we should receive Christ in our hearts. While many have come to Christ on this type of invitation, it is only a partial presentation of what the Bible teaches. Actually, it is included in believing. For the Scriptures say, “That 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” (Rom. 10:9-10).
Coming back to the question, “Do I really believe?” the only one who can answer that question is you yourself. We have to be honest with ourselves and with God. Have you really put your trust for your eternal salvation in the crucified hands of One who died in your place? Are you willing to accept the humiliating fact that you cannot save yourself by anything you do or anything that you are in yourself? Are you willing to accept God’s solution? Are you willing to accept Jesus Christ?
Fundamentally, while it is in part an act of your mind and in part an act of your emotions or your heart, it is an act of your will.
Years ago a high school lad was listening to his father preach. It was a large, prominent church. His father was an eminent preacher. His father was pleading for souls to come to Christ. When the service ended, the young lad went home and later to bed. But his father’s words rang in his ears. “Have you ever believed in Christ?” Here he was, “the preacher’s kid.” Everybody thought he was a Christian. But was he really? How could he know? As he faced the awesome question, he slipped out of his bed, got down on his knees, and prayed this simple prayer. He said, “Lord, if I have never received you before, I receive you now.” He climbed back into bed, and in a few moments was sound asleep. He had really believed in Jesus Christ; it was a clear act of his will.
Many years later, that high school lad was to return to serve as pastor in his father’s church, where, in the years which followed, he led hundreds of others to receive Christ as Savior. When that lad, now a famous preacher in his own right, heard of the possibility of Dallas Seminary being founded as a school for training preachers, he said to Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “This seminary must be in Dallas.” The preacher was Dr. William Anderson. The year was 1923. Dallas Seminary became a reality in 1924 because a high school lad was honest and straightforward in facing the question, “Do I really believe?” Multiplied thousands have followed the same road. Have you?