Whoever believes the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36

If we are to understand Jesus, then we need to understand what it means to believe in him. Over and again in scripture we are told to believe. Jesus himself said in John 14:1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’ What does it mean to believe because James (Jesus brother) said ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.’ (James 2:19)

There is a difference in believing that Jesus is real, God is real and believing in Jesus and believing in God. James is telling us that the demons believe God to be real. There is proof of that in the story of Jesus casting out the demon legion. (read here) The demon, or demons, instantly recognise Jesus and know who he is, ‘What do you want with us Son of God?’ (Matthew 8:29) they ask. The demons believe Jesus is real and that he is the Son of God.

I don’t think anyone would argue for one minute that this knowledge of Jesus was a saving knowledge. None of us are expecting to get to heaven and find a reformed demon named legion. The fate of these demons was sealed when they rushed the pigs of the steep bank, drowning in the lake below.

What then does it mean to believe in Jesus?

We find the answer in John’s account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (John 3:1-21). We should remember that Nicodemus was a religious man, a sincere man. He believed in God, he knew who God was and he longed to serve God. He even recognised Jesus as being from God. (John 3:2) Yet despite this Jesus famously said to him, ‘Very truly I telly you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ (John 3:3)

What on earth does this mean. The answer to this question is the answer to our question of what the difference is in believing there is a God to believing in God. It is the answer to the question of believing Jesus is the Son of God to believing in him as the Son of God. It is the difference in Nicodemus believing Jesus was sent from God, and that God was with him, to believing in Jesus as being sent from God and God being with him.

Here is the difference. Trust!

Legion, the demons that James told us believed in God, even Nicodemus at this point in his life – they all believed God to be real, but they did not trust him. The demons because they were so filled with suspicion, hate and pride couldn’t trust anyone. Nicodemus trusted in what he did, his goodness, his worthiness rather than trusting in the fact he would never be worthy and so he needed Jesus righteousness.

To believe in Jesus is to trust that only Jesus can make us right with God. It is to rest in Jesus. I like to use the picture of an armchair. We spend all day working hard and when evening comes, we sit in our favourite armchair. We pull the lever that makes it recline. Our feet are lifted off the ground, we sink into the chair and rest – trusting entirely in that chair. So, it is with Jesus – we realise our salvation can never be earned and so we stop working for it, resting secure and at peace in what Jesus has done for us. To understand Jesus is to believe in him.

Prayer Lord Jesus for so long I have simply believed you are real. I have known who you are, but I have never trusted you. Jesus I no longer want to simply believe you are, I want to believe in you. Help me to trust you. I know my own righteousness will never be enough and so I need you. I believe only you can make me right with the Father. Teach me to rely on what you have done that I may rest secure in the salvation that only you can offer. Amen