If I can show that somebody in the New Testament “believed on Christ” and was not saved, I will have shown that “believing on Christ” is not all that stands between the sinner and salvation.
In John 12:42-43, the Bible says, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers many also believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” I don’t believe anybody thinks that these people were saved. They refused to confess Christ: they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Yet they “believed on Christ.” This is the very same expression found in Scriptures like John 3:16, 3:36; Acts 16:31, and many more. These rulers “believed on Christ,” but they were not saved. Yet Jesus said in many places, that they who “believe on him” shall have eternal life. I can hear someone say, “Yes, but these rulers didn’t have ‘saving faith.'” I agree. And that is the point and purpose: to show the difference between the faith that saves, and the faith that does not save. The rulers in John 12 are not the only ones in the New Testament who believed and were not saved.
In Acts 2, Peter preached to an assembly of Jews who did not believe in Christ. Beginning in verse 22, he made a three-fold argument on the Deity of Christ. Then the apostle summed it all up in verse 36 and reached this conclusion: “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly” (believe with confidence, L.B.) “that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The sermon had its desired effect. The next verse says, “Now when they heard this they were pricked in their hearts and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, men and brethren what shall we do?” They were convinced that the man they had caused to be crucified was truly the Son of God. They BELIEVED! But were they saved? Not unless one can be saved without repentance! Not unless they were saved without having their “remission of sins!” Their question, “What must we do?” brought this answer: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Here are some people who believed and were not saved. Not yet. Why? Because their faith was not yet obedient faith.
Some others who believed, and were not saved when they believed, are found in Acts 11:21. “And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed and turned to the Lord:” Notice, they believed AND turned to the Lord. They believed before they turned to the Lord. If they were saved the moment they believed, they were saved before they turned to the Lord. But nobody, I hope, believes that one can be saved before he turns to the Lord.
Another unsaved believer was Saul of Tarsus-at one point, that is. Saul is a fine example of a man who was doing what he believed was right, but who was sinning in doing it. He was on his way to Damascus to carry out a wicked mission, persecuting God’s people, the church. As he journeyed, he saw a light from heaven; he fell to the earth; he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And he said, Who are you Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute. .. and he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what you must do” (Acts 9:4-6). Notice that the Lord told Saul to go into the city (Damascus) and there it would be told him what he MUST do. Watch what he was told to do. The Lord sent Ananias to him in the city. When Ananias came to Saul, he told him to “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Let me explain here that the conversion of Saul is told in three chapters, Acts 9, 22, and 26. You have to read all three to get all the facts. It is in chapter 22 that we have what Ananias told Saul to do. “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins . . . .” But Saul was a believer before he was told this. He saw the Lord (1 Cor. 15:8). He heard Him speak; he heard Him say, “I am Jesus whom you persecute.” If there is anyone who thinks that Saul had not yet believed, I wouldn’t know how to teach him anything. Yes, Saul was a believer, but not a saved believer — unless he was saved before his sins were washed away; unless he could be saved without doing what the Lord told him he MUST do. No, the water didn’t wash away his sins. The blood is the only thing that will do that. But the blood does not wash away the sins until one is “baptized into the death of Christ.” It was in death that Jesus shed His blood (Jn. 19:34). We are “baptized into his death” (Rom. 6:3). That is why baptism is used here in connection with the “washing away of sins.” That is why Saul was not saved until he was baptized. He was until he was baptized, an “UNSAVED BELIEVER.”