Many Christians, especially newly converted Christians, think that salvation comes by merely believing in Jesus Christ and being baptized. And that's it. It's a one time event, and then one is done: even worse, some think what you do in life is of no account. But is this true? Is this what scripture teaches? The answer is a definite no: for the word translated as "belief" is more accurately translated as "faith," and faith is not a mere belief in factual knowledge but rather, it is living by the truth, which is turning away from sin and in doing charity to others or being useful in life.
There are some verses that do in fact seem to teach the above teaching, but one has to also ignore a host of other scripture that teaches against belief alone. Jesus spoke very strongly against those who were in a religion of belief alone, or those who heard His words, and did not do them:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matt. 7:24-27)And it gets worse: Jesus said those who just say "Lord, Lord" and pray and yet live an evil life will be condemned (Matt. 7:22-23, 25:31-46). You cannot just believe and live an evil life, without considering your sins. For all will be judged according to their works (Matt. 16:27, Rom. 2:6, Rev. 22:12). And we are talking here about the works of charity, or the effects of doing from good intent, and the work of turning against evil - NOT the external works of the Mosaic ritual law which is what Paul focused on in his letters to the early church.
There are a few passages that seem to confirm that all one has to do is believe to be saved. So lets take a look at them. The first comes from Mark:
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Matt. 16:16)So how do we reconcile this passage with what Jesus said earlier? The issue here is that this verse is not just mentioning baptism by water: baptism by water is merely an external ritual that in itself does nothing. What it is talking about is spiritual baptism: dying to your old self and beginning a new life, which is effected by repentance, or turning away from sin, and doing what God commanded. Baptism signifies a washing away by the truth, for it is from truth that we know that we should fight against sin and turn away from it. That we are not talking about mere water baptism, but a spiritual baptism, we know from the gospel of Mark itself:
I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8)For when we turn away from sin, putting our trust in Jesus Christ, He fills our heart with the Holy Spirit. That Mark is talking about spiritual baptism, which is spiritual regeneration by turning away from evil, we know from this when James and John asked that they sit at his left and right hand in the kingdom:
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:38-40)Obviously Jesus is speaking figuratively. To drink the cup is to experience temptation, which we can see in Jesus' prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane:
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)To be baptized is to undergo spiritual regeneration by turning away from sin after having been tempted, through which we receive the Holy Spirit. This is done through Jesus who experienced the most severest of temptations from all of hell. And note that to sit with Jesus is not something Jesus can just give to those who want it: it is given to those who live a life of service and charity, which Jesus explains in the verses following (see Mark 10:41-45). So is salvation a "free gift"? No, not according to Jesus. We have to undergo temptation ("drink the cup"), turn away from evil ("be baptized"), and live by His commandments in charity and usefulness (be a servant).
There are several other verses that mention "belief" as necessary for salvation or eternal life, all from the gospel of John: John 3:12,15-16,18,36; 6:40,47; 8:24, 11:25-26. The word "belief" here is not mere belief, the exact same word can be translated as "faith" which is to live by the truth: by repentance with utter focus on Jesus to work through us, and to do what He said. This is what "believing the Son" means, it is not mere factual knowledge of the memory. We know it is not mere belief, for Jesus Himself asks:
Who then is that faithful and wise steward? (Luke 12:42)The word "faithful" comes from the same root word that is translated as "belief." The one that is faithful is the one who does according to what Jesus says, which is described in the parable that follows the question (see Luke 12:42-48). We also know that Jesus considered "belief", or more accurately "faith" - is to do God's will, from the parable of the two sons (see Matt. 21:28-32).
The one who believes, and yet does not put the words into practice in one's life, is compared to a plant that grows from seed in rocky soil quickly, but withers away when the hardship of temptation comes:
The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. (Luke 8:13)To have no root is to not apply the Word to one's life, that is being "rooted" in the Word. Whereas the ones who received the Word, and live by it, are the ones that grow and bear fruit (Luke 8:15).
So can someone claim to follow Jesus, and yet lie, commit adultery, and steal? Is that what Jesus taught? No, and you have been taught this, someone is lying to you. If you claim to follow Jesus, read the scriptures and follow what Jesus said.
"Knowing is not believing, and that believing is internal; and that it cannot be given except in affection for good and truth, and accordingly to none but those who are in the good of charity toward the neighbor." (Heavenly Arcana, 4319.2)
"A man's life after death is the life of his love and the life of his faith. Hence such as his love and such as his faith had been when he lived in the world, such is the life that awaits him for eternity. It is the life of hell to those who have loved themselves and the world above all things, and the life of heaven to those who have loved God above all things, and the neighbor as themselves. The latter are those who have faith, but the former are those who have not faith." (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrines, n. 227)