It could be that you have stood breathless upon the high crag of a cliff, resting for a moment and peering out into the vast openness in front of you. Your eyes find themselves drawn to the broad, fertile, grassy valley far below. Lush and pleasant, glowing with the soft light of the warm sun, nestled comfortably between the majestic mountains, it seems almost paradise itself. Through the valley, a meandering stream flows smoothly in lazy peacefulness, twinkling and gurgling softly. Along the stream, a city, thriving and prosperous, sits like a king upon his throne. From where you stand, you can still make out the forms of people, moving about far below in the city of the valley. People laughing and playing; young men and women being married and rearing families; men and women working, building, and planning for their futures; homes being constructed; artists and musicians creating masterpieces of creative work; people, simply living out their lives in the noble pursuit of happiness.
Your gaze shifts from the valley below to the peak of the great southern mountain towering above the city by the stream. The mountain trembles and smokes, as hot, molten lava boils in angry froth from its peak. It is only a matter of time before the massive structure of rock and dirt can no longer hold its turbulent contents, and it will burst open, spewing fiery liquid down into the valley below. All will be lost. Not one living soul will remain.
You look once more at the valley below. Men and women are busy warning others of the danger. They run back and forth, spreading the news of the great destruction that is coming upon the valley and upon the city. You watch to see if others will also leave the valley behind, as you have, and climb the northern mountain to safety, away from the place of doom and destruction. No one comes.
As you ponder why no one is fleeing from the evident danger, a man appears on the path below you. He makes his way to where you sit and greets you warmly. You return his greeting. He says that he has just come from the valley and has been spreading the news about the coming destruction.
‘Are there any who have believed the message?’ you ask. ‘I am very glad to say’, he replies, ‘that there are many who have believed the message and who know the path to salvation’.
‘Why then have they not left the valley and climbed the northern mountain to safety?’
‘Oh’, he answers, ‘It is important that we do not require people to do anything to be saved from the destruction. They only need to believe that it is real and to know the path to salvation’.
‘But, dear sir, if they truly believe, then they will know that they must leave the city and the valley and climb the narrow path to safety. There is no other way. If they remain where they are, they will certainly perish with the others. If we tell them anything other than this, then surely we are ministers of death’.
‘What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?’ Jas. 2. 14.
The reality of one’s faith is measured by the intensity of his actions. The Scriptures make this fact undeniably clear. In Luke 6. 46, Jesus says, ‘And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?’ He then explains that it is not those who hear His words who will be saved, even if the hearers intellectually assent to the truth. It is those who do the things He says that will be saved. If there is not corresponding action, then there is not true faith. ‘Faith without works is dead’, Jas. 2. 26. If there is no true faith, then there is no salvation, Heb. 11. 6.
There is a dangerous and potentially deadly tendency in local assemblies today for us to put so much emphasis on intellectual belief that the true message of the gospel is lost. We must die to self to live in Christ, Gal. 2. 20. The way of the cross is hard and dangerous, Matt. 7. 13, 14. We must forsake the things of the world and the flesh, Tit. 2. 11-14, and rather strive for those things which are above, Col. 3. 1-3. Our lives should be characterized by good works, Eph. 2. 10.
We do not want to undermine the necessity for one to believe the basic tenets of the gospel, but we must not shy away from preaching the full truth of the effect the gospel must have on one’s life. There are some in local assemblies who show little or no evidence of true saving faith. This is especially true among young people who have been brought up in Christian homes.These have been taught the truth of sin and the punishment of hell; they have been force-fed the gospel since birth, and they know the way of salvation. When children are very young, many of us as parents simply expect them to believe, and we all want them to be saved.The result is that we sometimes offer them a false assurance of salvation. However, how many truly do believe? Is there evidence that would give us any indication of the life of the Spirit within them? Or have we simply convinced them and ourselves that they are truly saved, when in fact they are still dead in trespasses and sins?
We do no favours to anyone when we consistently give assurance of salvation to those who do not live according to what God expects, or who show no evidence of the new life. A good healthy dose of selfdoubt may be just the thing to wake them. Have they truly believed? The First Epistle of John is a book of tests designed to separate the true from the false, or to separate the mere intellectual believer from the one who has truly believed with his heart, mind and soul. This little book tells us that if we have believed, then we must leave the world and the flesh behind and grow in our relationship with God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The reality of our faith will show in what we do, 1 John 2. 15-17; 3. 16-23.
The number of individuals in local assemblies who live like the world, and show no evidence of salvation through faith in the work of Calvary is increasing. Is it simply that we have lowered our standards, or is it that we have been preaching only half of the gospel? The gospel not only must be believed, it must also be obeyed, 2 Thess. 1. 8. If we preach anything less, then surely we are ministers of death!