When we first read this question, it is likely that a fairly strong answer will go off in our minds. Some might say that we must have a full knowledge and confidence of Jesus in order to truly believe. John 3:18 says that those who do not believe are condemned already.
Most of Christianity and the differences between the traditions surrounds this very question. One version says you just need to be in church and your good. Others wind it so tight that are certain that many who claim to follow Christ are not even “real” Christians. Each church has what it believes is the secret sauce.
One sees belief as wide and inclusive, another sees it as narrow and exclusive. Both have scripture to back up their case.
This points to the problem of dualistic thinking. Modern thinkers are black and white, on or off, good or bad, in or out. Gray areas become confusing. But perhaps the biggest issue is that gray areas make it hard to have unity within a group. Thus churches like to create “position papers” to outline their stance on things. It keeps order among the masses, but it’s really just preference.
The beauty is that believing is on a continuum. It is a spectrum that is as narrow as Jesus and it is as wide as the universe. The rich young ruler in Luke 18:18 was so proud of his belief and was met face to face with unbelievable narrowness. While the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3 was met with the most inclusive welcome despite her lack of belief and despite what the religious establishment had already determined.
What if we are only asked to live in conformity to the faith we possess? No more. No less. It is not about whether we are able to make it over some externally imposed threshold of belief. It is whether we are honest enough with ourselves to believe at some level at all.
When I coach people, I often have to show them the defeater beliefs that they possess and which limit their progress in life. Most have no idea about them until pointed out. Likewise, it is also possible to have a vague, yet sincere belief that the love of God will do the right thing, even if one has never put much thought around it.
Belief is not dualistic. It is not present or absent, strong or weak, hot or cold. True belief resolves itself into a much higher third perspective because it is the only possible response to God’s fullness and completeness, from which we all receive grace upon grace. (John 1:16)