Is belief necessary for salvation?

Is belief necessary for salvation?

Dr. Trey Talley, Lead Pastor and Elder
Author of The Missing Gospel of Modern Christianity
 
When professing Christians are asked about their salvation, their mind often goes to a time when they walked an aisle at church, raised a hand, made a decision, said the sinner’s prayer, were baptized or joined a church. While such activities are often relied upon as proof of salvation, the truth of the matter is that such activities are no guarantee of salvation. For instance, it is possible that a person could walk an aisle at church, raise a hand, make a decision, say the sinner’s prayer, be baptized, join a church and still be just as unsaved as a person who had done none of these things. Can people claim to be Christians, yet still be on their way to hell? The answer is, “Yes.” So, if these things do not provide the surety of salvation, then what does? This leads to some critical questions, such as “How can a person be saved?”, “How do you know if you are actually saved?”, and “How do I check on the salvation of others?”
 
The Apostle Paul writes that the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes…”1 In other words, belief in the gospel is essential for a person to be saved. This means that belief in the gospel is not a secondary or tertiary matter when it comes to determining one’s salvation, it is primary.
 
The word believe is basic, yet descriptive of what one’s response should be upon hearing the gospel. It points to the fact that the gospel must be accepted as presented in Scripture, and to reject that information is to remain a non-believer. The English word believe is most commonly translated from the Greek word pisteuó, which means, “to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.”2 Keeping such a definition in mind helps us to understand what it means to “believe the gospel.” Take these scriptures for example:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
… whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:15-16)
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
… these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul . . . (Acts 4:32)
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:12)
… a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. (Acts 14:1-2)
For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ (Romans 4:3)
Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:11)
For we who have believed enter that rest . . . (Hebrews 4:3)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
 
As you can see, the God’s word puts great emphasis on belief. However, before calling people to “believe,” we must first give them the foundation–or the Who and What–in which they are to believe. People cannot just believe in anything they wish and be saved by it. The belief must be placed in the right object, or better yet, the right person. Regarding the empty call to “believe” that some Christians were issuing, Charles Spurgeon wrote:
I have sometimes thought when I have heard addresses from some revival brethren who had kept on saying time after time, ‘Believe, believe, believe,’ that I should like to have known for myself what it was we were to believe in order to our salvation. There is, I fear a great deal of vagueness and crudeness about this matter.3
 
It is far easier to command people just to believe, but we must never forget that there is a message that must be connected to that belief for true salvation to occur. A call to believe without giving a person what they need to believe is futile. Belief, no matter how strong it is, in anything besides the person and work of Jesus Christ amounts to a faith that is entirely ineffective in bringing about salvation.
 
God has given us the message which is required of us to believe, and that message is centered on Jesus Christ. The Apostle John is abundantly clear that the gospel is all about Jesus, and it is only belief in Him that saves. For example, in John 3, he writes that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”4 He then writes about the condemnation of those who do not believe, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”5 At the close of his gospel, John summarizes his entire message by stating the purpose of his writing, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”6

1. Romans 1:16: All Bible references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version Containing the Old and New Testaments: ESV. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007)
2. Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Baker Book House, 1977), entry for pisteuó.
3. Murray, The Invitation System, 33
4. John 3:16
5. John 3:18
6. John 20:31