True believers have salvation now and always. Their belief transforms their soul and gives them new life. But those who believe merely on the surface, perhaps even recognizing Jesus’ divinity but not exactly following it, are not considered true believers.
Believing in the reality and even the divinity of Jesus is one thing but being an authentic follower of Jesus Christ is often something far different. Many people believe Jesus lived and even that Jesus is the Messiah promised in Scripture. Yet in their heart, they do not truly, completely, and passionately believe.
To put it simply: there are those who believe in His existence, and then there are true believers. Given this, the question remains: Can someone believe but not be saved?
What Does it Mean to Believe in Jesus?
One of the most beloved scriptures is John 3:16, when Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The word used in the original Greek translation for “believes” is pisteuōn, or pisteuó, which means to believe, entrust, or have faith in. It’s not a casual belief, as in believing in the existence of something, or believing it might or might not rain, but rather a true heart belief--an affirmation or full confidence of something.
This word for belief is the same one used later in Acts 16:31 when the apostles Paul and Silas were praying in prison when suddenly the prison walls crumbled, and their chains fell off. The jailer, stunned at this miracle, asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, and the pair replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
That is, have full heart-confidence and absolute faith and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and it will be so. But, as the apostle James said in James 2:19, even demons believe in God. Are they saved?
What Did Jesus Say about Salvation?
Jesus said whoever believes will be saved, but there’s a difference between hearing and accepting something intellectually as truth and fully believing with heart and soul. When we believe, it impacts us.
We become changed from the inside out. Our actions and deeds evolve and begin to reflect our new truth. Belief and repentance — that is, changing our hearts and therefore our lives go hand in hand.
A short time after Jesus said that whoever believes will be saved, He elaborated further, noting in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”
Other translations use the phrase “does not obey” instead of “rejects,” so that statement would read: “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (ESV).
The original Greek used here was apeithōn or apeitheó, which means to disobey, or more specifically, to refuse to be persuaded. Here, belief and obedience—much like belief and repentance—are seen as one. If you believe, you obey. If you disobey, you do not believe.
This implies that belief and obedience are nearly synonymous, or at least they are to Jesus and His disciples. Another aspect here is baptism.
When John the Baptist came preparing the way for the Lord, John called people to “repent.” Then John would baptize those who chose repentance (Matthew 3:11). Later, Jesus called people to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15).
And in the Great Commission, Jesus tasked the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Baptism in this context can be seen much like a covenant. It affirms that by believing in Jesus and repenting of sin, believers receive forgiveness for their sins and are washed clean, and thereby able to receive salvation.
As Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
Are There Any Parables That Address Salvation?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
Make no mistake: we either believe in Jesus with our whole heart, fervently and completely, or we don’t. There is no such thing as a lukewarm believer. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
True believers have salvation now and always. Their belief transforms their soul and gives them new life. They are born again as a child of God.
But those who believe merely on the surface, perhaps even recognizing Jesus’ divinity but not exactly following it, are not considered true believers.
In John 15, Jesus uses a vine and branches to illustrate salvation, saying He is the vine, and if we remain, abide, or stay connected with Him, we will bear fruit. But, Jesus said, “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6).
Again, the true believers bear fruit. They are connected to Jesus. They thrive in relationship with Him. Those who don’t truly believe, however, wither and die.
What Are Some Other Bible Verses about Salvation?
In addition to those mentioned, the Bible offers us numerous other truths about the salvation guaranteed true believers. Here are a few:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9)
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
Cling to your true belief with fervency and passion. In this kind of belief--righteous, holy, and true--you can have complete trust in your salvation.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.