The Anatomy of Belief
I vividly remember having a conversation with my dad during my teenage years, otherwise known as the snarky, sarcastic, and slightly know-it-all phase.
We were discussing the question of salvation, specifically, the exact process by which a person is saved.
As dads often do—particularly technically proficient ones, like mine—he was drawing out his answer, giving all the details he could pack into a series of run-on sentences.
As teenagers do, I cut in. “Dad, this isn’t rocket science. The Bible says, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ [Acts 16:31].”
“It’s not that simple,” he replied.
“It couldn’t be any clearer,” I said.
Do We Really Believe?
I’ve pondered that conversation over the years as I’ve studied justification and sanctification. Certainly we’re not saved by our own merits; the blood of Christ and His intercession on our behalf are the only means by which we attain eternal life. But what, exactly, is our role? Is it simply to “believe,” as the text says?
In John 5 we find the story of a paralyzed man lying next to a pool of water. This man had been unable to walk for 38 years. According to tradition, an angel periodically came down to stir the water, healing the first person who got into the water.
One day Jesus came along and asked about the man’s desire to be healed. The man wanted that more than anything, but lamented that he had no way of getting into the water.
Jesus did not reason with him. Instead he simply said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8). The man did not question Christ. “He picked up his mat and walked” (verse 9).
In the man’s response we find the key to true belief. Despite being unable to move for nearly four decades, he truly believed that Jesus had healed him that very moment. And because he really believed, he was really healed.
Ellen White wrote, “He willed to walk, and he did walk. He acted on the word of Christ, and God gave the power. He was made whole.”1
I’ve found that many of us—including me—minimize the act of true belief. It starts in the mind, but all too often we stop there. If we really believe something, we will act on it without waiting for heightened emotions or special feelings.
“Do not wait to feel that you are made whole,” wrote Ellen White. “Say, ‘I believe it; . . . not because I feel it, but because God has promised.’ ”2
In Acts 16:31 “believe” is a verb, an action word. We know that “faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). So by definition, belief without action isn’t true belief.
When we really believe Jesus’ words, we will possess the power to overcome any temptation or human deficiency. Despite the sin that has paralyzed our lives for years, we will hear the words of Jesus, take up our mats, and walk.
It will be so, because we believe it to be so.
- Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 50.
- Ibid., p. 51.
Jimmy Phillips is executive director of marketing at Adventist Health Bakersfield.