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Salvation by Faith: What (Content) Must We Believe?

What Must We Believe?
The Content of Faith

The gospel of Christ teaches salvation by faith, but what must we believe: God, Jesus, the Bible, the gospel, resurrection, eternal rewards, worship, the church, obedience, baptism, etc.?

The gospel of Christ teaches we are saved by faith. But what must that faith include? Is it enough to believe in just any "god" or even many gods? Must we believe in Jesus, and if so what must we believe about Him? Must we believe the Bible, the gospel, or other specific teachings such as the resurrection, eternal rewards, worship, the church, obedience, baptism, etc.? Will all believers be saved, or does it matter what we believe?

Many Scriptures teach that we are saved by faith.

But does it follow, just because a person claims to have “faith,” that he will be saved? Is it possible to have a faith that does not save?

[Hebrews 10:39; 11:1,4-8,17,30; Romans 1:16; 4:19-21; 5:1,2; 10:9,10,13-17; Galatians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7; James 2:14-26; John 1:12; 3:15-18; 8:24; 20:30,31; Mark 16:15,16]

There are different kinds of faith.

Many people think they are saved because they “believe,” with little restrictions on what they believe. This is especially confusing with those who claim we are saved by “faith alone.”

* Some think its enough to “believe in god”: some concept of a Supreme Being or some “force” that operates the universe.

* Others claim Hindus and Buddhists will be saved because they “believe in god”: many gods, worshiped by images, etc.

* Others claim Jews and Muslims will be saved because “they believe in the same God you do.”

* Many liberal, modernists don’t believe in Jesus' miracles or Deity or resurrection, yet claim they “believe in Jesus”: He existed and was a great teacher, maybe even a prophet.

* Many denominationalists disbelieve much of what Jesus taught yet think they will be saved because they believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who died to save them from their sins.

The purpose of this study is to consider what the Bible says we must believe to be saved.

Titus 2:2 – Older men must be “sound in faith.” “Sound” means wholesome, spiritually healthy. There is faith that leads to spiritual life and health, but there is other faith that leads to spiritual disease and death.

There are different kinds of faith, like there are different kinds of love. A person can have love, but he may love the wrong thing. So a person may have a “faith,” but he may believe the wrong thing.

So what is the content of faith that saves? Our intent here is not to make a complete itemized list; instead, we seek to show that what we believe matters, so we can avoid many false conceptions of faith.

What must one believe to be saved?


I. Believe in God


What are some things one must believe about God to be saved?

A. We Must Believe in God’s Existence.

Hebrews 11:6 – Without faith it is impossible to please God. We must believe that He is. Note that it is not enough to believe that there was or has been a god who created the universe or “God is dead.” We must believe in His continued existence: God is.

Some might think this general belief in a god would be enough. But there is more.

[1 Peter 1:21; John 5:24; 14:1; 12:44; 2 Chronicles 20:20; Acts 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 1:8]

B. We Must Believe in God’s Works (Miracles)

Psalms 78:32,33 – God punished Israel because they sinned and did not believe in His wondrous works (miracles).

Hebrews 11:3 – By faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God. True faith believes God spoke the world into existence.

To have a saving faith we must believe, not just that God exists, but that He has done miracles in history.

[Romans 4:24; 1 Peter 1:21]

C. We Must Believe in God’s Character and Power

We cannot itemize everything, but note a few specifics:

John 6:69 – Peter believed Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God.

1 Corinthians 2:5 – Our faith should be in the power of God. God is all-powerful, ruling the entire universe.

1 John 4:16 – We have known and believe the love God has for us.

NewAgers, Hindus, and others, who believe in some impersonal power or force (Star Wars), do not have a proper faith. God is a living God who loves His creatures. He possesses the characteristics of individual personality.

[Colossians 2:12; Daniel 6:20-23; Psalms 27:13; 78:22; Matthew 6:30; 8:26]

D. We Must Believe in One True God

2 Kings 17:12-14 – When Israel worshiped other gods, God said they did not believe in the Lord their God. Like many idol worshipers today, doubtless they would have claimed to believe in God – as one among many gods. But so far as God was concerned, they did not believe in Him! [Deuteronomy 32:16-20]

Isaiah 43:10-12 – To truly believe in God, we must know and believe that there is no other god before or after Him.

James 2:19 – Even the demons believe there is one God.

What about the faith of Hindus, Buddhists, and others who believe in many gods or worship idols or nature or the earth or any God other than the God of the Bible? Even demons know better than that! They know there is one true God and they know who that God is. But that faith is not enough to save them. So how can anyone be saved with a lesser faith?

Even believing in God involves much more than many people realize.


II. Believe in Jesus


A. We Must Believe in Jesus

John 14:1 – Jesus said: “You believe in God; believe also in Me.” Belief in the one true God is necessary. But furthermore, we must believe in Jesus.

John 8:24 – If you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your sins.

To be saved, we must believe in Jesus. But as with faith in God, there are specific things we must believe.

[John 3:15,16,18,36; 5:38,46; 6:29,40,47; 13:19; Acts 9:42; 10:43; 11:17; 14:23; 18:8; 19:4; 20:21; Romans 3:22; 9:33; Galatians 2:16,20; 3:26; Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 1 Timothy 1:16; 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:15; Philemon 5; 1 John 3:23; 5:1,5,10,13]

B. We Must Believe in Jesus' Character and Works

John 10:38 – Jesus said people should believe His works, so they would know and believe that He and His Father are in one another. To believe in Jesus we must believe His works: His miracles.

John 11:27 – Martha said she believed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. “Christ” means He is the anointed One: the ruler God sent to be spiritual King over His people. But what does it mean to believe He is the Son of God?

Matthew 16:13-17 – People believed Jesus was a great prophet like Old Testament prophets, but that was not enough. Peter confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of God, and Jesus said this is what the Father had revealed. To believe Jesus is the Son of God is to believe He is more than a mere man, more even a great prophet.

John 20:28-31 – Thomas confessed Jesus to be His Lord and God. Jesus pronounced a blessing on all others who believe the same thing. We believe on the basis of the written record that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing we have life in His name. Note that to believe Jesus is the Son of God is to believe He is Lord and God. He partakes of the nature of God, because He was not just a man. He was God in the flesh (John 1:1-18).

Muslims, modernists, and some Jews claim to believe in Jesus as a prophet and teacher, but they say He was just a great man, like Moses. They deny His miracles and deny He was the Son of God. Some people say these are true believers, because “they believe in Jesus.” But their faith is not a sufficient faith.

To have faith that leads to eternal life, we must believe Jesus is more than just a man. He is the Christ, the Son of God, God in the flesh.

[John 17:8; 11:42; 16:27,30; 17:21; 6:69; 9:35-38; 14:10,11; Acts 8:37; 16:31]

C. We Must Believe in Jesus as Our Sacrifice and Savior

John 4:42 – The Samaritans confessed that they believed Jesus is the Christ, that Savior of the world.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – Paul declared the gospel by which they will be saved, unless they believed in vain. What he preached was Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and appearances.

Again, Muslims and others believe Jesus was a great man and great prophet, but they deny He was crucified as the sacrifice to save us from our sins. Such is not a true faith. To really believe in Jesus, we must believe that He is the only One who can save us from sins, and there is no other way to salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

[1 Thessalonians 4:14; Acts 15:11]

D. We Must Believe in Jesus' Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – The gospel that Paul preached and saved people believed stated that Jesus not only died but also arose from the dead.

Romans 10:9,10 – To be saved we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and must be willing to confess Him to be Lord. We are not saved by just some general “faith in Jesus.” We must specifically believe in His death for our salvation and in His resurrection.

John 20:27-29 – Thomas had said he would not believe in Jesus' resurrection till He saw for himself (vv 24-26). Jesus appeared to the apostles and told Thomas to touch his hands and side. “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” The KJV says, “Do not be faithless...” Jesus said that those who doubt His resurrection are “faithless.” They are “unbelievers.”

All around us are people who claim to believe in Jesus, but they doubt or deny that He was the Son of God, was God in the flesh, did miracles, died as the sacrifice to save us from sins, and/or arose from the dead. Many people tell us that such people are believers and God will accept them. Such people may have a faith of sorts, but according to the gospel they do not have a true faith. They need to become true believers to be saved.

[1 Thessalonians 4:14; Mark 16:14]


III. Believe in God’s Word


Consider more about the content of faith, that shows some professed believers do not believe what God requires them to believe.

A. General Statements Regarding Believing God’s Word

Believe God’s word/commands

Psalms 106:12,24,25 – When Israel had crossed the Red Sea, they believed God’s words. But when they came to enter the land then they did not believe His words and did not heed His voice.

Psalms 119:66 – I believe your commandments.

Believing God requires us to believe what God says, especially what He commands us to do. Those who reject God’s commands do not really believe in Him.

[John 12:47,48; Genesis 15:5,6 cf. Romans 4:3,18,19,20; Galatians 3:6]

Believe the prophets

2 Chronicles 20:20 – Jehoshaphat called on the people to believe in the Lord and believe His prophets, so they would prosper.

Acts 8:12 – Those who were baptized believed what Philip preached.

1 John 4:1 – Do not believe false prophets, but put them to the test. Not only does it matter what we believe, it matters what we do not believe.

Many people believe some things about God and Jesus. But a true faith requires us to believe the message God sent by His inspired teachers and to reject teachings that contradict God’s inspired word.

[2 Thessalonians 1:10; Exodus 14:31; 4:1-9; Jonah 3:5; Matthew 21:32; Luke 24:25; 1 Corinthians 15:11]

Believe the Scriptures

John 2:22 – The disciples believed the scriptures and the word Jesus said. Faith is Jesus is not just believing what He did and who He was. It requires believing what He taught!

John 5:46,47 – Those who do not believe Moses’ writings will not believe Jesus' word. Proper faith requires believing both the Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus.

The message of God’s inspired prophets is recorded in the Scriptures. To believe in God, we must believe the message He inspired, which we find today in the Bible. Those who disbelieve what the Bible tells us to do to receive eternal life have an improper faith.

[Acts 24:14]

Believe the truth

John 8:45-47 – Jesus said these people were not of God because they did not believe the truth that Jesus told them: they did not hear God’s words.

2 Thessalonians 2:11-13 – We are chosen for salvation through belief of the truth. Those who have pleasure in unrighteousness will not believe the truth but will believe a lie and will be condemned.

Again, it matters, not just what we believe, but what we do not believe. Those who do not believe truth but believe lies will be condemned.

[1 Timothy 4:1-3]

Believe the gospel

Mark 1:15 – Jesus taught: Repent and believe the gospel.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8 – Paul declared the gospel by which they will be saved, unless they believed in vain. They believed what he preached (v11).

The gospel is the message of God for today, revealed by Jesus and His inspired apostles and prophets, and recorded in the New Testament. People may claim to believe in Jesus, but if they do not believe His words, they do not truly believe.

[Gospel: Mark 16:15,16; Philippians 1:27]

[General: John 11:25,26; Acts 15:7; 26:27; 27:25; Romans 10:14,16,17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:10; 5:12; 6:21; 2 Timothy 1:12,13; 1 Peter 2:6,7]

B. Specific Teachings to Believe

We will not attempt to list every specific point we must believe, but consider enough to show that it matters what we believe.

Obedience

Deuteronomy 1:26-33 – When Israel rebelled and refused to obey God’s command, Moses said they did not believe God. People who have a true faith believe that obedience is necessary to please God. [Numbers 14:1-11; 20:12; Deuteronomy 9:33; Hebrews 3:19; 4:2]

2 Kings 17:10-14 – God sent Israel into captivity because they worshiped idols and would not keep the commands sent by the prophets. They did not believe God. When people do not think obedience is necessary to please God, they do not believe God!

Hebrews 11 – Old Testament people illustrate the kind of faith we need to be saved (10:39). In every case, their faith led them to obey God. Noah built the ark (v7), Abraham obeyed to go to the land God would show him (v8), Israel encircled Jericho seven days (v30), etc.

All these people believed that they needed to obey God to receive His reward, but this is the kind of faith we need to be saved. It follows that, when people believe we are saved by “faith only” without obeying God, not only do they have a problem with obedience, but their faith is lacking.

Baptism

Mark 16:15,16 – Jesus sent the apostles to preach the gospel to all the world. He would believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned. He who believes what? The message the inspired men preached: the gospel! What does the gospel say? It says we must believe and be baptized to be saved? People who do not believe baptism is necessary to salvation do not believe the gospel!

Galatians 3:26,27 – We are children of God by faith, for as many as were baptized into Christ have put Him on. Those who have a proper faith believe that we come into Christ by baptism. Those who do not believe that, are not children of God by faith.

When people do not believe baptism is necessary to salvation, they have a problem, not just with baptism, but with their faith.

[Colossians 2:12,13]

The church

Acts 8:12 – Those who were baptized believed what Philip preached. He preached, not just about Jesus but also the kingdom (church).

Many people believe that the church has nothing to do with salvation. It does not matter what church you are a member of, and people should not teach about the church to people who are lost. Such people do not believe what inspired prophets taught lost sinners about the church. They have a problem, not just with the church, but with their faith.

Worship and marriage

1 Timothy 4:1-3 – Some depart from the faith forbidding marriage and foods; but people who know and believe the truth know better.

Proper faith is not just about who Jesus is. Improper beliefs about worship and about marriage can cause us to depart from the faith.

[James 1:6; 1 Timothy 6:20,21; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:13]

Our resurrection and future rewards

1 Corinthians 15:11-19 – When we deny the resurrection of the dead, the consequence is that our faith is vain and we are still in sin (vv 14,17). Wrong faith leads to condemnation, even among those who believe in Jesus.

2 Timothy 2:18 – When people taught that the resurrection is already past, they strayed from the truth and overthrew the faith of some. This false doctrine had nothing to do with who Jesus is, yet it led to false faith.

Those who do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. have an improper faith.

[Hebrews 11:6; Romans 6:8]

Conclusion

The things we have studied are generally things we must know and believe before we become Christians. People who do not believe these things have a faulty faith.

And if we deny these truths and resist them, then we do not have a problem just with obedience or baptism or the church, etc. We have a faith problem. We don’t believe properly.

Matthew 28:18-20 – But God expects us to grow in faith and knowledge. We are not required to know and believe everything before we are baptized. It may take time for people to come to learn and believe some things.

The main problem we have addressed in this study is the misconception of people who fail to realize what faith really requires. People who claim salvation “by faith alone” often end up lowering God’s standard by denying the need for obedience, baptism, church membership, proper worship, etc. Their ideas are false, because they contradict what the Bible says about obedience, baptism, etc. But they are also false because they contradict what the Bible says about faith! Such people need to realize they don’t even have a true faith!

Note: See the links below for Bible study articles on related topics, including the purpose of baptism, the importance of obedience, the thief on the cross, etc.

(C) Copyright 2007, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

Salvation by "Faith Only" vs. Obedient Faith
Why We Need Forgiveness
Things that Are Essential to Salvation
Is Obedience Essential to Salvation?
The Purpose of Baptism
Individual Responsibility in Salvation
Calvinism and the Gospel
God's grace and mercy (law & works)
Importance of Repentance
Should Babies Be Baptized?
Is Baptism Sprinkling, Pouring, or Immersion?
Should Alien Sinners Pray for Forgiveness
What about the Thief on the Cross?

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