Peter Hedley, Exeter, England
In our last article we looked at the need for repentance on the part of the non-Christian if he or she desired to experience spiritual reality in Christ. Here we want to take up and begin to examine the vital and related theme of faith, for without it no one can ever please God, Heb. 11. 6. As we examine the following aspects of the subject we trust that it will illuminate and clarify matters. We will use the following guide: (1) The significance of faith; (2) Secular faith; (3) Spurious faith; (4) Steps to faith; (5) Saving faith; and, (6) Signs of faith.
(1) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FAITH
The atheist H. L. Mencken defined faith as 'an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable'. We have rarely read anything so stupid. Here is a much more sensible and biblical definition: Faith is the resting of the mind on the sufficiency of the evidence. it is the conviction of the truth of something coupled with action on the basis of what one believes. In the New Testament the Greek noun pistis occurs 243 times and means ‘confidence, trust, holding something as true’. The Greek verb pisteuo occurs 249 times and means 'to be persuaded of something, to place confidence in, to put trust in, to commit oneself to’. The adjective pistos is found 69 times in the Greek New Testament and means 'faithful, worthy of trust, can be relied on’.
But why does God require faith from us? The theologian Peter Kreeft supplies this helpful answer, 'Only in a world where faith is difficult can faith exist. I don't have faith in two plus two equals four. This is beyond question. But Scripture describes God as a hidden God. You have to make an effort to find Him. There are clues you can follow. And if that weren't so, if here were something more or less than clues, it's difficult for me to understand how we could really be free to make a choice about Him. If we had absolute proof instead of clues, then you could no more deny God than you could the sun. If we had no evidence at all, you could never get there. God gives us just enough evidence so that those who want Him can have Him. Those who want to follow the clues will’.
(2) SECULAR FAITH
Regarding the above definitions concerning trust, we can therefore affirm that everybody in the world lives by or exercises Secular or natural faith. For example, millions of people place some of their earnings in banks in the 'BELIEF' that when they have need of some or all of it, they'll be able to withdraw the money with interest. These folk are living by faith. Every day, thousands of people go to a doctor whose name they cannot pronounce, receive a prescription they can't read, take it to a chemist they don't know, get medicine they don't understand, and ingest it with confidence! They are exercising great faith. For them faith is more than a concept, it's a type of muscle they flex every day. They do the same with their car. They believe intellectually that their car will get them to work but, until they act on it, it won't even get them out of the garage. One further illustration. When a meal is laid before you in a restaurant you may have some vague idea of the ingredients, but unless that intellectual appreciation leads to action, you'll remain hungry. Furthermore, you eat in faith, Trusting that the food isn't poisoned. So you see, Everybody in the world lives by secular or natural faith everyday of his or her life. Without it society as we know it could not function.
(3) SPURIOUS FAITH
Before delving into the nature of saving faith, It is important to point out that not everyone who claims be a Christian is genuine. Many people have great faith and trust, but the object of their faith is wrong. they may have faith in their christening, faith in their church, faith in their so called 'saint', faith in their intellectual assent to Christian creeds and doctrines. However, their faith is spurious because it is placed in the wrong object, it is not placed exclusively in Christ and HIS finished work on the cross for salvation.
The very founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, made this abundantly clear when He spoke about false, pseudo- Christians in Chapter 7 of Matthew's Gospel. In verses 21- 23 we learn that pseudo-Christians make a mere oral profession of intellectual belief in Christ. They 'SAY' they're Christians – but it soon becomes patently obvious that they are not the genuine article because they haven't personally committed themselves to Him and are not obeying His words. Further, in verses 24-27 we learn that pseudo- Christians only 'HEAR' His words – they only give a vague intellectual assent to what He taught – but again, they do not act upon and do what He says. They are not obedient to the gospel, Rom. 1. 5; 15. 18; 16. 26; Acts 6. 7.
Moreover, many will come to the Lord Jesus on 'that day’, Matt. 7. 22, that is the day of judgement, relying for their salvation, apparently, on a credal confession or perhaps some religious experience. They address Him correctly as 'Lord', so are perfectly orthodox in that area of their intellectual belief. Perhaps they are among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Christian Brethren or members of a house church. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong in an oral profession of Christ as Lord. Indeed, it is one of the essential prerequisites to salvation. The basic problem of these people seems to be that theirs is only a religious profession without Holy Spirit reality. They give a verbal assent to Christ's Lordship and His words but they don't submit to Him in obedient discipleship, thus demonstrating that they are not authentic.
Some of them had even been engaging in signs and wonders ministries; and observe that the Lord Jesus doesn't deny any of their claims but He moves immediately from what these people will say to Him to what He will say to them, vv. 22, 23, NKJV: 'I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness'. They had no spiritual experience of a personal nature with Him. They went their own way and did their own thing religiously, or otherwise. What is so serious in all this is that the Lord Jesus seems not to be speaking to an isolated group of fringe followers. There will be 'many', v. 22, He said, on 'that day' who will stand before Him stunned to learn that they are excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. They had spurious faith. How about you?, ‘Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified’, 2 Cor. 13. 5. You need to test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular check-ups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you.
Doubtless you have heard people say that some churches have hypocrites as members. They are probably correct. The word 'hypocrite' comes from ancient Greek and means 'someone acting a part', a 'pretender'. In other words, the hypocrite is a fake and not a genuine Christian. He or she is a pretending Christian even while, perhaps, personally convinced otherwise. The Lord Jesus spoke about these people. Indeed, in Mark's Gospel chapter 4, verses 13-20, in the parable of the sower, when asked by His disciples for its meaning, He replied, 'Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?' These words suggest that the parable of the sower holds the key to unlock the secrets of other parables. In what way you may ask? When we grasp that the Kingdom of God has within its sphere true and false conversions. This is what the parable of the sower is all about. Other parables follow the pattern set, for instance the 'Wheat and the Tares', Matt. 13. 25, speak of the true and the false; the 'Wise and the Foolish Virgins', Matt. 25. 1-13, speak of true and false; the 'Good Fish and the Bad’, Matt. 13. 47-50, does the same.
The apostle John underlined this point when he wrote that 'If anyone loves the world, (the Godless system of things driven by satanic power), the love of the Father is not in him', 1 John 2. 1. NKJV. The apostle Paul wrote about 'false brothers', 2 Cor. 11. 26; Gal. 2. 4. Moreover, in Acts 20. 28- 29, Paul said to the spiritual shepherds of the congregation at Ephesus, 'Be on guard . . . savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock', NASB. He then added that 'from among your own selves many will arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore be ‘alert', vv. 30, 31. Note the words 'from among your own selves'. These people would be mingling with the genuine Christians. The Lord Jesus called them, wolves in sheep's clothing, Matt. 7. 15, because they would, perhaps, present themselves as elders, deacons and preachers, but under the fleece was an unregenerate person.
Failure to recognize the Bible's teaching on counterfeit faith has, in some quarters led to a tendency to treat spurious believers as possibly saved but not consecrated. Of course we need to remember that from God's perspective, the true church is made up only and exclusively of genuine possessors of salvation. However, from our human vantage point the visible church is made up of both. On account of this we do not always know with absolute certainty who has been truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit, although we must always look for and expect to see certain signs of spiritual reality in those genuinely saved.
One last thought on the matter. According to Matthew 3. 12, the Lord Jesus will, in the final assessment of things, take His winnowing fan in His hand and 'thoroughly clean out His threshing floor and gather His wheat (the true) into the barn; but will burn up the chaff (the false) with unquenchable fire', NKJV. So, (1) there will eventually be, apart from the rapture, a separation of the possessors from those who only profess the Christian faith, (2) the time of this is not now but at the end of the age, and (3) the winnowing fan is in Christ's hand, not ours, and He knows saving faith from spurious faith and will act accordingly.
This article to be concluded in the next issue.