The word believe has been studied intensely since the books in the New Testament were written. Why? Because from the second century forward, men have been trying to explain why all you have to do is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). I’m afraid the word believe has become so watered down that it has been taught that you don’t have to do anything to be saved except “know” or “think” the right things.
To believe in the way first century writers used it does not refer to an intellectual process that indicates cognition or awareness that something is true or accurate. Irenaeus, a bishop in the second century, was one of the first great Christian theologians. He is credited with helping to lay out the orthodoxies of the Christian church.
“The Father has revealed the Son to this end, that He may be displayed to all through the Son, and that those who believe in him and are justified may be received into immortality and eternal refreshment. Now to believe in him is to do his will.” (A reading from the Treatise of St. Irenaeus – Against the Heresies, Bk 4,6,184.108.40.206)
To believe in Jesus is to do his will, to follow his example. Jesus did more than acknowledge God. He lived his life following through with what he believed was his Father’s will. He lived his life helping others. He believed in the truest sense of the word. He did something because of what he knew.
You and I always act according to what we believe. If I believed the stock market was going to go up 300% next week, you can be sure I’d be borrowing every dollar I could to invest ASAP. If I only think it could happen, I won’t have the trust or confidence to risk everything and follow through on the information given me.
The Latin term for “believe” is credo and was used by the Church’s early writers. The way these writers used credo would give it this meaning: “I place my heart.” In the Jewish tradition, the heart referred to one’s whole being, the self at its deepest level, and is made up of one’s thoughts, emotions, will, personality, intuition, and imagination. I dedicate my actions and intentions toward that which I believe to be true. If you give your heart to something, you’re going to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
There are some synonyms for “believing that empowers action.” Those words are “committed, determined, resolved, resolute.” If you fully trust that what Jesus taught and did is the truth, you will make every effort to follow through with doing what he did.
In the following verses, replace believe with new words that reflect more than mere possession and confession of certain knowledge. See if another perspective allows the Bible passage to expand in its meaning. Here are your options:
(a) think to be true, to be persuaded;
(b) to trust, place one’s full confidence;
(c) deeply convicted;
(d) give your whole being (heart) to;
(e) to be committed;
(f) to be determined, resolved, persistent.
So [Jesus] asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you ________________, all things are possible to him who _________________.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I _________________; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-23 NRSV).
“For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but _________________________ that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, _______________________ that you receive them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:23-24 NKJV).
In the first verse, the Greek word for unbelief refers to a lack of confidence, weakness of conviction, hesitation. Context is everything in selecting appropriate replacement words. I’m starting to lean toward replacement words for believe that imply complete confidence to the point of certain action.
To believe in Jesus is having the conviction to live according to his example and his teachings. Not with words but with actions. If your or I don’t love our enemies, we do not believe in Jesus. If we repay evil with evil, we do not truly believe in Jesus. We deceive ourselves. To follow Jesus is to think what he taught was truly God’s will to the point of following his example and teachings. It’s actions that count, not merely words.