What Does It Mean To "Believe On the Lord Jesus Christ?"
Context Is Everything
...(he) brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved... Acts 16:30-31
Theologians before 1800 paid a great deal of attention to the historical context of these words. But between 1800 and 1900, various European theologians increasingly interpreting scriptures out of context, and used the emerging science of psychology to explain the process of salvation. Certain influential theologians slowly began to explain salvation as primarily a psychological process instead of a mystical union of God and man.
By 1900, some theological books suggested that evangelism would be more efficient to the extent that it utilized the new science of psychology. One book even predicted that soon psychology would prove through empirical data that salvation was the most efficient means of moral change. This hopeful interpretation of the beneficial use of science ignored a basic animosity that will always exist between two competing world views.
Before 1900, salvation was still considered by most to be
a mystical process orchestrated by a sovereign God, but as the claims
of psychology gained adherents, the born again experience was increasingly
explained as a process of mind over matter. As pastors and evangelists
integrated the claims of modern psychology into their theology, they became
less sensitive to the mystical workings of God and started to treat seekers
as individuals with psychological needs.This explains why the Church has
largely given up trying to provide a consistent Biblical alternative to
the psychological understanding of the important social issues of our
time. When spiritual leaders think more like scientists than theologians,
the Biblical perspective is restricted merely to church sermons.
Early in his career, Sunday used the tried and true methods
of his predecessors D.L.Moody and J. Wilber Chapman. Like all other evangelists
and pastors before 1900, he treated people who came to the altar as lost
until they knew by the workings of the Holy Spirit in them that they were
born again. Those that didnt have that assurance were counseled
to confess sin and stay in an attitude of prayer until God deign to save
Modern Faith Divorced from the sovereignty of God
Modern faith movements de-emphasized the sovereignty of God, and the importance of trying to walk in His will. Instead of encouraging adherents to get closer to God, (Who was previously seen as the exclusive giver of faith) by wrested scriptures out of context, they defined faith as a mental force to be used by the practitioner as he willed. Gone was the Biblical idea that faith was a gift of God, to be enjoyed only by saints in the service of God. Increasingly, faith was explained as an impersonal force, separate from God. A cosmic power, like gravity, to be used by anyone bold enough to grab it and use it as a weapon.
The practitioner is encouraged to hold up the Bible and
say, God has to give me (fill in the blank), because its in
His Word. (Of course, whether God promised salvation, healing and
prosperity to everyone who knows the truth at the moment the
person demands it by faith is the question. I wonder, did
ten Apostles die horrible deaths because they had too little faith, or
were just too stupid to claim the scripture that not one hair
of their head would be harmed?)
Jehovah-jireh Santa Claus?
The modern idea that God gives gifts without regard for the specific best interest of the recipient is part of an overall misunderstanding of the sovereignty of God. In the 20th century, God has been depicted as a loving dispenser of gifts who enjoys giving his children whatever they ask, regardless of how ill-timed or inappropriate the gift may be. (Sounds like your typical upper-middle class American parents. It doesnt matter how spoiled little Johnny is, or that he isnt mature enough to own a Corvette...he wants one for his high school graduation present, so his parents give him what he wants....because they love him?)
You dont have to study history long before you notice a definite connection between the way a society sees their god to the way it sees life. People as a group, and individually, impart to their god whatever characteristics they see in themselves. If a society likes to make war on its neighbors, their god will be a war god. If a society is consumed with the pursuit of material wealth, and pursuit of worldly pleasure, their god will be like the American Evangelical god presented by most evangelists - Jehovah-jireh Santa Claus.
Theres no reason to get into a deep theological discussion
here. But the idea that Jehovah-jireh means the Lord will give you something
promised in the Bible when you come to the knowledge that He has to give
it to you is damnably false. Satans three temptations of Jesus in
the wilderness were Bible texts taken out of context specifically to cause
harm. If Jesus had claimed the scriptures offered by Satan,
he would have been in rebellion against God.
Struggle Of Faith Hall Of Fame
Abraham is one of those mentioned in the Faith Hall Of Fame
in the Book of Hebrews. ( Hebrews 11) Like every other hero of faith,
he did whatever God asked. Theres a bigger faith hall of fame contained
in The Book Of Remembrance in Heaven. (Malachi 3:16) No doubt every born
again person throughout history is recorded there. I wish there were space
here to mention briefly the thousands of biographies of Christians who
repented of dead works when God saved them. Some were saved
out of ignorance of the Gospel. Other were saved despite the form
of Godliness of their time. Just being raised in a moral culture
didn'tt make the struggle any easier. In fact, for many, knowing
the truth made their struggle all the more painful.
Modern Knowledge Doctrine Similar to Ancient Gnosticism
The teaching of faith as a type of knowledge
apart from the sovereign gift of God is similar in many respects to a
first century heresy called Gnosticism. This group of beliefs included
the idea that one is saved by knowledge alone. One is saved
by knowledge apart from the will of God. How a person acts
is not related in any way to his spiritual condition. The Gnostic was
taught he could sin in his flesh while remaining pure in his spirit. (Identical
to the out-of-context interpretation of Romans 7:25) Im afraid that
gnosticism was accepted by some 19th century theologians simply because
it was packaged in a box labeled modern science.
Redefining Marriage and Salvation
In order to understand how the meaning of New Covenant
salvation evolved, lets compare it to the evolution of the definition
of marriage. 100 years ago, western civilization saw marriage as a union
between a man and a woman. There was no question. Throughout history,
in every culture, the consummation of marriage was when a man and a women
had sexual intercourse. ( Isaac married Rebecca soon after
she entering his tent. Genesis 24:67 Jesus said, Wherefore they
are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together,
let not man put asunder. (Matt 19:6)
The New Covenant In Christ
In the old covenant, Israel was asked to keep the Law solely by human effort. By using only the tools modern psychology describes as the workings of the human brain, the flesh, without any outside spiritual help other than the written Word, was supposed to obey God. Except for anointed priests, prophets and kings, the people of Israel were not given a measure of Gods Spirit. In this desperate state, still in the bondage of corruption, (Romans 8:31) the children of Adam didnt fulfill the requirements of the Law. The Law ended up serving as a Schoolmaster to show man the utter impossibility of pleasing God in ones own strength. The Law could not be kept without outside spiritual help, even if man utilized all the tools available to modern psychology.
So Israel was brought to the point of despair. O wretched
man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Rom
The New Testament understanding of salvation is when the Holy Spirit comes into man and become one spirit with Him is analogous to the consummation of an earthly marriage by sexual intercourse when the two become one flesh. This is only possible when the seeker is made holy (made into a saint) by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
What is a Sacrifice?
Herein lies the reason why most people who go to the Altar dont get saved. Believing on Jesus means nothing if not accepting His sacrifice. But modern Americans dont know what a sacrifice is. After 100 years of faulty theology, we no longer understand sacrifice as the death of the old life of sin unto a new life of righteousness. Salvation is sold as a product with no effort or commitment required on the part of the consumer. The context of moral responsibility and obligation is irrelevant to sacrifice in the minds of most seekers.
Can someone benefit from a sacrifice without knowing what
hes partaking of? Theres nothing in the Bible to indicate
it. Circumcision was as a sign of a covenant which brought only curses
if not followed by the individual keeping the law. Most of the reformers
equated infant baptism to circumcision, but recognized its uselessness
without commensurate living by faith.
An Apology, The Modern Sacrifice
Imagine a woman standing in the check-out stand at Walmart. Theres an eight year old boy playing behind her. All of a sudden, the boy steps on her foot. The woman turns around in anger and glares at the boy who stares back knowingly, challenging her to do something about it. The boys mother quickly steps between the woman and her son. Im sorry he did that. Johnny, tell the woman youre sorry. The boy reluctantly blurts, Im sorry. Accepting the apology, (accepting a modern sacrifice) the woman turns around in line.Within a minute, the boy steps on her foot again. Again she turns around. This time the mother apologizes more emphatically than before, and demands that her son do the same. Once again the boy says hes sorry. The woman cautiously turns around. Within thirty seconds, the boy steps on her foot again. Again she turns around. This time the mother apologizes even more emphatically than the first and second time and demands that her son do the same. Once again the boy says hes sorry. This time the woman doesnt accept the apology. She knows the child isnt repentant. She knows the apology, which is a modern day sacrifice, isnt effective. Because the child isnt repentant of the sin the sacrifice was intended to cover, the sacrifice can not cover that sin. The woman says, Hes not sorry, and I cant accept your apology for him. Your apology means nothing if its not symbolic of his repentance. You may want him to avoid the penalty for sin, but your apology can not cover his sin unless hes repentant of it.
Substitution And Identification
When Paul addressed the carnal Christian problem, he reminded the Romans what takes place when someone truly partakes of Jesus sacrifice. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Rom 6:1-4
There are two components to an effective sacrifice. The first component is the substitution of the life of the sacrifice for the life of the sacrificer. This is necessary in order for the sacrificer to be made holy (become a saint) without having to physically die. But theres a second component on which the the first component entirely depends. Without the second component, the first component is nothing more than an act of witchcraft or magic. God is not mocked. He will not accept a sacrifice thats insincere. The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind? Prov 21:27
Most pastors and evangelists ignorantly encourage seekers to partake of Jesus sacrifice even though they suspect some of them have wicked minds. They think they dont have time to explain the implicit requirements of the Gospel, and they dont want to discourage seekers with the truth, so they trust in the sacrifice to transform the minds of those who partake of it. In fact, one of the most common appeals to sinners is, Come as you are, and God will change your heart. Just believe on Jesus, and Hell change you. But what if the seekers understanding of believing on Jesus is only, believe Jesus paid the price so youll go to heaven, without any requirement. This is treating the sacrifice of Jesus like witchcraft or magic.
Some of you are saying, Its God that saves,
and theres no implicit requirement for someone to accept the Gospel.
Any minister of the Gospel knows hes required to explain the Gospel.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?
and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how
shall they hear without a preacher? Rom 10:14-15
A Sacrifice Means Nothing If The Sacrificer Doesnt Die
Under the Old Covenant, if a man had sex with a woman other than his wife, he might go to the Temple and slit the throat of an innocent lamb as a sacrifice for sin. Onlookers, not knowing what the sacrifice was for, would naturally assume the man was asking God to accept the life of the lamb in exchange for his life. They knew the man needed to identify with the sacrifice as it died so the sin of the man would die along with the innocent animal. Otherwise there would be no reason to kill the innocent animal. They knew the man deserved to die, but God allowed an innocent animal be killed in his place. The sacrifice was effective only if the external death was matched by an inward death to sin. But what if the man knew he was going to have sex that night with the same woman? Would God accept the sacrifice? Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD... Jer 7:4
...Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. 1 Sam 15:22-23
Faith is necessary for someone to believe on Jesus. Demons know Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for sin. But only people who IDENTIFY with the sacrifice by faith can profit from it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. Heb 4:2
Why is faith required? Why cant the seeker just believe in the fact that Jesus died for their sins? Because believing without repentance is nothing more than an intellectual assent to an historic event. Repentance is not possible without faith. How can a person repent of sin if he doesnt have the faith that God will keep him from sin? A person cannot repent unless God gives him supernaturally saving faith. The vast majority of the people who repeat a formula salvation prayer have nothing more than a desire to go to heaven.
This is the condition of most of the over 60% of Americans whove repeated a formula salvation prayer When George Barna polls American Christians whove made a commitment to Christ thats significant to them today, he find all except between 5-10% show evidence of being born again.
The New Covenant is that Man Dies With Christ and God gives man His Spirit
While modern theology emphasizes the sacrifice of Christ
paying for sin so man can go to heaven, the New Testament describes the
sacrifice as the meeting place of God and Man, where not only is the sacrifice
to atone for mans sin, but just as importantly, as man enters into
(identifies with) the sacrifice, he dies to himself, and receives a new
Spirit, becoming one with God.
Pg 224, Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals, 1988