A BELIEVER is one who
believes, that is, one who has faith in something or someone. Faith can be
legitimate (faith in what is true), illegitimate (faith in what is not true), or feigned
(pretended faith). But there is something we need to understand as a fundamental axiom.
Believing is not a choice. Only feigned, or pretended, faith can be chosen. Believing is
not something a person can, or does, choose to do. Faith is something a person either has
or does not have. It may be received through education or experience. It may develop over
time as a result of the accumulation of evidence, or be received in an epiphany as
evidence congeals in the consciousness, or, as we shall see, be given by God.
What must a person believe in order to be saved,
15:1 Now I am making known to you, brethren, the evangel which I bring to you, which also you accepted, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are saved, if you are retaining what I said in bringing the evangel to you, outside and except you believe feignedly. 3 For I give over to you among the first what also I accepted, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that He was entombed, and that He has been roused the third day according to the scriptures . . . 11 . . . thus we are heralding and thus you believe.
And in Romans 1:
1:16 For not ashamed am I of the evangel, for it is Gods power for salvation to everyone who is believing -- to the Jew first, and to the Greek as well.
This evangel, this good news, is the touchstone of saving faith. Like all faith, it is not chosen. But unlike all other species of faith, this faith, faith in the evangel, saving faith, is not arrived at by education, or instruction. It doesnt develop over time through study of the Scriptures. It isnt arrived at by induction or deduction. Saving faith is given by God, gratuitously.
Eph.2:8 For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is Gods approach present, 9 not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. 10 For His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them.
Only those ordained to eonian life, those chosen by God, believe.
Acts13:48 Now on hearing this, the nations rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian.
Saving faith, faith in the evangel, does not come apart from the operation of God. Such faith is given to those chosen by God, before the disruption of the world. Believers, by their genuine faith in the evangel, give evidence of being among the chosen. Christ has become to them, through no choice of their own, but through the operation of God, the wisdom and power of God.
1 Cor.1:23 yet we are heralding Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a snare, yet to the nations stupidity, 24 yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God, 25 for the stupidity of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Notice that this evangel is a
proclamation, a declaration. It is not an offer. It is not conditional or provisional. A
person may be invited to believe, commanded to believe, or even implored to believe.
Indeed, such secondary means may be among the very vehicles by which faith comes, in
addition to the simple proclamation, but any resulting faith is a gift of God.
Further, these secondary means may also be means by which people are led to falsely claim
faith. Many such means used today by typical evangelists involve emotional manipulation,
This evangel is the only touchstone of saving faith. It is the only rule we have by which to judge who is a believer, and who is not. Other standards have been raised, from the orthodox and his creed to the sectarian and his particular pet doctrine. But Scripture is silent about such tests, such additional standards. We are not saved by faith in this-or-that-doctrine, but by faith in the Crucified One. We are saved as we individually believe the evangel; thus we are not saved by our technical knowledge of all that Christ is or has done, but by the simple truth that Christ died for me.
Indeed, the Scriptures contain much truth, on many subjects, which go far beyond the scope of the evangel. The believer is encouraged to delve into its depths. In fact, there are eight different evangels, contained in the Scriptures, only one of which involves our salvation. The believer is commanded to properly partition (correctly cut, CV) the Word of God and distinguish things which differ. Faith in the evangel must not be mistaken for faith in what Paul calls his evangel, or the faith. Some, in our day, are making their own understanding of Pauls full-orbed body of teaching, my evangel, the message which saves. They maintain that one who doesnt yet understand Pauls teaching on the Sovereignty of God, isnt yet saved. They deny salvation to those who, in their spiritual infancy, dare to believe that it might be, as surely it seems, his or her own choice of Christ as Savior, or his or her own act of believing that was instrumental in his salvation. Free will must be denied, renounced, say these teachers, in order to be saved. And, if a person, new to the Scriptures, hasnt yet learned what death entails, and how that relates to the death of Christ, then he, too, cannot yet be saved. Finally, if one hasnt graduated from belief in Christ as his own Savior, to a belief in Christ as the Savior of all mankind, then he, also, in fact, is not yet saved. To be sure, Paul commanded that the fact that God is the Savior of all mankind is something we are to teach; but he never says that it is faith in that fact that saves.
The evangel is the power of God to save. Any teaching which makes faith in the evangel conditional is an attack on the evangel. Any teaching that makes the receiving of faith dependent upon some act or frame of mind is an attack on the evangel. Any teaching that equates some peripheral issue with the evangel, is an attack on the evangel. Any teaching that equates a particular canon of orthodoxy with the simple evangel, making the receiving of saving faith dependent on acceptance of that canon, is an attack on the evangel.
No other doctrine ought be mistaken for, or mingled with, the evangel. No other doctrine ought be made a condition for believing the evangel. And since saving faith is given gratuitously, then no sin committed, no habit formed, no error held, no misunderstanding embraced, no lifestyle lived, can disqualify a person from believing, and being saved. Salvation comes first; education, modification of lifestyle, unlearning of error, edification, followall subject to the will of the One Who is operating all things after the counsel of His own will.
If we would fully know all that God has revealed to us, we must study the Scriptures. If we would have an accurate knowledge of God, His nature and His sovereignty, we must study the Scriptures. If we would know of Christ, His Nature, His Work, and all that Christs death meansfor us and the universewe must study the Scriptures. There is much yet to learn. But saving faith, faith in the simple evangel, comes first. The saved one ought to grow, in grace and in knowledge. But first, he needs to be saved. That is, to be saved by simple faith in the simple evangelnot Pauls my evangel, not the mystery, not Theology 101but belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Should the nature of God be taught? Yes. Should the nature of man, and death, be taught? Of course. Should the fact that God is the Saviour of all mankind be taught? Absolutely (1 Tim.4:10-11). Should error in these areas be exposed? Surely. But these glorious truths are not the evangel that imparts eonian life. Knowing accurately the nature of God, will not save a person. It will grant the saved person more peace and assurance, thus saving him from the uncertainty and vicissitudes of life. Knowing the nature of death will not save a person, but again, it will mollify our grief, and grant peace as we all face death. Knowing that all mankind will be saved does not, in itself, save a single person, but it should cause us to grow in love for God, even as for our fellowman as well.
Thus, saving faith is germinal, not full-orbed. Faith in the evangel is basic, fundamental, personal, and must be elaborated upon through instruction, in order to see all the implications, and indeed to experience all the benefits thereof (Phil.2:12--Be carrying your own salvation into effect, CV; Work out your own salvation, KJV).
A strange question, you might think. So
lets change it to What else do believers believe in addition to the
evangel? There isnt a major doctrine of the Scriptures about which believers
agree. Confusion reigns among the thousands of churches and denominations, with no
agreement on doctrine, not even on the fundamentals, much less on the so-called lesser
important areas. Throughout church history, some have tried to systematize the teachings
of Scripture. They have tried to define what the Scriptures teach on the major doctrines,
about the nature of God, His Son, and His Spirit, the nature and destiny of Man, Israel,
the Church. They have tried to define what orthodoxycorrect teachingis;
and what heresy false teachingis.
But this doctrinal diversity is not a new situation; it already existed in the days of the apostle Paul.
Eph.4:11 And the same One gives these, indeed, as apostles, yet these as prophets, yet these as evangelists, yet these as pastors and teachers, 12 toward the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, 13 unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ, 14 that we may by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by craftiness with a view to the systematizing of the deception.
I wonder if we have fully grasped the
full significance of this statement by Paul. There are two aspects of this declaration:
the glorious goal, and the dismal present state along the way to that goal. God has provided the ecclesia with several means for growth, beginning
with the apostles of Pauls day, and continuing with evangelists and teachers to
spread the evangel and instruct the believers. The goal is glorious, the unity of
the faith, the realization of the Son of God, full maturity as the complement of Christ.
But where does Paul tell us that this goal will be achieved in this life? The ecclesia is a dynamic, growing organism, ever changing, with new, immature members being added, and older members being put to repose. New believers come to faith from any number of backgrounds; and all require individual, specific attention, to correct their individual deficiencies.
Paul describes the present state of the ecclesia, in his day, as being in need of adjustment, being minors, surging hither and thither, being carried about by every wind of teaching, by human caprice, by crafitness with a view to the systemizing of the deception.
Paul had already revealed that he was praying for God to give these very believers a spirit of wisdom and revelation, in preparation for their reception of this very letter.
Eph.1:15 Therefore, I also, on hearing of this faith of yours in the Lord Jesus, and that for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, making mention in my prayers 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may be giving you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the realization of Him,
Within the providence of God there must be divisions, even among believers. Some will be corrected, some may not be, in this lifetime. But all those whom God provides for the edification of the ecclesia, are given in the interests of His ongoing work of adjusting and upbuilding not only the body as a whole, but each of the members thereof, individually, as well.
1 Cor.11:19 For it must be that there are sects (heresies-KJV) also among you, that those also who are qualified may be becoming apparent among you.
1 Cor.1:10 Now I am entreating you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all may be saying the same thing, and there may be no schisms among you, but you may be attuned to the same mind and to the same opinion. 11 For it was made evident to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe, that there are strifes among you. 12 Now I am saying this, that each of you is saying, I, indeed, am of Paul, yet I of Apollos, yet I of Cephas, yet I of Christ.
It should be evident that not all
Scriptural truths are of the same degree of importance. And, some differences between
believers do not involve scriptural truths at all, but may simply result from diverse
customs, whether cultural, political or ethnic. (see Acts 6 regarding the dispute between
the Hellenists and the Hebrews). Paul, when asked certain questions, responded by saying,
I have no injunction of the Lord. Yet an opinion am I giving (1 Cor 7:25).
Some take the words of the Lord Jesus found in John 16, and would consequently assert that all believers will ultimately believe only the truth.
John 16:13 Yet whenever that may be coming -- the spirit of truth --it will be guiding you into all the truth, for it will not be speaking from itself, but whatsoever it should be hearing will it be speaking, and of what is coming will it be informing you. 14 That will be glorifying Me, seeing that of Mine will it be getting, and informing you. 15 All, whatever the Father has, is Mine. Therefore I said to you that of Mine is it getting, and will be informing you.
Christ, however, is not promising the
continued personal instruction of the Holy Spirit, but the revelation by the Spirit to the
twelve of those truths that would ultimately be written in the pages of the Scriptures.
Today, the Scriptures are our source of truth; and the accuracy of our doctrine depends on
our accurate understanding of the Scriptures, arrived at through the means of our natural
intellectual abilities, teachers, fellow believers, accurate translations of the
Scriptures, and, yes, the spirit of wisdom which Paul prayed for us to have.
A very real danger exists in making ones own understanding of the Scriptures the condition of saving faith. It simply will not do to speak of what is, in fact, our understanding of Scripture, as if it were Scripture itself. Church history is strewn with the ruins of those who have chiseled in stone their own understanding orthodox teaching, and made faith in that orthodoxy the touchstone of saving faith.
Some take these words, from Matthew 24, to assert that believers cannot be deceived:
Matt.24:24 For roused shall be false christs and false prophets, and they shall be giving great signs and miracles, so as to deceive, if possible, even the chosen.
Again, these words are directed to the
elect among Israel, in the last generation.
Believers are not promised protection from deception, or from the wiles of the adversary. (Luke 22:3-32; Matt.16:23; Job 2:1-7; 2 Tim.2:26).
The experience of believersthose to whom Christ has become the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor.1:24), those before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been graphically crucified (Gal.3:1)is that they are found in all the churches and creeds of Christendom.
This is from the song The Churchs One Foundation. This third verse is very seldom found in hymnals. But the words were never more true, than they are today!
|Though with a scornful wonder we see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, How long?
And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.
In the context we are considering, an unbeliever, then, is
restricted to those who do not believe the evangel. Paul gives two classes of unbelievers:
Jews and Gentiles. To the Jew, the evangel, the word of the cross, is a snare, a stumbling
stone; it offends him. To the Gentile, the evangel, the word of the cross, is stupidity;
he is insulted by it. Consequently, an unbeliever is someone who has never believed the
Unbelievers may pretend to believe; such faith as they evidence is only feigned faith. At some point, their true colors may become evident, but not necessarily. They may live their whole lives pretending to be believers. Peer pressure may be involved; or social standing; then again, deception or fraud may be the motive.
Clearly, not all who profess faith possess faith. In addition to feigned faith, some people, probably a great many, think they have faith, but do not. Religion is an established feature of society. People belong to churches for many reasons. Not all church members are believers. Many simply grow up in the church; they know the language, they hear the stories, and they think they are believers. Some people choose churches like they choose a country club or a bank; and for similar reasons, whether social, economic, political, or business. They may believe that they are believers. But mere familiarization with the language of faith is not faith. It has been rightly said that many church members have just enough acquaintance with Christianity to be inoculated against the real thing. Thousands respond to altar calls, but may, in fact, simply be responding to intellectual or emotional manipulation, even as peer pressure. (And of course I am speaking here not only of parishioners but of preachers as well.)
But a believer with some incorrect or incomplete doctrine, is not an unbeliever. A believer who does not walk in accord with the doctrine he holds, is still a believer. Peter, when acting hypocritically (Gal.2:11-14), was still a believer. Paul and Barnabas, when they argued violently and recoiled from each other (Acts 15:39), were still believers. A believer who sins, is still a believer (1 Cor.5:5). A believer who lives according to the flesh, is still a believer (1 Cor.3:3).
There is discipline within the ecclesia. Sinful deportment is to be dealt with severely (1 Cor.5:5). Schism is not to be tolerated (Titus 3:10). Tough love had to be shown; but the recipients of such discipline were still brothers, fellow believers (2 Thess.3:6).
Paul even dealt with believers who held to false teachings. These he tried to correct, showing the implications of their error. Pauls instructions to Timothy as to how to deal with error among the saints was to . . . not be fighting, but be gentle to all, apt to teach, bearing with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing (2 Tim.2:25). Even, in the preaching of the word, when it is necessary to expose, rebuke, entreat, it is to be done with all patience and teaching [i.e., instruction] (2 Tim.4:2). But Paul assures us that all believers, those faithful and those not faithful, those in error and those pure in their doctrine, will all be saved, and will be participants in the resurrection (1 Cor.3:14-15; 1 Thess.5:4-14;). They are, therefore, believers.
So it is not always possible to tell the difference. We cannot know the hearts of men.
What fellowship has light with darkness? Surely there
is antagonism between the unbeliever and the evangel. This may express itself in
antagonism being shown toward one who is a believer by an unbeliever. This is
But, the question we need to consider, however, is this: Is the simple presence of any antagonism between two people of faith necessarily evidence that one of them is an unbeliever? Is all antagonism evidence of unbelief in the evangel? The burden of proof lies with any who would assert such a proposition. For example: Is a dispensationalist who argues against amillennialism, even to the point of being rude and obnoxious in his remarks about amillennialists, thereby demonstrating that he himself is necessarily an unbeliever? Or is it instead simply that such a dispensationalist is a rude, tactless, and obnoxious person?
Believers are only human; and humans sin. They err. Take Paul and
Peter, in the incident at Antioch, which is related in the Acts even as in Galatians.
Peter was acting hypocritically. Worse still, as a consequence, other believers were
following him in his hypocritical conduct. Paul got upset, and called him out, publicly:
I withstood him to the face, Paul said, because he was to be
Then again, there was the incident with Paul and Barnabas. About to start a missionary journey, they argued about whether to take along with them Mark, Barnabas nephew. Paul said, No. Barnabas said, Yes. The contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder. This contention, this severe argument, broke up the team that had been specifically selected by the Holy Spirit. (Sever, by all means, to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them; Acts 13:2). Yet later, Paul commends Mark for ministry; so evidently Barnabas did a good job in correcting Marks shortcomings, since Paul reversed his earlier opinion of him. God, who prepared the beneficial sequel (1 Cor.10:13), was responsible for the trial as well (i.e., for the original, sharp controversy between Paul and Barnabas).
As close, in time, as the original readers of Pauls letters were to the pristine, pure teachings of the apostle, there were differences in teaching. There were sects and schisms, competing preachers, excommunications. Paul warned that there must be heresies (sects) among you. He said that teachers would arise who sought followers; that people would listen to those whose words tickled their ears, rather than teachers of sound doctrine. He characterized the believers of his own day as being in need of adjustment and edification. Extrapolate, then, the conditions of Pauls day down to our own . . . .
Calls to return to first century Christianity, or apostolic teaching, or restoring the New Testament Church, or claiming a Biblical Polity, are self-serving and vain. Claims to have done such, inevitably vary in the content of their doctrine. Twentieth-century believers and teachers, oftentimes re-learning truths long since discarded or neglected, are easily tempted to speak with the same dogmatism and authority as Paul. And, in their zeal to expose error, often they attack not only the error, but also believers who may hold to it, as well. They are apt to do so without considering that the particular situations which exist today are not necessarily the same as those which obtained when Paul first penned his words. Claiming the mantle of Paul, while separated by two thousand years and living in a different culture simply will not work. Well might those they seek to exorcise today respond as did the spirits in Acts, Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?”
We have had two thousand years to hone our theological differences. Our churches and denomination differ over many things; some major things, some minor. Churches form around teachers, doctrines, social economic groups, racial groups, nations. Churches form and die out. Like Israel in Old Testament times, numbers of believers have varied at different times. There have been revivals of faith, rediscoveries of truths, and aberrations as well.
Always, there has been the evangel: belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. All who have believed the evangel have been saved. Now of course one wonders, How many professing Christians actually believed the evangel in the midst of the Dark Ages; when political upheavals reigned; when illiteracy was the rule, and the Bible was not available to the masses; when popes and priests lived scandalous lives and took bribes; who can say?
But any who did genuinely believe the evangel, probably also believed some things which were not true. They undoubtedly believed the doctrines which were current in their local situation. Attempts to trace a thread of believers in this or that doctrine, for example, the Baptists looking for people who practised believers baptism, or Sabbatarians, seeking out those who observed the seventh-day Sabbath, are like paleontologists looking for the missing link. The only legitimate thread that traces through the whole history of the Christian Churchthe same Scarlet thread that winds its way through the Scriptures themselvesis the evangel: faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
When believers fight with each other, its usually not the evangel that they fight about. Its usually some other doctrines, forms or ceremonies. If each one will acknowledge that the other is a believer, then the argument can at least be civil, and can be regarded as a situation in which each one is seeking to educate the other so as to more accurately relate the full counsel of God. The more serious problem, however, arises when, because of the differences between individuals in respect to other doctrines, ones distinct from the evangel itself, that such persons go so far as to deny that their doctrinal opponent is even a believer at all. Thus, they are making belief in their pet doctrine or test doctrine a condition of salvation. This is adding to the evangel: making salvation a matter of faith in the evangel plus something else.
The first thing believers will do when they are in the presence of
the Lord is to stand before the dais of Christ in order to be requited for what they put
into practise, whether good or bad. Will they all be perfect? Will their deportment and
their doctrine be beyond reproach? Will their experiences and trials have perfected them?
If such were the case what would be the need for judgment? Will they have been, as yet,
perfectly conformed to the image of Christ?
The purpose of God in creation was to subect the entire creation, humanity as well as the celestial creation, to experience both good and evil, so as to prepare them for the full enjoyment of God. Christ will present to God a completely reconciled universe. God will be All in all.
While, ultimately, all will be reconciled to God, there is a plan in place for the achievement of that goal. What we see is what God is doing. We need not engage in the idle speculation about what God could have done. It is apparent that, in the outworking of the divine purpose of the eons, each individualbeliever and unbeliever alikewill have a specially-tailored individual experience of both good and evil. Some individuals have been chosen by God to be the special objects of His grace. The rest have been, in the nature of the case, chosen to be objects of Gods wrath. But both, believers and unbelievers alike, will experience both good and evil. This subjection of the creation to vanity is necessary, so that God may extend His riches and grace to all (Rom.8:20; 11:32).
Our experience of good and evil includes both our individual doing of good and evil acts, and our experience of having good and evil things done to us, whether by other humans, or due to injurious, natural forces. It includes our sinning, and being sinned against. It also includes influences from the celestial sphere, besides the many effects resulting from human relations. But even vessels of wrath, unbelievers, are not totally bad people. They do not do only evil. They do both good and evil things. Believers, too, are not exclusively good. Believers sin; they do both good and evil.
Sin, righteous acts; good, evil; pain, joy; life, death. These are the common lot of all. The individual experiences of us all make us who we are. God, Who formed us in the womb, Who numbers the very hairs of our head, Who has numbered all of our days, Who knows the end from the beginning, Who is operating all things after the counsel of His own will, He is drawing us all to Himself, each one according as God has purposed.
An important player in humanitys experience of good and evil is the Adversary. He is the god of this [present wicked] eon. His work is even evident among believers. He is our adversary; along with the sovereignties, ... the authorities, ... the world-mights of this darkness, ... the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials (Eph. 6:12). The Adversary is described as a plaintiff, that is, one who levels charges against us (1 Pet. 5:8). His work is to snare believers (1 Tim.3:7; 2 Tim..2:26). God even permits Satan to sift believers, to test their faith (Luke 22:31). In Pauls life the Adversary apparently used a physical ailment to buffet him (2 Cor.12:7). The Adversary snares some believers by false teaching (1 Tim.2:24-26); some by the vanity attendant to having a following (1 Tim.3:6-7); others by immorality (1 Cor.5:5); others by this present world (2 Tim.4:10); or riches (1 Tim.6:9); or their soulish appetites (cp. Phil.3:19; Rom.16:18).
We have the assurance from Scripture that He who has begun a work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil.1:6). Yet at the dais, some will have proven faithful in their service and deportment, described in figure as gold, silver and precious stones (1 Cor.3:12). Others will have led lives of lesser quality, described as wood, hay, and stubble, the substance of which will be, in the figure, burned up. Appearing before the dais is the expectation of all believers, not only those who, like Paul, have contested the ideal contest . . . [and] kept the faith, but those who have forsaken it and loved the current eon (2 Tim.4:7-10), those drowsing (1 Thes. 5:10), those turned over to Satan (1 Cor.5:5), those who have fallen from grace (Gal.5:4), and, yes, even the enemies of the cross (Phil.3:18).
The Body of Christ is a display of Gods grace to the celestial spheres, both now, and in the oncoming eons (Eph.2:7). We all have a different story to tell, a different testimony, but all of grace. We are in the process of being Gods achievement (workmanship, KJV). We have nothing in ourselves wherein to boast. We glory in the Cross, and in the Crucified One.
Richard C. Condon