Believing is not what you think
To really appreciate the concept of believing, we must look at the Hebrew Scriptures before returning to the New Testament.
First, let me explain that “believe” in the NT is only one Greek word (pistis), which has been translated 3 different ways – believe, faith, trust. Does this give you a clue that believing is not a simple action?
So, what is the Hebrew equivalent? Hebrew uses one word whose verbal root is aman. However, let me give you a note of caution. Aman can only be understood in the context of a verse because it conveys different nuances of meaning. Furthermore, there is a second Hebrew word that follows the action of believing and that is batach, which is usually translated “trust.”
Never, from my study of the Hebrew Scriptures, do I find God instructing the children of Israel to believe in Him. They are to believe in His works (creation and miracles), and in His words (in the Word of God). So, what do we find in His works and His words? We find His goodness and His promises. Therefore, the emphasis for the people of Israel is on “knowing” their God so they can serve Him.
I suggest that the children of Israel did not have to “believe” in God because they already knew they belonged to Him. The Hebrew Scriptures are quite clear on this point. God is the Father of Israel (Dt 32:6), and they are His firstborn son (Ex 4:22). So, the people of Israel didn’t have to “believe” in God to be “saved.” The focus of “believing” in the Hebrew Scriptures is to know God, to come into His presence, and to serve Him.
“What about believing in God’s son?” Certainly Gentiles (those who are not Jews) must believe in God’s son in order to come into the family of God. However, Isaiah answers our question with prophetic words that offer believers in Yeshua a deeper understanding of believing.
Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.” Isa 28:16
This prophecy has been fulfilled. The cornerstone is Yeshua, the Messiah, the son of God. In the context of this verse, believing in Yeshua does not “save” us, but prevents us from being “disturbed.” This is not eternal life, but a walk of sanctification. The Hebrew word “disturbed” literally means to hurry or make haste. However, its metaphorical meaning refers to an inward feeling of being unsettled. When we believe in Yeshua, we are at peace with power to serve and work the works of God.
If we understand “believing” in the Hebrew Scriptures, and apply it to Yeshua and the New Testament, we have complete confidence that we belong to God (that is, we know we will be “saved” at some time in the future). However, our focus now is to make Yeshua the cornerstone of our lives, to obey and serve him, and together with Yeshua our Master we can do the works of God.