If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9
For many non-practicing self proclaimed Christians and so called "believers" out there, it is these two passages and others like them that have led to a great deal of confusion regarding salvation. It's passages like these that have led many to believe that they are automatically going to heaven because they believe in God. What they fail to understand mostly due to a lack of knowledge regarding what the scriptures say about salvation is that it is not as simple as it seems. For instance there are many in my family who claim to believe in God but they live their lives no different than the rest of us. Many claim to have Jesus in their hearts and assure themselves that although they may not be living according to God's ways that the Lord "knows what's in their heart."
The United States is considered a Christian nation not because of it having been founded on Christian principles as some believe, but because of the influence that Christianity has had on this nation as a whole. There are many here who claim to be Christians but have never read the Bible nor set foot in a church a day in their lives. These are for the most part the ones that have inherited mom and pops religion as I like to refer to it. They believe not because they have had an encounter with the Lord or committed their lives to their faith. They believe because they were told from a very young age that there was a God that created all things great and small. Unlike the Santa myth the God myth is not taken away or exposed as false, but rather it continues to be reinforced in them well into adulthood to the point where it becomes second nature to believe.
If non-practicing believers are brought up in a household where their parents are either non-practicing believers or it's opposite they obtain these influences in their own conception of belief. The former will believe like many that just believing in God is the default position and that it is not rational to question that. The latter will believe with much more commitment and zeal and will try to live a life that he or she thinks will be pleasing to the Lord. Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Christians, and Islamist are criticized often for being too extreme but in reality this is what the scriptures actually require.
I considered myself a fundamentalist Christian to the extreme. My daily routine consisted of praying to the Lord the moment I opened my eyes in the morning. I believed deep in my heart that I was speaking to the Lord and that he lived in me through his Holy Spirit. I considered my body his temple and I worshiped him with all my heart, mind, and soul. I preached on the streets on Saturday's and Sunday's every weekend without fail. I made house calls and visited the sick at the hospitals upon request from members or friends of the church. I was always evangelizing hoping to convert and lead to salvation yet another soul to Christ. I was part of a deliverance ministry which consisted of my friend and ministry partner at the time. He preached in Spanish at times and I preached in English or Spanish when required. Contrary to what some may believe I did what I did because I believed in what I was doing. The fear of hell or the glory of eternal reward was the furthest from my mind.
You see Christianity for me was not about just saying how much I loved the Lord or simply going to church to socialize and do nothing. Christianity was for me in those day a way of life. I tried to live the gospel to the best of my ability. Although, I knew that this was impossible I had to try to be more Christ like every minute and every moment of my waking life. I guarded my tongue and my thoughts very carefully. I asked for forgiveness when I offended or felt that I had done something offensive to the Lord. My time as a believer was a life changing experience in that I not only read and professed the gospel as true; I lived it!
19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:19
Many people here in the states have been led to believe that it's not what you do but what you believe that will eventually lead to your salvation. But that is clearly not true. As in the O.T. the N.T. requires that you separate yourself from the "world" and live in the light according to God's will. If you were to conduct a survey for instance you will find that a majority of the shadiest people in the city believe in the Christian God in one way or the other. Drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, thieves etc. all claim that they believe in God. Some of them go out to commit their folly while wearing a crucifix around their necks, carrying a rosary, or even sporting a religious tattoo! The irony of it all is that they Seek God's protection while they go out to commit their crimes against innocent unsuspecting passersby.
A very nice Jesus tattoo!
People like the ones being described rationalize their behavior by insisting that they do what they do because they have no choice and that God sees and knows this and thus will forgive them. I'm here to state for the record that believing is not enough! If you are not living the life that the Lord requires of you then hell awaits you of unfaithful and hypocritical believer. Of course I don't believe in God nor hell anymore but I am pointing out what you as believers should know.
20You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. James 2:20-24
This is what Jesus meant when he mentioned that false prophets would be recognized by their fruits. You as a believer are supposed to be a living example of the gospel. Your life is supposed to illustrate what you preach. Otherwise you are being a hypocrite by claiming to be something that you are not. Jesus life as narrated in the scriptures is the prime example that all those claiming to be believers should be following.
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
According to this passage they were seemingly believers. They prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles. Yet Jesus will claim to have never knew them! This is not hard to understand, could it be because they were living double lives? On the pulpit or in their public life they gave a semblance of piety and holiness but behind closed doors they were no different than you average nonbeliever. Living their lives as if God did not exist. In other words they were being hypocrites!
14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 7:21-23
14“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
This is why I tend to call many Christians I run into hypocrites. It's because if you are not practicing what you are preaching you are not being true to yourself and your commitment to the Lord. It's good to believe but it's simply not enough. If it were so, then everyone would be saved and there would be no point in rejecting this belief, living as you please, and being rewarded for it. This is the one and only circumstance where Pascal's wager would be absolutely right!
Note: All biblical citations are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures