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.
The evolution was slow, but from 1800 to 1900 new generations of ministers gradually lost the understanding of their fathers, and Scriptures regarding salvation were increasingly seen through the lens of modern psychology. Still, most pastors and evangelists before 1900 dealt with seekers as either saved or lost, and didn’t assume universal salvation for all who came to the altar. It wasn’t until Billy Sunday introduced the “Box Scores” innovation that universal salvation was reported and accepted by the press and other ignorant folks.

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 didn’t have that assurance were counseled to confess sin and stay in an attitude of prayer until God deign to save them.

Salvation was still understood more as a gift to be given by God, than a promise to be taken by man. But by 1900, with the influence of modern psychology being so pervasive in all areas of society, theologians increasingly saw faith not a a mystical force of God, but as a power of the mind to be wielded as a tool apart from God. This allowed Sunday the cover in the later part of his career to promote the ridiculous idea that everyone who came to the front to shake his hand were saved.

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 it’s 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?)

Modern faith healers have gone so far as to say God has to save or heal or give prosperity, (at the moment an enlightened person demands it) or be called a liar. And since God can not lie, he is basically at the mercy of anyone who has the knowledge of the “truth.” In this respect, the Word of God becomes a tool separate from relationship with God. To the modern mind, the gift of salvation is like the gift of health and prosperity. It is seen primarily as a decision of the seeker, not dependent on whether or not God thinks it’s a good thing to give at that particular moment. Like a hyper faith healer, the modern evangelist says it’s always God’s will to save everyone right now, completely ignoring the myriad of specific reasons why some people wouldn’t understand, let alone be ready for such a life-changing event. Evangelists that would never perform a marriage ceremony for an unsure couple think nothing of telling seekers to give their lives to God without any forethought.

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 doesn’t matter how spoiled little Johnny is, or that he isn’t 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 don’t 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 it’s 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.

There’s 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. Satan’s 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.

The Jehovah-jireh shown in Genesis 22:14 is The LORD who SEES what his people need and gives it when he decides, because He is omniscient and knows best how and when to give it for the maximum benefit of His people. It was only after Abraham laid his beloved son on the altar that God provide the lamb. Modern evangelists would have pre-empted Abraham laying everything down on the altar before offering salvation....God didn’t. There’s a reason God let Abraham repent of everything that stood between him and God. Abraham was saved. 100 million Americans who’ve trusted in an ineffective salvation prayer are not. As Charles Finney said, ““Never tell a sinner anything or direct him to do anything that will stop him short of absolute submission to God...Many who enter the ministry lack enough skill to administer the Gospel, and enough firmness to watch as God’s Spirit crushes rotten hopes until the sinner breaks at the feet of Christ” 1

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. There’s 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't’t make the struggle any easier. In fact, for many, knowing the truth made their struggle all the more painful.

History is full of men and women raised in Christian homes who went to church and lived seemingly moral lives that would put most of us to shame. Despite their attempts to please God, they knew they were not saved, lacking power over sin and the works of the Holy Spirit within. Most were educated in the Bible, and knew more correct doctrine as children than many of today’s ministers of the Gospel. The struggle of faith periods listed here begin when individuals become concerned for the welfare of their soul until the day they know they are born again. In the case of children raised in Christian homes, who always wanted to please God, we start their struggle of faith at 12 years of age.

John Calvin, 12 year struggle of faith; George Fox, 12 year struggle of faith; John Wesley, 23 year struggle of faith; George Whitefield, 10 year struggle of faith; Jonathan Edwards, 5 year struggle of faith; David Brainerd, 9 year struggle of faith; John Newton, 6 year struggle of faith; Peter Cartwright, 1 year struggle of faith; Charles Spurgeon, 4 year struggle of faith. Virtually every account before 1900 of the born again experience is characterized by a period of illumination and struggle of faith. This period lasts anywhere from months to years.

Spurgeon provides a classic example of the difference between having knowledge about salvation and experiencing salvation. “For years, as a child, I tried to learn the way of salvation; and either I did not hear it set forth, which I think cannot quite have been the case, or else I was spiritually blind and deaf, and could not see it and could not hear it...had I read my Bible? yes, and read it earnestly. Had I never been taught by Christian people? Yes, I had, by mother, and father, and others. Had I not heard the gospel? Yes I think I had; and yet, somehow, it was like a new revelation to me.”2

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) I’m afraid that gnosticism was accepted by some 19th century theologians simply because it was packaged in a box labeled “modern science.”

All this was a radical departure from traditional Christian doctrine. But 19th century man man felt he was on the cusp of a brave new world. Science was seen as the handmaiden of the Lord, not a convenient tool of Satan. Theologians fell into the same trap set for Simon the magician. It’s too bad there weren’t more Peters around to rebuke this rebellion against God.
“Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.” Acts 8:19-21 The Christian Science Religion wasn’t the only movement birthed in psychology. Modern evangelism found it’s beginnings there as well.

Redefining Marriage and Salvation

In order to understand how the meaning of New Covenant salvation evolved, let’s 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)

In many cultures, including ancient Rome, it was illegal for a couple to marry unless they could consummate the marriage through sexual intercourse. A lot of this attitude had to do with the bearing of children. In the case of Rome, a couple could adopt if they were unable to have children, but a man without a functional penis was not allowed to marry This may be hard to understand, but remember, the only thing that distinguishes a marriage from all other relationships (including family relationships,) is that the couple has sex. Since homosexual sex normally involves a man inserting his penis into another man’s anus with no pretense of procreation, and the spilling of seed on purpose, why would the State call that marriage?

Fast forward 2,000 years. Marriage has been divorced from heterosexual sex. Marriage is now a state of mind. If two or more people want to “get married,” their state of mind is all that matters.
Now let’s look at how the definition of New Testament salvation has changed in exactly the same way. New Covenant salvation is when a seeker becomes one with Christ.....Married, if you will. And the consummation of that marriage is when the Holy Spirit enters into a believer, making him a saint.

Salvation is pictured as a marriage between God and man throughout the Bible. But in the New Covenant, the type and shadow becomes reality. Paul said to the Corinthians,” I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Cor 11:2
The consummation of marriage between the believer and God takes place when the Holy Spirit enters into the believer, and becomes one spirit with his spirit, making him holy. (The word “saint” means “holy”- The exact word used in “Holy Spirit.” Please see the chapter, What’s A Saint?.) Paul reminded the Corinthians of their marriage to God when speaking of sexual purity. “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”1 Cor 6:16-17

“ For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Eph 5:31-32 For the Christian, this mystical union is described in the Bible as Christ in you “ For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Col 3:3
“... this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: “Col 1:27
“ Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:17
“ If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” John 14:23
And you in Christ “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom 8:1
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Rom 8:2
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:39
“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption..” 1 Cor 1:30
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Cor 5:17

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 God’s Spirit. In this desperate state, still in the bondage of corruption, (Romans 8:31) the children of Adam didn’t fulfill the requirements of the Law. The Law ended up serving as a Schoolmaster to show man the utter impossibility of pleasing God in one’s 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 7:24
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law...., that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Gal 3:13-14
“ For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” Heb 8:10
“ But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 14:26
“ But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” 1 John 2:27
In fact, the definition of whether or not someone is been born again is if they are one spirit with God.
“...they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.”Rom 8:5
“ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” 2 Cor 13:5
“.. he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”1 Cor 6:17

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 don’t get saved. Believing on Jesus means nothing if not accepting His sacrifice. But modern Americans don’t 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 he’s partaking of? There’s 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 it’s uselessness without commensurate living by faith.
It comes down to this. Is a sacrifice effective if the person the sacrifice was done for isn’t repentant by the grace of God? If he’s not repentant, what does the sacrifice represent for that individual? If a person agrees to accept a sacrifice that represents the death of sin in the individual without that individual dying to that sin, it’s no more effective than a charm, spell, or incantation.

An Apology, The Modern Sacrifice

Imagine a woman standing in the check-out stand at Walmart. There’s 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 boy’s mother quickly steps between the woman and her son. “I’m sorry he did that. Johnny, tell the woman you’re sorry.” The boy reluctantly blurts, “I’m 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 he’s 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 he’s sorry. This time the woman doesn’t accept the apology. She knows the child isn’t repentant. She knows the apology, which is a modern day sacrifice, isn’t effective. Because the child isn’t repentant of the sin the sacrifice was intended to “cover,” the sacrifice can not cover that sin. The woman says, “He’s not sorry, and I can’t accept your apology for him. Your apology means nothing if it’s not symbolic of his repentance. You may want him to avoid the penalty for sin, but your apology can not cover his sin unless he’s 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 there’s 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 that’s 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 don’t have time to explain the implicit requirements of the Gospel, and they don’t 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 He’ll change you.” But what if the seeker’s understanding of “believing on Jesus” is only, “believe Jesus paid the price so you’ll go to heaven, without any requirement.” This is treating the sacrifice of Jesus like witchcraft or magic.

Some of you are saying, “It’s God that saves, and there’s no implicit requirement for someone to accept the Gospel.” Any minister of the Gospel knows he’s 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
“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord...whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Acts 18:25-26

A Sacrifice Means Nothing If The Sacrificer Doesn’t 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 can’t 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 doesn’t 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 who’ve repeated a formula “salvation prayer” When George Barna polls American “Christians” who’ve “made a commitment to Christ that’s 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 man’s 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.
“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

Go to the Chapter, Christian Disneyland

1 Pg 224, Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals, 1988
2 The autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, 1898

Home Page