I've always believed in God. That belief has evolved throughout my life. I'll freely admit that my belief in God began with my parents.
As a child, you believe what your parents tell you is true. 'Eating too many sweets will damage your teeth,' "You have to look before you cross the road,' 'God loves you.' As you grow up, you begin to ask questions of your own, and belief shifts from being purely what has been taught to include what you yourself have explored and discovered. My belief in God became firm when I experienced him for myself. Then it was no longer based upon what my parents or even my church had told me; I knew it to be true because I had experienced God for myself.
Recently I've been asking some questions about the concept of belief in God, particularly in relation to discipleship. What if there's more to it?
Mark's gospel presents Jesus' opening line for his ministry as, 'The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!' (Mark 1:15).
The most famous verse in the Bible says, '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 3:16).
Belief is clearly a key component of discipleship, but as I've considered my own journey I've become increasingly convinced that discipleship is not primarily about being 'a believer'. Belief is certainly the starting point, and an important one at that. I suppose the question I've been grappling with is this: is it enough to simply say, 'I believe in God'?
A simple question, but it's something I have been asked about plenty of times. When people find out that I'm a pastor, they often respond with something like, 'Oh, so you believe in God then?' My immediate response is 'Yes, but there's more to it than that.'
A lot of people believe in God, or a God. The difference for a Christian is that our belief leads us to live different lives. James writes, 'You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.' It's clear that our belief in God can't simply be about his existence, or it isn't all that different from the demons'!
As I've spent time thinking about this, I've begun to change my language slightly. I no longer call myself 'a believer' – although I still am one – but I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus.
Why is this important? For me it's quite simple. I have dedicated my life to discipleship, which means following Jesus, becoming more like him and being active on his mission in this world. My discipleship began on the basis of my belief in him. I firmly believe that Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead are the only means by which we have received salvation and a restored relationship with God (Romans 10:9, for example). As a result of that, I have surrendered my life to him, choosing to live life the Jesus way, not the Jack way.
If someone says they believe but nothing in their life changes, what is it they have believed? Equally, if belief is the end point then we might as well go straight to heaven as soon as we have believed. Belief is our starting point, leading us to a new way of life.
In Jesus' opening statement from Mark 1, the two words he uses are 'repent' and 'believe'. To repent means to change your life. It's an all-encompassing shift in thinking and behaviour as a result of belief in Jesus. That's why, upon meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus repaid everything he had stolen four times over. It's why Paul dedicated his life to preaching the very gospel he had previously tried to destroy.
If you're a follower of Jesus, you are his disciple. You have believed that he died and was raised to life for you. You have repented from your old way of living and chosen to live your life his way.
Rev Jack Skett is associate pastor at Encounter Church, Selly Oak. He is the author of 'A Better Kind of Intimacy: The Price of Porn and How to Overcome It', published by Instant Apostle. Follow him on Twitter @jackskett. He also blogs on his website, jackskett.co.uk