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What Does It Actually Mean To Believe In Jesus?

discipleship faith Jun 22, 2022
It all starts with belief.
Although, probably not in the way you might expect.
Years ago I was introduced to a guy named Jeremy, who has probably been more of a mentor to me than anyone else in my life. Funny thing is, we've always lived in different cities and actually only spent time together in person twice. Crazy, right? It just goes to show how someone who's dedicated to having kingdom impact, making disciples, and coaching people, can make a huge difference even over Zoom and phone calls.
Through our connection, Jeremy introduced me to a business and ministry partner of his named Stephen, who also became a friend and mentor as well.
Together the two of them had written and launched a story-based discipleship process years before called The Story-Formed Life (SFL). I won't be unpacking the details of SFL here, but I do want to address one of the core realities they taught me through it before we go any further.
One of the core truths that Stephen taught me is that belief is lived out.
He taught me that to the degree that you believe something is true, is to the degree that you'll walk it out in your behavior.
Most of us think belief is when we know something to be true, but that's actually a line of thinking that surfaced in the renaissance. Over time humans have tried to separate the idea that action must accompany faith in order for it to be validated as faith. This is counter to what we see in scripture and what was widely accepted prior to the change in the 16th century. Etymological dictionaries will show you this change in definition pretty clearly.
The word belief or faith that we often see in scripture has a root and origin in the word Pistis.
A quick word search in a lexicon tells us that Pistis (faith/belief) is divine. It's described as always a gift from God and never something that can be produced by people. It's a divine persuasion for the follower of Jesus. Scholars widely agree that the Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer so that they can be persuaded of his will.
This word's definition and application also carry with it the idea that to have authentic belief means it involves obedience. You can't have one without the other.
Most followers of Jesus are admittedly confused when they read Mark 9:24, the well-known verse where the father of the boy afflicted by a demon says to Jesus "I believe (Pistis) help me with my unbelief (Apistos). Apistos basically means a lack of Pistis. So that begs the question, how could this man both have belief and not have it?
We’ll get there in a moment. But let's take a closer look at the Great Commission first.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
What most people overlook about this passage is how Jesus commanded the disciples to make other disciples and the core part of that process is "teaching them to obey".
Baked into the process of making disciples is that you will be teaching them to obey all the commands of Jesus, including the command to go and make disciples. Making disciples isn't about passing on knowledge, but rather about passing on knowledge in such a way that it is lived out. It's not just what to believe but also how to believe it.
It becomes clear then, that to be a disciple of the way of Jesus you will be reproducing people who live out their belief through obedience and action.
Based on this, I have this strong conviction that the Church in the west has deeply misunderstood what it means to be a follower of Jesus. So here's my working definition of apprenticeship to Jesus, inspired by another leader in my life named Caesar Kalinowski: The never-ending process of a person moving from unbelief to belief, in every area of life as it pertains to the ways of the Kingdom, demonstrated by their behavior.
Authentic disciples of Jesus will over time become increasingly more obedient to the commands of Jesus.
I am convinced that as an authentic follower of Jesus, your life will become increasingly more and more obedient to scripture and the teachings of Jesus over time. We can't have one without the other.
In the Epistle of James, likely written by James the brother of Jesus tells us even more about this truth:
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can such faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works. You believe that God is one. Good! Even the demons believe — and they shudder.
Senseless person! Are you willing to learn that faith without works is useless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by works in offering Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was active together with his works, and by works, faith was made complete, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend." James 2:14-23 CSB
James makes it clear that faith without works isn't real faith. It's faith that is authenticated by works that is the true faith.
I need you to hear this loud and clear: this isn't a works-based gospel I'm suggesting. This isn't to say that you earn salvation by doing anything. Doing is simply evidence that you actually believe what you say you believe. There's a very distinct difference in that. I would draw a hard line and reassure you that there is no action you can take that will save you. God is the author of salvation, and we're told by Paul in Ephesians 2:8 "For you are saved by grace through faith (Pistis), and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift —  not from works, so that no one can boast."
With that said, scripture is very clear that the evidence of that faith being authentic and from God is that you will demonstrate it with your works and actions. Because authentic pistós-faith is divinely transmitted and cannot be mustered up. This kind of faith can't not change you over time.
So back to the question above. How can I both believe and have unbelief?
It's true as discussed earlier that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, recognizing the reality of our imperfection and sinfulness in light of his perfect sinlessness, will immediately be evident by some form of action and works.
However, what will be most telling is the progressive continual transformation over a lifetime. The regular 'repenting and believing' about certain truths and aspects of living righteously according to the ways of the coming kingdom, will be evident in our actions.
Simply put, over a lifetime we should look progressively more like our King Jesus.
That is the true evidence of our authentic faith. Because God doesn't impute a divine persuasion (pistós) about him and his kingdom and then not provide the ability to live out his will through works, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are given opportunity after opportunity for a lifetime to say the words "Lord I believe in you, but give me the kind of belief I need from you in these other areas of your ways and commands, so that I can faithfully walk them out."