25 August 2009

Telling sinners how to be saved

by Dan Phillips

Last week, I posed a number of questions how to respond if asked, "What must I do to be saved?" As with the first post in this series, a spirited and substantive discussion broke out. However, the Thread Cop (yr obdt svt) was obliged to write out a number of citations for length-violations. Very sad. Nonetheless, you gave some terrific answers.

Here were the popular answers, often scorned by Calvinists, we re-examined:

  • Receive Christ
  • Pray to receive Christ
  • Believe in Jesus
  • Believe in Jesus sincerely
  • Let Christ into your heart
  • Ask Christ into your heart
  • Accept Jesus / accept Jesus as your Savior / accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior
  • Believe that Jesus died for your sins
Here are the questions, with my own responses and thoughts.
  1. Are those all really abominable answers? No, they really aren't.
  2. Are those all really un-Biblical answers? No, not really — though some Calvinists pour molten scorn on every one of them. In fact, it is some Calvinists who offer the most un-Biblical answer: to tell the sinner that he can do nothing in response to the Gospel, as if the Gospel is "sit there and go to Hell." Acts gives as many examples of that as part of bearing Gospel witness as it does of "Jesus died for your sins."

    Scripture does say we should receive Christ (John 1:12), and there is, to say the least, no Biblical reason not to pray to Him for this (Matthew 7:7-8; John 7:37). Now, there is a danger. This can be perceived as urging a blind leap, a mere existential encounter, a mystical vibration — which it is not. It may, if misunderstood, elevate the mystical and the emotional over the central and Biblically-warranted element of faith.

    But in that case, it seems to me best to redeem the image (since the image itself is, after all, Biblical) rather than abandon it or excoriate everyone who uses it. Simply teach that we must receive Christ, and we must do so by faith. Which segues nicely into...

    "Believe in Jesus" is exactly what the Scriptures say to do (John 3:16 — we do still believe that one, right?). We should make clear that Biblical faith is repentant faith, and that it involves the truth of Christ understood, accepted as true, and embraced. But we shouldn't make it sound like quantum physics, because Jesus emphatically doesn't (cf. Mark 10:15; Luke 10:21; John 6:35, 37).

    Shouldn't this faith be sincere? Mustn't Christ come and live in our hearts (John 14:23; Ephesians 3:17)? Isn't there a volitional element in faith?

    These are Biblical ideas, even if John Owen didn't phrase them exactly thus. When we carp at their precise wording, I think we advance nothing worthwhile nor essential. We don't make Christ and His Gospel look glorious. Instead, we just make ourselves look like snotty, imperious nitpickers, more excited about finding fault than in seeing people come to Christ. At best.

    Give me the brother who is doing the right thing imperfectly, rather than the man who does nothing but find fault — perfectly .

    I forgot to include another oft-criticized phrase: "accept Jesus as your personal Savior." That one is faulted because it may encourage a maverick mentality, and seems to negate that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. However, I believe the intent of the phrase was to counter barren institutionalism. That is, it was crafted to penetrate the thinking of cradle-Catholics and cradle-Baptists, who think that they are Christians because their parents were, or because they grew up in church, or because they attend a Christian church.

    That being the case, mightn't it also be a useful phrase to communicate a Biblical truth? After all, God has no grandchildren. The gate is narrow, admitting one at a time. I am not saved by being related to a Christian or a Christian institution. Christ must be my savior, or I am not saved.

    It may come as a surprise that my least-favorite version is "Believe that Jesus died for your sins."

    Why? Because I am really uncomfortable with making salvation the result of singling out any one fact, one statement, and making ascription to that statement the vehicle of salvation. It isn't the characteristic way of Scripture. You see more believe-Him than believe-that. I can't think of any example in Acts where this is what is preached, nor anything in the epistles that elevates this one statement above others as being essential to conversion.

    I'll return to this, but what we as evangelists want to do is get our hearers to Christ. Not to one fact about Him or His work; not even to a select cluster of facts about Him, but to Him, Himself. "Come to Me," Christ bids (Matthew 11:27). Come, believe, eat, drink, look, live (John 6:32ff.). Believe in Him, the apostles echo (Acts 16:31).

    What should I believe? Everything. Everything Jesus Himself says, everything He moves His apostles to say. But wait, I don't even know everything, when I become a Christian. For that matter, thirty-six years later, I still don't have that down. So what does that mean to a would-be convert?

    It starts with believing Jesus, with accepting Him as true, and His word as binding and true. We enroll in His school; and in that school, true students will continue and grow (John 8:31-32). But the premise is His truth and Lordship.

  3. Is it really horribly complicated, requiring a certain education-level? Saving us was horribly complicated for God, in order that it might not be so for us. We should not "improve" on what He has done and offered. Otherwise, see previous answer.
  4. Is an unsaved person who does one of these still unsaved? On what authority? If an unsaved person exercises repentant faith in the real Jesus of Scripture, he is saved, period. And that on the best and highest authority (John 3:36; John 6:35, 47, 54).
  5. And crucially, you put it simply and better, so a child or a simple man or woman could understand: what must I do to be saved?
I think what I've said probably points the way, as I see it. There are many ways of expressing the central truth of the sinner's need to exercise repentant faith in Christ alone, coming to Him by faith. They might be made to fit expression of that unchanging truth to the individual.

But of all the many really fine answers that were given, the one that echoed my own heart best was Penn Tomasetti's:
Go to Jesus to be saved! He said, "I am the way..." He said, "Come to me..." (Mtt.11:28). He said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink..." (Jn.7:37). He died and rose again to bring us to God. Salvation is in no one else. He was dead (in place of repentant sinners), and behold He lives forever and ever, and He holds the keys to death and Hades... (Rev.1:18). He has power and authority to forgive sins (Mk.1:10). He came to save sinners... trust Him, believe Him, rely on Him, do not turn away from Him. Christ Jesus is called "our great God and Savior.” Don’t harden your heart, but give up trusting in your own goodness to save you, and whatever else you are holding to, and trust Him alone. He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him in true repentance (Jn.6:37).

Dan Phillips's signature


Unknown said...

Amen, Salvation is the delivering work of the Perfect Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord, the fully accomplished work He did for sinning sinners through His death, burial and resurrection-in our place. Believing is a repentant heart-level trusting in Him; Savior, Christ and Lord who rescues sinners from the bondage, power, penalty and in eternity the presence of sin!

Chad V. said...


I didn't chime in on the last post on this subject. I wouldn't walk around criticizing another Christians attempt to witness the best way he knew how. If I heard another Christian say "let Jesus into your heart" I wouldn't be waiting to pounce on him. If my pastor said that from the pulpit though it would give me the willies. What I mean by that is spiritual maturity ought to cause us to be more selective about the language we use when we witness.

I think a couple of those phrases may have been born out of easy-believism. I don't think that we are required to use strict phraseology from the bible in order to be accurate, the Puritans used to be fond of saying "close with Christ" which was their way of urging people who were part of the visible church by citizenship to be true believers and not rest on a mere outward profession.

To my way of thinking "let Christ into your heart, ask Christ into your heart, and personal saviour" are the least desirable phrases. I don't think anyone is going to be kept from being saved if they were witnessed to with those phrases but I don't think they are accurate representations of God's command that all men repent and believe. "Go to him" is far more accurate and desirable.

I'm more interested in being sure that I'm careful about the way I'm witnessing than I am in jumping all over my brother who is witnessing the best we he knows.

Bryan Wayne said...

nice post . . . I'm guilty of being critical of people who use those phrases because they've always come across as teetering on "easy believe-ism". But as you said, it MUST be made clear that Biblical Faith is Repentant Faith, and I think that is where many presenters of the Gospel have fallen short.

Gary said...

Why, then the Lord speaks to you this morning, to you if not to any other man in the church, he speaks to you and says-”Whosoever wishes, let him come.” You cannot say this does not mean you. When we give the general invitation, you may exempt yourself perhaps in some way or other, but you cannot now. You are willing, then come and take the water of life freely. “Shouldn’t I pray first?” It does not say so; it says, take the water of life. “But hadn’t I better go home and get better first?” No, take the water of life, and take the water of life now. You are standing by the fountain, and the water is flowing and you are willing to drink; you are picked out of a crowd who are standing about, and you are especially invited by the person who built the fountain. He says, “Here is a special invitation for you; you are willing; come and drink.” “Sir,” you say, “I must go home and wash my pitcher.” “No,” says he, “come and drink.” “But, sir, I want to go home and write a petition to you.” “I do not want it,” he says, “drink now, drink now.” What would you do? If you were dying of thirst, you would just put your lips down and drink. Soul, do that now. Believe that Jesus Christ is able to save you now. Trust your soul into his hands now. No preparation is needed. Whosoever will let him come; let him come at once and take the water of life freely. To take that water is simply to trust Christ; to rest in him; to take him to be your all in all. Oh that you would do it now! You are willing; God has made you willing.

Spurgeon, "God's Will & Man's Will", March 30, 1862


The Seeking Disciple said...

And I would add that we should not overlook the importance of baptism as a proper response to the gospel. Even Dr. MacArthur notes in his study Bible that baptism, in Acts, is closely aligned with salvation. There is not doubt that salvation is a work of God by His grace but Jesus commanded us to baptise (Matthew 28:19-20) and even His disciples baptised during His earthly ministry (John 4:1-2). Acts presents baptism as people responding to the gospel message (Acts 2:38-39, 41; 8:12, 36-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 30-34; 18:8; 19:6; 22:16). Those who believe and repent should be baptised as soon as possible. This should be our cry.

DJP said...

I'm surprised at how many are saying that.

No, wrong answer. The question is very specific: what must I do to be saved? You DO NOT have to be water-baptized TO BE SAVED.

But all who have been saved through repentant faith in Christ SHOULD THEN be water-baptized, to testify to their conversion.

NoLongerBlind said...

I'm still waiting for the explanation of how "put on a pink tutu and dance the Conga in the rain" fits into the soteriological picture.....

Aric said...

As a father struggling to explain to his children what they must do to be saved, I have really enjoyed these posts, and the comments from everyone. Thanks to all. Now for some thoughts of my own . . .

DJP said: “However, I believe the intent of [accept Jesus as your personal Savior] was to counter barren institutionalism. That is, it was crafted to penetrate the thinking of cradle-Catholics and cradle-Baptists, who think that they are Christians because their parents were, or because they grew up in church, or because they attend a Christian church.

As far as your list goes, this one is the one phrase that I dislike the most (I’m still working on the overly-critical stuff). I understand your thesis regarding the initial use of the phrase; however, I think the phrase is not usually used or understood in that manner. The current understanding (sub-conscious though it may be) makes it a phrase to be avoided.

In our current, independent, relative culture, when people hear to accept something as “personal”, it is so that they can fashion it to their liking. Not so that it becomes their own rather than inherited from parents/grandparents. What I see is those who have accepted Christ as personal savior do not need to be part of the church, do not need to be instructed in Godly living, do not need to be corrected period, etc., because Christ is their ‘personal savior’: constructing salvation in a unique mold and making Christ something unique to the person accepting Christ.

Just to be clear: I understand and totally agree that sanctification is not one-size-fits-all. What I am trying to convey is my thoughts on the use of ‘personal savior’ language and how it spawns different implications today.

My word verification: moron. Seriously. I get the hint.

DJP said...

Yeah, Aric, I don't think I'd ever use it, either. Insofar as it is taken to mean "your customizable Lord," it's horrible.

But it isn't INHERENTLY heretical.

Aric said...

@ DJP - I agree it is not inherently heretical, but should be avoided.

Do you think part of the issue with these statements is that in theory they should be used to explain a response to the Gospel, but not left without some type of follow up. But, in reality, they are used in settings where the statement is the only presentation of the Gospel, or there is no follow up to help the hearer grow beyond “I’ve asked Jesus in my heart, so I know that I am saved”?

It seems that if there is help with the discipleship portion of the program (which we are commanded to make disciples, not converts), then these statements may not be so offensive to many Calvinists. If those Calvinists that wrinkle their noses knew that the statements were just the starting point for growth and maturity, maybe they would be more palatable? Just thinking out loud.

DJP said...

Yes. I have seen many Calvinists that are great at describing There, and great at describing Here, but seem not to feel constrained to (do as the apostles did and) say anything about how to get from There to Here.

So I framed this pretty precisely. I am not talking about how to present the Gospel. I'm assuming a sound Gospel presentation, and coming to the point where the person is simply asking "What must I do?"

Just that.

~Mark said...

SUPERB post Dan! Your explanations of the likely intent behind some of those phrases and how we should approach the topic is accurate and very encouraging to me personally.

I LOVE being around baby Christians passionate to evangelize who might use some of these phrases in a somewhat careless manner, but with a little fine tuning (as you've presented here) become even more effective.

lawrence said...

Good stuff. Well said.

Bob Johnson said...

... and amen

Craig and Heather said...

Chad V: I'm more interested in being sure that I'm careful about the way I'm witnessing than I am in jumping all over my brother who is witnessing the best we he knows.


I have, in the recent past been seriously shamed over my attitude toward the way "the other guy" is working out his own salvation--while completely ignoring that I had a gigantic log blocking my own vision concerning my own rotten attitude.

It is easy to kick back in the bleachers and and pick apart the actions of someone who is actually participating in the game. And it's a little unnerving to realize how prevalent this attitude seems to be.


Craig and Heather said...

Forgot to say thanks for the post. It is so encouraging to see that there are "kinder, gentler" Calvinists who focus on reconciliation as well as condemnation.


Dave .... said...

How about telling them that they are sinners, first? I guess that is pre-supposed in the question, "what must I do..." I've lately heard sermons with no HINT of sin mentioned. The punch lines in the invitation were, 1) Tell Jesus, "I'm in.", and 2) "Incorporate Him into your life." Anthrocentric goat-chow.

Sadly, this was a strong Gospel church not many years ago. I have one-foot-in, hoping to encourage repentance, but I pray more than I hope. Salvation doesn't even seem to be an issue. Gone emergent, I guess.

Maybe just "gone".

Carlo Provencio said...

I like the scripture where Jesus says "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15).

I don't think it would profit us to tell someone that they are powerless to repent and believe without the working of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is indded working, they will respond.

Jesus told them straight out to repent and believe. He knew that those who were being drawn to him would obey those commands.

Andrew Faris said...


Fantastic post. What is our Calvinism really if it does not teach us to savor the final, finished work of Jesus that brings us to God?

Well, it's not Calvinism, that's for sure.

Really great stuff- this is one of those times where I'm grateful for the way that a blog can edify.


zostay said...

Great post, Dan.

Looking back at my own arrival to the Kingdom, I realize that I have no moment of salvation. I often have referred back to a weekend at camp as that moment of arrival, but unlike your recent post shows, I never came forward during an invitation, never spoke with an elder. I'd grown up in the church, never really actively rebelled against it, but I still believed in some sort of karma. I was turned from that world-view to a view that transformed into reliance on, "Jesus, if you won't save me, no one else will. Please save me." I prayer I utter almost daily. But I don't know that I remember all the details well enough at this point in my life to point to when I understood what happened. I just know the week when my view turned around and became about knowing and serving God rather than serving myself.

All this to say, that I think that we can get too attached to a moment and confession anyway. The truth of the Christian life, particularly from a view that takes God's sovereignty seriously, is what our life and belief looks like right now is most important.

If an infant believer gives a confession, regardless of how weak, we must not stop in helping them pursue and understand this seed of faith. We must help him grow into maturity, to understand with greater depth, and to be sure that he knows how to find assurance and test his own faith. We must teach him to beat his body and strive on after the prize. I don't think we can trivialize the confession, but boy is living the life of faith in Jesus Christ so much more than that.

Nash Equilibrium said...

When I sin, it is a bad thing of course. But it does remind me that I bring nothing to the table of salvation. Repentance stops me from digging the hole deeper, but neither repentance nor my good works can lift me out of the hole I've dug for myself. Jesus brings everything - I bring NOTHING.

Chad V. said...


The Lord did exactly that when he told sinners that unless the Father drew them they could not come to him. (John 6:65) In fact He made that point to tell them precisely why they didn't believe.

He also told Nicodemus that unless he was born again by the Holy Spirit he could not see the kingdom of God, i.e. he could not be saved.

Stefan Ewing said...


Amen, amen, amen!!!

Then, of course, there's the invitation that Spurgeon heard when he came to faith in Christ:

"Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!" (source)

Of course, there was more to the sermon than that; but it seems to me that he took the simplicity of that Gospel call to heart throughout his ministry.

DJP said...

Dave.... - you're correct. This post isn't about how to present the Gospel, nor even about what the Gospel is. It presupposes a sound presentation, and that we're at the point the sinner says "What must I do to be saved?" Narrow focus.

And of course you're right about the Gospel itself.

DJP said...

Chad, that was after He had urged them to come (John 6:35), and guaranteed that He would receive them (v. 37), and assured that all the Father gives would in fact come (v. 44).

Chad V. said...



The point I was making is that it's not wrong to tell people in an evangelistic sense that they are entirely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit in coming to Christ. Spurgeon used to say that this was most important in causing the sinner to see his utter helplessness and wretchedness before God. They can't even come to him unless He draws them.

This same principle seems implicit in some parables too like the parable of the unjust judge.

Penn Tomassetti said...

This has been an excellent series!

And I'm humbled that you quoted me, but I'm glad it was just me quoting Scripture and is all about the Lord, because I'm always happy to talk about Him.

This subject is close to my heart, since I myself also had to squeeze through the narrow door of coming to Christ ALONE as my only hope of salvation.

It is also close to my heart because of the abomination of "easy-believism" that so abounds in these parts. as I go out to the streets to meet complete strangers and talk to them about the great and amazing gospel (good news) of grace, I want them to know the truth, that salvation is in a Person, not good works or rituals or a system of beliefs.

BAPTISM: I brought up the subject of baptism on your Altar Call post, and the reason I did it was because I was trying to say that if someone wants to do something like an "altar call" Biblically, then they should just call people forward to that... like the apostles. I did not in any way mean that Baptism saves anyone. (Although once I was wrapped up in that false teaching, but came out of it with the help of Spurgeon sermons and the doctrines of grace from the craziest calvinist street evangelists I've ever met. Anyway, I better make an *apology* and say I'm sorry for confusing that topic.

For those of us who have said the wrong things before, these posts are very good for our correction. It is also a good call for us "calvinists" to go out from our comfy middle class assemblies and go call sinners to the Savior (Matt. 22:1-14). It isn't hard, just pray and go... Christ will be with us my friends!

Besides, how much longer will we be able to do it so freely and openly?

Penn Tomassetti said...

Chad V:

I remember thinking, "John 6:37 says that all who come to Christ are given by the Father, and v44 says that no one can come unless they are drawn... I'm coming to Christ for my salvation, so I must be one that the Father has given Him."

It comforted me a great deal to know that if I come to Jesus truly in repentant faith, that it is only because the Spirit has brought me to that place. My troubled soul jumped up and started thanking Him for His great mercy and love!

On the other hand, not everybody can handle that... but I find it good to use on those who stubbornly refuse to come to Christ. Or like Atheists, who think they can just will to believe or not believe however they choose... they need a little humility to see their inability.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you brought up the "accept Christ", issue because it is actually a pet peeve of mine. But the peeve is on the other side, I get weary of hearing people respond with, "Christ doesn't need you to accept Him; the question is does Christ accept you?".

I think it sounds nitpicking and silly. In looking in a Thesaurus, accept" is listed as a synonym for "receive".

And people understand it that way in common usage. If the Gospel presentation was proper, they aren't going to think that "poor, little, insecure, Jesus is just waiting for someone to please accept Him".

Personally, I prefer to use "repent and put your trust in what God did for you in Jesus Christ". But, mostly because I am usually wanting to keep the two points (repentance and faith or a repentant-faith) clearly in their minds.

But following a good Gospel presentation, "accept" too can be acceptable.

DJP said...

Yes, I agree, that's not a helpful nit to pick, Comein.

However your way of saying it isn't one I'd prefer, for the reasons I explain in the post.

CBC Portugal Missions said...

Maybe I missed something, and if I did, I apologize, but don't we have the perfect answer to this question in Acts 16:31, just after the Philippian jailer asks same said question? Paul and Silas responded by saying, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved..."

DJP said...

Did you read the first post and discussion thread?

Craig and Heather said...

Penn Tomassetti: It comforted me a great deal to know that if I come to Jesus truly in repentant faith, that it is only because the Spirit has brought me to that place. My troubled soul jumped up and started thanking Him for His great mercy and love!

Speaking of comfort, there is a profound measure of assurance in knowing that God is the One Who initiates the work and He has promised to finish that which He started.

Knowing that there is "nothing *I* can do" to save myself has gone a long way toward anchoring my faith when facing especially difficult trials.

There is no such assurance for someone who has placed his faith in a prayer or decision or specified method of "getting saved" that he might have been prompted to make.

God caused a donkey to speak when it suited Him, so I am certain He can relay His truth regardless of the stumblings of the messenger. But I do see value in having the message be as Biblically accurate as possible.


JSA said...

But we shouldn't make it sound like quantum physics, because Jesus emphatically doesn't

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to think on that. :)
Is it possible that believe on Him isn't just a way of saying the same thing? (IE. merely semantics)

Though perhaps carrying a two-fold meaning Believe on a) who Jesus is and (b) what He has done.

Just thinking out loud

Stuart Wood said...

Just some verses to consider:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins..." (1 Cor. 15:1-3).

"That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation..." (Eph. 1:12-13).

"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever... And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:23-25).

"Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth (the Gospel)" (James 1:18).

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:15-16).

mike said...

We must come to the place where we believe that His word is true. That He is everything He says he is, and we are all that He states we are. This will in inevitably lead repentance and contrition. Then comes the easy parts, keeping commandments, soul searching, perseverance, dying to self, cross taking, and such.
And whalla… our best life… really.

DJP said...

Heather: rule 6. Any questions, please email me.

Pierre Saikaley said...

I think the word TRUST is better than BELIEVE in connoting what the bible means when it calls for a response to Jesus.

"Believe" seems to be more cerebral, or a mental assent word than TRUST which has the sense of dependence upon it's object.

I think "Repent and Trust in the LORD JESUS to give you eternal life, save you etc." is a good way to call for a response to Christ and his sufficiency.

I'll leave it to my Greek savy brothers to confirm if the NT word translated BELIEVE can better be translated TRUST to bring out it's full meaning.


Aaron said...

I love it when a plan comes together. Your view is pretty much online with what I said in the previous post. It's good
to know I'm not walking on some divergent path theologically speaking.

Stefan Ewing said...


I think you're onto the something there.

A couple of months after I was reborn in Christ, the realization that in practical terms, "believing" or "having faith" in God means trusting God—or rather, entrusting your life to God—hit me like a huge ton of bricks, precisely because all these words have such different nuances of meaning for us English speakers.

After all, the life of faith for the Old Testament believers (for example) was one of trusting God—Abraham in leaving Ur and taking Isaac up Mount Moriah; Joshua in conquering Jericho; David in pretty much everything (and his Census being the exception proving the rule!). And for us, trusting in the testimony of the prophets and Apostles as to all-sufficient atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Chad V. said...

I know just enough greek to get me into trouble but I do believe that the bible usually says literally, "believe into Christ". DJP, am I right about that?

I think it may be a mistake to get too wrapped around the axle about wether the word trust or believe is superior. Either term can be mi-used or misunderstood. and either term is just as good as the other. I think the focus should rather be on a proper and comprehensive presentation of the gospel so that when we say "trust" or believe" we are clear about precisely what it means to believe in Christ.

I think it's also a mistake to think that you can really say everything that could be said in just one witnessing opportunity. It's rare for a person to be saved after only hearing the gospel for the first time. Often many different hearings encompassing many scriptural truths are required. I know a man who was saved teaching the catechism to his children over an extended period. Think of how much doctrine he learned himself while doing that. Part of the catechism includes a definition of what it means to believe. Also, David Brainerd comes to mind. Nine years of ministering to the same tribes of indians before he saw any one saved and his first convert was his interpreter. Think of how many sermons he must have translated for Brainerd over those years, all the teaching he imbibed by doing so before he was brought to saving faith.

DJP said...

The Greek word means believe and trust. It's used of believing a fact to be true (i.e. John 11:42), and of trusting a person (i.e. probably 2 Timothy 1:12; Titus 3:8).

Stefan Ewing said...


I wouldn't argue that using "trust" versus "believe" in a Gospel presentation is necessarily inferior or superior.

But in terms of learning how to live as a believer and understanding the nature of my relationship to God, by God's grace it certainly helped me.

In this age of easy-believism and cafeteria Christianity, it wouldn't be a bad concept to explore in an adult Sunday School or discipleship class.

...And the word "trust" does get used a lot in the English Old Testament—especially in the Psalms, where it seems most often to translate the Hebrew word batach, admittedly a completely different word from the Hebrew word for "believed" in Genesis 15:6.

Stefan Ewing said...

"...in (for example) Genesis 15:6," I meant to write.

Craig and Heather said...

Sorry DJP,

I was aware of the rule but didn't consider whether my comment was transgressing.

Won't happen again.

That is interesting about "belief". I knew there must be a specific type of belief that saves because of James 2:19.

The demons have a much more accurate picture of God than we do but are not remotely interested in bowing in willing submission.


Chad V. said...


I know what you mean.

Stuart Wood said...

Just a few more verses to consider:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..." (Rom. 1:16).

"Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit..." (Col. 1:4-6).

"When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day (1 Thes. 1:10).

"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).

Stuart Wood said...

Oops, sorry, forgot another good one:

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:17-18).

steve s said...

Brilliant, brilliant post. Thanks Dan.

FX Turk said...

What 'you' win them with is the power of the Holy Spirit to make dry bones walk. What you win them to is newness of life.

It's funny how orthodox Paul was at the areopagus, and how few times he referenced the Bible directly. There's no question that he followed the Biblical outline of history, culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ. But what he said there doesn't look much like what Peter said at Pentecost. It looks an awful lot like, 'believe in Him who created you so that you can be saved.'

Because they needed saving, and he was only going to get one shot at it. He didn't have time for a survey of the covenants, or a primer in temple images of sacrifice and atonement. So he used what they had to speak about something pagans could understand: the intentions of an unknown God.

Great post, DJP.

DJP said...

Good observations, Frank.

What I see Paul doing is demolishing his hearers' worldview, bringing the Biblical worldview into direct confrontations. There were not many gods, but one; creation came from one hand, not a team of contractors; history was telic, not cyclical; all was headed towards judgment, and the judge would be Jesus Christ.

Then at the end he issues the universal call to repentance on the basis of Christ's bodily resurrection (vv. 30-31), and some do come to faith (v. 34).

So as I see it, Paul does what I try to do in my book: lay down the worldview within which (alone) the Gospel makes sense.

Pierre Saikaley said...

"history was telic, not cyclical" ...I like that. I'm going to use that in my apologetic evangelism next time I have the opportunity.

I think another way to say it is that Paul was appealing to the common grace and general revelation of God in creation.

Can't wait to read your book DJP...I'll be praying for your success in this godly work.


James Joyce said...

That's about as simply as I can put it.

olan strickland said...

Great post Dan! Very well balanced - guarding against easy-believism and hypercalvinism.

Aaron said...

Isn't easy-believism really a misnomer? Beccause "easy-believism" isn't really belief, is it?

Using the thief on the cross as an example, actual belief didn't require some advanced knowledge of doctrine. Now I'm very passionate about doctrine, but I don't like it when people make it seem like you need a doctorate in theology to be saved.

Anonymous said...


That might work against the French or the democrats in Washington...


olan strickland said...

Easy-believism IS belief but not saving belief. It is a result of offering a gospel invitation detached from a gospel presentation, such as "Believe in Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31) without the gospel explanation that follows (Acts 16:32).

As for the thief on the cross, he didn't have advanced knowledge of doctrine but he confessed with his mouth Jesus as Lord; believed in his heart that God would raise Jesus from the dead; and called on the name of the Lord.

Now how did that happen? :)

Aaron said...

I would argue that it isn't belief. If I believe a tornado will hit my house tomorrow and then do nothing, then by my actions I showed I did not truly believe.

greglong said...

James Joyce wrote:

That's about as simply as I can put it.

James, where in the NT do you see someone urging people to "surrender" as opposed to repent and believe?

Craig and Heather said...

I would argue that it isn't belief. If I believe a tornado will hit my house tomorrow and then do nothing, then by my actions I showed I did not truly believe.

Belief does not necessarily produce appropriate action.

James says that the demons "believe". Yet they do not act on what they know to be true. Their knowledge doesn't save them but that does not mean they don't believe.


James Joyce said...

Surrender = repent + believe.

When God chose to save me on September 26, 1987 I didn't have a clue about repenting and believing.

My life was a disaster and I had reached a point in my life that I didn't want to live anymore and was too afraid to die. To use a Frielism, "I was done with me."

I think my sinners' prayer went something like this, "God, I don't know who or what You are but I can't make it. Please help me." From that day on my life changed. The simplest way that I can describe what happened is that I surrendered.

The fact that it was the Holy Spirit working in me to convict me of sin and the fact that it was Jesus Christ that I was praying to and the fact that my salvation was made possible by His life, death and resurrection and God acting sovereignly in my life were all things that I learned later.

At one time this bothered me because as I grew as a Christian I didn't think it was the theologically correct way to be born again. But now I just figure that I must have come out feet first.

God saves who He has chosen to save and there's nothing we can do to stop Him.

Stevemd said...

When was the last time you shared the Gospel with an unbeliever, and what did you tell them?

Jim said...

Boy is this off. The inverse way of saying God gave Christ to the chosen is to say that they recieved Christ. The were not responsible for the dispensing or the receiveing, but they get what God puts in them. But clearly the following text (1:13)demonstrates that the recipients are defined as those who are children of God apart from any work of the will or of the flesh. So you need to reconsider that John does not say we are to receive Christ or infer that this means to accept. Man must believe that God will do a work in him to cause him to be born again. To state it differently man needs to be born again and needs instruction on how that is. What you have typed here is Armenian regardless of your understanding of Calvinism. You have not told a hearer the biblical gospel. You have told him what he must do and deceived him into believing that he has the power to do something that he has not. He must know of his inability and what God must do in him. He does not need to be instructed on how to be saved, apart from being told of the rebirth (John 3). He must know that God revealed that he would do such a work (ez 36) and he must come to know as the reformers proclaimed, that GOD must do a work in you. You DO NOT have the ability to excercise REPENTANT FAITH, so do not tell a man to do this, according to Acts 5, he must come to Christ for a new heart and seek the living Christs power to grant him repentance like David does in Psalm 51. Men can not accept Christ nor are they instructed to! They must come to God as Abraham did with a body that is dead and against hope in hope believe that what God promised, he is able also to perform. Please sharpen this article. This is an Armenian affirmation with the Calvinist simply differing on the theology of the results. If you think you are a Calvinist, you must differ from this, God's Gospel is imparted with instruction to believe that God will do what only he can do, apart from which you will perish.

Pierre Saikaley said...

Jim, I think you mean ARMINIAN...ARMENIANS live in southeast Europe. Look I've included a map for your benefit http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/europe/lgcolor/amcolor.htm

DJP said...

Jim, it grieves me to have to say it, but you just gave a perfect example of someone more ruled by a system than Scriptur — which, thankfully, most Calvinists are not. Every one of your points was already answered in the Scriptures brought out in the post and in the discussion above. Neither Jesus nor the apostles preached as you would preach. Their example is far more persuasive to me than your human reasoning.

I'd only note additionally that you can't even do it yourself, even in such a brief note:

"[A]Men can not accept Christ nor are they instructed to! [-A] They must come to God...."

The Bible tells sinners they must come, repent, receive, believe. So will I. So should you.