What is true faith in Christ? Are there any ways to know for sure that what YOU call faith is the same as what GOD calls faith? What does the Bible say about the kind of faith that saves people?
There has been a very popular theme running through much of 20th Century Christianity in evangelical circles concerning "the grace of God" and "saving faith" that is in fact contrary to the testimony of Scriptures. Evangelicals have no more right to make up a religion and call it God's truth than does the Roman Catholic church. We may say we respect the authority of the Bible, and of Jesus Christ, but can we BEAR to look at what it actually says and consider deeply?
These are important questions for anyone who wants to go to heaven and be with the Lord, and then take part in the resurrection of the righteous and enjoy God's eternal kingdom.
Its important that we look at all the Scriptures that bear on this issue, and let Scripture interpret Scripture as much as possible, so we can come to a correct understanding.
Let's start with a Scripture which some might use to suggest that what we do is actually irrelevant as far as our righteous status with God is concerned:
Its Not by Works, God Justifies the Ungodly
"Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."
How do we make our initial approach to God? Do we have to work to clean ourselves up? Do we have to endeavour to morally reform before we can be worthy objects of the Lord's acceptance, so to speak?
No, it doesn't work that way.
The Scripture says that God justifies the ungodly who come to believe on Him.
An ungodly person is a person who is in a state where they are not interested in seeking God or doing His will. An ungodly person is someone for whom sin and iniquity is normal. How can such a person be saved?
The initial step is actually FAITH. It is confidence in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. It is a belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection.
It is important that we as Christians preach this message of the cross and resurrection. Paul said to the Corinthians that when he came to them, he determined to know nothing among them, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is vital that we preach this gospel messgae. It is central to everything God wants to do.
When we first come to God, we have no godliness to recommend ourselves. We have to come as helpless sinners. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot stop sinning by ourselves. All we can do is look to Jesus, His perfection, His truth, His cross, His resurrection, His offer of life.
We cry out to God for salvation.
Salvation from what? From hell and judgment only? No, not that only.
"You shall call His name JESUS, for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
God initially justifies the ungodly who do nothing to merit salvation. But the ones he justifies, God also REGENERATES. He makes a new creation, He changes the fundamental disposition of the heart, He gives New Life by His Spirit. When we are truly saved we get a new heart that wants to please God.
God then gives us time to repent (see Revelation 2:21).
The true Christian begins to purify Himself, just as He [Jesus] is pure.
"And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure."
Those who REMAIN ungodly and refuse to repent and do works befitting repentance should not pin their hopes on Romans 4:4-5 for their eternal salvation. These verses apply to all those who are self-righteous [those who think they can earn salvation through their good works] or those who despair of entering the Kingdom of God at all on account of their wickedness which they become aware of at some stage in their life. They encourage us to look to Jesus and forsake all reference to our ungodly past.
But if a person is truly regenerate, and truly born again, they must begin to feed on the Word of God OR THEY WILL PERISH. They will be lost. Not knowing or heeding the Word of God, they demonstrate that their faith is in fact worthless. Jesus and the apostles made it clear enough that such people who depart from the Word of God, who have no true Christian fellowship, who do not obey Christ are NOT in Christ. They do not remain in a justified state, if they ever were.
"as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious".
(1 Peter 2:2,3)
Remaning in the Word of God is vital to our salvation. Let us consider in addition to the above reference from 1 Peter the following verses from Jesus
"Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truthm and the truth shall make you free.'"
"Most assuredly I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life".
Jesus only promises salvation to those who continue to hear His word.
Jesus also said:
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."
It isn't enough to do Bible studies or know the Bible, we need to be hearing the voice of our Savior and Lord in all of this, or it is all in vain.
We are not going to hear God's voice is our actual posture towards God is one of independence and rebellion.
The Book of Hebrews also gives a strong warning to those who imagine they have an unconditional ticket to heaven in their pockets.
"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we [born again Spirit-baptized Christians] escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him …?"
True Faith comes from hearing the Word of God, and true faith will also drive us TO the Word of God for more light and more value.
True Faith Leads to Obedience
Consistent obedience to all God's precepts does not come immediately with faith, but true faith will lead people into a life of obedience to our God and Master.
"Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name." (Romans 1:5)
The NIV puts it this way:
5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.
True faith leads to obedience.
If this were not so, how could there be so many Scriptures in the NEW TESTAMENT insisting on obedience to God as the characteristic of those who avoid hell and enter God's Kingdom?
I will list some of these now.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
I don't think anything could be clearer than this. And the verses which follow prove that no amount of signs, wonders, spiritual gifts and anointing will be accepted by God in the place of actual submission to the will of God.
"in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(2 Thessalonians 1:8)
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves".
You will deceive yourself if you imagine that merely hearing the Word is enough for God – that is hearing without obedience. And when you deceive YOURSELF, it is much harder to break out of that deception.
"But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand … and Great was its Fall" (Matthew 7:26, 27)
"Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil." (1 John 3:7,8a)
"those who practice such things will NOT inherit the Kingdom of God". (Galatians 5:21). See the list of works of the flesh referred to here.
I could go on and on. I suggest you read the Book of Matthew and other books of the New Testament, with commentaries, from start to finish and you will find a view that will not comfort you if you have been listening to preachers who make you feel spiritually secure while you are tolerating sin and running your own life, only heeding God's Word when it suits YOU.
How Can We Conform to the Will of God?
Having established the absolute necessity to add virtue to our faith as the Scripture also says (see 2 Peter 1:5), the question now comes "How to do it?"
Self-effort and strivings to obey God's word will not do it, as many and perhaps you will also testify.
The whole secret of the Christian life is DEPENDENCE on the Holy Spirit. We need to train ourselves to focus on God, to welcome and seek the influence of the Holy Spirit, and to depend on Him all the way.
Along the way, we will slip up and we will need to ask God for cleansing by the blood of Jesus. But our intention is to get the Word into us, be filled with the Spirit of God, and learn to TRUST God, have confidence in God, believe God's Word and act on His promises and commandments through FAITH.
Whatever is NOT of faith is SIN (Romans 14:23). It is therefore super vital that we do all we can to build our faith – because our faith is what overcomes the world and subdues the powers of darkness that seek to enslave us yet again in the quagmire of sin and iniquity.
I deal with subjects relating to how to involve the Spirit of God in your life in other pages on this site.
May God bless you as you seek Him for all you need. He has given all things you need for life and godliness. So go and receive what God has given.