I’m adding this to our list of words to examine. Does it communicate what we think it does? Does it communicate truth?
John’s gospel says to believe in Jesus and you will be saved. In our culture, this can mean that if I agree in my head that Jesus is God, then I have salvation. Period. Doesn’t matter what I do or how I live. I’ve given the intellectual nod and received my fire insurance. But how do we square that with James, “even the demons believe, and tremble?”
It depends on what we mean by believe. It could be understood in several ways from the Greek. The meaning in James is “to think something is true.”3 There are things we think, even know, are true but don’t really act upon. I know that it is good for me to eat well and exercise. But I may choose to eat sweets and laze about. I convince myself that it doesn’t really matter. It is head knowledge but not a truth that changes behavior.
The way John uses believe is “to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust.” Trust requires action, even if it is action of heart. We trust God and so repent and follow Jesus. It requires a change of heart, not just a change of mind. Believing that the fireman will catch me does me no good if I don’t jump out of the burning building.
Does it mean I will do it perfectly? No. Thankfully we don’t have to. Jesus paid for our sins. We are saved by grace alone and not by works, but intellectual assent is not enough – it needs trust. In other words, we can’t just believe, we must believe.
I want to rethink how I use the word believe, because it can be unclear. I often use the term believer to describe myself, but I want to shift that to Christ follower. It communicates more precisely my relationship with God. Because I trust Him, I will follow Him in obedience in my desire to be a disciple.
What do you call yourself?
 John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
 James 2:19
 Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 375). New York: United Bible Societies.