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TRUE BELIEF

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/08/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr..  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 80-56, titled "True Belief."  A copy of the tape can be received by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "True Belief" to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

Scriptures quoted in this message are from the New American Standard Bible.

                                TRUE BELIEF

I. INTRODUCTION

    It is my special privilege to receive mail from all around the world.      And its a joy to sit down from time to time and just go through it, and     see how God is using the extended ministry of our church in the lives of     many folks.

    Yesterday, I was here studying through the day and I opened a letter that     found its way to my desk.  It was sent on the 21st of this month, just a     few days before Christmas, and this is what it said:

    "I am writing to you to ask, 'How I can be saved?'  I know that I am a     sinner and will go to Hell forever unless someone helps me.  I know that     the Bible says, if I believe on the Lord Jesus I will be saved, but I     don't know what believe means.  Could you possibly write to me as soon     as possible and tell me what I must do?"

    I thought to myself, "that's a long way to go to find an answer to a     fairly simple question."  What does it mean to believe?  He says, "I     know that I am a sinner, and I know that the Bible says that, if I     believe on the Lord Jesus I will be saved, but I don't know what believe     means."

    You know, a lot of times, we throw around words that we don't know what     they mean.  If someone came to you and said, "I want to know how to     saved," and you said to them, "Well, you must believe."  And they said,     "Well, what does believe mean?"  What would you say? 

    Certainly, we should be very adept at answering that question, because     that's the most substantive question in the process of evangelism, "What     does it mean to be believe?"  That simple letter really haunted my heart     all day yesterday, and so I felt sort of pushed by the Spirit of God, to     address that question this morning.

    We will often say to a person, "Well, believe on the Lord Jesus," and     that's right.  After all, the Philippian Jailer, in Acts 16:30 said,     "What must I do to be saved?"  And Paul said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus,     and you will be saved . . ."  And though it isn't recorded in the text, he     might have also said, "I don't know what believe means?"  Because in the     next verse, Paul spoke to him of many things, so maybe he didn't even     know what believe meant, and had to be instructed.

    The first time you or I ever heard about "believing in the Lord Jesus     Christ," it probably entered our minds, "What do you mean believe?"  And     so, we need to address that question.  As we come to the Lord's Table,     to celebrate His death, to celebrate our salvation, this morning, its     imperative that we understand the essence of what that salvation re     quires. 

    It requires that we believe, and what does it mean to believe.  I want     to help all of us this morning to understand this.  For those of you who     may not be Christians, this may be the most important definition you've     ever heard in your life.  For those of us who are already Christians, we     trust that this will arm us for usefulness as we go out to speak to     other folks, encouraging them to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," and     needing to be able to define exactly what we mean by that.  So I want to     address believing two ways, objectively and subjectively.

II.  OBJECTIVELY

    First of all, from an objective, that is an outward, concrete     perspective, "what does it mean to believe?"  I want you to look in your     Bible, at the tenth chapter of Romans.  And I would draw your attention     to two familiar verses, verses 9 and 10.

    And I believe that we have here, a simple statement of the "Objectivity     of Faith," that is its concrete, observable character.  In verses 9     and 10, Paul says this, "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus as     Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you     will be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteous     ness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

    Now Paul tells us how to be saved.  And he says, to be saved you must     believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and you must     confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.  Such belief results in     righteousness, such confession results in salvation.  May I say quickly     to you that salvation and righteousness are two sides of the same thing.      Righteousness is a positive term defining our new life and salvation is     a negative term defining our new life.  We use the term salvation so     often that we think of it as positive, but it isn't, its a negative     term.  It means to be rescued from something.

    It does not necessarily emphasize what we become, it emphasizes what we     have ceased to be.  To be delivered, to be rescued.  So the positive     term of salvation is righteousness, the negative term is, in fact,     salvation.  Two sides to the same thing.  Having been delivered from sin     and death, we are now made right with God.  Righteousness means to be     right with God, salvation means to be delivered or rescued from Satan,     and sin, and death. 

    So Paul says, "Here are the two elements, the two very objective,     concrete, observable elements, with regard to this new life in Christ.      One is, to confess with the mouth, the other is to believe in the     heart."  But I want us to look at those because they are very basic.      Look at verse 10 for a moment, "For with the heart man believes."

    Now what does he believe in?  Well, it says it in verse 9, "He believes     in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead."  So we are asking     here for a belief in the resurrection of Christ.  Now you say, "But why     only that?  How can you say that if you believe in your heart that God     raised Him from the dead, you'll be saved?  Isn't there a lot more to     the Gospel; isn't there the Incarnation, God becoming man; isn't there     the life of Christ, His miraculous work; isn't there the great teaching     of Jesus; isn't there His substitutionary death on the Cross as a payment     for your sin and mine; isn't there His ascension into Heaven; what about     His intercessory work as High Priest; what about His Second Coming as     KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS returning in glory to rule the world?      What about all of that?" 

    Is it simply enough to believe in your heart that God raised Him from     the dead?  To believe the objective historical fact of the resurrection,     is that all?  Why only this?  And the answer is very simple, because the     Resurrection, is the focal point of everything else in the life and     ministry of Christ.  And if you believe in the Resurrection, it is a     foregone conclusion that everything else "falls into place."  For all     that Christ is and all that He has done and will do is bound up in the     glorious reality, "That God raised Him from the dead."

    God raised Him from the dead, because He was worthy of resurrection.      Why?  Because He lived a perfect life.  God raised Him from the dead.      Why?  Because He had accomplished a perfect redemption.  It assumes that     the work on the cross was perfect; it assumes His perfect life; it     assumes His perfect atonement, His perfect work on the cross.  The     resurrection of Christ by the Father, was the Father's "stamp of     approval" on His life, His ministry, and His death.

    Furthermore, the fact that God raised Him from the dead, indicates that     God then raised Him that He might exalt Him to His own right hand, where     He now sits in the seat of authority, interceding for the Church, from     which He has sent the Holy Spirit, and from which someday He Himself will     return as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.  The resurrection then was     God's accreditation of all that went before, and God's preparation for     all that would come after. 

    The resurrection then becomes the peak in the life and ministry of Jesus     Christ.  If I say, "I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the     bodily, literal resurrection," that means I believe that He actually     died.  If I believe in His resurrection, I believe that God raised Him     because He had accomplished in His death what God wanted Him to accom     plish.  And what did God want Him to accomplish?  The atonement of the     sins of the world.  If God raised Him from the dead, and I believe it,     it is because God affirmed His perfect life, and His worthiness to be     exalted to God's own right hand.

    And if God raised Him from the dead, then I affirm that He is seated at     the right hand of God interceding, and He is there awaiting the return     that is promised.  So everything focuses on the Resurrection, and when     Paul says, ". . . to believe in your heart that God raised Him from the     dead, you will be saved," he meant that is so believing, you affirm the     deity of Christ; the death atonement of Christ; not only the     resurrection of Christ; His ascension; His priestly work, and His coming     glory.

    Its all there in the Resurrection.  That was God's "stamp of approval"     on the life and ministry of Christ.  That was God saying this is indeed     my Son; this is indeed the Savior; this is indeed the High Priest; this     is indeed the Coming King.  And so, that is very objective faith.  Its     not just "Believing in God" vaguely.  People say, "Oh I believe in God,"     or "I believe in Jesus."  There were people in the time of Christ who     believed in Him, but He didn't commit Himself to them, because their     faith was not genuine "Saving faith."  There are people today who     "Believe in God," who "Believe in Jesus."  I hear of people who, "Be     lieve in Believing." 

    But Paul says, "Believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the     dead," which sets Him apart as the Savior, the Messiah.  That's very     objective faith.  Salvation then is, really produced by believing.      Believing in what?  Believing in the person and work of Christ as     culminated in His resurrection.  That's essential, that is an objective     element in saving faith.

    Secondly, there is another objective element in it, and he says in verse     10, "With the mouth he confesses."  Now here is a very public testimony     in fact.  And what does he confess?  Verse 9, "Jesus as Lord," here is     another objective element, that is, an outward, verbal, confession that     Jesus is Sovereign; that Jesus is Ruler; that Jesus is in charge; that     He is Lord, and Lord means, "You're in charge!" 

    Now follow this thought with me, when I say, for my salvation, "I be     lieve that God raised Jesus from the dead," I am saying, I believe that     He accomplished salvation on the cross."  Why?  Because that's the only     way that God would ever raise Him.  God would not exalt Him to His right     hand, if He hadn't accomplished salvation.  So when I say, "I believe     God raised Jesus from the dead," I am saying that, "I also therefore     believe that He accomplished my salvation on the cross,"  I am therefore     saying that, "I am dependent on someone else to accomplish my     salvation," and I am confessing that, "I am unable myself to do that."

    Did you get that?  That's very important thinking.  When you confess in     your mouth, "Jesus as Lord," you are affirming His authority, and His     sovereignty, and His rulership.  When you say, "I believe in my heart     that God raised Him from the dead," you are affirming that He is the     source of salvation.  On both counts, you are acknowledging your     humility.

    You are humble when you say, "He is the authority, I'm not."  You are     humble when you say, "He provided the salvation, I can't."  So the     "bottom line" attitude in this matter of believing, is humility.  There     is a self-effacing mentality here.  There is a self-rejection here.      There's no pride here.  And I believe that the basic attitude of true     faith is humility.

    Your saying on the one-hand, "I believe in the Resurrection," which     means, "I believe that Christ accomplished my salvation, because I     couldn't do it myself," so you reject your own inabilities, and your own     abilities.  You reject "works-righteousness."  When you confess, "Jesus     as Lord," you are thereby saying, "I'm not in charge of my life, I     humble myself to His authority."  In both cases, humility stands out as     the virtue.  And that is precisely why Jesus said, in Matthew 18:3,     "unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter     the kingdom of heaven" (NASB). 

    The only kind of attitude the Lord responds to is one of humility.  And     humility says, "I can't save myself, I trust Christ."  Humility says,     "I'm not in charge, He is."  That is humility.  And it is very objective     in that sense, because it affirms the work of Christ as historic and     valid, and it affirms the Lordship of Christ as historic and valid.  But     the "bottom-line" in this believing is humility.

    It is not saying, "Oh, I believe in Jesus, and I'm sure He's real happy     to get me."  Not that attitude.  "Oh yes, I believe in Jesus, but I'm     also working my own salvation.  I'm trying to be a good person.  I'm     trying to do right on my own, I want God to like me."  Now there is none     of that, it's just the opposite, "I have no good thing in me, I cannot     save myself, there is nothing in me worthy of salvation, I cast myself     totally on the mercy of Christ, as provided in the cross, and verified     through the Resurrection."

    The one who does not trust in his own works, but in the work of Christ;     the one who does not lead his own life, but gives the authority to     Christ, that is the one who demonstrates the humility of true belief.      That's the object. 

III.  SUBJECTIVITY 

    Now what about the Subjective?  And for this I want you to look at     James, chapter 4.  As we probe a little more deeply into this matter of     believing, what is it like below the surface?  In its most obvious form,     it is an affirmation of the work of Christ and His person as Lord.  But     what is it, down under the surface.  What is the subjective attitude     that lies deep down in a really humble heart?  What is the stuff down     inside that true faith is made out of? 

    And this takes us deeper into the subject of humility, which is the     basic attitude.  In James, chapter 4, I believe that we have one of the     greatest Gospel invitations in Scripture.  It has largely been     overlooked as such, unfortunately, tragically, to be sure, because it     may be the most comprehensive one given anywhere on the pages of     Scripture.  And since James is probably the oldest of the New Testament     Books, it was maybe the first one ever given.  It is certainly a     priority invitation to salvation.

    I would call your attention to verses 6 through 10, and let me read them     to you, speaking of God, James writes, "He gives a greater grace . . ."     that is, greater than your sin, great enough to cover your sin,     ". . . Therefore it says," and he quotes Proverbs 3:34, "God is opposed     to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  Now, James is saying     something very important, "If you want saving grace, you get it by being     humble, not by being proud."  It comes to those who are humble.  God     gives His saving grace to humble people.

    You say, "Well, how do you know that he's talking here about saving     grace?"  "How do you know he's talking here to people that aren't     saved?"  Very simple, verse 8, they are called, "sinners" and they are     called "double-minded."  And nowhere in the Bible is the term "sinner"     ever used to refer to a believer, never!  It is always used of     unregenerate people, non-Christians.  Always used of wicked people, who     disregard the law of God, who disregard the will of God, who ignore     God's desires.  In fact, it is used to speak of openly wicked, openly     bad people.  Not even very subtle people.  It is combined with Publicans     and Prostitutes and other terms like that, the riffraff of society.

    So he is calling to sinners, the unregenerate.  But a certain kind of     sinner, notice they are called double-minded.  These are the kind of     unregenerate people who are religious.  We could call them the     "religious unregenerate."  They go to church, and maybe they're involved,     they were involved in the church, to which James writes.  He really     pinpoints them, verse 22, of chapter 1, he says, "Prove yourselves doers     of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (NASB).

    And he knew that there were people in the church who were only hearers,     just hearers, not doers.  As far as their "doing side," they were in the     world.  Their "hearing side" was in the church.  So they were double-     minded.  They had a mind to "hear" the things of God; they had a mind to     "do" the things of Satan.  They were the double-minded, they were the     religious unregenerate.  Religious, but lost; religious, but unsaved.

    In chapter 2, he further identifies them, not only by what they hear,     but by what they claim, in verse 14, "If a man says he has faith, but     he has no works?  Can that faith save him?" (NASB).  Verse 17, "Faith,     if it has no works, is dead" (NASB).  Now here were some people who     would say, "We hear, and we believe," and the "hearing" and the     "believing" side was in the church, but the "doing side" was in the     world.

    In chapter 3, he addresses them again, in verse 11 and 12, he says about     this double-mindedness, "Does a fountain send out from the same opening     both fresh and bitter water?  Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce     olives, or a vine produce figs?  Neither can salt water produce fresh"     (NASB).  You can't have both.  If you have one side of you in the     "hearing and believing" and the other side in the "doing," you are     merely religiously lost.

    And then he really says it in no uncertain terms in chapter 4, verse 4,     look at that, "You adulteresses . . ." you prostitutes, you fain a     relationship to God, but you prostitute yourself with relationships to     the world, ". . . do you not know that friendship with the world is     hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the     world makes himself an enemy of God" (NASB).  If you are double-minded     my friend, and you got one side of you in the "hearing and the     believing" in the church, and the other side in the "doing" in the     world, you're the enemy of God.

    You may be religious, but you're unregenerate; you may be religious, but     you are lost; you may be religious, but you're not saved.  And James is     so burdened for this person, that he says in verse 6, "Look, God will     give grace to the humble."  The point is if you'll humble yourself, God     will save you.  If you'll humble yourself, God will save you. 

    And then he goes into the subjective elements of a real humility.  And     these are ten commands, ten straightforward statements that are really     unequaled to any part of Scripture, other than this passage.  Beginning     in verse 7, he says this "Submit therefore to God . . ."  You ask the     question, "How do you humble yourself?"  He just said, "God gives grace     to the humble."  How do I humble myself?  How do I have that humble     belief.

    First step, submit yourselves to God.  What does that mean?  That means     that you are willing to enlist under His command.  You have already     objectively said, "He is Lord," now you are subjectively saying, "I     submit my life."  That's a corollary.  You have already affirmed that He     has all authority, you are now saying, "I willingly come under that     authority."  "I subjectively submit."

    The "Rich young ruler came to Jesus, called Him 'Master,'" that is,     objectively, he affirmed His state, His position, His exalted position.      He said to Him, "Master, Good Master, what must I do to have eternal     life?"  He was objectively affirming Christ's superiority to Himself, by     asking the question, by calling Him "Good Master."  But when the Lord     said to him, "Take all your goods, sell what you have, and when you get     your money, take it and give it to the poor," he went away, and he     wasn't willing to do it. 

    He would objectively affirm that Christ was the master, but subjectively     he wasn't about to submit to His mastering.  And the subjective element     of believing is when I "line up" my heart with what my mind tells me,     "Yes, Jesus is Lord, and Yes I submit to that authority."  Submit your     selves to God!

    And then there is another statement, in that same verse, "Resist the     devil and he will flee from you."  And what he is saying there is that,     "When you have affirmed you allegiance to God, you have disavowed any     allegiance to Satan.  You have transferred your allegiance.  You were the     children of wrath; you were under his domination, Ephesians 2:3, but now     you have been made in Christ Jesus, as His workmanship, created unto     good works."

    You have changed masters.  You have severed allegiance.  So when you     submit to God, you then resist the devil and he leaves.  You transfer     your allegiance.  So those two phrases tell us the first subjective     element in "humble faith," and it is this, "It is an attitude of     submission of allegiance to God."  He is Lord, not only objectively by     definition; He is Lord subjectively, by relationship in my life.

    So when someone says, "What does it mean to believe?"  I say,     Objectively, it means to believe that Jesus is Lord, and Authority, and     Sovereign.  And it means to believe in His resurrection, which means     you believe in all the rest of His life and work.  But subjectively     what does it mean?  First of all, it means you transfer your allegiance     from Satan, the world, the flesh, to God.  And you are bringing your     life, and offering it to His control.

    Secondly, in verse 8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."     Now here is the second major principle in these ten commands.  "Draw     near to God," means that you are pursuing an intimate love relationship.      True belief in Christ is not saying, "Well, I believe the facts, and if     that will get me out of Hell, I'll be glad to say, I believe it."  This     is not a "Hell Insurance" kind of thing. 

    There is in true, humble, saving faith, a pursuit of God.  A pursuit of     a relationship.  I think there are a lot of folks who believe they are     Christians because they have said, "Well, I believe Jesus died, and I     believe in that, and if it will get me out of Hell, I'll believe     anything and I'll confess it."  But there has never been a pursuing of     God.  There has never been a longing in the heart for God, like Peter     said, "To those who believe, He is Precious."  There has never been that     longing for personal communion.  There's not that compulsion for loving     worship.  There's not that strong desire for adoration and praise. 

    I know in my own life, one of the most frustrating things that I endure,     is the constant feeling that I cannot adequately give expression to what     I feel about God.  I can't translate what I feel into praise that seems     to fit what He deserves.  But there is a longing in my heart, to know     God.  Paul says, "That I may know Him."  There's a longing to have     intimacy with God; to have fellowship with God; to worship God; to sense     His presence; to have Him draw near to me.  Which was such a foreign     thought in a pagan world, where people wanted to stay as far away from     any deity as they could possibly stay.

    So what he is saying here is, "That believing that is truly humble     believing, saving believing, draws near to God.  It longs for     fellowship, communion, intimacy, love, and worship."  There is a deep     relationship sought after, and pursued, and developed.  And the     corollary of course, "And He will draw near to you."  And that is the     longing of all true faith, that God would draw near.

    So the dimension of loving fellowship, personal knowledge of God,     personal communion, is what makes prayer an inevitable reality in     the heart where the faith is real.  Why?  Because you can't have a     relationship without communication.  Pray is that communication.

    Then he moves to another dimension, a third dimension, in the series of     ten commands, in that same verse 8, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners;     and purify your hearts, you double-minded."  Now, we already noted those     two references to the people he's addressing

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