Question: Is believing in what Jesus did for us enough for salvation?
This is really a two part question: 1) Is believing in what Jesus did for us and who He is enough for salvation? And 2) What does true conversion look like?
Salvation is the most basic question and statement of belief for the Christian. It is essential to clarify and understand what is true regarding salvation. If your understanding of salvation is wrong, then nothing else matters. If you believe, for example, that you must know that Jesus was the Son of God and keep certain rules, then you miss the essential truth for salvation. Let’s begin by noting three things: 1) the bottom line for salvation; 2) the gift of salvation; and 3) how the gift must be received.
First, Paul explains the gospel in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes,
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you
received and in which you stand,
2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you– unless you
believed in vain.
3 for I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-4)
Paul is declaring the gospel, which is knowing that Jesus Christ 1) died for your sins; 2) He was buried (that is He showed that the work was done); and 3) He rose again (His work was shown to us that it was accepted by the Father). That is the gospel, or good news that we must trust.
Secondly, salvation is a gift from God according to Paul, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God…” (Eph. 2:8) The original language of Greek in this verse requires that the word “it” as in “it is the gift of God” must refer back to a neuter noun, because gift is neuter (like many languages, there is masculine, feminine and neuter nouns and pronouns). Some people have tried to say that the “it” refers to “faith” and therefore they say God gives a gift of faith. In order for it to refer to faith, there would have been a feminine relative pronoun included, but there is not. The gift cannot refer to “faith” according to the original language, no matter how someone might attempt to construe the rationale. The “it” can only refer to “salvation” as offered by God as a gift.
Thirdly, that gift must be received by faith. John writes, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12) The person must “receive” Jesus, that is, what He did on the cross. By receiving Jesus as your Savior, you are “believing” in His name. John is using two expressions that imply the same thing.
Let’s expand this definition of faith. First, it is not enough to know that Jesus is the Son of God and died on the cross for salvation. Knowledge alone is not sufficient for salvation. Knowledge is awareness. Knowledge is a cognitive fact. Those who do not welcome the truth may know it, but not trust in it (2 Thes. 2:10). Secondly, it’s not enough to mentally agree with the facts. The demons believe that God is one, that is, has one plan and has one provision, but they shudder (Jam. 2:19). They “shudder,” literally “frizzle,” because they are fearful of their eternal destiny. Thirdly, you must accept the gift of salvation by trusting in Jesus Christ. Trust is dependence upon the object. It is accepting the gift or relying upon the gift. It is more than cognitive awareness. It is proving a chair will hold you up by actually sitting on the chair. It is actually getting on the plane and buckling up, rather than just hoping from a distance that a plane might take you on a trip.
Now the question, “What does true conversion look like?” When someone is converted, he is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). He becomes a branch that must abide in the vine in order to bear fruit (John 15:5). He must long for the milk of the word (2 Pet. 2:1-2) and eventually desire to grow in order to feed himself (Heb. 5:12-14), so that he can discern truth and error. A truly converted one will pursue knowing Jesus (Phil. 3:9-14). He will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), because he will confess his sins to God (1 John 1:9), and because he desires to walk in fellowship with God and others (1 John 1:6-7).
However, a believer can act like an unbeliever. Paul writes, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the1 Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, (Eph. 4:17) If they didn’t have to be concerned about walking like Gentiles (unbelievers), Paul would not have warned them. Paul also writes, “…be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph. 5:18) If believers were filled with the Spirit all the time, Paul would not have to command that to happen. Furthermore, Paul writes in 1 Cor. 3:1-3,
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in
2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it,
and even now you are still not able;
3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1-3)
First, Paul clearly is writing to “believers” (saints in 1 Cor. 1:2) and he calls them brethrenin the above passage. Secondly, Paul says they are “carnal,” that is, they are living according to the flesh, rather than the Spirit. The rest of the book of Corinthians reveals just how fleshly they are living. Thirdly, he reveals their carnal status by identifying the sins they are committing, “envy, strife, and divisions.” And fourthly, he states they are behaving like mere men, instead of spiritual, godly men.
When a Christian acts in a carnal way, watch out! Paul admonishes the Galatians believers to not think they can become sanctified by the flesh (Gal. 3:3). When a Christian continues in sin, he will be disciplined by the Lord (Heb. 12:5-6). He will lose out on intended blessings and rewards (Col. 2:18; 3:24, 26; 2 John 8; Heb. 6:12; 10:35).