What Does It Mean to Believe?

How to be sure of your faith in Jesus Christ.

by Daniel Overdorf

A state university in the Midwest built an arts center with staircases that lead nowhere. Columns hang from the ceiling but stop short of connecting with the floor.

What was the architect attempting to convey? That life has no absolutes. Everything is relative and subjective. Nothing can be believed.

The reality, though, is that people needed to get to the second floor. Actual stairs were built. The ceiling had to be held up, so real columns were constructed next to the fake ones.

While attempting to prove that nothing can be believed in the absolute, the architect proved the opposite.

Confused? That’s okay; so was the architect. And so are a lot of people.

Contrary to what might be proclaimed from the towers of academia, faith is a necessary part of life. Newton’s physical laws hold true. In the physical realm, few argue these realities.

But what about in the spiritual realm? Is it possible to believe absolutely in spiritual things? With every step, I place my faith in gravity. Can I be just as sure of my faith in Jesus Christ?

Faith. We Christians throw the term around quite a bit. But what do we mean by faith? How is it possible?

Faith defined

Faith consists of four components:

Understanding. Belief requires understanding. Granted, we cannot comprehend all truth; but we can understand in part, and must understand in part, to believe. If, for example, I am to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, I must grasp what this means.

However, faith goes beyond simple understanding. Someone could say, “The moon is made of cheese.” I understand that statement. I know what cheese is; I know what the moon is. But I don’t believe the moon is made of cheese.

Assent. If you tell me the moon is made of cheese, I’ll understand you. But I won’t believe you. Faith requires assent.

I understand what is meant by referring to Jesus as the Christ. Beyond understanding, I agree and confess with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Faith requires understanding and assent. Comprehension and agreement.

But faith doesn’t stop there.

Trust. In the 1800s a tightrope walker stretched a wire across Niagara Falls and walked across to the cheering of the crowd. Then he pushed a wheelbarrow across the same tightrope. Finally, he asked the crowd, “Do you believe I can push this wheelbarrow across with a person inside?”

No one hesitated. “Yes! Yes! Certainly you can!”

“Well, then,” continued acrobat, “who will get in the wheelbarrow?”

Silence. No one volunteered. They understood (“We know what you’re talking about”). They assented (“We believe you can do it”). But there was no trust.

Faith requires trust, a decision of the will. It is a willingness to put yourself on the line for your belief and face whatever consequences may arise.

I understand and agree with the statement “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” That’s the easy part. The real question is whether or not I will trust. Will I make the decision to put myself — my eternity — on the line for that belief?

Obedience. Back to the tightrope walker illustration. Even if someone volunteered to get in the wheelbarrow, demonstrating trust, that person’s faith would remain incomplete until he actually hopped in. True faith acts on what it believes. Beyond understanding, assent, and trust, faith requires obedience.

James proclaims, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Speaking of Abraham, “His faith was made complete by what he did” (v. 22). And ultimately, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (v. 26).

Faith = A Belief of Life

In sum, faith is a belief of the

mind (understanding),

heart (assent),

will (trust), and

body (obedience).

It is a commitment that encompasses everything we are and everything we do. Faith is a belief of life.

Faith made possible

OK, we understand what faith is. Now what would compel someone to place faith in Jesus Christ?


The Bible emphasizes the importance of remembering. “He has caused his wonders to be remembered” (Psalm 111:4); “Remember the wonders he has done” (1 Chronicles 16:12).

Why remember? Because remembering teaches us that God is faithful to those who risk belief in Him. From Noah to Abraham to Moses to Gideon to Peter to Paul and beyond, we find individuals who believed in God when life’s circumstances made that belief incredibly difficult.

The book of Hebrews refers to such examples as “a great cloud of witnesses” who give us the courage to “run with perseverance the race marked out before us” (12:1).


Millions have been touched by God and have testified to such: “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

Heroes of the Bible testify. Martyrs stand in the face of beast and sword and attest with final utterance. Bible school teachers teach. Youth ministers minister. Preachers preach. Family, friends, parents, siblings — faith in God is made possible because of the millions throughout history who testify to the power of God at work in their lives.


A mountain of historical, archeological, logical, and manuscript evidence supports a belief in Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel was written for this very purpose:

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:30, 31).

Such evidence compels an honest seeker to discover the existence of God, the authority of His Word, and the truthfulness of His Son. The Christian faith makes good sense.

Taking the risk

Ken Davis wrote about a speech he made for a class in college titled “The Law of the Pendulum.”

Ken explained that a pendulum can never return to a point higher than the place from which it was released. Instead, with each swing a pendulum will make less and less of an arc, until it finally comes to rest.

He asked the class, “How many of you believe the law of the pendulum?”

Everyone, including the teacher, raised their hands. “Yes, we believe.”

Hanging from the rafters, not yet seen by anyone in the class, were two hundred and fifty pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of parachute chord — a functioning pendulum.

Davis invited the teacher to climb to the top of a table and sit on a chair with his head against a cement wall. The student pulled the metal to the teacher’s nose and asked the professor, “Do you believe the law of the pendulum?”

“Yes,” came the whispered reply.

Davis released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. As it began its return, the teacher dove off the table!

Davis turned to the class, “Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?”

In unison, the students responded, “No.”

What do you believe? Is your belief strong enough that you are willing to risk for it? What would you risk? A broken nose? What about your eternity?

Take it from me and millions of others — faith in God is worth the risk.

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.