“What Does It Mean to Believe?

” (Acts 16:31)

I. Introduction. A. Orientation. 1. We talk a lot about faith in connection with salvation, and no wonder: Paul tells us it’s something we must have in order to be saved, as we see from our passage. But what does it mean to believe? a. In Protestant circles, we believe that we are saved by grace – by God’s unmerited favor – through faith alone. b. It’s important for us to say this because we want to make a distinction between what we believe and what the Roman church believes. (i) They believe that they are saved by the grace of God alone. (ii) But the way they believe they receive that grace is not by faith alone, but through the sacraments given to them by a consecrated priest, and through their cooperation with the grace they receive, they receive more grace. (iii) But if the “salvation” they receive is not by faith alone, can it really be by grace alone? And if it isn’t by grace alone, do they really receive God’s salvation? 2. Even within Protestant circles, we differ as to what that faith is that brings salvation. a. Faith is so often defined as a prayer we pray, or something we do that is so pleasing to God, He actually counts our faith as the righteousness that saves us. b. But can our faith itself be a work we do to make us acceptable to God? If it is, what happens to grace? c. Whenever we add works to grace, we destroy grace. Grace, by definition, excludes works. If salvation is to be by grace alone, it must be by faith alone, apart from works, as Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). d. We need to avoid this error as much as Rome’s, since they both add up to the same thing: that somehow our works earn or add to our salvation. 3. How should we understand faith so that we don’t turn it into a work? a. Faith is looking to someone else to save us, to the only One who can save us: to Christ. b. It is looking away from our own works to His, from our so-called “merits” to His infinite merit, and receiving in Him our right standing before God. B. Preview. 1. We know this is true, but how often do we struggle to understand what this means? When you consider how important this particular teaching is to

2 yourself, to your children, and to those you might try to lead to Christ, then you realize this is one area in which you can’t afford to be wrong. 2. That’s why we’re going to spend this evening looking at saving faith – both to make sure we have it, as well as to equip ourselves to help others find their way to Christ. a. First, we’ll look at the different parts of faith, but only briefly. b. Then we’ll seek to understand what it means to believe savingly. II. Sermon. A. First, we know that faith has different parts. 1. First, there’s knowledge. a. It’s important – if we’re going to be saved – to hear and understand the Gospel. b. The Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). c. What is it we have to hear? The Gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). d. We not only need to hear it, but we need to understand it. Jesus said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road” (Matt. 13:19). e. But this by itself is not enough. 2. It’s also essential that we believe what we hear. a. So many today don’t believe what the Bible says. (i) They think it’s some kind of fairy tale for people looking for a crutch to shore up their lives. (ii) The “experts” can’t be wrong – and the experts say that we all evolved. (iii) But what they don’t realize is that the “experts” don’t know evolution took place, they just choose to believe it did, and that against all the evidence. b. If you are to be saved, you have to believe the Bible is true – that you really are a sinner, that Christ really is the only Savior – otherwise, you will never be able to “believe” and be saved. 3. But there is one more thing: a. Knowing and believing isn’t enough: You must also trust in the Lord. b. You must place your whole hope of heaven on Christ and on Him alone. B. This is what we need to understand: what does it mean to trust in the Lord? 1. This takes faith to a saving level, beyond what an unconverted person will ever experience.

3 a. You must act on what you know to be true; you must receive the One you know to be real; you must trust His death and His obedience to save you; you must receive Christ as your righteousness and your only hope of heaven. b. This is what Paul meant when he told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). c. We might wonder how the Philippian jailer ever figured this out. He just happened to understand the Greek language, since that’s what he spoke, and knew what Paul was saying: he knew he needed to place his whole hope of heaven on Jesus Christ. 2. Since we don’t understand this as well as he did, let’s look at a couple of explanations to get a clearer picture of this in our own minds: a. First, let’s consider what William Gurnall, the Puritan author of that great book on spiritual warfare The Christian in Complete Armor, had to say. (i) “Everyone that assents to the truth of [i.e., believes to be true] what the Scriptures says of Christ does not believe on Christ. No, this believing on Christ implies a union of the soul to Christ, and fiduciary recumbency on Christ [a leaning on Christ by faith]. Therefore we are bid to take hold of Christ (Isa. 27:5), who is . . . called God’s strength, as elsewhere His arm, ‘that we may make peace with God, and we shall make peace with Him.’ It is not the sight of a man’s arm stretched out to a man in the water [that] will save him from drowning, but the taking hold of it” (Gurnall; italics added). (ii) “Judas knew the Scriptures, and without doubt did assent to the truth of them, when he was so zealous a preacher of the Gospel; but he never had so much as one drachm [mite] of justifying faith in his soul. ‘There are some of you which believe not, for Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him.’ Yes, Judas’s master, the devil himself, one far enough (I suppose) from justifying faith, yet he assents to the truth of the Word. He goes against his conscience when he denies them: when he tempted Christ he did not dispute against the Scripture but from the Scripture, drawing his arrows out of this quiver (Matt. 4:6). And at another time he makes as full a confession of Christ (for the matter) as Peter himself did (Matt. 8:22, cf. 16:17). Assent to the truth of the Word is but an act of the understanding, which reprobates and devils may exercise. But justifying faith is a compounded habit [is made up of two parts], and has its seat both in the understanding and will: and, therefore, [it is] called a ‘believing with the heart’ (Rom. 10:10), yes, a ‘believing with all the heart’ (Acts 8:37). It takes in all the powers of the soul. There is a double object in the promise; one proper to the understanding, to move that: another to the will, to excite and work upon that. As the promise is true, so it calls for an act of assent from the understanding; and as it is good as well as true, so it calls for an act of the will to embrace and receive it. Therefore he which only notionally knows the promise, and speculatively assents to the truth of it, without clinging to it, and embracing of it, does not believe savingly, and can have no more

4 benefit from the promise than nourishment from the food he sees and acknowledges to be wholesome, but eats none of it” (Gurnall; italics added). (iii) Saving faith is more than believing the facts are true – so many today think that this is all we need to be saved. (a) Simon the magician believed and was baptized, but he was never savingly converted (Acts 8). (b) Satan and his demons know the truth and believe it, but there is no hope of their salvation (James 2:19). (c) Judas performed many miracles and preached the Gospel, but he is in hell today. (d) Many saw the miracles of Christ and were convinced He was the Messiah, but they ended up denying Him before Pilate. (e) Saving faith does more than believe the facts – it trusts Christ who offers Himself in the Gospel and receives His righteousness as the only hope of heaven. b. This is what John Bunyan also found to be true. (i) He writes in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, “One day, as I was passing in the field, this sentence fell upon my soul: Your righteousness is in heaven; and I thought withal I saw with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ, at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away. Now I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God. I lived for some time very sweetly at peace with God through Christ. Oh! I thought, Christ! Christ! There was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes. I saw now not only looking upon this and the other benefits of Christ apart, as of His blood, burial, and resurrection, but considered Him as a whole Christ! It was glorious to me to see His exaltation, and the worth and prevalency of all His benefits, and that because now I could look from myself to Him, and would reckon that all those graces of God that now were green in me, were yet but like those cracked groats and fourpencehalfpennies that rich men carry in their purses, when their gold is in their trunk at home! Oh, I saw that my gold was in my trunk at home! In Christ my Lord and Saviour! Now Christ was all” (Grace Abounding; italics added). (ii) The point is, you cannot stand before God in your own righteousness – Christ must be your righteousness, and for this to be true, you must look to Him in faith and receive His righteousness.

5 (iii) If God were to ask you why He should let you into heaven, the only correct answer is, “On the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone.” c. You and I owe a debt – a debt so great we could never pay it – but Christ has paid it and offers to pay it for you, if you will only trust Him to do it. (i) He is willing to take away your sins; He is willing to give you His obedience; He is willing to reconcile you with the Father. (ii) He is willing to vouch for you on the Day of Judgment and plead His merits before His Father on your behalf. (iii) But there is something you must do: you must reach out to Him in faith and trust Him to do this for you. (iv) Are you willing to trust Him? Or will you trust what you have done, or your believing the facts of the Gospel instead? (v) Saving faith is not merely believing the facts: it is trusting the Savior to bring you to heaven. (vi) Saving faith is not a work, it is trusting in the work of Jesus Christ alone to save you. (vii) Are you trusting Him? If not, then do so tonight. Amen.

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