Peter Hedley, Exeter, England
The evangelist and church planter will be constantly looking for the evidence of genuine faith in converts. This final article continues to point out some of these signs.
The genuine Christian has a life characterized by good works
Eph. 2. 10; 2 Thess. 2. 17; 1 Tim. 2. 7; 2 Tim. 3. 17; Heb. 6. 10, 10. 24. The need for good works as a sign of genuine saving faith is clearly seen in the letter of James chapter 2, verses 14 to 26. James begins the passage with two pertinent questions that all professing Christians need to consider, 'What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?' NASB. In other words, if someone says he has faith but his lifestyle does not show it by good works (the word 'good' means beneficial to men and pleasing to God), does that person indeed have genuine saving faith? Are they truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit? In the verses that follow, James shows that saving faith is always demonstrated by good works. A 'faith' that is only talk is 'dead' and 'useless', vv. 17, 20 NSAB.
Good works spring from the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the genuine believer. In John 15. verses 2, 5, 8, and 16 they are described as spiritual fruit. Every authentic Christian will bear some spiritual fruit somewhere, sometime. It's true, alas, that some days, weeks, months or even years may pass and a true believer may be unfruitful. That is not God's ideal which is that the Christian has a constant flow of fruitfulness all through their lives.
The genuine Christian has a desire to submit to the Lordship of Christ and seeks to obey Him
According to 1 John 2. 3, obedience to the Lord Jesus is one evidence that saving faith is present, 'And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments'. On the other hand according to verse 4, the person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence genuine faith, 'Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him’ ESV. To claim to trust God while refusing to obey Him is a contradiction.
If your faith is real you will want to keep God's commandments. The Greek word for 'keep' in these verses conveys the idea of a watchful, observant obedience, and is not an obedience that is the result of external pressure. It is eager obedience of one who keeps divine commandments as if they were something precious to guard. This is an obedience motivated by love, as John puts it, 'But whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him’ ESV.
A. W. Tozer, speaking of obedience to Christ said, 'We can prove our faith by our commitment to it and in no other way. Any belief that does not command the one who holds it, is not real belief - it is only a pseudo-belief’, The World: Playground or Battleground. 'Any professed faith in Christ as personal Saviour that does not bring the life under plenary obedience to Christ as Lord is inadequate and must betray its victim at the last. The man that believes will obey; failure to obey is convincing proof that there is no true faith present', Man: The Dwelling Place of God.
The genuine Christian has a hunger for holiness
This means that he hates sin, fears sinning and longs to become Christlike. As 1 John 2. 29 reads, 'If ye know that he is righteous, know that everyone who practices righteousness is begotten of him’ JND. Kenneth Wuest's rendering of 1 John 3, verses 3 to 6, is also very helpful to this point, 'And everyone who has this hope continually set on Him is constantly purifying himself just as that One is pure. Everyone who habitually commits sin, also habitually commits lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. Everyone who in Him is constantly abiding is not habitually sinning. Everyone who is constantly sinning has not with discernment seen Him, nor has he known Him’, The New Testament, An Expanded Translation.
The Greek word, anomai, translated lawlessness, literally means ‘without law’ and it describes those who live immoral, ungodly and unrighteous lives as a matter of continuous practice. They hate God's righteousness and live contrary to His law. This cannot be true of a genuine believer. The apostle is clearly not making sinless perfection a test of salvation. How could he, having begun his letter stating, 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’, 1 John 1. 18. Nor is he making an issue about the frequency, duration or magnitude of one's sins. All Christians are subject to sinning and this is sometimes, sadly, prolonged and heinous. The issue he is raising here has to do with our attitude towards sin and our heart's response when we do sin. The test is this: what is the object of your affections - sin or righteousness? If your chief love is sin then you are, 'of the devil', 1 John 3. 8, 10. If you love righteousness and seek to practice it then you are born of God, 1 John 2. 29.
We learn from this important passage of God's word that, as long as the believer abides in Christ and as far as he abides in Christ, he will not sin! Our holiness of life has its roots in the personal holiness of the Lord Jesus. 'If the root be holy so also are the branches,' Rom. 11. 16. As we live from moment to moment in communion with the Lord, so, ' sin shall not have dominion over us’, Rom. 6. 14. The Lord saves the true believer from the power of sin, not by the removal of their sinful nature, but by keeping them from yeilding to it. Holiness marks out the true believer.