What Does it Mean to ‘Believe’ in Jesus?
I got a fascinating book last week. It is called Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons from Isaiah 53. That’s right, 72 sermons (totaling almost 700 oversized pages) on 12 verses of Scripture! The sermons were preached by 17th century Presbyterian pastor James Durham – who died when he was 36 years old but had, in ten years of preaching ministry, also preached/written extensively on Revelation, Song of Songs, Job, the Ten Commandments and several other theological studies.
In his fourth sermon, he was dealing with the idea of belief or faith in the opening verse of Isaiah 53, “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In trying to assist his congregation in their understanding of saving faith, Durham looks through the rest of Scripture to find word pictures (“expressions and similitudes” he calls them) that help us understand what is being called for. What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”? It means at least these 10 things:
(1) Come to Christ Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28). Most think faith to be a guessing. They think they may have, but never know if or how. But faith is a real thing, a coming from our own righteousness to his, from a resting on our works to resting on his grace.
(2) Receive Christ To as many as received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (Jn. 1:12). The gospel, in offering Christ to us, presupposes that we are without him. It comes to us and says, “why will you die, O house of Israel? Come and receive a Savior!” The act of faith is gripping to that offer, and embracing it.
(3) Lay Hold of Christ Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own (Phil. 3:12; Heb. 6:18; Is. 56:3). Christ is held out in the gospel as a city of refuge, a shelter from that which we are in hazard of [namely the wrath of God]. The exercise of faith is to run from that hazard to him, as a child flees from an unknown pursuer into his mother’s arms.
(4) Cast Yourself on Christ Cast your burden on the Lord; Commit your way to the Lord (Ps. 55:22; 37:5). The gospel lays Christ, as it were, at folk’s feet, and faith rolls them over on him. It is the soul finding itself, by the Spirit, unable to stand under the burden and rolling itself onto Christ. This is an emphatic, significant, active expression of faith – quitting your own feet and laying himself over on Christ.
(5) Submit to Christ Durham draws here on Romans 11:2 I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. He describes this submitting as to the terms of the gospel – agreeing with the way it describes you and what you need, and receiving what it offers. In a word, faith carves not to God the way to salvation, but sweetly submits to the way He has carved out.
(6) Hide yourself in Christ The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it, and are saved (Prove. 18:10). This is what the apostle says in Phil. 3:9, “that I may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” So that, if you ask, “what is faith?” It is a man betaking himself to Christ so that when he shall be called for, it may be answered, “Lord, I am in Christ.” By this faith the sinner holds and hides himself in Christ till (so to speak) not a bit of the man can be seen.
(7) Yield to Christ Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord (II Chron. 20:8). In the original it is “give your hand to the Lord”, even as two men who have been at odds come to renew the friendship by shaking hands. Now, God has stretched out His hands to you (Is. 65:2), therefore come and close with Him, yield to Him, give him your hand and make the engagement secure for the time to come.
(8) Open to Christ Open to me, my dove (Song 5:2). Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Rev. 3:20). The Lord opened the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14). Christ comes by His Word. Faith discerns his voice and gives his entry. It is the letting of the Word sink, the making of him welcome. It is not only crediting the Word as true, but receiving him who the word offers, for the end for which he is offered.
(9) Marry Christ The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to come into the wedding feast (Matt. 22:2).
(10) Buy! Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, but and eat! (Isaiah 55:1). Buy from me gold refined by fire…and white garments…and salve to anoint your eyes (Rev. 3:18). God in the gospel sets forth to sinners, as in a market, rich and rare wares at very low or easy rates (buy without price). Believing is seeing what is offered as exceedingly valuable and buying up what God is offering.
Durham goes on to include cleaving, hearing or inclining the ear, choosing, committing our way to Him, trusting, and placing weight in what God says in valuable but the world says is worthless. This, then, is what we are called to do. This even what we are privileged to be called to do, and empowered by the Spirit to perform. I encourage you to allow these word pictures to draw you more daily, more intentionally, and more actively into the work of faith – remember that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, even as He promises to work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure!