What It Means To Believe

I was recently reading about the significant differences between the English language and the Greek language. Arthur Brooks is one of my favorite writers and he says the English language is impoverished when it comes to a word like “love.”

In Greek, there are several distinct words for love: philia (the love between friends), eros (romantic love), storge (the love by parents of children), philautia (self­love), and xenia (hospitality, or love of the stranger).

But the most transcendent of all the Greek concepts of love is agape: the love of man for the divine. It is regarded as the highest, most beatific kind of love. To achieve it is a kind of ecstasy.

The New Testament was originally written in Greek and when it is translated into English, it sometimes does not express the full meaning of the Greek word. A good example of this is the English word “believe,” which is a crucial word in the New Testament.

I am sure you are familiar with John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

And then in John 6:47 you see:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes has eternal life.”

These verses both make it clear that you have to believe in order to have eternal life. In English the word “believe” is a friendly word. The big question is what does it really mean to believe in Him. Every time you see the word “believe” in the New Testament, it comes from the Greek word pisteuo, which means so much more than just believing something in your head. It means “believe in, to entrust, to rely on, to cling to.”

Imagine waking up one morning, you feel sick and know something is terribly wrong with you. You go to the doctor who then sends you to the hospital where they run a battery of tests. You are then told by the attending physician that what he has discovered is both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that you have a rare form of cancer, and if it goes untreated you will be dead within six months. The good news is that it is very treatable, and with proper chemotherapy there is a 100% recovery rate.

You breathe a sigh of relief because you believe what he has told you is true. But you need to do more than believe it in your head. True belief is completely entrusting your life into the doctor’s care. It is completely relying on him and being willing to do whatever he instructs you to do. This is pisteuo. This is what it means to believe.

With this understanding of pisteuo, we must conclude that believing in Jesus and having eternal life requires more than believing in your head that Jesus existed and was the Son of God. It requires that I entrust my life into His care, that I surrender my heart to Him. In the New Testament, this is pisteuo, this is what it means to believe.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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