What does it mean to be a “believer”?

We (Christians) use lots of different terms to identify ourselves, and to distinguish us from others. One of the most common of these is to call Christians or followers of Jesus “believers.” So, what do we mean by this?

Surely we mean more than the generic “belief in God” that Gallup and Barna and others year after year show that 95+% of the US population claims.

Do we (generally) mean there is a certain minimum amount of claims about Jesus that one must agree with to be a “believer”?

If we mean, “to be a believer is to have given one’s heart to Jesus,” or “to be a believer is to have accepted Jesus as one’s savior,” are we claiming there is an ontological change in the individual when such a decision is made?

A quick perusal of NT uses of the word (this question deserves more than a quick perusal) leads me to think that use of the term “believer” there is used more as an affirmative, almost generic, identifier of those who profess to being part of the church much more than it is commentary on whoever make up the pool of non-believers.

Now I’m rambling.  What does it mean to be a “believer”?

7 thoughts on “Believer(s)

  1. A very interesting question. Could it be that the term “believer” is one that is over used in the church? When I seriously contemplate what it means to be a believer I feel that it must deal with a person completely buying into Jesus’ message.

    It’s one thing to believe that there is a God. It’s one thing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the savior to mankind; but it is an entirely other issue to say that you wholeheartedly believe in the words and message that Jesus spoke. Is life truly better if we love our enemies, but what if they don’t return the favor? What good does it do to turn the other cheek, when they will just slap that one too?

    Believer. Something definitely worth contemplating. Thanks Steve.

  2. I’ve always preferred “follower”.
    But then again, that word can even carry some negative connotations.

  3. But I honestly don’t think it matters in the end.

    It’s sort of like the conversation on what to call the meetings/services/gatherings/etc that we have at our churches/communities/groups/etc.

  4. Steve,

    Perhaps the word “believer” is not the issue, but rather what “being” a believer means.

    As a believer in Christ . . . I find that I more and more wish to live, act, preach, teach not for Jesus . . . but rather letting Jesus be seen in and through me.

    If I am a believer, don’t I then have a responsibility to live out what I believe about them? In matters of faith, I personally believe, as I get older and older, that this is very important.

    Believer, Disciple, Christian . . . perhaps actions speak louder than words or definitions???

    Call me naive . . . but as I read the Gospels for the 50th time in my life . . . Jesus seems to sharing that faith is not about titles . . . but rather about what change in our lives . . . not to make the world a better place . . . but to make it a “different” place.

  5. Opps . . . the line should have read . . . “If I am a believer, don’t I then have a responsibility to live out what I believe about who it is I believe in?”

    Well, maybe that wasn’t gramatically correct either.

  6. This very much what I was thinking with my post today as well.

    A couple thoughts:

    First, I am inclined to look to the gospels in regards to this matter. And when I look there I say Jesus calling people to believe, to follow, to change direction. I don’t see him calling people to a certain claims, etc.

    Second, when I look at Jesus I think the focus is on direction and becoming. Jesus calls people to move towards him – to follow, to leave other things behind. I think he is calling people to a journey – a process of becoming followers, of becoming believers.

    So I think it comes down to the notion of whether Jesus and his message compels us to follow/believe/change direction. And as we take the step to follow/believe/change direction, we are becoming Christians/believers/followers.

    Anyways, that’s what I’ve been thinking along these lines…

  7. I usually describe myself as a “committed” Christian, because Christian is a generic term that means little without some descriptives added. We can dance with the terms without ever coming up with a perfectly descriptive bit of language. My friend Karis eschews the term “Christian” altogether. My friend and mentor Scott insists on spelling it “christian” (deliberately sans capitalization) because it matters to him that what he means is an everyday, working theology. I like labels … I explain it as I like being able to at least locate people generally in metaphysical space, even if the labels don’t really contain exact coordinates. Gives me a sense of spiritual space and motion.

    What does it mean to be a Christian? Don’t knock the old, cliched, “just as I am” walk the aisle make a decision just because it may not be the be all and end all of conversion like we once thought … God meets us where we are and brings us over a lifetime to what Wesley called “Christian perfection.” For me that walk-the-aisle moment was not about black-and-white change but about deliberately deciding to own The Way.

    My dad could never quite pinpoint when he committed his life to Christ, but he never let that stop him from investing everything in faith in Him. My friend Petru, who is Eastern Orthodox, would find our Protestant insistence on individual decisions foreign … yet he remained faithful under Communism, and lives his faith through work in the orphanages of his county and country. My Church of Christ friends often view baptism as the litmus test of “saved” versus “lost” … and I can’t swallow that assertion but still wrestle with what does it mean to embody the faith … does a decision really mean anything until we embody it in the world with action, and is this what the Stone-Campbell movement was trying to say?

    As those of you who read my comments are all too familiar, I ramble. My main point is that we shouldn’t scoff at the simplicity of understanding that we once had, any more than we should scoff at our Church of Christ brethren that boil embodiment down to the baptismal waters, or our Orthodox or Catholic brethren for boiling the Christian life down to ritual and rule. Our simple understandings of life in Him were (AND ARE) part of what it means when we say you don’t have to make yourself better before He accepts you. It’s OK to paddle in the shallows while you’re learning to swim.

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