Last edited on 28/Mar/2021
A Philippian jailer once asked the apostle Paul and Silas, after witnessing the power of God: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29–30, ESVUK) In other words, “What must I, an unrighteous sinner, do to be saved from sin’s curse and the righteous judgement of God?” In response, Paul gave an incredible answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
If Paul believed that salvation were by faith in Jesus plus works, this would have been the perfect time to teach that. But to the contrary, Paul said that in order to be saved, we just have to believe in Jesus, i.e. salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 2:15–16; Ephesians 2:8–9). This is truly a comfort to those of us who realise that if it weren’t for Jesus and his complete merits alone, not a single one of us would go to Heaven. But what exactly does it mean to believe in Jesus? What beliefs about him constitute true belief?
Jesus Is the Christ, the Son of God
The Bible contains myriads of information about Jesus, but there is a very interesting segment in the second-last chapter of St John’s Gospel, in which the evangelist tells us what the purpose of his book is:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, italics added)
In this short passage John summarises 20 chapters of information concerning Jesus and his earthly ministry into a brief statement of the main points that he wants his readers to believe. In other words, John considered the above points about Jesus to be the most important of all in his Gospel, because believing in these is sufficient to receive salvation. In order to have eternal life, we are to believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Greek variation of “Messiah“), the Son of God. The former describes Jesus’ role and the latter his nature (i.e. core identity). Let’s discuss what these things mean.
Jesus as the Christ
Jesus being the Christ is a title which means that he is the promised Saviour of the world who was foretold in the Old Testament (John 4:25–30, 39–42). Biblical prophecy tells us that the Christ would suffer and die at the hands of lawless people, and on the third day rise again (Luke 24:44–47). It also tells us that his death on the cross would be the ultimate sin offering that would atone for (make amends for) the sins of the whole world, thus putting an end to the Old Testament animal sacrifices (Isaiah 53:10–12; Hebrews 10:11–14).
Because Jesus was sinless and everything about him was perfect (Hebrews 4:15), he was able to give his life as the infinite and ultimate price, or ransom, for humankind (Mark 10:45; John 6:51). Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Jesus’ death on the cross was substitutionary, meaning that he died in the place of sinners, to reconcile us with God:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIVUK)
It was also on the cross where Jesus bore all our sins in his body (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus thus fully paid our sin debt against God the Father (Colossians 2:13–14). On the third day after his death, God raised Jesus from the dead to confirm that all this, along with all that Jesus said in his life, is true (Acts 5:30–31). In exchange for us believing in this about him, Jesus gives us his righteousness and perfection, so that we are declared righteous (justified) by the Father, forgiven of all our sins, and receive a place in heaven for eternity, since he himself fulfilled the Law perfectly and paid our punishment for us:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. (Romans 3:21–25a)
This is also known as the gospel (a Greek word meaning “good news”) of Jesus Christ, the central message of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:1–5); thus, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ in the biblical sense will undoubtedly believe in the gospel. On the 40th day after Jesus’ resurrection and continual interactions with his disciples thereafter, he ascended into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19–20; 1 Peter 3:21–22), from whence he will one day come again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:30–31), and save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27–28).
Jesus as the Son of God
Jesus being the Son of God, on the other hand, is not a title, but a position meaning that he is of the closest relationship with the Father, one that is, and has always been, perfect. For example, the Bible says: “no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:22), that “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19–20), and that the Son shared glory with the Father “before the world existed” (John 17:5). Furthermore, the Bible calls Jesus God’s only Son, meaning that Jesus’ specific relationship with the Father is exclusive to him (John 3:16).
Jesus being God’s Son also means that he shares God’s exact nature (core identity) (Hebrews 1:2–3), attributes (e.g. John 1:48–49; 5:21–23; 10:27–30), and that he is equal with God (John 5:18). This means that Jesus is everything that makes God who he is, thus, he is God himself, but a distinct person from the Father and the Holy Spirit (who are themselves God). John further confirms this in his Gospel by calling Jesus God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14, ESVUK)
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God! (John 20:28)
The Hypostatic Union is directly linked with his position or identity as God’s Son. This is the doctrine which teaches that within Jesus is two natures: divine and human, i.e., Jesus is truly God and truly human simultaneously. St Paul taught this in his letter to the Colossians, saying that in Jesus the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form:
For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; … (Colossians 2:9–10, NASB)
Other Bible passages which say this are Philippians 2:5–8, where it says that though Jesus was in “the form of God”, he chose to come down from heaven to take on “human form” for our sake. The context of this passage necessitates that Jesus being in “the form of God” means that he is God himself. In addition, Jesus is called Lord, a common title for God in the Bible. While it’s true that Lord can just be used as a title of respect for anyone, the Bible calls Jesus our only Master and Lord (Jude 4), the Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14), and the Lord of all (Romans 10:9–13), meaning that he alone is above all. Thus, Jesus is Lord in the same way that God is Lord, which clearly teaches his deity.
Also, as the Son of God, Jesus was never created, but he has always existed alongside the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Bible affirms this by saying that in the beginning the Son created all things (Colossians 1:13–16), so he himself was never created. This passage also tells us that Jesus has always been the Son in relation to the Father and Holy Spirit, because he was called the Son even in his pre-existence (See also John 1:1–2, 14, 18). When one has a correct understanding of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son, they will inevitably believe in the Hypostatic Union.
As the Christ, Jesus is the Saviour of the world who died for our sins on the cross and rose again from the dead to reconcile us with God the Father, in accordance with the Old Testament prophecies about him. As the Son of God, Jesus not only shares the closest relationship with the Father but he is even equal with him and shares his exact nature and attributes, making Jesus God. There are, of course, many more passages in the Bible which teach various things about Jesus. But out of all of them, God the Holy Spirit inspired John to write down that whoever believes in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, in the way that the Bible defines these terms, will have eternal life in his name. So this is what it truly means to believe in Jesus.