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NAMES DESIGNATING THE CHURCH AND ITS MEMBERS: 2. BELIEVER
by Philip Owen

             One of the simplest, yet most profound, names designating members of the real church of God is that of “believer.”  In the Authorized Version, the word is translated twice (both in the plural) as believers (Acts 5:14, I Tim. 4:12) and once as the faithful (Eph. 1:1).  However, a form of the word occurs in various nominative clauses, such as, “them that believe,” and “you that believe.”

            A simple designation.  On its face, the term believer is remarkably simple and straightforward.   Ask the average person to define a Methodist, a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, or a Unitarian Universalist (or any other denomination, for that matter), and the result will probably be a furrowed brow and a scratched head—even from an adherent to one of those denominations.  Ask that same person to define a believer and the answer is likely to be something like “someone who has faith,” “a Christian,” “someone who believes in Christ or in God.”  Although those definitions may be incomplete, open to interpretation, or otherwise inadequate, they do indicate that the term conveys an immediate message that is simple for most people to grasp on some level.

            A profound designation.  We recognize immediately that to have faith and to believe are synonymous concepts (in Greek they derive from the same root).  A believer, then, in New Testament terms, is someone who has genuine faith in Christ.  Properly understood, eradicating all denominational distinctions and doctrinal peculiarities, the term believer pierces right to the heart of Christianity:  the fundamental truth is that “by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  One who is a genuine believer and claims that title gives immediate testimony to the fact that he is not resting on his own merit—“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Tit. 3:5)—but on the work and merit of another—“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (II Cor. 4:5).  To be truly identified as a believer is to acknowledge that salvation is God’s work in Christ, that salvation is not the product of human effort, whether that effort involves good works, church membership, the keeping of ordinances or sacraments, or any combination of those and any other human efforts.  Simply stated, the name believer declares that salvation is a by-faith proposition apart from human works or human merit.

            But that the same Greek word might be translated just as accurately as “[the] faithful” suggests the other side of Christianity.  On the one hand, salvation is by faith alone.  On the other hand, the one who is truly saved, the believer, is faithful.  He perseveres.  He continues to the end.  His faith remains steadfast.  His hope continues to rest in Christ alone.  Moreover, he himself is faithful.  He “grow[s] in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18).  The “word of Christ dwell[s]” in him “richly” (Col. 3:16).  He adds to his faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, to temperance patience, to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity (see II Pet. 1:5-7).  In other words, to take the name of believer is not only to look back to the finished work of Christ in purchasing our salvation but to look forward to continue in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).  It declares that, because our salvation is all by Christ, He will be all to us and that, because He gave His all to redeem us, we will give our all to serve Him.  It is no small thing to be able to claim that name because we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves:  “it is the gift of God:  Not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).      

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