What Is Saving Faith?
"These are the signs, these are the signs of life, The love that proves there is a living faith inside..." -Steven Curtis Chapman¹
(Jesus said) " ...why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6: 46)
Friend, This will be a message in which we get back to basics, and take a sobering look at the most important question of all: Are you saved? Are you prepared for eternity? Do you know that if you died right now, that you would go to Heaven?
To these questions, most of you will probably answer yes, and no doubt, many of you are. You may consider yourself to be a good, even a religious person. You may be a lifelong church member, perhaps even a minister or spiritual leader in some capacity. Regardless, the Bible solemnly exhorts us to examine ourselves, whether we be in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) and to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10.) That is why it is vitally important to understand what the Bible says concerning the nature of true, saving faith, and to make an honest assessment of where our own faith stands in comparison.
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved..." (Acts 16:31.) "...if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9.) Simple enough. However, it is important to understand exactly what is meant by the term "Believe." It is much more than simple mental acknowledgement that the Gospel is true. Even the devils do that, and tremble because of it! (James 2:10)
The Greek word for "believe" in both of these verses is "pisteuo," which means "to commit, to trust, to rely on," not to simply give credence to. Saving faith is a simple, yet deep devotion born from a heart of brokenness and humility, and as we will see, results in a dramatic change in heart and life.
Most people will say they want Jesus, as long as it can be on their own terms, taking Him as Savior, but not as Lord. However, as we will examine in this study, it simply doesn't work that way. When the rich young ruler walked away (Matthew 19:16-22,) notice that Jesus didn't offer to renegotiate. He stood firm in His call for total surrender, showing that He is either Lord of our lives, or He is not.
Although it is often ignored in many modern churches, Jesus' call to follow Him invariably involves a call to forsake sin. Genuine faith brings forth fruits of repentance (Matthew 3:8.) In fact, the first recorded word in Jesus' public ministry was "Repent." (Matthew 4:17) If you were walking away from me, and I said "Come here," it would be understood that coming to me would involve changing directions. Without repentance from sin, our conversion will not be complete, and we will perish (Luke 13:3.)
Jesus said that those who are truly His sheep will hear His voice, and will follow Him. (John 10: 27) He also taught that those who are of God will hear God's Words (John 8: 47) and that it will not be those who simply call Him "Lord, Lord" who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who actually do the will of His Father (Matthew 7:21.)
Was Jesus teaching that we are saved by works? Not at all. Scripture is very plain that our salvation is solely a gift of God's grace, which we receive simply by faith, NOT by works (Ephesians 2:8-9.) However, James 2:17 also teaches that faith without works, or corresponding actions, is dead. In other words, we are not saved by works, but true saving faith will produce works as a result. These works spring, not from our own self-effort, but from the new heart that Jesus gives us when He comes into our lives.
When we receive Jesus, our sins are forgiven ( Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:7,9,) we are adopted into the family of God (Romans 8:14-16; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 1:5,) we are cleansed to our innermost beings, becoming totally new creations, renewed in righteousness and true holiness (2 Corinthians 5:17-18; Ephesians 4:24,) and we receive eternal life, to live with God forever! (John 3:14-21) In fact, in John 3:3, Jesus even refers to it as being "Born Again!" Friends, can we honestly believe that we can go through a transformation like this, and not have it impact our lives?
When we belong to Jesus, we are no longer our own. We are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20,) and our lives are to reflect that. I had a classmate in high school who once said that he went out partying on Saturday nights, and then went to church to "sober up" on Sundays. However, Scripture clearly shows us that this sort of double life is not characteristic of a person who loves God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; and Revelation 21:8 all list activities such as drunkenness, lying, murder, fornication (sex outside of marriage,) idolatry, witchcraft, and a number of other lifestyles, and tells us that those who participate in them will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This serves as a very solemn warning to anyone who feels that they can be a Christian, and still live any way they choose. As Romans 6:1-2 puts it "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid!"
Does this mean that Christians are perfect, and never sin or make mistakes? Not at all. We are all learning and growing, and as we walk, we do stumble. Being a Christian doesn't mean that you won't sin, but it does mean that sin is no longer your nature. The key here is how we respond when we do sin? A pig wallows in the mud, and enjoys it. A sheep might stumble into the mud, but his first reaction will be "Get me out and clean me up!"
. In taking inventory of your life, a great place to start is the Book of First John. In my opinion, First John is the first part of the Bible a new Christian should read. One of the reasons it was written so that "ye may know that ye have eternal life." (5:13) To this end, it offers us a very helpful "check list" describing characteristics of genuine, saving faith. Please read them carefully, and examine your heart in light of them. A true Christian's life will display the following characteristics:
An obedient heart toward God's commandments: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."- 1 John 2:3-4
Commitment to the church and Christian fellowship: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."-1 John 2:19
Doing righteousness: "If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him."- 1 John 2:29
Overcoming sin: " Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin (Greek: "poieo," habitually practice sin as a lifestyle) ; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."- 1 John 3:9
Love for other Christians: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."-1 John 3:14
Overcoming the World: " For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith"-1 John 5:4
Friends, this is not a game. Eternal issues are at stake here. It is true that the word "Gospel" means "good news." However, it had been said that in order to appreciate the good news, we must first understand how bad the bad news is. Can you imagine the tragedy of coming to the Lord's judgement throne, only to hear Him say "Depart from me, I never knew you?" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Every person on this earth is only one heartbeat away from eternity. The Christian life is not always easy, and the decision to embrace it is a serious one. Jesus said that those who would follow Him should count the costs involved. (Luke 14:28.) Becoming a Christian means taking a sober look at our own sinfulness, being willing to turn from it, and fully putting our trust in the only remedy for it: the shed Blood of Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves, since our own righteousness is as filthy rags before a Holy God (Isaiah 64:6.) It is only through His grace that we can be cleansed from our sin, and it is only through His power that we can be transformed. As Charles Spurgeon once put it: ''Faith is the bulb and holiness is the fragrant flower that comes of it when planted in the soil of a renewed heart."
Jesus died as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, so that we can be reconciled to God. He loves you more than you can ever imagine, and He is waiting for you with open arms. He wants to give you a brand new life! Why not give your heart to Him today?
"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Matthew 16:26 )
© 2002 JHB
¹ From the song "Signs of Life" by Steven Curtis Chapman, featured on the album "Signs of Life" ©1996 Sparrow Records