Everyone wants something to believe in. From aliens to political conspiracies, from the supernatural to the meaning of life, flat earth theory (yep, it really is a thing) to climate change; we’re all looking to take a position on something. We’re all looking for a belief or an opinion to call our own.
Often, our beliefs are not even rooted in fact or reason, they’re simply how we define the world, as we see it, and how we act within it. Beliefs, more than anything, are what make us human.
Our beliefs come in many shapes and sizes, from the trivial and the easily verified – I believe it will rain today – to profound leaps of faith – I believe in God. Taken together they form a personal guidebook to reality, telling us not just what is factually correct but also what is right and good, and hence how to behave towards one another and the natural world. This makes them arguably not just the most mental thing our brains do but also the most important. – Post Magazine
A Belief With Promise
Our beliefs are clearly important. Yet nowhere does a belief in something carry such a weight of promise as the bold statement made in the gospel of Mark 16:16:
“Whoever believes [the Gospel] and is baptised will be saved.” – Mark 16:16, NIV
There is nothing tentative or half-hearted about this statement. In fact, it confidently cuts across all other beliefs, right to the heart of the human condition, addressing the one thing that we all have in common and cannot escape – our mortality. Death is our last and greatest enemy, yet a belief in the Gospel, the Bible claims, will save us from death itself. It’s an assertion that’s fearless, unapologetic and almost too incredible to believe.
What Is The Gospel?
The Gospel (“good news”) is described in the Bible as ‘the Good News of the Kingdom of God and the things which concern Jesus Christ’ (Acts 8:12).
It’s called in other places ‘the Gospel of the Grace of God’ (Acts 20:24), ‘the Gospel of Jesus’ (Romans 1:9), ‘Christ’s Gospel’ (2 Corinthians 2:12), ‘the Gospel of God’ (1 Thessalonians 2:2) and ‘the Gospel of Salvation’ (Ephesians 1:13). It’s often referred to by Paul the Apostle as the Gospel of Grace, because in it we see God’s love for humanity demonstrated through His grace – His undeserved favour and kindness, bestowed on the human race. God’s grace was shown in sending His son, to save the world through him and this grace is a gift, not something we can earn or something we deserve.
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” 2 Timothy 1:9, NIV
“And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.…” Romans 3: 22-24, BSB
The Kingdom Of God
God’s ‘kingdom’ is expressed in His stated purpose – which is to fill all the earth with His glory (Numbers 14:21, Psalm 22:27, Habakkuk 2:14). His desire, from the beginning, was to fill the earth with men and women who are like Him, people He could call His family. This wasn’t to be achieved by coercion but through choice – ours. The relationship between God and humanity inherently involves the notion of the kingship of God and the accomplishment of His purpose with humanity.
The idea of ‘the kingdom’ of God is also consistent with the Jewish hope of a Saviour and the arrival of the one who would be the ‘consolation of Israel’. (Isaiah 52:7-9, Luke 2:25, Acts 26:6). But God’s kingdom was not to be limited to a Jewish hope only. God always planned to include ‘all families of the earth’, as promised and preached to Abraham (Genesis 12:3, Galatians 3:6-7, Acts 3:25-26). In the person and ministry of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, all families of the earth, of any nationality, are able to be blessed.
The complete realisation of God’s kingdom will be experienced fully when Jesus returns to earth as king (Matthew 16:27, Luke 21:26-27, James 2:5, 1 Corinthians 2:9). However, the kingdom was demonstrated as a glorious reality, when Jesus (himself described as ‘the kingdom of God’, Luke 17:20-21, Mark 1:15) appeared and his right to sovereignty (Luke 1:30-33, Matthew 21:5, John 12:13, Luke 19:38) and his divinely appointed role as saviour of the world (John 12:46-48, John 18:37, John 14:6) were established.
As more people come to believe in Jesus and the power of his message, surrendering to his rulership in their lives, God’s kingdom grows and develops, until one day it will fill the whole earth (Daniel 2:44). One day, the relationship between humanity and God will be totally restored, the earth will be completely filled with God’s family and the last great enemy, even death itself, will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
The Name Of Jesus Christ
Scripture has always taught the uniqueness of Jesus’ birth and parentage and the marvellous work to which he was born. His purpose was intimately connected with those he was born to save, sharing as he did in their humanity (Hebrews 4:15). He was radiant with God’s glory (Hebrews 1: 2-3), and yet human, just like you and me. He was the begotten “Word-made-flesh” – the ‘one and only of his kind’, personally existing for the first time at his birth. A man, but not merely a man.
Galatians 4, together with other Bible passages, expands on what Jesus’ purpose was to be, that is: “to redeem those who were under the law.” Being a suitable redeemer was a hugely important detail in God’s plan and only a redeemer “made like unto his brethren” would suffice. In fact, there is no other name under heaven, apart from ‘Jesus’, by which humanity can be saved.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16, NIV
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:4, ESV
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12, NIV
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” – 1Timothy 2:5, NIV
Saved From Death
There’s an inability to escape what eventually comes to all men and women and it becomes more apparent, the older we get. We’re all dying.
We can’t prevent it and we can’t escape it. We see the evidence around us, every day. The physiological cause of death can be scientifically explained but the theological cause of death, as claimed by the Bible, is a phenomenon not so easily observable under a microscope.
Throughout the Bible, death is always linked with sin:
“The sting of death is sin.” -1 Corinthians 15:56, NIV
“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” – Romans 5:12, NIV
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23, NIV
“Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.” – James 1:15, CEV
The book of Romans states that death was a result of the sentence passed on Adam and Eve because of their disobedience of God’s directive. It was passed not only on them but on all their descendants – the entire human race (Romans 5: 12,17).
Mortality, the Bible clarifies, is the result of sin, both original and our own. An inclination to sin became our default setting from birth and this is confirmed by our actions throughout the course of our lives. This was the observation of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes:
“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” – Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV
Humanity’s sinful condition is like a deep ravine gouging its way through the landscape of our life and it separates us from God. We were made to ‘walk to God’ and have a full and meaningful relationship with Him (Micah 6:8, 2 Corinthians 6:16). This can’t be possible if we are separated from God by our sin. This can’t be possible if we live only a brief space in time and then are gone. Sin and mortality are the great barriers to an eternal relationship with the Eternal.
“When they (the disciples) heard this they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26, NIV
Entrusting Our Salvation To God
The word ‘believe’ used in Mark 16:16 is a translation of the Greek word pisteusas (πιστεύσας). It means ‘to have faith‘ or ‘to entrust‘. The book of Hebrews further quantifies the meaning of faith by saying:
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” – Hebrews 11:1, NLT
Faith, or belief in the Gospel, is trusting God’s provision of salvation through His grace. This belief forms an intrinsic part of the Gospel promise. The fulfillment of God’s promise to us depends entirely on trusting God and embracing Him and what He is doing for us.
We know this to be true because it’s said of Abraham, the great father of faith, that he “believed God and that faith was credited to him as righteousness.” It’s the one aspect that elevates Abraham to the superior example of what faith is and why, without it, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Making It Personal – How Can I Be Saved?
God’s salvation, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His subsequent resurrection from the dead, brings reconciliation (“atonement”) between people and God. It’s a message of hope and blessing for the whole world (Luke 14:15-24). Through Jesus, we have forgiveness of sins and the blessing of God’s grace. We have the assurance of escaping the finality of death.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” – Romans 10:10, NIV
Acknowledging our need for God’s grace – changing how we think about sin – and then acting in accordance with that change of mind is the true definition of biblical repentance. It is looking away from our hopeless, ungodly self and looking to God’s grace. It is believing that we need saving and reaching out to receive God’s provision for saving us. We declare for Jesus, we surrender our lives to his rulership and we become citizens of the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:43, James 2:5).
Whoever Believes And Is Baptised….
We choose to end one kind of life and begin another and the way of demonstrating that choice is to be baptised ‘for the repentance of our sins’. The Bible compares baptism to burial, ‘dying’ to our past course of life and beginning a new one as a Christian, dedicated to God and saved through Jesus.
Baptism is God’s arrangement for a person to gain a clean conscience based on his faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The gospel of Mark clearly states that if you entrust your salvation to God, through the means He has provided, and are baptised on this basis, you will be saved.
“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved…” – Mark 16:15-16, NIV
“This water symbolises baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 3:21, NIV
Jesus’ Resurrection Is Proof
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the chief proof of the Christian faith. It is the truth that lies at the very foundation of the Gospel. Without a belief in the resurrection, there can be no personal salvation.
Job, a contemporary of Abraham asked the question, “If mortals die, can they live again?” (Job 14:14). In the resurrection of Jesus, we have both the answer and the proof that with God ‘all things are possible’, even resurrection from the dead.
What if we could escape death? What if sin could be conquered? What if we could be saved? What if we only had to believe it was possible?
Wouldn’t that belief possibly be the most important consideration of our lives?
“Through salvation our past has been forgiven, our present is given meaning, and our future is secured.” – Rick Warren
Further Thoughts on ‘The Kingdom of God’: God’s kingdom originally started with the nation of Israel. He was their “king”, allowing them to inhabit “His land” – the land of Israel. He chose them as His special and privileged people, through whom His purpose was to be outworked. (Deuteronomy 7:6, Isaiah 43:15, 44:6 , Exodus 19:5-6, Psalm 114:1-2, Ezekiel 36:5).
After a time, Israel wanted a king like the nations surrounding them, one they could literally see and who could lead them into battle (1 Samuel 8:7,19). God facilitated their request, but these kings were still only ruling on behalf of God (2 Chronicles 9:8). Two of these kings are famous in history; Solomon the Wise, mentioned above as the writer of Ecclesiastes, and David, the shepherd boy and giant-slayer (2 Samuel 7:8, 1 Chronicles 28:5). The kingdom was, however, eventually overturned because of wicked rulership and the people scattered from their lands (circa 650 BCE). But it was only to be overturned finitely “until he comes whose right it is.” (Ezekiel 21:25-27). There was therefore an expectation by the Jewish people of a ‘coming one’ who would have the ‘kingdom of David’ rightfully given to him.
This is significant when considering the angel’s message to Mary regarding the birth and destiny of Jesus:
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33, ESV
God’s purpose with the people of Israel had been that they might use the national and spiritual blessings He would pour on them to witness to His name; that the surrounding nations might see also and believe.
“But you are my witnesses, O Israel!” says the LORD. “You are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God – there never has been, and there never will be. Yes I, am the LORD, and there is no other Savior.” – Isaiah 43:10-4, NLT
When Jesus himself appeared, the people of Israel refused to acknowledge him as the appointed one of God and instead orchestrated his crucifixion as an enemy of Rome and a blasphemer of the Jewish religion. They didn’t understand that ‘the kingdom of God’ was not just about the restoration of Israel’s ancient monarchy but about God’s purpose with all of humanity to reconcile the world to Himself. Many Jews consistently rejected the gospel message concerning Jesus and God’s kingdom. That message was preached from then on (circa AD 33) to both Jews and non-Jewish people, of every nationality, who gladly received it.
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” – Acts 28:28, NIV