True Belief (How I can be saved)
By John MacArthur Jr
It is my special privilege to receive mail from all around the world. And
its a joy to sit down from time to time and just go through it, and see how
God is using the extended ministry of our church in the lives of many folks.
Yesterday, I was here studying through the day and I opened a letter that found
its way to my desk. It was sent on the 21st of this month, just a few days before
Christmas, and this is what it said:
"I am writing to you to ask, 'How I can be saved?' I know that I am a
sinner and will go to Hell forever unless someone helps me. I know that the
Bible says, if I believe on the Lord Jesus I will be saved, but I don't know
what believe means. Could you possibly write to me as soon as possible and tell
me what I must do?"
I thought to myself, "that's a long way to go to find an answer to a
fairly simple question." What does it mean to believe? He says, "I
know that I am a sinner, and I know that the Bible says that, if I
believe on the Lord Jesus I will be saved, but I don't know what believe
You know, a lot of times, we throw around words that we don't know what
they mean. If someone came to you and said, "I want to know how to
saved," and you said to them, "Well, you must believe." And they
"Well, what does believe mean?" What would you say?
Certainly, we should be very adept at answering that question, because
that's the most substantive question in the process of evangelism, "What
does it mean to be believe?" That simple letter really haunted my heart
all day yesterday, and so I felt sort of pushed by the Spirit of God, to
address that question this morning.
We will often say to a person, "Well, believe on the Lord Jesus,"
that's right. After all, the Philippian Jailer, in Acts 16:30 said,
"What must I do to be saved?" And Paul said, "Believe in the
and you will be saved . . ." And though it isn't recorded in the text,
might have also said, "I don't know what believe means?" Because in
next verse, Paul spoke to him of many things, so maybe he didn't even
know what believe meant, and had to be instructed.
The first time you or I ever heard about "believing in the Lord Jesus
Christ," it probably entered our minds, "What do you mean believe?"
so, we need to address that question. As we come to the Lord's Table,
to celebrate His death, to celebrate our salvation, this morning, its
imperative that we understand the essence of what that salvation re
It requires that we believe, and what does it mean to believe. I want
to help all of us this morning to understand this. For those of you who
may not be Christians, this may be the most important definition you've
ever heard in your life. For those of us who are already Christians, we
trust that this will arm us for usefulness as we go out to speak to
other folks, encouraging them to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,"
needing to be able to define exactly what we mean by that. So I want to
address believing two ways, objectively and subjectively.
First of all, from an objective, that is an outward, concrete
perspective, "what does it mean to believe?" I want you to look in
Bible, at the tenth chapter of Romans. And I would draw your attention
to two familiar verses, verses 9 and 10.
And I believe that we have here, a simple statement of the "Objectivity
of Faith," that is its concrete, observable character. In verses 9
and 10, Paul says this, "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus as
Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you
will be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteous
ness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
Now Paul tells us how to be saved. And he says, to be saved you must
believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and you must
confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. Such belief results in
righteousness, such confession results in salvation. May I say quickly
to you that salvation and righteousness are two sides of the same thing.
Righteousness is a positive term defining our new life and salvation is
a negative term defining our new life. We use the term salvation so
often that we think of it as positive, but it isn't, its a negative
term. It means to be rescued from something.
It does not necessarily emphasize what we become, it emphasizes what we
have ceased to be. To be delivered, to be rescued. So the positive
term of salvation is righteousness, the negative term is, in fact,
salvation. Two sides to the same thing. Having been delivered from sin
and death, we are now made right with God. Righteousness means to be
right with God, salvation means to be delivered or rescued from Satan,
and sin, and death.
So Paul says, "Here are the two elements, the two very objective,
concrete, observable elements, with regard to this new life in Christ.
One is, to confess with the mouth, the other is to believe in the
heart." But I want us to look at those because they are very basic.
Look at verse 10 for a moment, "For with the heart man believes."
Now what does he believe in? Well, it says it in verse 9, "He believes
in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead." So we are asking
here for a belief in the resurrection of Christ. Now you say, "But why
only that? How can you say that if you believe in your heart that God
raised Him from the dead, you'll be saved? Isn't there a lot more to
the Gospel; isn't there the Incarnation, God becoming man; isn't there
the life of Christ, His miraculous work; isn't there the great teaching
of Jesus; isn't there His substitutionary death on the Cross as a payment
for your sin and mine; isn't there His ascension into Heaven; what about
His intercessory work as High Priest; what about His Second Coming as
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS returning in glory to rule the world?
What about all of that?"
Is it simply enough to believe in your heart that God raised Him from
the dead? To believe the objective historical fact of the resurrection,
is that all? Why only this? And the answer is very simple, because the
Resurrection, is the focal point of everything else in the life and
ministry of Christ. And if you believe in the Resurrection, it is a
foregone conclusion that everything else "falls into place." For all
that Christ is and all that He has done and will do is bound up in the
glorious reality, "That God raised Him from the dead."
God raised Him from the dead, because He was worthy of resurrection.
Why? Because He lived a perfect life. God raised Him from the dead.
Why? Because He had accomplished a perfect redemption. It assumes that
the work on the cross was perfect; it assumes His perfect life; it
assumes His perfect atonement, His perfect work on the cross. The
resurrection of Christ by the Father, was the Father's "stamp of
approval" on His life, His ministry, and His death.
Furthermore, the fact that God raised Him from the dead, indicates that
God then raised Him that He might exalt Him to His own right hand, where
He now sits in the seat of authority, interceding for the Church, from
which He has sent the Holy Spirit, and from which someday He Himself will
return as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. The resurrection then was
God's accreditation of all that went before, and God's preparation for
all that would come after.
The resurrection then becomes the peak in the life and ministry of Jesus
Christ. If I say, "I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the
bodily, literal resurrection," that means I believe that He actually
died. If I believe in His resurrection, I believe that God raised Him
because He had accomplished in His death what God wanted Him to accom
plish. And what did God want Him to accomplish? The atonement of the
sins of the world. If God raised Him from the dead, and I believe it,
it is because God affirmed His perfect life, and His worthiness to be
exalted to God's own right hand.
And if God raised Him from the dead, then I affirm that He is seated at
the right hand of God interceding, and He is there awaiting the return
that is promised. So everything focuses on the Resurrection, and when
Paul says, ". . . to believe in your heart that God raised Him from the
dead, you will be saved," he meant that is so believing, you affirm the
deity of Christ; the death atonement of Christ; not only the
resurrection of Christ; His ascension; His priestly work, and His coming
Its all there in the Resurrection. That was God's "stamp of approval"
on the life and ministry of Christ. That was God saying this is indeed
my Son; this is indeed the Savior; this is indeed the High Priest; this
is indeed the Coming King. And so, that is very objective faith. Its
not just "Believing in God" vaguely. People say, "Oh I believe
or "I believe in Jesus." There were people in the time of Christ who
believed in Him, but He didn't commit Himself to them, because their
faith was not genuine "Saving faith." There are people today who
"Believe in God," who "Believe in Jesus." I hear of people
lieve in Believing."
But Paul says, "Believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the
dead," which sets Him apart as the Savior, the Messiah. That's very
objective faith. Salvation then is, really produced by believing.
Believing in what? Believing in the person and work of Christ as
culminated in His resurrection. That's essential, that is an objective
element in saving faith.
Secondly, there is another objective element in it, and he says in verse
10, "With the mouth he confesses." Now here is a very public testimony
in fact. And what does he confess? Verse 9, "Jesus as Lord," here
another objective element, that is, an outward, verbal, confession that
Jesus is Sovereign; that Jesus is Ruler; that Jesus is in charge; that
He is Lord, and Lord means, "You're in charge!"
Now follow this thought with me, when I say, for my salvation, "I be
lieve that God raised Jesus from the dead," I am saying, I believe that
He accomplished salvation on the cross." Why? Because that's the only
way that God would ever raise Him. God would not exalt Him to His right
hand, if He hadn't accomplished salvation. So when I say, "I believe
God raised Jesus from the dead," I am saying that, "I also therefore
believe that He accomplished my salvation on the cross," I am therefore
saying that, "I am dependent on someone else to accomplish my
salvation," and I am confessing that, "I am unable myself to do that."
Did you get that? That's very important thinking. When you confess in
your mouth, "Jesus as Lord," you are affirming His authority, and
sovereignty, and His rulership. When you say, "I believe in my heart
that God raised Him from the dead," you are affirming that He is the
source of salvation. On both counts, you are acknowledging your
You are humble when you say, "He is the authority, I'm not." You
humble when you say, "He provided the salvation, I can't." So the
"bottom line" attitude in this matter of believing, is humility. There
is a self-effacing mentality here. There is a self-rejection here.
There's no pride here. And I believe that the basic attitude of true
faith is humility.
Your saying on the one-hand, "I believe in the Resurrection," which
means, "I believe that Christ accomplished my salvation, because I
couldn't do it myself," so you reject your own inabilities, and your own
abilities. You reject "works-righteousness." When you confess, "Jesus
as Lord," you are thereby saying, "I'm not in charge of my life, I
humble myself to His authority." In both cases, humility stands out as
the virtue. And that is precisely why Jesus said, in Matthew 18:3,
"unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter
the kingdom of heaven" (NASB).
The only kind of attitude the Lord responds to is one of humility. And
humility says, "I can't save myself, I trust Christ." Humility says,
"I'm not in charge, He is." That is humility. And it is very objective
in that sense, because it affirms the work of Christ as historic and
valid, and it affirms the Lordship of Christ as historic and valid. But
the "bottom-line" in this believing is humility.
It is not saying, "Oh, I believe in Jesus, and I'm sure He's real happy
to get me." Not that attitude. "Oh yes, I believe in Jesus, but I'm
also working my own salvation. I'm trying to be a good person. I'm
trying to do right on my own, I want God to like me." Now there is none
of that, it's just the opposite, "I have no good thing in me, I cannot
save myself, there is nothing in me worthy of salvation, I cast myself
totally on the mercy of Christ, as provided in the cross, and verified
through the Resurrection."
The one who does not trust in his own works, but in the work of Christ;
the one who does not lead his own life, but gives the authority to
Christ, that is the one who demonstrates the humility of true belief.
That's the object.
Now what about the Subjective? And for this I want you to look at
James, chapter 4. As we probe a little more deeply into this matter of
believing, what is it like below the surface? In its most obvious form,
it is an affirmation of the work of Christ and His person as Lord. But
what is it, down under the surface. What is the subjective attitude
that lies deep down in a really humble heart? What is the stuff down
inside that true faith is made out of?
And this takes us deeper into the subject of humility, which is the
basic attitude. In James, chapter 4, I believe that we have one of the
greatest Gospel invitations in Scripture. It has largely been
overlooked as such, unfortunately, tragically, to be sure, because it
may be the most comprehensive one given anywhere on the pages of
Scripture. And since James is probably the oldest of the New Testament
Books, it was maybe the first one ever given. It is certainly a
priority invitation to salvation.
I would call your attention to verses 6 through 10, and let me read them
to you, speaking of God, James writes, "He gives a greater grace . . ."
that is, greater than your sin, great enough to cover your sin,
". . . Therefore it says," and he quotes Proverbs 3:34, "God
to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Now, James is saying
something very important, "If you want saving grace, you get it by being
humble, not by being proud." It comes to those who are humble. God
gives His saving grace to humble people.
You say, "Well, how do you know that he's talking here about saving
grace?" "How do you know he's talking here to people that aren't
saved?" Very simple, verse 8, they are called, "sinners" and
called "double-minded." And nowhere in the Bible is the term "sinner"
ever used to refer to a believer, never! It is always used of
unregenerate people, non-Christians. Always used of wicked people, who
disregard the law of God, who disregard the will of God, who ignore
God's desires. In fact, it is used to speak of openly wicked, openly
bad people. Not even very subtle people. It is combined with Publicans
and Prostitutes and other terms like that, the riffraff of society.
So he is calling to sinners, the unregenerate. But a certain kind of
sinner, notice they are called double-minded. These are the kind of
unregenerate people who are religious. We could call them the
"religious unregenerate." They go to church, and maybe they're involved,
they were involved in the church, to which James writes. He really
pinpoints them, verse 22, of chapter 1, he says, "Prove yourselves doers
of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (NASB).
And he knew that there were people in the church who were only hearers,
just hearers, not doers. As far as their "doing side," they were in
world. Their "hearing side" was in the church. So they were double-
minded. They had a mind to "hear" the things of God; they had a mind
"do" the things of Satan. They were the double-minded, they were the
religious unregenerate. Religious, but lost; religious, but unsaved.
In chapter 2, he further identifies them, not only by what they hear,
but by what they claim, in verse 14, "If a man says he has faith, but
he has no works? Can that faith save him?" (NASB). Verse 17, "Faith,
if it has no works, is dead" (NASB). Now here were some people who
would say, "We hear, and we believe," and the "hearing"
"believing" side was in the church, but the "doing side"
was in the
In chapter 3, he addresses them again, in verse 11 and 12, he says about
this double-mindedness, "Does a fountain send out from the same opening
both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce
olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh"
(NASB). You can't have both. If you have one side of you in the
"hearing and believing" and the other side in the "doing,"
merely religiously lost.
And then he really says it in no uncertain terms in chapter 4, verse 4,
look at that, "You adulteresses . . ." you prostitutes, you fain a
relationship to God, but you prostitute yourself with relationships to
the world, ". . . do you not know that friendship with the world is
hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the
world makes himself an enemy of God" (NASB). If you are double-minded
my friend, and you got one side of you in the "hearing and the
believing" in the church, and the other side in the "doing" in
world, you're the enemy of God.
You may be religious, but you're unregenerate; you may be religious, but
you are lost; you may be religious, but you're not saved. And James is
so burdened for this person, that he says in verse 6, "Look, God will
give grace to the humble." The point is if you'll humble yourself, God
will save you. If you'll humble yourself, God will save you.
And then he goes into the subjective elements of a real humility. And
these are ten commands, ten straightforward statements that are really
unequaled to any part of Scripture, other than this passage. Beginning
in verse 7, he says this "Submit therefore to God . . ." You ask the
question, "How do you humble yourself?" He just said, "God gives
to the humble." How do I humble myself? How do I have that humble
First step, submit yourselves to God. What does that mean? That means
that you are willing to enlist under His command. You have already
objectively said, "He is Lord," now you are subjectively saying, "I
submit my life." That's a corollary. You have already affirmed that He
has all authority, you are now saying, "I willingly come under that
authority." "I subjectively submit."
The "Rich young ruler came to Jesus, called Him 'Master,'" that
objectively, he affirmed His state, His position, His exalted position.
He said to Him, "Master, Good Master, what must I do to have eternal
life?" He was objectively affirming Christ's superiority to Himself, by
asking the question, by calling Him "Good Master." But when the Lord
said to him, "Take all your goods, sell what you have, and when you get
your money, take it and give it to the poor," he went away, and he
wasn't willing to do it.
He would objectively affirm that Christ was the master, but subjectively
he wasn't about to submit to His mastering. And the subjective element
of believing is when I "line up" my heart with what my mind tells
"Yes, Jesus is Lord, and Yes I submit to that authority." Submit your
selves to God!
And then there is another statement, in that same verse, "Resist the
devil and he will flee from you." And what he is saying there is that,
"When you have affirmed you allegiance to God, you have disavowed any
allegiance to Satan. You have transferred your allegiance. You were the
children of wrath; you were under his domination, Ephesians 2:3, but now
you have been made in Christ Jesus, as His workmanship, created unto
You have changed masters. You have severed allegiance. So when you
submit to God, you then resist the devil and he leaves. You transfer
your allegiance. So those two phrases tell us the first subjective
element in "humble faith," and it is this, "It is an attitude
submission of allegiance to God." He is Lord, not only objectively by
definition; He is Lord subjectively, by relationship in my life.
So when someone says, "What does it mean to believe?" I say,
Objectively, it means to believe that Jesus is Lord, and Authority, and
Sovereign. And it means to believe in His resurrection, which means
you believe in all the rest of His life and work. But subjectively
what does it mean? First of all, it means you transfer your allegiance
from Satan, the world, the flesh, to God. And you are bringing your
life, and offering it to His control.
Secondly, in verse 8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
Now here is the second major principle in these ten commands. "Draw
near to God," means that you are pursuing an intimate love relationship.
True belief in Christ is not saying, "Well, I believe the facts, and if
that will get me out of Hell, I'll be glad to say, I believe it." This
is not a "Hell Insurance" kind of thing.
There is in true, humble, saving faith, a pursuit of God. A pursuit of
a relationship. I think there are a lot of folks who believe they are
Christians because they have said, "Well, I believe Jesus died, and I
believe in that, and if it will get me out of Hell, I'll believe
anything and I'll confess it." But there has never been a pursuing of
God. There has never been a longing in the heart for God, like Peter
said, "To those who believe, He is Precious." There has never been
longing for personal communion. There's not that compulsion for loving
worship. There's not that strong desire for adoration and praise.
I know in my own life, one of the most frustrating things that I endure,
is the constant feeling that I cannot adequately give expression to what
I feel about God. I can't translate what I feel into praise that seems
to fit what He deserves. But there is a longing in my heart, to know
God. Paul says, "That I may know Him." There's a longing to have
intimacy with God; to have fellowship with God; to worship God; to sense
His presence; to have Him draw near to me. Which was such a foreign
thought in a pagan world, where people wanted to stay as far away from
any deity as they could possibly stay.
So what he is saying here is, "That believing that is truly humble
believing, saving believing, draws near to God. It longs for
fellowship, communion, intimacy, love, and worship." There is a deep
relationship sought after, and pursued, and developed. And the
corollary of course, "And He will draw near to you." And that is the
longing of all true faith, that God would draw near.
So the dimension of loving fellowship, personal knowledge of God,
personal communion, is what makes prayer an inevitable reality in
the heart where the faith is real. Why? Because you can't have a
relationship without communication. Pray is that communication.
Then he moves to another dimension, a third dimension, in the series of
ten commands, in that same verse 8, "Cleanse your hands, you sinners;
and purify your hearts, you double-minded." Now, we already noted those
two references to the people he's addressing, "double-minded sinners."
But he says to them, "Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts."
are very clearly distinct calls to repentance, on two fronts--externally
When he says, "Cleanse your hands," the hands have always been symbols
of conduct; symbols of behavior; symbols of action, activity, what you
do. The heart is the place of thoughts, and intents, and motives, and
desires. So he says, "The kind of faith that is genuinely humble,
saving faith, cries out to be cleansed on the outside, and to be
cleansed on the inside." "Cleanse your hands, purify your hearts."
These two have to do with repentance, with an act of rejecting sin on
the inside and on the outside. To a person who is placing faith in
Jesus Christ, "genuine humble believing faith," there will be a revul
sion about sin.
There will be a desire for a purged inside and a purged outside. You
can't say, "Oh, I believe, I believe, I'm a believer in Jesus," and
go on enjoying a life of sin. You can't do that, that is contradictory.
There will be a longing for purging on the inside and cleansing on the
outside. That too is an element of saving faith and is produced by the
Spirit, according to John 16, "He convicts of sin." When God is saving
a person, there is an over whelming revulsion about sin, and a desire to
have that dealt with. Not just in the sense of future consequence, but
in the sense of present reality. You see when you come to Christ and
your faith is real, it isn't just saying, "Save me from the consequence
of my sin." It is saying, "Save me from my sin." Not just what
do in the future, but what it is doing in the present.
Then he goes to a fourth dimension, in verse 9, most interesting, this
is really "kind of a downer" this whole verse, "Be miserable
and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to
gloom." That's a pretty pathetic verse. You certainly wouldn't put
that on next year's birthday card. But "what in the world" is he
saying? I thought "when you came to Christ" it was a happy time, I
thought there was sort of an exhilaration, isn't this a joyous and
wondrous occasion? Well, it is "on the other side" of your salvation,
but going into it, dealing with what's in your heart, we understand what
he is saying.
Three commands at the beginning of verse 9, "Be miserable, mourn and
weep." "Be miserable" means that, feel wretched, feel miserable.
Because of your shame over your sin. Because of the personal misery
that your sin has brought about in your life. This is part of what we
would call "brokenness." This is your emotional reaction to repentance.
This demonstrates the rejection of the flesh, if we can say it that way.
The "spirit of penitence." The misery that you feel over sin.
So, James says, "If God saves the humble, then here's how to be humble."
The first way, the first element of humility, is that you transfer your
allegiance completely from Satan to God. You resist the devil and you
submit to God. The second element of this humble faith, is that you
have a strong, and almost passionate desire to draw near to God, and
have Him draw near to you, that you might enjoy a relationship with Him.
The third thing is repentance. You have a revulsion over your own sin.
You long to be cleansed on the inside, motives and desires, and you long
to be cleansed on the outside, actions and deeds.
And then you have a certain brokenness over the misery, of which you
exist, because of sin. There is just a sort of brokenness in realizing
that you are a victim of the flesh. And you desire deliverance in your
And then the last thing, I already read to you, "Let your laughter be
turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom." You would think it would
be reversed, "If you want to be saved, let your mourning be turned to
laughter, and let your gloom be turned to joy." But it isn't!
What do you mean "laughter?" Well, it is only used here, there are
other words for laughter, this one is only used here. Whenever it is
used in secular sources in Greek, it always means the lowly, common,
base, laughter of people indulging in pleasure. It's the frivolous,
worldly laughter, the ugly laughter of the wicked, as they indulge in
He says, "Let all that trashy fun turn into mourning." In other
another factor, "Not only do you want to be cleansed on the inside, and
cleansed on the outside; not only do you want to [be free from] the pain
and misery of your sin, but also there is an overwhelming sense of
longing to be delivered from the world, in which you live; the folly;
the foolishness; the indulgence; the pleasure madness."
And he says, "Let your joy be turned to gloom." In other words,
at the world completely different. Instead of looking at it as fun and
frivolity, and happiness and "live it up," and "grab all the
"do your own thing," and "live it up" every way you can,
you begin to
have this heavy, oppressive, feeling about the world.
And I will tell you very honesty, there is something in every Christian,
every true Christian, that views the world with a sort of morbid
gloominess. Right? You get sick of its encroachment on you. You get
weary of all of its pressures, and all of its temptations. And you want
to set aside all of its foolishness. There really is, in James' mind
here, seriousness. That's the idea, "You get serious about life."
Instead of living for fun, you get serious about life.
So what is the character then of subjective believing?
First, it submits to the authority of God, it switches allegiance from
the devil to God.
Secondly, it longs for a personal and intimate relationship with God.
Thirdly, it desires to repent, and turn from sin, and be cleansed on the
inside and on the outside.
Fourthly, it knows a certain shame, and guilt, and misery, that brings
about a brokenness, that longs for healing.
And fifthly, it begins to view the whole world and all of life much more
seriously than it ever did before.
And you can't quite "get into" the giddy foolishness of the wicked
pleasures of the world, because life is so much more serious, and you
now want to live to the glory of God, and you know that you're in a
great battle to endeavor to do that by God's grace.
And he sums all of that up in verse 10, summing it all up, "Humble
yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you." That's
it. How do you humble yourselves? I just told you how; submitting to
His authority; drawing near to Him for a relationship; repenting of your
sin; having a sense of misery over your own wickedness; and looking at
the world differently, no more in the familiar fun of life, but seeing
it seriously for the tragedy that it really is. And in all of these
areas you humble yourselves.
Do you know who the classic illustration of this is? The Prodigal Son.
A perfect illustration. The Prodigal Son is a picture of an unregener
ate, unsaved person. He was created, as it were, in the world of God.
He had a lot of available resources, that the Puritans used to call
"Gospel Privileges." But he decided that he would walk away from God,
turn his back on God, as the son did on his father. And he went off
into a far country and he lived and wasted all of his substance, and he
just "lived it up." "Wine, women, and song."
He wound up in a pig pen, eating "pig slop." He had all the world's
fun, he engaged in all the world's sin. But he said, "I don't need to
do this, I am going to go to the father." And he pictures the sinner in
the midst of his sin, who is devastated by what he finally has come to
understand. He is bankrupt; he is devastated; all the world's pleasure
brought him no satisfaction; he is sinful; he is hopeless; he has
nothing to show for all of his energy and effort.
He goes back to the father and he is very humble. He comes back to the
father and says, "Father, forgive me! Just take me back and make me
like one of your hired servants. Make me a slave. I don't deserve
anything more than slavery. Just take me back!" What is he saying? I
tell you what he is saying, he's saying, "I submit to you!" Isn't
"And I break my allegiance to my past master."
Secondly, he is saying, "I long for a relationship with you, I want to
draw near to you!" Remember he ran up to his son, and what does it
say, "His father saw him, ran up to him, threw his arms around him"
did what? Kissed him. The son longed for that relationship. And then
what did he say to his father? "Father, I have sinned against you."
And what he was saying was, "cleanse my hands and purify my heart."
then as he looked at the misery of his life, he said, "I am worthy only
to be your slave." There was a man who humbled himself in the presence
That's the picture of the sinner. Having wasted his life and come up
with nothing, he comes back, and he says, "I want to give you my life,
you control me, I am the servant, you are the master. I want a
relationship with you." He longed for the embrace of the father and the
kiss of love. "I want to be cleansed of the wretchedness of my sin.
I'm done with the frivolity of life, I want to take it seriously and I
want to do my part to serve you, in your house."
And, do you remember what the father did? Did the father say, well
reluctantly, "You've been such a wretched guy, but I will let you in."
No his father took him in, and what did he do? He said, "Not only will
I take you back, you'll not be a slave, I'll take you back as a son."
He said, "Get the ring, put it on his finger, get the best robe, put it
on his back, call the musicians, get the festival ready, kill the fatted
calf, we are having the biggest party we have ever thought of having,
because, this my son, who was lost, is now found."
And what is that in James' words? Look at verse 10, "Humble yourselves
in the presence of the Lord, and he will tolerate you!" Is that what it
says? "He will what?" "He will exalt you!" You see He resists
proud, but He gives grace to the humble. He gives grace to the humble.
Do you remember the proud Pharisee, Luke 18, "I thank you that I am not
as other men, even as this Publican. I tithe. I fast twice a week." He
was a religious man. And over in the corner is the Publican. He won't
even lift his eyes because he is such a wicked man. He does not even
dare look at God. He is bent over, bowed, looking down, pounding his
chest, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" And Jesus said, "That
home saved, not the other one." Why? God resists the proud and He
gives grace to the humble. To the humble. And we all come that way.
So what is humble saving faith? If someone wrote you a letter and said,
"I don't know what believe means." What would you say? "Well,
objectively means, that I believe in the historical truth that Jesus
lived and died and rose again for me, and accomplished my salvation. I
believe those facts. And I believe that He is Lord, and I acknowledge
that with my mouth." From the subjective side, what does that mean?
That means that, I submit to His leadership and rulership in my life.
I pursue a loving personal relationship with Him. I hunger to turn from
sin and to pursue holiness. I am broken over the guilt and the stench
and the shame of my miserable sin. And I now view life seriously, not
in the frivolity of the foolishness of my former ways. In other words,
I reject myself and everything about me. That's humility. And he will
lift you up.
When it says that "He will exalt you," have you ever thought about
He wants to make you? Have you ever thought about that? You remember,
as a kid, reading the story about the "Ugly Duckling?" He was larger,
more awkward and less attractive than the other ducklings. He was just
"flat" ugly by their standards. They made fun of his clumsiness. They
made fun of his bizarre "gawky" appearance. And he was crushed, and
was forlorned. So he left the ducklings and sought refuge with a cat
and a chicken, do you remember that? But they didn't accept him because
he couldn't "purr" and he couldn't "lay eggs."
"You don't understand me," he complained. They only mocked him all
more. One day while he was out paddling around the pond, trying his
best, to be like the other ducks, he caught sight of some graceful and
elegant swans, creatures he had never seen before. He thought they were
the most beautiful birds in all the world. And as he watched the
beautiful movements of the swans, a strange feeling came over him. He
couldn't take his eyes off of them, and he couldn't shake the newness of
destiny that overwhelmed him.
Well the swans flew off, and as he stretched his neck, to try to follow
their flight, he thought that he had loved them more than anything he
had ever loved before. Winter came, and all during the cold months the
"Ugly Duckling" thought about the lovely birds he had seen. He had
idea what they were called or where they came from, but he hoped someday
to be able to see them again. And at last, Spring had melted the ice on
the pond, and the "Ugly Duckling" was able to swim again. And one
while Spring was still very young, he was swimming and he saw two of
those beautiful birds.
They swam straight towards him, and fear gripped his heart. He was
embarrassed to have such graceful creatures to see how ugly and clumsy
he was. As they approached him he bowed his head in humility, and he
covered his face with his wings. When he did that, he was amazed to see
for the first time his own reflection in the water, which had just
thawed. He was exactly like those beautiful creatures! He was never
meant to be a duck in the first place! He was one of them. He was a
swan. And as he removed his wings from his face, he lifted his head,
not straight up like an ostrich, but slightly bowed in gratitude and
Do you see an analogy of your own life in that? My own experience as a
Christian is like that, and so is yours. My first look at Christ, would
be that of an Ugly Duckling looking at a swan. Enamored with the
majesty and the loveliness, and the grace and the beauty of that
creature. And feeling ugly and sinful and unworthy. And yet being
irresistibly attracted. And then one day in humility, to bow our heads,
as it were, cover our face in humility before the swan of all swans.
And then when we see ourselves in the water, we note that we are being
made in His very image.
That's what it means to humble your selves and be exalted. When Christ
exalts you, and this is the wonders of wonders, He makes you like
Himself. And someday you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He
is. That is how far you will be exalted. If you humble yourselves
beloved, the Bible says he will exalt you. To what level? To the very
beauty of Christ Himself. Second Corinthians 3:18, "You are being changed
from one level of glory to the next, by the Holy Spirit," until sometime
you will find yourself in the very image of Jesus Christ.
You start out in ugliness, when you finally see in Him the destiny you
long for. And when you are humbled in the face of the beauty of Christ,
and you see your sin and unworthiness, it is at that point He saves you
and sets you on a path to be like Him.
What does it mean to believe? That's what it means. And may it be the
experience of every heart this day.
By John MacArthur Jr
This message transcribed by the ministry of: Bible Bulletin Board Box 130 Shreveport,
and brought to you by: Southern MD Christian Infomation Service BBS P.O. Box
464 California, MD 20619
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City,
California, By John MacArthur Jr.. It was transcribed from the tape,GC 80-56,
titled "True Belief." A copy of the tape can be received by writing,
Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original
tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary
from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to the techniques involved
in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article. It is my intent and prayer that
the Holy Spirit will use this transcription of the sermon, "True Belief"
to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.
Scriptures quoted in this message are from the New American Standard Bible.