On the day when we stand before the gates of Heaven seeking entry to the glorious paradise that God is preparing for us, there will not be issued to us a pop quiz to determine if we knew the right information about Christ as a requirement for entry. For some years as a practicing personal and preaching evangelist, I followed the information approach…there are several things that you need to “know” to get to heaven, etc. The information was factual: man is a sinner, man needs a savior, Jesus died for sins and rose in victory, and man must believe upon the Lord to be saved. The breakdown in my mind came from a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when we are called to “believe.” In our English understanding, to believe does indeed mean that we have a factual understanding of factual events, persons, and activities. In this sense of the word, I was convinced of my salvation because I “believed” the right facts about the person, life, ministry of reconciliation, and resurrection of Jesus…in the same way that I believe pizza is made from dough, sauce, and cheese. In recent years though, I have come to accept the fallacy of such a methodology, which appeals to the methodological intellect, but does not necessarily stir the heart to faith.
In the original language of the Bible, the term “believe” is actually the Greek Pisteuo, which goes far beyond the mere intellectual facts about Jesus, and requires that we have complete faith, trust, and hope in the Lord Jesus. This means that information alone is still insufficient for salvation, for one can have the proper information and “believe” it intellectually, but still not be trusting, hoping, and living out faith in who and what Jesus did. So the idea of knowing the right answers to the pop quiz seems, to me, grossly insufficient as I understand the salvific requirements about salvation, and not only that, but also seems highly deceptive as the intellectual approach is often a declarative moment of salvation for those who are indeed still in their lostness.
Biblical salvation is not an intellectual understanding of facts about Christ, followed by a man made prayer of assurance (*the sinner’s prayer is not an established Biblical salvific tenet). Rather, Biblical salvation is a decision of the individual to place the trust of one’s soul in the completeness of Christ’s sufficiency. Christ’s atonement was completely sufficient to pay for our sin debt in full, and Biblical salvation is more than information, but a life choice to trust, have absolute faith in, and glory in the hope of redemption through Christ’s all sufficient work of redemption at the cross. Therefore, we do not depend upon man at all in salvation…that I believed, I said a prayer, I was Baptized, I joined the church…but we determine to trust in the all sufficient atonement of the cross of Jesus Christ, who paid our sin debt in full and offers grace freely to all who trust Him by faith. This may sound like a game of semantics, but it isn’t at all! To know about God and to know God are two very different things. Facts understood is not the same as a relationship begun. Consider this closing example: I know lots of facts about the President. I know that he is a Democrat, that he has a beautiful and loving family, that he was a community organizer, that he attended college, and so forth. I even know what values and policies are important to him. However, knowing all of this about the President (facts) does not mean that I know the President (personal relationship). Indeed, a person can know much about Jesus Christ…even believing in the validity of the information that they believe…but that is not the equivalent of having made a life decision to agree with God about our sins, and to trust in the sufficiency of Christ to save us from sins. The real gospel is to repent of our sins, and to trust fully in the work of Christ in the crucifixion and resurrection, having complete faith, hope, and trust in Christ alone to save. God does not ask us to simply memorize a set of facts, but rather, to live a life of faith, hope, and trust in Christ.