The word believe occurs numerous times throughout our English Bible translations. In the Gospel of John it appears more than 90 times. In Acts, it occurs about 40 times.
For example, when religious leaders arrested Peter and John for preaching, Scripture says many who heard their message believed (Acts 4:4).
In another account, the Ethiopian Eunuch told Philip “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).
But what exactly does the word believe mean? Our modern concept of believe can lead to confusion. To some, believe means nothing more than mere hope or speculation. “I believe I can be there by five o’clock.” To others, believe is an intellectual assent to a set of facts. “I believe what he says. He never lies to me.”
So what does the Bible mean by believe? The New Testament Greek word pisteuo (believe) means to “be convinced of something” or “give credence to.” We must be convinced that it is an historical fact that more than 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ died on a cross and rose the third day.
Being convinced of those facts, however, is not enough. One must accept or personally appropriate them as being true. Note that we are not merely accepting as true that He died and arose. We are acknowledging that He did it for us. In a substitutionary “instead of us” death, Christ died in our place. The punishment we deserve, He suffered for us. Christ saved us by dying for us. The third day He arose, proving that as God He conquered both sin and the death.
The word pisteuo also has a further inherent meaning. Along with “be convinced of something” and “give credence to,” it also means “trust.” If we believe in the biblical sense of the word, then we are trusting Christ to save us—not a good life, church attendance, baptism, taking of the sacraments, or keeping of the commandments.
No better word brings out the meaning of believe to a twenty-first century listener than the word trust. We must be sensitive to the fact that some people believe in Christ in the sense that they accept Him as an historical figure who died and arose; however, they are not trusting Him alone to save them, which is what the biblical word believe conveys.
As we share the gospel, we must explain that God requires the individual to trust in Christ alone plus nothing for salvation. Only when we trust in Christ alone to save us is God satisfied. To believe in the biblical sense of the word is to trust in Christ alone as the only way to obtain eternal life with God.