Is your Faith Genuine or is it Spurious?
The clear testimony of Scripture is:
"that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved". (Romans 10:9)
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31).
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law". (Romans 3:28).
What this tells us is that a man is saved through faith in Christ Jesus. All evangelical churches should be willing to boldly and unswervingly affirm this vital truth. Yet, there is a vital question that should be asked by all that are interested in the welfare of their soul; "What is the nature of the faith whereby I am saved?" In other words, how does an individual genuinely know whether or not they possess the kind of faith that is spoken of in these Scriptures? After all, if a man is saved by faith, would not any sane man want to take the time to see whether the faith he possesses is sufficient to save him?
That this is absolutely essential is due to the fact that we are clearly instructed from the pages of Holy Writ that there is a substitute or counterfeit or pseudo faith that closely resembles what is properly termed "saving faith". This "faith" is that which is spoken of in the book of James. There, in the second chapter, he compares this pseudo faith to that of the devils.
"What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?…Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" (James 2: 14,17-19).
Again, the Lord Jesus Himself clearly spoke of this matter in His parable concerning the Sower and the Seed.
"And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away." (Luke 8:13).
Now, it should be obvious to all concerned that there is a kind of faith or belief, if you will, that falls short of saving a man. It is a faith, but it is not saving faith. It is a belief, but it falls short of the belief which is "on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved".
Unfortunately, this distinction is rarely if ever made in the vast majority of today’s evangelical American churches. It is this author’s contention that the main culprits behind this glaring lack of godly discrimination are the relative disregard to the importance of doctrine and to a practice known as the "invitation system". With the Arminian system and its emphasis on the "free-will" of men dominating the majority of evangelical churches, the emphasis has shifted to the method or to the program instead of simple reliance on the presentation of gospel truth and the sovereign and effectual working of the Holy Spirit. The idea is to make things as conducive as possible for the sinner to make the right choice. Once that is attained all that is necessary is to "strike while the iron is hot" and urge the sinner to come forward and accept Christ while he or she is inclined to do so. This usually entails the urging of an on the spot decision and the subsequent reciting of what is called the "sinner’s prayer". Upon so doing, they are now assured that they possess "faith in Christ" and are thereby heaven bound.
But there is a serious and fatal flaw in all this that the astute student of Scripture will readily discern. How can any man living look into the heart of another human being and assure him that the faith that he or she possesses is indeed genuine? The Word of God expressly declares that:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and is exceedingly perverse and corrupt and severely, mortally sick! Who can know [perceive, understand, be acquainted with his own heart]". (Jer 17:9 Ampl.)
Now if no man can understand or know his own heart except by the searchlight of the Holy Spirit, how can he look into someone else’s heart? The question is self-answering. He Cannot! Therefore, for a pastor, evangelist, counselor, or any other kind of Christian worker to assure someone else that they possess a genuine faith is for that person to intrude into the office of the Spirit of God alone. What God has allotted to us is to tell them "How" they may be saved, not to assure them of their salvation. That is the business of the Holy Spirit.
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16).
Notice that He bears a witness to each child of God assuring them that they belong to Him and have indeed passed from death to life. I cannot bear witness to anyone else’s spirit. Neither can any other pastor or Christian worker. Tragically, this is exactly what the invitation system has resulted in men doing. Simply because a man walks an aisle and responds properly to a set of questions and recites the sinner’s prayer is no proof that he genuinely belongs to God.
The Scriptures are replete with examples of men who seemed to possess faith in Christ only to prove that they were apostates and fall away to their own doom. Demas is a perfect example of such an individual. Here is a man who was one of Paul the apostle’s "fellow workers" (Philemon 24) and who labored with him on his missionary journeys (Col 4:14). Yet, he proved to be an apostate in the end:
"For Demas, having loved this present world has deserted me" (2Tim 4:10).
Church tradition teaches that he went on to become a priest in the temple of one the idols of Asia Minor.
Another individual that demonstrates this principle was called Simon. You can read about him in the book of Acts. The Scriptures tell us that he was present in the crowds at Samaria who were listening to Phillip preach the gospel. Notice carefully what they tell us:
"And even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Phillip; and as he observed signs and great wonders taking place, he was constantly amazed." (Acts 8:13).
Yet observe what happens to this same man a bit later after Peter and John come down to Samaria.
"Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’. But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.’" (Acts 8:18-23).
The apostle Peter supernaturally discerned through Simon’s actions that he was still dead in his sins and transgressions! Yet we just read that "he believed and was baptized"! How many churches do you think would have confidently told this same Simon that he was now a child of God and assured him that he was possessed of eternal life were he to have answered the typical altar call? Thankfully, there was a man on the scene who could tell him of his deception and warn him of his folly. Church history tells us that Simon failed to heed Peter’s warning but at least he was warned. How many today are not even warned but are heedlessly ignorant of the strong possibility that their faith also might be spurious.
This leads us now to the point of this brief article. One of the ways in which the Spirit of God bears witness to our heart that we are the children of God is by bringing the truth of the Scriptures to us in a fashion that might best be described as "dropping a plumb line" in front of our eyes (Amos 7:7). He sets before us that which is genuine and then graciously enables us to compare or measure ourselves against it in much the same fashion as a carpenter uses a plumb line to test the exactness of his work. We are thereby enabled to gauge whether or not that which we possess is genuine or spurious, clean or unclean, truth or error. If we determine that we measure up to the plumb line, comfort and peace is produced in our hearts. If we are "leaning or crooked", we are corrected, warned, reproved or even rebuked and are thereby turned back into the proper course. Either way, this work of the Spirit is of inestimable value to our souls.
Now, the Holy Spirit can and will do this in a myriad of ways. He may do this in our personal devotion time. He may use a sermon on the radio or an article written many years earlier. Perhaps He may even use an article such as this. Certainly it is this author’s hope that He will. The point is that He is not limited to the manner in which He will work. But more often than not, He uses those whom He has called and equipped for the ministry. Their charge is to faithfully declare the whole counsel of God to God’s precious sheep and thereby "drop a plumb line" into their midst to which they can compare themselves. All faithful ministers of Christ will make this the chief business of their preaching and teaching.
One good example of such a man was Robert Shaw. Shaw was a nineteenth century Scottish Free Church theologian. Men of his caliber were marvelous gifts of grace to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was one of many who felt the necessity of laying this plumb line in Zion for her people to measure themselves against. The following is an excerpt from his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. As you read it, pay close attention to what he says and you will notice that he too understood the importance of one’s ascertaining of the quality of their faith.
A Description of Saving Faith
By: Robert Shaw
1. The special and personal object of saving faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. To know
Christ, and God as manifested in him, is comprehensive of all saving knowledge–a term by which faith is sometimes expressed (John 17:3). Hence, this faith is called "the faith of Jesus Christ," and the scope of the apostle's doctrine is thus described: "Testifying both to the Jews and the Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
"This faith consists in believing the testimony of God concerning his Son, and the life that is in Him for men. It respects Him in his person and whole character, according to the revelation made of Him, and according to the measure of knowledge a person has of Him as thus revealed, especially as now manifested, and more clearly exhibited, and freely offered in the gospel. It views Him in His supreme Deity as "Immanuel, God with us;' as vested with all saving offices, so as to bear, in the highest sense, the name Jesus or Saviour, Lord or King, the great High Priest, Messias, or the Christ; and as exercising all His offices for the benefit of mankind sinners, with whom be entered into near affinity, by the assumption of their nature, that He might be capable of acting the part of a surety in obeying, dying, meriting, and mediating for them."
2. It will not do to limit the object of
saving faith to any one doctrinal proposition–such as, that Jesus is the Son
of God - or, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh–or, that Christ died for
our sins according to the Scriptures. This, at the utmost, would only be giving
credit to a certain doctrine; but saving faith is a believing on the person of
Christ, or an appropriating of Christ Himself, with all the benefits and
blessings included in Him.
3. The principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ. Romanists (Catholics) make faith to be nothing more than "a bare naked assent to the truth revealed in the Word." This notion was strenuously opposed by our Reformers, and is renounced in the National Covenant of Scotland, under the name of a "general and doubtsome faith;" yet, many Protestants, in modern times, represent saving faith as nothing more than a simple assent to the doctrinal truths recorded in Scripture, and as exclusively an act of the understanding. But, although saving faith gives full credit to the whole Word of God, and particularly to the testimony of God concerning his Son Jesus Christ, as has been already stated, yet, its principal acts are "accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ." True faith is the belief of a testimony; but it must correspond to the nature of the testimony believed. Were the gospel a mere statement of speculative truths, or a record of facts in which we have no personal interest, then, a simple assent of the mind to these truths–the mere crediting of these facts, would constitute the faith of the gospel. But the gospel is not a mere statement of historical facts, or of abstract doctrines respecting the Saviour; it contains in it a free offer of
Christ, and of salvation through Him, to
sinners of every class, who hear it, for their acceptance. Saving faith,
therefore, that it may correspond to the testimony believed, must include the
cordial acceptance or reception of Christ, as tendered to us in the gospel.
As Christ is exhibited in Scripture under venous (various) characters and similitudes, so faith in Him is variously denominated. It is expressed by coming to Him–by looking unto Him–by, fleeing to Him for refuge–by eating His flesh and drinking His blood–by receiving Him, and by resting upon Him. It is to be observed, that the terms employed in our Confession do not denote different acts of faith, but are only different expressions of the same act. Believing on Christ is called a receiving of Him, in reference to His being presented to poor sinners, as the gift of God to them; and it is styled a resting on Him, because He is revealed in the gospel as a sure foundation, on which a sinner may lay the weight of his eternal salvation with the firmest confidence. It is manifest, that all the figurative descriptions of saving faith in Scripture imply a particular application of Christ by the soul, or a trusting in Christ for salvation to one's self in particular; and this is what some have called the appropriation of faith. It is no less evident, that in the phraseology of Scripture, faith is not simply an assent of the understanding, but implies an act of volition, accepting the Saviour and relying on Him for salvation. This does not proceed upon any previous knowledge which the sinner has of his election; nor upon any persuasion that Christ died intentionally for him more than for others, for it is impossible to come to the knowledge of these things prior to believing; nor does it proceed upon the persuasion that Christ died equally for all men, and therefore for him in particular; nor upon the perception of any good qualities in himself to distinguish him from others; but it proceeds solely upon the free, unlimited offer and promise of the gospel to the chief of sinners.
4. That the true believer receives and rests upon Christ alone for salvation. This distinguishes the true believer from such as rest their hope of salvation on the general mercy of God, without any respect to the mediation of Christ, or upon their own works of righteousness, or upon the righteousness of Christ and their own works conjoined.
5. That the true believer receives and rests upon Christ for a complete salvation. He trusts in Christ for salvation not only from wrath, but also from sin–not only for salvation from the guilt of sin, but also from its pollution and power–not only for happiness hereafter, but also for holiness here. In the language of the Confession, he rests upon Christ "for justification, sanctification, and eternal life;" and that "by virtue of the covenant of grace;" that is, as these blessings are exhibited and secured in that covenant.
Hopefully, this excerpt has made the reader think about the quality of his or her faith. Did any of the above expressions strike a sympathetic chord in your heart? If so, rejoice and give thanks to your God who has bestowed upon you such a precious gift. Walk worthy of Him who has called you and granted you such an unspeakable privilege as to be called a child of God! If not, then you would do well to "examine yourself to see if you are in the faith". (2Cor 13:5). Do not rest content in a bare notion of historical facts lest you sleep the sleep of death and awaken to your everlasting shame and confusion.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Pastor Dan Norcini