Chapter 1 of Saving Faith

Believe in Him

by Bernie Koerselman

 Table of Contents

Believe I Am the One I Claim to Be
A Heresy Which Teaches the Wrong Him
Titles Claimed by Jesus
This Heresy Is Within the Evangelical Protestant Church
Reasons for the Heresy
    Satisfies Needs to Feel Good
    Seems Seeker-Friendly
    It Sounds Right
Peter Prophesied About This Heresy
    The Heresy Is Destructive
    The Heresy Denies the Lord
    Many Will Follow the Heresy
Does God's Repetition Have Meaning?
    God's Repetition
Two-Thirds of New Testament Books Don't Mention "Savior"
Not a Semantic Difference
    A Different Jesus; a Wrong Response


You talked with the appointment secretary.  She assured you that you didn't need an appointment, that Jim Abbott would be in on Wednesday afternoon.  She said, "Just come in and ask for Jim."

Wednesday afternoon you arrived at the office, introduced yourself to the receptionist, and asked to see Jim.  The receptionist called, a secretary came out and took you to see Jim – Jim Jamison.

What happened?  You did as the appointment secretary told you to do, you asked for Jim, but you saw the wrong "Jim."

That's what is happening in many of our churches.  People come to find the Jesus in whom they can believe to have salvation.  Instead, the church tells them about another Jesus.

That's what happened to me.  The church people didn't deliberately mislead me; they didn't intentionally take me to the wrong Jesus.  They just didn't lead me to the Jesus of Scripture.  Only through personal Bible study did I discover and receive the Jesus revealed in Scripture.  Then the Holy Spirit flooded me with the fruit of the Spirit.

 Believe I Am the One I Claim to Be

You may ask, "Is it possible to believe in a `wrong' Jesus?"  Yes, indeed!  Jesus warned about such a danger when he said,
"I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."1
To respond to Jesus' warning, we must do two things.  The first is to make sure we know who Jesus claimed to be.  I'll show you who in this section of the book.  The second is to believe that he is who he claimed to be.  That part is up to you.2

In this section of the book, we're looking at the phrase, "believe in him," with the emphasis on learning who the "him" of the phrase really is.  The phrase, believe in him, is often connected with salvation.3  Those who correctly believe in him are the ones who have salvation.  But we can't believe correctly if we believe in the wrong him.

 A Heresy Which Teaches the Wrong Him

Please answer each of the following two statements with true or false.  The first:  If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you will have eternal life.  The second: If you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, you will have eternal life.

What was your answer?  When I pose those statements to people, most believe they are true.  Both are false.  As to the first one, as we will see, there is no statement in all of Scripture that comes close to saying there is salvation for anyone by believing in Jesus as Savior.The second is also false, but is even further from the truth because it refers to believing in something he did, not in him.

 Titles Claimed by Jesus

Jesus claimed to be Lord, the Christ, the Son of Man, Teacher, King, Master, and the Son of God.  The titles Lord,5 Christ,6 and Son of God7 satisfy the definition of "him" in the phrase "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  Each of these three titles is important and different and yet all incorporate strikingly similar descriptions of Jesus – the characteristics of Jesus that God wants us to know and trust as we have faith in him for our salvation.

This Heresy Is Within the Evangelical Protestant Church

Perhaps the greatest surprise to me is that the heresy8 exists within much of the traditional and evangelical Protestant Church today.  The danger is great because it seems to have gone unnoticed by most; only a few seem aware of the difference in the teaching about Jesus that has permeated the church.  Even fewer seem willing to come forward to expose this heresy.

 Reasons for the Heresy

Why does this heresy remain hidden?  There are perhaps many reasons but four come quickly to mind.


The first is the great wave of ecumenism.9  Christian unity is something to be sought so long as the Gospel remains pure, but it is to be condemned in the strongest terms10 if unity results in perversion of the Gospel.  The movement seems to say that no matter what you believe, we can be one; it's more important that we be one than to expose false teaching.  What a dangerous statement!11


The second reason is the great movement toward relativism.  The common phrase is, "Everything is relative."  I recently heard that, according to a poll, over 60% of "Christians" agree that everything is relative.  That's an oxymoron.12  Christians have unchanging values; they believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.13  The relativism mindset seems to say that you can believe in Jesus your way and I can believe in Jesus my way and each is fine, whatever way that is.  After all, everything is relative; all religions lead to God.14  How contrary to Jesus' claim: "I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."15

Satisfies Needs to Feel Good

The third is that the heresy satisfies the stated need of many who attend our churches today – to find personal fulfillment.  The heresy makes them feel good;16 it's easy.

The goal of biblical Christianity is not to satisfy self.  On the contrary, Scripture says that those who desire to believe in him and be saved must die to self.17

Seems Seeker-Friendly

The fourth is the desire to make the church seeker-friendly.  There is a great effort not to turn off the unbeliever who is seeking to know something about God.

Some are embarrassed about the strength of the gospel as presented in Scripture.  Many water the gospel down, believing that makes it more attractive.  To those who believe Scripture is too harsh for the unbeliever, to those who water it down, Jesus said, "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."18  When the gospel was shared fully,19 not watered down, the church spread in the face of persecution and was known for its power, not its words.20

It Sounds Right

One of the greatest dangers of the heresy is that it sounds right to many people who are not well-read in Scripture.  You may often hear the statement in your church or from a televangelist, "If you accept Jesus as your personal Savior, you will have eternal life."  To many people that sounds right.  Yes, it sounds right, but it is false!  Nowhere in Scripture can that statement, or anything like it, be found.

The danger is compounded because we hear this heresy coming from highly regarded preachers and teachers in the Christian community.  I believe they wouldn't deliberately mislead us.  But preachers sometimes seem to place more trust in what they learn in their seminaries than they do in the clear and obvious teachings of Scripture.  Some seminaries have been teaching this heresy as truth for generations.  Another likely possibility is that some preachers and teachers have simply become careless in their language.  I suspect their carelessness causes great joy in the powers and principalities of darkness and much sorrow in the Kingdom of God.

 Peter Prophesied About This Heresy

This book will unmask a heresy that seeks to have us believe in the wrong Jesus.  Such heresies are not new.  Even in the days of the apostles, efforts were made to pervert the Gospel by teaching a different Jesus.21

But we're concerned about a present-day heresy.  Peter prophesied about a future time when there will be false teachers who will secretly introduce destructive heresies which even deny the sovereign Lord who bought them.22  Peter warned that many will follow their shameful ways and bring the truth into disrepute.23

Peter's prophecy is fulfilled in our time.  The Mormons are one of the fastest growing sects in the world.  The Jehovah's Witnesses are growing rapidly.  The Roman Catholic Church continues to gain ground.  All present Jesus, but a different Jesus than is presented in Scripture.24  All fulfill Peter's prophecy of false teachers denying the Sovereign Lord who bought them.  And now an even more dangerous heresy is in traditional and evangelical Protestantism.

The Heresy Is Destructive

The most destructive fact about the heresy is that it gives a false assurance of salvation to millions.  Consider the multitudes who believe that they have salvation because they "believe in Jesus as their Savior" or because they "believe that Jesus died for their sins on the cross."25

The destruction of the church, as a body, is also severe.  When I hear of a notable Christian falling in a way that brings disrepute to the body of Christ, I suspect he really doesn't know or believe in the true Jesus of Scripture.  On a less well-known level are the millions of those who claim to be Christians but live like the world.

Also, within the church body, are additional destructive heresies which are added because of the first false belief.  It is the process of building on a lie; subsequent doctrines are necessarily false when the initial premise is false.  The second part of this book, "A Saving Faith," will expose some of those heresies.

The Heresy Denies the Lord

Peter's prophecy said such false teachers will deny the Lord.  The first section of this book will show how they are denying the Lord, how different it is from what the Bible teaches, and how it perfectly fulfills Peter's prophecy.  Chapters 2 and 5 will fully explain the important differences between the titles Lord and Savior.

Many Will Follow the Heresy

Peter prophesied that many will follow the heresy.  It is probable that the majority of churches teach this false doctrine today.  Peter said the false teachers will bring the truth into disrepute.  Haven't they done so?  Professing Christians are often indistinguishable from non-believers.  One of the first objections from nonbelievers about Christianity is that the church is full of hypocrites.

 Does God's Repetition Have Meaning?

Mom's exasperation is apparent as she glares at her son, "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times.  If you're ever going to amount to anything you've got to study!"

From her comment, it is obvious that mom has given her son the same message on innumerable occasions.  From her language, she deems it important to get the message across to her son, even if she sounds like a nag.

Think of the use of repetition.  If you tell someone something over and over (as that mom did to her son) you're probably trying to make an important point.  On the other hand, if you mention something only once or twice, likely the subject isn't nearly as important to you.

The same principle applies in Scripture.  You and I may repeat something out of habit or anger or impatience.  God isn't subject to our frailties.  When God repeats something, do you think he has a special purpose in mind?  Do you suppose he especially wants us to understand what he repeats?  God gives us multiple opportunities so that we truly will be without excuse if we fail to obey.

Why not jot down the three titles of Jesus you think God used when he told us how to be saved.  He used only three.

God's Repetition

Let's look at God's use of repetition with reference to the principal titles God gave Jesus.26  See page 288 for a breakdown book by book of several titles of Jesus in the New Testament.

The titles God gave Jesus in the Bible show the roles in which God wants us to know Jesus.  There are eleven principal titles: Lord, Christ, Son of Man, Teacher, Son of God, King, Lamb, Savior, Prophet, Master, and High Priest.

As we look at the frequency with which they are used, let's ask ourselves whether God's repetition is intentional.  The following shows the number of times each title is used of Jesus in the New Testament:

618 times as Lord27
543 times as Christ28
84 times as Son of Man29
42 times as Teacher30
37 times as Son of God31
35 times as King
32 times as Lamb
15 times as Savior32
15 times as Prophet33
11 times as Master34
7 times as High Priest35

Do those numbers surprise you?  They did me.  What an enormous difference in the times of usage of the various titles!  Does God intend special truths from his repetition?

As we come to understand those truths, the falsity of the heresy will become obvious.  As you look at the frequency of the titles used to describe Jesus, is there any question in your mind that two of the titles assume an almost overwhelming importance?  We'll see why in chapters 2 and 3.

 Two-Thirds of New Testament Books Don't Mention "Savior"

Even more convincing to me are the number of books in the New Testament that have no mention of Jesus as Savior.  Eighteen books (two-thirds) in the New Testament don't use the title Savior for Jesus.  Two of the four gospels don't, neither does Romans or Colossians (the theological books of the New Testament), 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, nor 1 Timothy.  Galatians does not, neither does Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude nor Revelation.

Is it conceivable that if salvation could be found by accepting (or believing or receiving or having faith in) Jesus as Savior in order to have salvation, that God would have omitted that title of Jesus from most of the New Testament?  Or that God would have used the title Lord thirty-eight times as often, or Christ more than thirty-three times as often as the title Savior?  Or that God would use other titles, such as Son of Man, Teacher, Son of God, King, and Lamb, each more than twice as often as Savior if our salvation is supposed to be in Jesus as Savior?  The resounding answer must be:  No!  It isn't conceivable.

I believe that every word used in Scripture was purposefully intended to be exactly that way by God.  If you agree, then, even without additional evidence, the minimal use of the title Savior should cause us to skeptically examine claims that salvation is obtained by believing in Jesus as Savior.

 Not a Semantic Difference

Today's heresy claims we are to believe in Jesus as Savior – a different role than Scripture requires – in order to have salvation.  Because Jesus is presented, many find it hard to quarrel with the false teaching.  Others say the difference is purely semantic, a mere difference in the choice of words. But that is false.  The difference is enormous as the next chapters will reveal.

A Different Jesus; a Wrong Response

Because Jesus is presented in a narrower role than God intends, those that accept the heresy often respond in a different manner than God intends.  They rightly respond to Jesus as Savior with gratitude but fail to also respond to Jesus as Lord with the obedience that comes from faith.36  Could that wrong response deny them salvation?   Chapters 6 (Jesus as Savior) and 7 (A Saving Faith) of What the Bible Says About a Saving Faith show Scripture's answer to that question.

1. John 8:24.
2. What if we die in our sins?  Jesus came to provide a means by which we can be cleansed from sin through his blood.  Our sin alienates us from God.  To be saved, before our death we must have forgiveness of our sins through his death on the cross.
3. John 3: 14-15: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:18: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
John 3:36: Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
John 6:40: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Jesus' statement is restated by John in his first letter: And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (I John 3:23).
John 11 :25-26: Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Other changes occur to those who believe in him. They will never be thirsty (John 6:35), streams of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38), they are in the light (John 12:46), and their sins are forgiven (Acts 10:43).
4. It is important to make a distinction here, early in this writing. While the statement is false that one can "accept" Jesus as Savior and have salvation, that does not mean that all those people who use that phrase, or one similar, are not saved. On the contrary, many of my friends misuse that phrase, yet have lives that demonstrate that Jesus is their Lord. They are dedicated to him and have the evidence of the Spirit in their lives. Nevertheless, l believe there are millions that don't understand correctly, think they have salvation, and do not because they don't have a correct object of their faith.
5. John 13: 13, "You call me Teacher' and Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am."
6. Matthew 26:64. The High Priest asked Jesus to say whether he is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus responded, "Yes, it is as you say."
7. Matthew 26:64.
8. Heresy is the adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma or an opinion or doctrine contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs.
I am using the definition, "An opinion or doctrine contrary to the truth" - as revealed in Scripture. As the false doctrine is so widespread, if one uses the alternative meaning, "contrary to generally accepted beliefs," the truth of Scripture might be considered the heresy.
9. A movement toward or the promotion of worldwide Christian unity.
10. Galatians 1:6-9.
11. Paul found the Galatians accepting a false gospel. What did he tell them? "If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians I :9).
12. A statement in which two incompatible terms are used, making the meaning impossible or ludicrous.
13. Hebrews 13:8. See also Malachi 3:6: "I the LORD do not change."
14. All religions except Christianity lead to false gods. The Old Testament pointed to Jesus, but the Jews rejected their Messiah. As Jesus told the Pharisees, "You belong to your father, the devil" (John 8:44). Jews who deny their Christ, the Lord Jesus, follow their father the devil.
15. John 14:6.
16. 2 Timothy 4:3-4: For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
17. Luke 9:23-24: Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
Romans 6:6: For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.
Ephesians 4:22-24: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitud e of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
18. Mark 8:38. See also Luke 9:26. As if responding to Jesus' statement, Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile" (Romans 1: 16).
19. Paul stated, "I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:27).
20. Paul said, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power" (I Corinthians 4:20).
21. The Gnostics portrayed a different Jesus. They denied Christ's true humanity, some claiming that Jesus only appeared to have a body, others that the divine Christ joined the human Jesus at baptism and left him before he died. The Apostle John denounced the heresy of Gnosticism (I John 2:22, 4:2-3) and offered proof of its falsity
(l John 1:1).
22. 2 Peter 2:1
23. 2 Peter 2:2.
24. For example, see Kenneth Boa. Cults, World Religions and You. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1977, page 70 re Mormonism, page 77 re Jehovah's Witnesses.
25. We must see that these statements are not false in themselves. Jesus is our Savior. He did die as a sacrifice on the cross so our sins may be forgiven. The important distinction is that salvation is not obtained by believing as those statements say. The next three chapters will reveal the proper object of our faith.
26. Jesus is not a title; it is a given name. Many Jews had it prior to Jesus' life on earth. After his death and resurrection the name was little used. For Jews who didn't believe, it was a reproach, reminding them of the Jesus who was crucified, who claimed to be the Messiah. For Christians, the name was too holy to be used.
"Jesus" means "God saves." Some have said the name Jesus is equivalent to Jesus is Savior. To Jews, God (of "God saves") means God the Father. This was Paul's interpretation in I Corinthians 8:6 where he states, "For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."
27. There are many more occurrences of the Greek word Kurios from which the title Lord is translated. In context, the other uses mean "Sir," or "Master." The New International Version of the Bible differentiates between the meanings of Kurios. It lists 618 occurrences where the meaning is intended to be Lord.
28. The second most frequent title, Christ, is found 543 times in the New Testament. It is from the Greek word Messiah and means The Anointed One. In a later chapter, we'll see that it may mean any of three different subtitles.
29. Son of Man is the title Jesus used to describe himself. Only once is it used by another of Jesus; Stephen used it as he was being stoned. It has extraordinary importance as it is used in fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 7:13.
30. Teacher is a title that occurs only in the gospels.
31. Son of God is the fifth most frequent. It occurs 37 times in only 12 books of the New Testament.
32. Savior is the seventh, occurring only 15 times in the New Testament when applied to Jesus, appearing in only nine of the twenty-seven books. Nine times it refers to God the Father as Savior.
33. Prophet occurs only in the gospels and the book of Acts.
34. Master is used 39 times by Jesus in his teaching and parables in which he, arguably, is the master.
35. All seven occurrences are in the book of Hebrews.
36. Romans 1:5. This is not to suggest that the person responding to Jesus as Lord does not feel gratitude to Jesus. On the contrary, because such a person is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, he likely feels far more real gratitude than the other person, having an even greater grasp of the grace of God expressed through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.