Whether we recognize it or not, our world runs on trust. A friend trusts our word when we say that something is worth doing. The bank trusts our promise to repay our loan. Sometimes, trust is given as a gift; it is often earned through experience or proven through fact. We even trust things (tools, lights, cars) to work as intended without much thought until they suddenly don’t work.
Trust is also the key to faith in Christ. Jesus said, “whoever believes in Him (meaning himself) shall not perish.” In this context, “believe” means to have full trust and reliance. This is more than simply believing something; it is trusting Jesus with and in everything.
James wrote, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” (James 2:19, NASB95) Now, James is making a different point, but it is valuable to understand the difference between believing a set of facts and trusting in Christ.
One step of believing in Christ is accepting the bundle of facts presented in nature and Scripture. While that is a necessary step, it is not the whole journey. We can mentally accept a truth and still put zero trust in that truth. Some folks call that trivia, snippets of knowledge that have no real impact on our lives.
The belief we are invited to in Christ is not trivial; it impacts every room, nook, and cranny of our lives. This is full trust and reliance with nothing held back. We’re sold out, all in, fully committed. Yet, we must also recognize that this doesn’t happen overnight, not really.
There is that wonderful moment when we first trust Jesus. And that moment does change everything. We are born again and have a new life. But even at that moment, our trust in Christ isn’t fully matured. There are still areas, habits, patterns, and other beliefs that we still hold as our own. But over time, we grow to trust Christ more and more. Extinguishing those areas of unbelief with faith and trust strengthened by our experiences, successes, and failures.
Jesus, however, doesn’t quantify or qualify “believe” in John 3:16 other than identifying himself as the object of belief. Neither is this a one-off statement. Consider, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, NASB95) And, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26, NASB95) In both examples, the key is believing, trusting, have faith in Jesus Christ.
From this point, there are many applications. One is seeing past the religious parts and encouraging trust in Christ regardless of denomination or heritage. Another application is to consider where we yet need to trust Christ in our life. A third is helping others move past accepting facts and towards fully trusting Jesus. A fourth application is to avoid judging the faith we think others should have and how they should act. We can’t see another’s faith, only their actions. Not only can we trust Jesus, but we can also trust the Holy Spirit to continue His work in others. That is also a part of trusting in Jesus.