What Does it Take To Believe?

What Does it Take To Believe?

An article by Dr. Robert H. Lescelius

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

Acts 16:31

To the Philippian jailer’s clear-cut question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v.30), Paul and Silas answered with the clear-cut answer above.  He had only to “believe upon”[i] the Lord Jesus Christ as the only object of trust.  The clear-cut promise: “You will be saved.”  This is the gospel way of salvation.

Acts consistently reveals that salvation is by believing.  By the instrument of believing we are “saved by grace” (15:11; 18:27), have “forgiveness of sins” (10:43), are “justified” (13:39), receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (11:17; 19:2), and are “added to the Lord” (5:14).  Christ is the object of saving belief (16:31; 19:4).  We are also warned of the spiritual danger of not believing (13:40-41).  Acts also gives a definition of believing: “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (27:25).  Believing, or faith, is taking God at his word.[ii]

How does one come to believe? What does it take to believe?  Acts reveals seven things that result in believing.  Believing involves:

Receiving of the Scriptures

Acts 4:4 states that “many of them which heard the word believed.”  One must have something to believe, someone to believe in.  This demands knowledge of the object of believing.  Paul expresses this in Romans 10 when he asks, “How shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (v. 14).  God’s instrument to accomplish this is his word. 

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Romans 10:17

  Note Paul’s word to the Ephesian church: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (1:13).[iii]  When they heard, when they believed, they were saved.  No one can believe without hearing the gospel of salvation.

In the same chapter as our text (16:14) we see that while Lydia “was hearing”[iv] Paul, “the Lord opened her heart”[v] with the result that she took heed[vi] to the word spoken.

What must be heard and believed is the gospel.  Jesus preached: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Peter told the Jerusalem council that “God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7).  The gospel is the “good news” concerning the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Romans 1:1-4), who “died for our sins . . . was buried, and . . . rose again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Men are “born again . . . by the word of God.  And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).

The saving message is of grace not human works (Ephesians 2:8-9). To the Galatian churches Paul asked the question: “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2).  In other words, “Were you saved by doing works the law commanded or by believing a message you heard?”  See the answer in the record of Paul’s preaching in Galatia:

Through this man [the Lord Jesus Christ] is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And through him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Acts 13:38b-39

It is the responsibility of the NT church to proclaim the gospel to every creature so that they may hear, believe, and be saved (Mark 16:15-16). “The gospel of Christ . . . is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16).

Realizing of the Supernatural

Chapter 9 reveals that the raising of Dorcas from the dead by Peter was “known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord” (v. 42).  Peter’s miraculous ministry resulted in many who “turned to the Lord” (vv. 32-35).  Miracles generally are given in scripture to attest revelation (revelatory and sign gifts), as seen in Jesus and his apostles (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4; 2 Corinthians 12:12).  It was believing on the Lord that brought salvation, not the miracles.  The miracles confirmed the word that was believed.

Miracles are not necessarily a part of evangelism (John the Baptist performed no miracles), and faith based of miracles can be suspect (John 2:23-25; Matthew 12:39; 7:22-23), yet miracles can aid to believing (John 10:37-38; 20:30-31).

With the completion of the canon the revelatory and sign gifts are no longer in operation, but this does not mean the supernatural operations of God have ceased.  Salvation is a supernatural experience, and the sinner must come to a sense of the supernatural and see the need of the intervention of a supernatural God to save him.  How does this come about?  God has his ways to bring men to believing. 

Often it is the supernatural transformation of the lives of those he saves.  For instance, the conversion of a spouse has often resulted in the salvation of the mate (1 Corinthians 7:14-16; 1 Peter 3:1-2).  This is the testimony of Lee Strobel, one of the leading apologists for Christianity in our day.  He and his wife were atheists, settled in their naturalism, when he was confronted with the supernatural in the conversion of his wife:

It was my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity and the ensuing positive changes in her character that prompted me to use my legal training and journalism experience to systematically search for the real Jesus.[vii]

After two years of searching the “real Jesus” found him.

This can be true of children raised in homes where God is real to the parents.  In our churches sinners should sense that “God is in you of a truth” and be convicted and converted.  This is where the word in proclaimed clearly in power and not in fanatical emotionalism (1 Corinthians 14:23-25) or dead orthodoxy (2 Timothy 3:5).  Sadly this reality is lacking in most churches, evidenced by the scarcity of genuine conversions.  The need is for reformation and revival.

The Bible itself has a supernatural self-attesting power:

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh in you that believe.

1 Thessalonians 2:13

Give it out!

Christianity is a supernatural faith based on the foundation of the supernatural resurrection of the supernatural person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God (1 Peter 1:21).

Reviving by the Spirit

The supernatural element in bringing men to believing is the power of the Holy Spirit, operating through the preaching of the gospel.  We see this is Acts 11:21: “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.”  The divine history relates that scattered persecuted Jewish believers (Acts 8:1, 3) had moved beyond the borders of their homeland, even as far as Syrian Antioch (11:19-20), preaching first to Jews only (v. 19), but then to Grecian Gentiles (v. 20).  Acts 1:8 was being fulfilled, and the gospel was advancing into the world.  The result was the founding of the church in Antioch, that was to become the new center of missions to the Gentile world (vv. 22-25; 13:1-4).

A great number believed and turned to the Lord Jesus.  This is the first time the two responses to the gospel, believing and turning, are noted together.[viii]  We saw the two in 9:35 and 42.  Believing and turning are parts of one spiritual movement, conversion.  Conversion involves a radical change: repentance, turning from sin, and faith, turning to Christ.  In this verse turning means repentance.  In 3:19, “repent ye therefore, and be converted [turn],[ix] turning means believing.  Repentance and faith are twin graces that cannot be separated.  You cannot turn to without turning from, and you cannot turn from without turning to.  You cannot have faith without repentance, and vice versa (Mark 1:15; Matthew 21:32; Acts 20:21).

This radical change is wrought by “the hand of God.”  This anthropomorphic image speaks of divine transforming power (Acts 13:11; 1 Samuel 5:6, 9; Isaiah 59:1).  Just as in war the greatest displays of military power are concentrated on the front line battlefield, so is the power of God displayed where the gospel is advanced.  This can be on the distant mission fields, our evangelistic outreaches by our local churches into our communities, or by our individual efforts to reach souls for Christ.

If the “Arm of the Lord” is the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:1), then the “hand of the Lord” speaks of the working of the Holy Spirit.  Notice the prayer meeting of the early church when the first persecution arose, aimed at stopping their preaching (Acts 4:18-28).  See their prayer request:

And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus (vv. 29-31).

Note now the answer to this request for the extending of God’s hand:

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness (v. 31).

There was a repeating of the effects of Pentecost (v. 32), and the apostles had “great power” upon their testimony of the risen Lord, and “great grace” was upon them all (v. 33).

“The hand of the Lord” means revival power.  Take the case of Ezra in the OT.  In his “revival prayer” in Ezra 9, he called the restoration of the Jews to the land after 70 years captivity a “little reviving” (vv. 8-9).  When describing God’s working in his life in raising him up and leading his returnees to the land, he repeatedly speaks of it being accomplished “according to the good hand of the LORD his God upon him” (7:6, 9, 28; 8:18, 22, 31).  Revivals come by the hand of God.

Men will only be brought to believing through the preaching of the gospel empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).  See the two exemplified by Paul.  To the Corinthians he wrote that he came determined to know only the person and work of Christ, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).  He was dependent, not in himself (v. 3), nor in human eloquence or worldly wisdom, but “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (v. 4).  His desire was for those whose belief would be the result of the power of God, not man (v. 5; cf. again 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

For an example of NT revival evangelism see Paul’s description of the church in Thessalonica:

Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.  For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Through Paul’s missionary ministry the Holy Spirit raised up a dynamic missionary center, “trumpeting out the word” throughout all of Greece and beyond (vv. 6-8).  This Spirit empowered working in their midst had resulted in the fact that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven” (vv. 9-10).

If we want to see souls become genuine believers, may we unceasingly pray for God’s hand upon us and our churches in renewing, reviving power!  Intercede for sinners that the Holy Spirit’s hand may touch them in convicting converting grace. (Romans 10:1).

Resisting of Satan

Natural men have insurmountable obstacles to their believing.  First of all, they are dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1), separated from God who is life.  As “alienated from the life of God,” their understanding is darkened, and they are ignorant, because of the blindness of their heart” (4:18).  Besides the blindness of a dead man, they are also blinded by Satan, “the god of this world,” who has “blinded the minds of them [the lost] which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).  The Devil concentrates his blinding power to keep the sinner from believing.  He does not care how moral or religious a man is, as long as he does not believe on Christ for his salvation.

Satan works at hindering the preaching of the gospel to the lost.  In the Book of Acts there is an attack of Satan upon every movement to advance the gospel.  See Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira in Jerusalem; chapter 8, Simon, the sorcerer, and the gospel to Samaria; chapter 13, Elymus, the sorcerer, on the first missionary journey; chapter 16, the demon possessed slave girl on the second journey; and chapter 19, the Satanic stronghold at Ephesus on the third journey.

Acts 13:12 addresses our fourth point.  “At Paphos on the island of Cyprus, the Roman deputy, Sergius Paulus, was interested in hearing the word of God Paul and Barnabas preached (v. 7).  But Bar-jesus, nicknamed, Elymas, the sorcerer, was “seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith” (v. 8).  Paul’s reaction was to rebuke the false prophet as a “son of the devil,” and being filled with the Spirit struck him down with blindness (note “the hand of the Lord”)(vv. 9-ll).  Now see verse 12: “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.”  It was the teaching of the Lord that he believed, but the interference of Satan had to be removed first.

Our warfare is not with “flesh and blood,” for our foes are spiritual (Eph. 6:10-17) and our weapons are not fleshly but spiritual and mighty (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).  Look again at the armor of God Paul reveals the believer has for the spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:13-17) and see that the battle is fought in the spiritual realm by prayer.  “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . . for all saint” (v.18).  Paul wanted to be included in these prayers: “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19f).

We are not only to pray to God for ourselves and other men, but we must also pray against Satan.  He is a defeated foe (John 12:31-32; Colossians 2:14-15), and we are overcomers (Revelation 12:10-11; 1 John 2:13-14; 5:18).  We must do our best to protect our families from occult and new age influences, and our churches from “seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1).  We must seek to deliver sinners from Satan’s kingdom (Colossians 1:13) by prayer and patient witnessing.  May we heed Paul’s word in 2 Timothy 2:24-26:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

Regenerating of the Sovereign

As we proceed through the history of the Acts of the Holy Spirit we see how God’s eternal plan of redemption is being worked out progressively and geographically (Acts 1:8).  We see that God gives repentance to Israel (5:11) and to the Gentiles (11:18) and individuals (2 Timothy 2:25).  He opens the heart of Lydia while she is listening, resulting in her conversion (16:14).  We must recognize it as God’s program being fulfilled.  In Acts 13 we read the record of Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch.  We see the Gentiles becoming more enthused about the message than the Jews (vv. 42-44), prompting their envy and rejection of the gospel (v. 45).  Paul turned to the Gentiles (v. 46), seeing it as the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Lord’s Servant, the Messiah, who would be a light to the Gentiles (v. 47; Isaiah 42:6), which causes rejoicing (v. 48a), “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”(v. 48b)[x]

We cannot escape the divine side of believing, the sovereign electing grace of God.  Instead of owe our election to our faith, we owe our faith to our election.

Sadly some hate this doctrine, saying it is the enemy of soulwinning and missions.   But this verse is in the middle of Paul’s first missionary journey.  It does not hinder evangelism and missions.  It encourages them, because it guarantees their success.  Simple Simon may fish in a bucker, but real fishermen go where they know there are fish.  God has ordained the means of preaching the gospel to bring his elect to salvation.  Consider 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14:

But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved on the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Wherefore he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We give out the external, universal call to all, and the Spirit of God gives the internal, effectual call to God’s elect in his setting apart work (“sanctification”) of bringing them to “belief of the truth” and “salvation.”

In another missionary journey, his second, Paul was encouraged by his Lord with the words, “For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:10).  Did he sit back in the armchair of hyper-Calvinistic do-nothing?  No, the next verse says, “And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11).  Paul was faithful to the gospel unto the end.   From his final prison cell he wrote to Timothy:

Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10).

Many have a problem trying to reconcile such teaching with the responsibility of man.  It may be a mystery, but there is no contradiction.  Both are taught in the word of God.  Both are true.  It’s called compatiblism.  See it in one verse, Jesus’ word in John 6:37.  Note the sovereign grace of God: “All that the Father giveth me [election] shall come to me [effectual calling].”  All given to Christ by the Father in eternity will come to him in time.  All given in secret will come to him openly.  Now see human responsibility: “him that cometh to me” [believing].  Finally, the promise of sovereign grace: “I will in no wise cast out.”  The divine purpose in giving them to Christ will be accomplished.  All given, will come, and will never be cast out.

Dear reader, if you are not a believer, pay attention to Jesus’ promise.  It is to “him that cometh.”  Now who is a “him”?  It does not say if he is a Jew or a Gentile, male or female (it is generic), young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, a big sinner or a little sinner.  It means ANYONE!  You may come!  You must come, if you would be saved!  What does it mean to come”  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”  Unbeliever, God has a people he has purposed to save.  The good news is that you can be one of them.  “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17d).

May we just believe God’s word.  Let God be God and do what he wills, and let us get on with what we are told to do (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Relevance of the Soul Winning

Now let’s look at the other side further.  Acts 14:1 reveals a human equation in bringing men to believing:

And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of Jews and also of the Greeks believed.

This verse speaks of the manner of communicating the message (“so spake”) that resulted in a great many believing.[xi]

The verse in the first part of the verse can be translated, “they went together into,” or “they went in the same way.”[xii]  Luke appears to be saying that the two followed the same pattern as they did in Pisidian Antioch and had the same results, conversions and persecution.

So” would mean they spoke “in the manner described.”[xiii]  Thus, Paul and Barnabas did not change their message or methods when they moved to Iconium.  They did not try to make the gospel more acceptable, more palatable to their hearers, to avoid rejection and persecution.  This is what we see happening today in our postmodern age.  In an effort to reach our culture, which is commendable, the message is too often compromised and the authority of Scripture undermined for pragmatic reasons, which is abominable.  We find this in the market, seeker sensitive mentality and the emergent movement, and in the man-centered gospel that have been preached for decades.

This does not mean that the place and condition of the hearer will not mean an adaptation of our presentation.  We must start where they are and build a bridge of communication tothem.  To the Jew Paul started with the Old Testament in presenting their Messiah and had many believe (Acts 17:4). 

But with the pagan Gentiles he began with creation and general revelation and moved to the NT gospel and also saw many believe (Acts 17:34).  But he did not compromise the message or avoid issues that may be offensive to the natural man (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).  He trusted the Spirit of God to do the convincing (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

So” can also mean “in an effective way.”  How we communicate our message does relate to its effectiveness.  To “so speak” will mean we will proclaim the gospel accurately, clearly, simply, sincerely, lovingly, compassionately, confidently, zealously, enthusiastically, honestly, with integrity, with holiness, with wisdom, and with much prayer (2 Corinthians 1:12; 2:17; 2 Timothy 2:24-25).

Response of the Sinner

The sinner also has a responsibility before God in the face of the free offer of the gospel.  He must have the attitude of the Bereans.  When Paul had to leave Thessalonica because of persecution he fled overnight to Berea 60 miles away.  There he went to the synagogue and found a receptive audience (Acts 17:10).

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.  Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Acts 17: 11-12

Luke describes the Bereans as “more noble,”[xiv] “more gracious minded” in comparison to the Thessalonians.  They accepted the word “with all readiness.”[xv]  They eagerly welcomed what was being revealed.  They did not just dismiss some other viewpoint as unworthy of their consideration.  They “searched the scriptures daily.” The word “searched[xvi] Luke uses is a legal term, meaning to put on trial, i.e., they were willing to examine the evidence, open to the possibility that what they were hearing may be true.[xvii]

With this kind of open minded attitude no wonder it says, “Therefore many of them believed.”  In Jesus’ parable of the soils, only one out of the four received the seed and brought forth fruit.  The good ground represents the heart that will hear the word and receive it (Mark 4:20) with understanding (Matthew 13:23), honesty and obedience (Luke 8:15).  This applies to a seeking sinner and a growing saint as well.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. Acts 16:31
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