By Bruce Mills
What are the evidences of genuine saving faith? That is an important question, because there are many people in our churches, communities, and culture who think they are believers, but in actuality, they are not. But before we consider the answer to that question, I would like to consider some of the things many people exhibit in their lives which neither prove nor disprove the presence of genuine faith. Although these things will be evident to some degree or another in true believers, they can also be seen—sometimes even to a high degree—in unbelievers. So what are these things which neither prove nor disprove genuine salvation?
1. Visible morality. A person can be outwardly moral and yet not be saved. Many Roman Catholics and Mormons live lives which are outwardly moral and put many Christians to shame by their high standards of behavior.
I know a Roman Catholic lady who attends early morning mass every single day before going to work. She is a kind, sweet lady. By the world’s standards, she is one of the most outwardly moral people you would ever meet; much more so than many genuine Christians that I know. But she is deceived by her false religion which promotes a salvation based on her good works and, therefore, she is lost and on her way to hell.
Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what good thing he should do to obtain eternal life? Jesus answered him to keep the commandments. He asked Jesus, “Which ones?” so Jesus listed several of them for him. When he responded back, “All these things I have kept,” Jesus did not challenge his sincerity. According to outward appearance and his own human perspective of obedience, he was probably telling the truth. But when Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor and then, “Come, follow Me,” Matthew tells us the man “went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property” (Matt. 19:16-22).
By his refusal to obey Christ, the man demonstrated that his outward obedience to the law was not done out of love for God or for the purpose of His glory, but was done out of self-love and for the purpose of his own self-interest. When commanded to give all of his possessions as well as all of himself to Christ, he refused. And by that refusal, even his seemingly good works were exposed as spiritually worthless works, because they were done out of selfish motivation.
2. Intellectual knowledge of God’s truth. It is possible to have a great deal of knowledge about God’s Word and yet be unsaved. Like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, many scholars throughout the centuries have devoted their lives to careful study of Scripture. But because they did not believe or obey the truths they studied, those truths became a judgment against them, and they remained as lost as the primitive tribesman who is unaware there is such a thing as Scripture.
Many years ago I was teaching through the book of James and was enjoying using a particular commentary because of its ease of understanding. The author was a former dean of students and Bible professor at a small evangelical Bible college out west. He had attended two excellent seminaries in pursuit of his degrees.
I was with my pastor at an event at which John MacArthur was speaking, and my pastor and I were standing backstage with John before he went out to speak. During the conversation, John mentioned that he was about to start teaching through the book of James, so I commented that this particular commentary was excellent. A look of sadness came across John MacArthur’s face and he said, “Unfortunately, that man turned away from Christ and became involved in a homosexual relationship, and is living and practicing that lifestyle. He is a reprobate and an apostate.”
Needless to say, I was shocked, but it was a lesson for me that great Bible knowledge is not evidence of genuine saving faith.
3. Religious Involvement. In the Old Testament, the Lord repeatedly condemned the Israelites for their meticulous outward observance of the Mosaic ordinances and ceremonies while having no trust in Him. They faithfully conducted their sacrifices, but failed to genuinely trust in Yahweh.
4. Active Ministry in Christ’s Name. Outwardly, Judas was as active as the other disciples, as evidenced by the fact that he was the keeper of the money bag for the disciples. And when Christ sent out the disciples to minister in His name, Judas obviously went with them. So for the better part of three years, he considered himself a follower of Christ. But we all know that he never was a true believer. And at the end of Matthew 7, Jesus said that at the final judgment, that some would think that they had been serving Him, but were not. He said,“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (vs. 21-23). So active ministry—even as a pastor, Sunday School teacher, seminary professor, or whatever, is not an indication of genuine salvation.
5. Conviction of Sin. This may surprise some of you, but just because someone feels guilty about their sin does not mean that they are a true Christian. Many unbelievers feel great guilt about the sin in their lives, as evidenced by the many people who reside in mental institutions around the world who are so burdened by the knowledge of their sinfulness that they cannot function in society. Their guilt over their sin became so overwhelming that it made them insane—but it did not cause them to flee to Christ.
Still, there are others who are convicted of their sin, and instead of turning to Christ, they determine to reform themselves. Many people who have been long and deeply enslaved by a particular sin have been able, sometimes through sheer will power, to rid themselves of it. But successfully forsaking a particular sin by their own will power does nothing more than make them even more susceptible to other sins, particularly pride.
Using Judas again as an example, even he felt conviction over his sin of betraying Christ, and committed suicide as a result. But he was not a believer in Christ; in fact, in His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus called him “the son of perdition” (v. 12).
6. Assurance of Salvation. The world is filled with people who are sincerely convinced in their own minds that they are right with God and that their place in heaven is secured. They truly believe that their good deeds outweigh their evil deeds and that God will accept them on that basis.
If being persuaded that we are right with God truly made us right with Him, we would not need the warnings we find in the Bible about being deceived by false hopes. Yet Scripture is full of warnings to unsaved people who think they are saved (Matt. 7:21-23; James 1:22).
7. A Past “Decision for Christ” Experience. There are many people who make a decision for Christ when they are young and yet, they live their lives with no evidence of the reality of that profession. Sometime down the road, some of them begin to doubt the reality of their decision, and the worst thing that can happen is for someone to say to them, “No, no. Don’t you remember? When you were eight years old, you prayed and asked Jesus into your heart, so don’t have any doubts now. If you can find your Bible, look inside the front cover, because I remember that you wrote down the date there. Don’t doubt your salvation, just believe.”
No, if no evidence of godly living results from that event, no matter how strong and genuine the profession seemed to be, it is no proof of salvation, and those people should doubt the genuineness of their profession.
So, these are some of the things which may be present in a person’s life, but neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s salvation. But there are some reliable proofs of saving faith. God does not leave His children in uncertainty about their relationship to Him. But we will wait until the next post to examine those.