Belief is Essential to Salvation
The New Testament’s “Hall of Faith” which details the triumphs of God’s faithful servants of ages past includes this timeless acknowledgment: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). It is impossible for a man who refuses to believe in God to be found acceptable in His sight. Not only must one believe in the existence of God, but the one attempting to approach God must also believe in the moral government of God; a government revealed through the word of God. No one can act in harmony with the will of God unless he has faith in the revelation which God has given to man concerning Himself and His holy scheme of human redemption.
Although the created universe evinces the presence of the invisible God (Romans 1:20), Paul relates how “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17). It is not possible for man to “seek” God apart from or without His inspired word of truth. While Jesus was on earth, He prayed for mankind, saying, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Belief is essential to salvation, but it is not belief in God or Christ alone, as in mere mental assent of their existence, but belief in the gospel message of salvation.
Paul pressed the necessity of belief as a condition of salvation when he wrote: “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, ‘Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame’” (Romans 10:8-11, ASV).
This passage is frequently quoted by those wedded to the theory of salvation by “faith alone.” While the theme of this article is the essentiality of belief for salvation, let it be noted at the outset that there is no “only” method in God’s plan of human redemption. To demonstrate this simple concept, observe in Romans 10:10 that both “belief” and “confession” are said to be “unto” righteousness and salvation. The preposition “unto” translates the Greek eis, and a consultation of any Greek lexicon will define eis as meaning “to, in order to, unto, in, into, towards, for, among, to obtain” (see Vine, 1996; Thayer, 1958). This preposition is used with the accusative case, meaning it is always goal-oriented, pointing toward a direct object of the verb. It is found 1,774 times in the New Testament, but it is always prospective (looking ahead to a goal or end result), and is never retrospective (looking backward) in direction.
The significance of the word eis in doctrinal issues relating to salvation becomes apparent when we find the same preposition eis also used in Acts 2:38 where Peter commands, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, ASV). The citation of Romans 10:10 and Acts 2:38 from the American Standard Version is purposeful in order to alleviate some misperceptions on both sides of the salvation issue. For those defending salvation by “faith alone,” the message from Peter is that repentance and baptism are both “unto” the remission of sins. It is impossible to claim salvation prior to obtaining the remission of sins, and Peter conjoins both repentance and baptism as prerequisites to receiving forgiveness of sins.
In the same respect, because the King James Version and many other notable versions translate eis in Acts 2:38 with the English word “for,” the argument is frequently (but errantly) employed that while belief is “unto” righteousness, and confession is “unto” salvation, baptism is “for” the remission of sins. It is argued that the word “unto” as used twice by Paul in Romans 10:10 simply indicates “on the way toward, but not there yet”; meanwhile, the word “for” in Acts 2:38 indicates the conclusion of the process. While the order of actions to be followed by one desiring salvation does initiate with “belief” and culminates with “baptism,” the original language used in these passages was not intended to teach, nor do they support, the argument as presented.
The same is true with reference to Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27 which are also included in this type argument by well meaning advocates of the necessity of baptism. These two verses speak of being baptized “into” Christ, but the word “into” is again the same preposition (eis) as used in Romans 10:10. It is a misrepresentation of the truth to argue that the word “unto” (eis) is used to denote something different in Romans 10:10 than it means in passages dealing with baptism. False doctrine must be opposed, but truthful exegesis must be the basis of all refutation.
The Greek preposition is the same in all the verses quoted above; thus, in the New Testament, belief, confession, repentance, and baptism are all said to sustain the exact same relationship to salvation, i.e., they are all “unto” (eis) salvation, being each one is a divinely sanctioned part of the collective preconditions by which God bestows the gift of salvation. No one has the right to dismiss any one of these divine requirements, and it is a grave mistake with eternal consequences to do so. Although the Bible does reveal baptism as the culminating act of obedience which allows a man to be clothed with Christ (cf. Galatians 3:27), neither Paul nor Peter uses language that teaches what is often said today by sincere but misinformed teachers that some acts are “headed in the right direction, but not there yet.”
The truth is, the Bible often utilizes a well known figure of speech (synecdoche) in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for a part. As this series on the salvation of mankind will clearly set forth, the acts of hearing, believing, repentance, confession, and baptism are all vital components of human salvation. No one can be baptized “into/unto” (eis) Christ who has not believed or confessed “into/unto” (eis) Christ. Repentance must also be made “into/unto” (eis) Christ, but if performed to the exclusion of the other preconditions, neither repentance alone, or faith alone, or confession alone, or even baptism alone, allows one to receive the gift of eternal life.
The divinely sanctioned acts are employed together as the matrix of God’s plan for redemption of sins. It must be understood by all, whether in the church or without, that the preconditions of salvation are not the grounds and justification of human salvation. That holy ground belongs to Jesus Christ alone. The acts specified by Christ for sinners to obey allows God to transfer the sinner into Christ who is perfectly holy and righteous. Upon entering the ark, it was the hand of God that sealed the obedient inside (Genesis 7:16), and it is God that creates sinful man anew in the true ark of man’s salvation, Jesus Christ (cf. II Corinthians 5:17-21). This occurs when all the requisite actions that are “unto” salvation have been accomplished by the sinner with a view toward or looking ahead to the goal of righteousness, salvation, and the forgiveness of sins.
With that said, it is impossible to be saved without belief. Jesus said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). The term “I AM” is a claim to deity (cf. Exodus 3:14). By using this expression, Jesus calls on men to believe that He is God robed in the flesh of humanity (cf. John 1:1, 14). Refusal to believe in Jesus is automatic forfeiture of eternal life. Those who do believe in Him are instructed to abide in his word, that they may know the truth, and by the truth be set free (John 8:30-32).
When the apostles encountered men who knew nothing of Jesus Christ, the need to believe in Christ was emphatically pressed. After inquiring what he should do to be saved, the Pagan jailor at Philippi was told to “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16:31). The “word of the Lord” was spoken to the Jailor, along with those in his house, and they were baptized the same hour of the night (16:32, 33). With all the primary steps of obedience being completed by the Jailor, Luke describes his entire process – from hearing to baptism – as “having believed in God” (16:34). The words “having believed” translate a Greek perfect tense participle depicting the present state or condition at which the Jailor and his family had arrived as a consequence of their past obedience.
Recalling his own condition as “the chief of sinners” prior to conversion to Christianity, Paul expressed to Timothy that he considered the mercy which he had received from the Lord to be “an example for those who would believe on Him [Christ] unto (eis) eternal life” (I Timothy 1:16). No man can be saved who fails to believe in Christ as both Lord and Savior of mankind. The cry of the early church was centralized upon the fact that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). To believe in Christ “unto eternal life” is to become obedient to the teachings of Christ.
On the day of Pentecost, following Peter’s command to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), those who “received his word were baptized; and there was added that day about three thousand souls” (2:41). Luke then records, “And all those who had believed were together” (2:44). The term “believed” is a summation of the total obedience rendered. While it is necessary to believe in the existence and government of God (Hebrews 11:6), to believe in the deity of Christ (John 8:24), and to believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15), in another sense portrayed by the Scriptures, to believe on Christ is to obey all the things He has said (cf. Luke 6:46).
Belief, because it is the foundation upon which every person surrenders their life to Christ, and because it is the motivating factor for further obedience, is often used to reflect the entire process of becoming a Christian. The idea that the simple mental act of “believing” in Christ represents the complete plan of salvation is totally foreign to the New Testament, and is ludicrous in light of the succinct statements of Jesus. Upon commissioning the apostles to preach the gospel to the world, Jesus combined the first act of primary obedience (belief) with the last act (baptism) as representative of the entire plan of salvation.
Jesus says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). If a person does not believe the message of the gospel, he will not be baptized; but the one believing the message will not only be baptized, he will obey every instruction of the Lord. The apostle John tells us explicitly why the gospel of Jesus Christ has been written, explaining, “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30, 31).
The New Testament clearly teaches that belief is a sacred obligation imposed by the Creator which man is required to exercise as a matter of his own free will. God will not force salvation upon any person, but offers the “free gift” of eternal life to those who believe the gospel, keeping the commandments found therein. In his first epistle, John reiterates the necessity of belief in Christ, stating, “And this is His commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). John concludes by saying, “These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
Belief is essential to salvation. John writes, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Belief in Christ changes the heart. Has your heart been changed by the gospel? Have you believed in Christ as the Son of God?
Thayer, J. H. (1958), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T.
Vine, W. E., Merrill F. Unger, and William White (1996), Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old
and New Testament Words: with Topical Index (Nashville: T. Nelson).