Vol. 11 No. 4 April 2009
The words of Jesus, in His conversation with the Jewish leader Nichodemus in John 3:16, is perhaps the most well known and most quoted verse from the Bible. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Unfortunately, the words of Jesus as He continues in John 3:17-21 are too often ignored. In the religious world today, we are hearing more and more that all you have to do is believe in God, take Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior and you will be saved. Is this the truth according to Scripture—really? Is there a passage or passages of Scripture that say belief only is all that is required or imply belief only is all that is required to be saved—really?
The way God dealt with His people in the Old Testament is something to behold. Those of us who are attentive to God’s Word are keenly aware of the fact that His commands were not only to be heard and believed, but also to be obeyed. Carefully following the commands was the expectation, and in many instances, any deviation from obedience to those commands was met with immediate death!
Many of us are familiar with the immediate death of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-7 when they offered profane fire before God, which He had not commanded them. God had told Aaron their father how incense was to be burned on the altar in Exodus 30:1-10. God said in verses 8-10:
Were Aaron and his sons required only to believe what God had commanded—really?
Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering; nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.
The Day of Atonement was the most sacred day of the year for the Israelites. This was the only day of the year when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place. God commanded Moses and Aaron in Leviticus 16 how Aaron was to make this most holy sacrifice for his sins as high priest and for the sins of all the children of Israel. Leviticus 16:1-2 says: “Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the LORD, and died; and the LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.’” God’s detailed instructions of this annual observance were given in verses 3-33. Verse 34, which ends the chapter says, “This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses.” Were Moses and Aaron required only to believe what God had commanded—really?
God had given Moses commands in Exodus 25:10-15 on how the ark was to be transported. In verses 12-15, God had given Moses instructions on the dimensions of the ark and material for its construction. “You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them. The poles shall be in the rings of the ark; they shall not be taken from it.” Was Moses required only to believe what God had commanded—really?
In the account of transporting the Ark of the Covenant, we see another person who immediately lost his life in direct disobedience to God’s command. On this occasion, it would seem the man was innocent in what he did, but not according to God’s commands and expectations. In 2 Samuel 6:1-2, King David had gathered thirty thousand choice men of Israel and arose and went with the people to bring up the ark of God. Their disregard for what God had commanded is recorded in verse 3. “So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.” Verses 6-7 read, “And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.” Was David required only to believe what God had commanded—really?
When John the Baptist began his ministry as the forerunner of Jesus Christ in Luke 3:1-14, he used some very strong language in his description of the people. Luke 3:7 says, “Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” Brood of vipers! How far would one of our preachers get in today’s society calling the congregation for which he preached a brood of vipers? More to the point, how long would he remain the preacher for that congregation?
John did not take back a word he had said. As a matter of fact, he added more to it! In verses 8-9, he continued by saying, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” What was he telling them? He wanted to make sure they understood they would stand before God on their own, and being a descendant of Abraham meant nothing concerning their personal responsibility and accountability to God.
Amazingly the multitudes were not insulted or deterred by his stern rebuke. Rather, they believed what John had said. What did their belief motivate them to do? Did they believe there was anything for them to do—really?
Luke does not leave us in the dark about that because those questions are answered in verses 10-14.
So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then the tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
Notice John did not answer any of those questions with, “You believe that is all that is necessary.” If belief was all that was necessary, why were they asking what they needed to do?
This same imperative question was asked by the multitude on the Day of Pentecost. Peter preached that first Gospel sermon and stated emphatically that they had taken Christ by wicked hands, having crucified and put Him to death. Acts 2:37 says, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” Did Peter tell them all they needed to do was believe? They already believed, otherwise they would not have been asking what they needed to do! Peter tells them just as emphatically in verse 38 what they had to do. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Was there any doubt in their minds about what God’s expectation was to have their sins forgiven—really?
The widespread doctrine of belief or faith only is all that is required to be saved is one of Satan’s greatest lies! That phrase “faith only” is used one time in Scripture, and it states clearly that faith only does not justify us before God. James 2:23-24 states, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” Until our faith or belief moves us to do what God has commanded, it is useless—really!