Close this search box.

When Saying “I Believe in Jesus” Isn’t Saying Much

Not one of us is perfect. All of us sin and continue to struggle with sin. However, what do you do with the person who claims to believe in Christ yet gladly chooses a life which remains in his or her sin without any recourse? This morning I read a little from John Piper’s classic work Desiring God where he promotes the idea of Christian hedonism (as Christians we are called to find our greatest joy in God). In this section Piper addresses why he doesn’t just tell people “to believe in Jesus” and leave it at that. His answer is worth including in full:

Someone may ask, “If your aim is conversion, why don’t you just use the straightforward, biblical command ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved’ (Acts 16:31)? Why bring in this new terminology of Christian Hedonism?”
My answer has two parts. First, we are surrounded by unconverted people who think they do believe in Jesus. Drunks on the street say they believe. Unmarried couples sleeping together say they believe. Elderly people who haven’t sought worship or fellowship for forty years say they believe. All kinds of lukewarm, world-loving church attenders say they believe. The world abounds with millions of unconverted people who say they  believe in Jesus.
It does no good to tell these people to believe in the Lord Jesus. The phrase is empty. My responsibility as a preacher of the gospel and a teacher in the church is not to preserve and repeat cherished biblical sentences, but to pierce the heart with Biblical truth. In my neighborhood, every drunk on the street “believes” in Jesus. Drug dealers “believe” in Jesus. Panhandlers who haven’t been to church in forty years “believe” in Jesus. So I use different words to unpack what believe means. In recent years I have asked, “Do you receive Jesus as your Treasure?” Not just your Savior (everybody wants out of hell, but not to be with Jesus). Not just Lord (they might submit begrudgingly). The key is: Do you treasure Him more than everything? Converts to Christian Hedonism say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
This leads to the second part of my answer. There are other straightforward biblical commands besides “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” The reason for introducing the idea of Christian Hedonism is to force these commands to our attention. Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, “Believe in the Lord,” but, Delight yourself in the Lord”? And might not many slumbering hearts be stabbed broad awake by the words “Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God?”

Whether you employ his terminology or not, his point is well-taken. If “believing in Jesus” is merely mentally assenting to some facts about Christ and essentially refusing to let who Jesus is and what he wants to impact your life in any real, tangible fashion, then maybe asking people if they treasure Jesus brings more clarity to their true spiritual condition. Personally, it’s convicting to me. Do I follow Jesus because I have to or because I want to? The answer rests on how much joy I truly take in Jesus, which is something I want to grow in now and forevermore.

Picture of Yancey Arrington
Dr. Yancey C. Arrington is an eighth generation Texan, Acts 29 Network and Houston Church Planting Network fan, and Teaching Pastor at Clear Creek Community Church in the Bay Area of Houston. He is also author of Preaching That Moves People and TAP: Defeating the Sins That Defeat You, and periodically writes for Acts 29 and The Gospel Coalition.

3 thoughts on “When Saying “I Believe in Jesus” Isn’t Saying Much”

  1. Yancy, I agree with Piper also. However, I think I would stress along with this the Biblical command from Jesus, John the Baptist and Paul, that repentance is essential in our words and what that fleshes out as. Together I think we have a more proper communication line going in a “Christianized Society” used to hearing the words and also, used to some who say they are “in” when they are really “out” still!

  2. Thought-provoking subject,for sure. Also really enjoyed Piper’s excerpt. My difficulty would arise in how to broach the subject with someone living in unrepentance, without them shutting us down because it flies in the face of their lifestyle. I’m sure you have some insights into application?
    Think I’ll share on my FB and see what kind of comments I get.

  3. Danny Cunningham

    Great topic! It seems to be an area that always needs examination, that is, “how do we present the Gospel or even talk about it?” We have had interesting and sometimes tense discussions about this in our staff meetings. People seem to get pretty dogmatic about what must be said when discussing the Gospel. On a related but tangential note, I heard someone critique a pastor who had taken three weeks leading up to Easter to teach through the entire Gospel of Luke, passage by passage, leaving none out. The critique was, “Can you believe it, he went through the entire book of Luke and never presented the Gospel!”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *