If you stop nearly anyone in Ireland and asked them, they'll tell you that they believe in Jesus. Preachers always talk about believing in Jesus. There's that great command, "Repent and Believe" and the other one, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But are we all talking about the same thing? What does it really mean to believe?
Clearly it can't mean that we believe just a set of facts about Jesus. Although, I reckon that this is what most people mean when they say they believe in Jesus. They believe in him, in the same way they don't believe in the tooth fairy - they believe that one exists and the other doesn't. Why do I say that 'believing' isn't this simple? Well, Jesus' own brother James writes, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." (James 2:19). So clearly this kind of belief isn't the belief that saves, because no-one is seriously going to argue that the devil is going to be in Heaven.
There are really three aspects to believing.
The first is that which we have just spoken about - knowing the facts about Jesus.
The second component is believing that those facts are true.
But it is the third aspect that many forget about. The third element is trust. If I say I believe that all mushrooms are poisonous, but continue to eat mushrooms - then I don't really believe, because I don't throw all my weight upon my convictions. I don't really believe what I say I believe.
These three components are essential for saving faith.
And of the three elements, most people are missing the third. They know the facts, they believe the facts are true, and they are hoping that that is enough. But they aren't personally trusting in those facts. Jesus says, "You aren't able to get to Heaven, you have to trust in me to get you there." But people still insist on trusting in themselves.
Perhaps the most famous illustration of this comes from the high-wire performer Blondin. Back in 1860 he strung a cable across Niagara Falls. The cable was 1000 feet long, and 160 feet above the raging waters.
As more and more people and media converged, he did more death-defying feats. Blondin walked to the middle and did a backward somersault. He cycled across. Then he took a chair to the middle and sat on it, balancing on the back two legs. Later he went across on stilts. He even carried his manager across on his back.
On one occasion he turned to the crowd and asked if they thought he could take a man across on his back. They all cheered and said they knew he could do it. So Blondin picked out one man who had been particularly vocal, and said, "Get on my back." The guy's face paled and he refused. He believed in Blondin, but only up to a point. He wasn't prepared to totally trust him. And so he didn't get to the other side.
Unless we are prepared to leave behind our own efforts and trust Jesus totally we'll not get to the other side.
It isn't enough to know the facts, even to believe the facts, we need to place our trust in Jesus, and only in him.