What does the word believe mean? Well, it all depends on the context. Throughout the book of Acts, believe is an encompassing term that describes converts to Christ. However, James will use the word believe to mean a fruitless understanding that God is real, or God is all powerful. In this article we will cover two passages in which Luke uses the word to describe the action of being converted.
In Acts 2, Peter delivers a sermon on Pentecost proving that Jesus is the Lord and Christ, the Messiah. The people are cut to the heart. They asked Peter what they should do with their guilt. Peter responds: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v,38). Luke then says that many of the people obeyed: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (v.41). Luke goes on to describe these people as “all who believed.”
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need…And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)
Here you have three different terms: those who were baptized, those who believed, and those who were being saved. Is this the same group of people? Or did Luke mean that there was a group of people that were baptized, a different group that believed, and a different group that was saved? A simple reading of Acts 2 would help us understand that those who were baptized, believed, and saved were all the same group of people! This Philippian jailor’s family can be used as a similar example.
“So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” (Acts 16:31-34)
When the jailor was told to believe to be saved, he did not just say, “Okay, I believe” and then was struck with salvation. He did not have the feeling of belief and was saved. His belief drove him to act the same as the converts did in Acts 2. He heard the word of the Lord. He took Paul and Silas and washed their stripes. Clearly he had a change of heart– repentance. Then immediately he was baptized. Afterward, they went home and ate, rejoicing because he had believed. Luke used the word believe to encompass the appeal to God for salvation. If one truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, then he will be baptized into Christ, being added to the church by Christ, entering the saved body of Christ.
— Andrew Smith