The Type of Faith That Saves

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We know that we are saved by the grace of God through our faith in Christ Jesus alone and in His finished work (Eph. 2:8-9).  Our good works can never save us, only faith in the One who obeyed God perfectly can.  By the works of the law we understand that no one will be justified in God’s sight (Rom. 3:20).  The question then, is what type of faith saves someone? What is true faith in Christ? James tells us that the type of faith that saves is the type that has good deeds or actions as its fruit and evidence.  He tells us that faith that is by itself (just a mental ascent or agreement that “I believe in Christ”), without the accompanying deeds of love and obedience, is “dead” or not a saving faith.  In other words, when we really believe in Christ we are transformed and become people of good works.  In fact, this is how we are recognized as Christians.  I can say that I have faith, but I can show you that I have faith by my good works.  Good works are the evidence of true faith.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:14-24)

“A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. (Heb. 11:4)

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (Heb. 11:7)

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Heb. 11:8)

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. (Heb. 11:17)

 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Heb. 11:24-25)

 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. (Heb. 11:20)

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Heb. 11:31)

Faith is always tied to obedience.  True faith is proven by obedience:

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Heb. 11:16-19)

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:22-24)

When we repent and confess our sins, God forgives us and cleanses us and forgets our sin (1 John 1:9).  On the other hand, we can’t rely on the things of our past to keep us in good standing with God.  He demands that we continue to walk in righteousness.  The picture here is how the Israelites’ could not rely on yesterday’s manna.  It would rot.  Only their “daily bread” or the “fresh manna’ was edible.

“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezek. 18:24-32)

So, the type of faith that saves is demonstrated by the fruit of good works in our lives.  We may have periods of being “fruitless” but because our faith is genuine and the seed of the gospel in us produces godly fruit, the pattern of fruit bearing will continue to be evident throughout our Christian walk.

We can’t rely on yesterdays harvest!

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
though for forty years they saw what I did.
10 That is why I was angry with that generation;
I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
and they have not known my ways.’
11 So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest
’ ” (Heb. 3:6-11)

What is the State of a Christian’s Heart?

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We know from Scripture that the heart of man is basically wicked and that we are not to trust in the human heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?…“Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord.  (Jer. 17:9, 5, 7)

On the other hand, when we are born again and are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we receive a new nature:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17).

So, how should we view the heart of a Christian? Is it no longer wicked because we are new creation and the old things have passed away? Can we trust our own hearts as Christians now?

To answer this, we must understand our “dual natures” as Christians.  On one hand, we are saved, reborn, regenerated, renewed.  This “new nature” or “new man” is made in the image of Christ: since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col. 3:9-10)

Yet, the “sinful nature” or “old nature” remains as part of us:   For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Gal. 5:17).

Where does this leave us? First, we must understand that the state of our heart as a Christian will be where we choose it to be – according to which nature we allow to be in operation at the moment.  For example, two Christians named Ananias and Sapphira chose to allow Satan to fill their hearts by their choice to be dishonest to the Holy Spirit:

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:3-4)

In other words, these two Christians chose to operate in the sinful nature and not the new nature.  They were not controlled by the Holy Spirit but controlled by their own sinful impulses.  They allowed their sinful nature to have its way and fell into the sins of greed and deception.  Jesus teaches us that it is out of the heart of man that evil proceeds:

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:18)

So then, nothing has changed for us in this respect as Christians: When we sin, it begins as something we have conceived in our hearts and then it turns into evil actions.  Our hearts are still capable of wickedness because we have a sinful nature.  So, when we have conceived evil in our hearts and then sinned because of it, we show that we have allowed our sinful nature to grab hold of our hearts and have its way.  On the other hand, because we are born again and the Spirit of God now lives in us as Christians, we can choose with His assistance to operate in our new nature and allow our hearts to be controlled by the Spirit of God.  When we do this, our hearts will lead us to think and do good and not evil.  This, again, is our choice as Christians:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)

So, when we set our minds on God and the things of God and truly live in a way in which we desire our hearts to line up with His heart (our will with His will, our plans with His plans, our ways with His ways), our hearts will produce the fruit of the Spirit because we will be operating in our new nature and the Spirit of God who lives in us will be allowed to rule in our hearts:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace…So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Rom. 8:5, 6, 8)

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children…For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. (Eph. 5:1, 9-10)

So, what is the state of the Christian heart? Before we were Christians, our hearts were controlled by evil and we served ourselves.  Now, we have been set free to choose to do good.  As we walk in the Spirit and abide in Christ, our hearts will be in the light and Christ will shine through us.  But if we operate in the sinful nature by giving into temptation and allowing the flesh to dominate, evil will shine through us.  Our hearts can be used for wickedness or for God’s glory.  The choice is ours.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

Having Confidence in Your Salvation

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But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:4-5)

When we are saved we are regenerated.  In other words, we become something completely different in nature than we were before.  We become a new creature or new creation.  This regeneration is not reversible.  We can never lose our new nature because it is truly who we are and our natural inclination will be to act in accordance with our new nature.  It is just what we are and what we have become.  Sure, because we live in a fallen world and have not yet been delivered from our sinful nature, we will continue to sin at times.  We have an antithetical nature which is our flesh trying to antagonize and win out over our new nature.  But because we have been regenerated, our new nature will experience conviction and sorrow over our sin because it is this new nature that is the real us, the ruling part of our being, and the part of our being that is in relationship and oneness with God.  It is here that we continually partake of the divine nature.  Therefore, one who is truly saved and regenerated can be confident that he is a child of God, a saint, and has inherited eternal life.  Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.  Nobody can snatch us out of His hand.  It is He who is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us faultless before His presence.  We are now cut from His cloth, being made into His image from glory to glory.  We belong to Him.

ASSURANCE  >> These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

NEW NATURE >> Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Cor. 5:17)

IMPERISHABLE >> Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3-5)

However, let us not treat our salvation in a casual way.  The Bible also speaks of judgment for those who trample on God’s grace.

WARNING >> For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries… How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

This warning is here to keep us on track.  Yes, we have assurance of our salvation.  No, we cannot treat it cheaply.  For if we truly have salvation, we will treasure it as the Pearl of Great Price that it is.

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)