There are many who as professing Christians go about to make progress by natural means, but we can make no progress in the Christian life until we truly understand how bad our natural state is and just what took place when God brought us into a state of grace. In view of what God has done for us and in us (if we really are saved), there are certain attitudes we should have toward our spiritual growth and maturity in Christ. There is nothing revealed in Scripture simply for speculative knowledge, but all is to exert a powerful influence on our conduct. God’s design is the purifying of our affections and the transforming of our characters.
There are those who have a faith that is similar to saving faith. They may take it to be the very same and others too may deem it sufficient, but do not be deceived. A man may believe all the truth contained in Scripture so far as he is acquainted with it and he may be familiar with far more than many genuine Christians. He may have studied the Bible for a longer time and so his faith may grasp much of what they have not yet reached. But this is no proof that his faith is saving: “Simon [the sorcerer] believed and followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw” (Acts 8:13). Whatever faith he had led Philip to think he was Christian. Yet, a little later, the Apostle Peter said to him, “You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that He may forgive you. You are full of bitterness and captive to sin” (Acts 8:21-23).
Scripture teaches a person may possess a non-saving faith. They may give credit to what they believe because it appears reasonable or even certain, and they are fully persuaded in their minds. A most solemn example of those having faith, but not a saving one, is seen in those of whom Christ said, “for a while believed” (Lk. 8:14). They heard the Word of God and with joy received it (Mt. 13:20), but the truth did not take root in their lives. How many such people have we met and known: happy souls with radiant faces, exuberant spirits, and full of zeal. How difficult it is to distinguish such from genuine Christians. The difference is not apparent; no, it lies beneath the surface—they have no root in themselves (Mt. 13:21): deep digging has to be done to discover this fact! Have you searched yourself narrowly to ascertain if “the root of the matter” (Job 19:28) be in you?
Sadly, there are many with non-saving faith: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Mt. 7:22-23). There is a large class (“many”) who profess submission to Christ as Lord and who do many mighty works in His name. These are people who can show you their faith by their works, yet it is not a saving one! Scripture teaches there are those who are willing to take Christ as their Savior, yet who are most reluctant to submit to Him as their Lord, to be at His command, to be governed by His laws.
Perhaps you are thinking this article is very unsettling and most distressing. If there be such a thing (and there is) as a faith in Christ which does not save, then how easy it is to be deceived about my faith! It is not without reason the Holy Spirit has so plainly cautioned us at this very point: “A deluded heart misleads him” (Isa. 44:20). “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obad. 1:3). “Watch out that you are not deceived” (Lk. 21:8). “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves” (Gal. 6:3).
At no point does Satan use his cunning and power more tenaciously and more successfully than in getting people to believe they have a saving faith when they do not. The Devil deceives more souls by this one thing than by all his other devices put together. How many blinded souls will read this and then say, “It does not apply to me; I know my faith is a saving one!” It is in this way the Devil turns aside the sharp point of God’s convicting Word and secures his captives in their unbelief. He works in them a false sense of security, by persuading them that they are safe, and induces them to ignore the threats of God’s Word and appropriate only its comforting promises. He dissuades them from heeding the most crucial exhortation: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Non-saving faith is defective and falls short of saving faith. Many are willing for Christ to save them from hell, but are not willing for Him to save them from self. They want to be delivered from the wrath to come, but they wish to retain their self-will and self-pleasing.
However, God will not be dictated by man: we must be saved on His terms, or not at all. When Christ saves, He saves from sin—from its power and pollution, and therefore from its guilt. And the very essence of sin is the determination to have my own way (Isa. 53:6). When Christ saves, He subdues my spirit of self-will and implants a genuine, powerful, lasting desire and determination to please Him.
Again, many are never saved because they wish to divide Christ; they want to take Him as Savior, but are unwilling to subject themselves to Him as their Lord. Or if they are prepared to own Him as Lord, it is not as an absolute Lord. This cannot be: Christ will either be Lord of all or He will not be Lord at all.
Again, there are multitudes who are quite ready for Christ to justify them, but not to sanctify. Some degree of sanctification they will tolerate, but to be sanctified wholly, their “whole spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thess. 5:23), they have no desire. For their hearts to be sanctified, for pride and covetousness to be subdued, would be too much like plucking out an eye. For Christ to come to them as Refiner, to burn up their lusts, consume their impurities, to dissolve utterly their old frame of nature, to melt their souls, so as to make them run in a new fashion, they like not. To deny self utterly and take up their cross daily is a task they shrink away from with abhorrence.
Again, many are willing for Christ to officiate as their Priest, but not for Him to legislate as their King. Ask them, in a general way, if they are ready to do whatsoever Christ requires of them and they will answer in the affirmative, emphatically and with confidence. But come to particulars: apply to each one of them those specific commandments and precepts of the Lord which they are ignoring and they will at once cry out “Legalism”! or “We cannot be perfect in everything!” Name nine duties and perhaps they are performing them, but mention a tenth and it at once makes them angry, for you have come too close home to their case. His peace they covet, but His call for repentance is unwelcome. Many of those who sincerely believe they have received Christ as their personal Savior and are resting on His finished work are building upon a foundation of sand. Where do you stand?
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