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What Does It Mean to Believe? 4 Biblical Stages of Belief

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Did you know there are different levels of belief? Learn the four stages of belief and where you fall through the litmus test Jesus gave us.


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In the gospel of John, the word “believe” (Pisteuo in Greek) is used 99 times. For example, John 20:31 says, “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Through his use of the word over 99 times, the gospel shows how multi-faceted the meaning can be. Loosely grouped, to “believe” displays whether something—an idea or person— has been understood, accepted, received into the heart and then has come to place confidence in the object of belief. These different stages of belief and their requisite products can most easily be illustrated in the parable Jesus tells about the four types of soil repeated in Mathew, Mark and Luke.

Stage 1: The word is heard but not understood, therefore it is not believed.

Luke 8:5 says, “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed some fell by the road and it was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air ate it up.” Mathew 13:19 says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it…”

Significance: This is the basic stage of humanity—unbelief. A person at this level doesn’t understand what they’re hearing when they encounter the gospel. Mathew 13:14 reminds us of Isaiah’s prophesy,  “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing but will not perceive.” Mathew goes on to say this reaction to the gospel is because the hearts of people have become dull. Their ears scarcely hear, eyes scarcely see. But if they return to Him, He will heal them (Mt. 13:15).

Stage 2: The message was understood but before it can produce fruit, the belief is abandoned.

Luke 8:6 says, “Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.” Mathew 13:20 describes the rocky soil as people having no roots and falling away once persecution arises. This can be linked to Jesus admonishing a crowd in John 5:44, “How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” In John 12:42-43 we see this again, “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

Significance: Category two is a shallow, fledgling belief that cannot withstand the opinion of others. It seeks to please people instead of God. When we seek the approval of men over the glory of God pouring into our lives we will dry up. If we truly believe in Jesus, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

Stage 3: Those who initially believed fall away over concerns about the world and money.

Luke 8:8 says, “Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.” Mathew 13:22 adds, “this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

Significance: This is misplaced confidence—the deceitfulness of money.  It’s an interesting term, which denotes not simply lack, but the influence of money to contort situations, even abundance. Matthew 16:26 shouts, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?” Money influences. When we need it, desperation can turn us to the Lord or it can lead us to meet our needs outside His will. Whether in lack or abundance, let us put our confidence in the Lord for wisdom. Let Him teach us how to trust that He will provide what we need as well as to steward abundance when it comes.

Stage 4: True belief creates an abundant crop of goodness in life.

Luke 8:8 says, “Other seed fell into good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” Here are those who receive the word, like the soil receives a seed; these people put their trust and confidence in Christ. The soil of their hearts is unfettered with rivals, and they will walk out what Jesus said in John 14:12. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

Significance: John spells out a multitude of wonderful benefits of walking with the Lord in true belief such as eternal life, not remaining in darkness, continuing in the word and freedom. We see that those who believe will show love, faith, and purity, works and obedience, rejoicing and being one of heart with other believers.

This final stage of belief means entrusting oneself to Christ, and must come through the first two stages of both hearing and understanding, as well as accepting it as truth. To believe is to entrust. When we do that fully, we will continue to go from glory to glory with Him.