Monday, September 15, 2008

What Are the Marks of Genuine Faith? Part 2

By Bruce Mills

In my last post, I discussed those things which may be present in someone’s life, but which neither prove nor disprove the presence of genuine faith. I would now like to discuss those things which are reliable proofs of the presence of genuine saving faith in someone’s life. When these things are present in one’s life, that individual can have assurance that he has truly been redeemed.

1. Love for God. Rom. 8:7 says, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God.” The unsaved person cannot love God and has no desire to love Him. However, the true child of God, despite his often failing his heavenly Father, will have a life characterized by delight in God and His Word. This is evidenced by several passages of Scripture. Let me list just a few found in the book of Psalms.

Psalm 1:1-2
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.

Psalm 42:1-2
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 73:25
Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

Psalm 119:97-100
O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.

So, the first mark of genuine salvation is love for God. Every one of us should ask ourselves, “Do I love God? Do I love His nature? Do I love His glory? Do I love His name? Do I love His kingdom? Do I love His holiness? Do I love His will? You see, a supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.

2. Repentance from Sin and Hatred of It. This is the flip side of the first point, the love of God. The person who genuinely loves God will have a built-in hatred of sin. It is impossible to love two things that are contradictory to one another. Jesus categorically declared, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). If one truly loves God who is holy and righteous, he will have a deep abhorrence of sin.

Let me put it this way: If I said to you, “I love my wife, but I couldn’t care less what happens to her,” you would question the genuineness of my love because true love always seeks the highest good of its object. So if I say, “I love God,” then I will have to hate sin because sin offends God. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God and His work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So if I say, “I love God but I tolerate sin,” then you have every reason to question my love for Him. I cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him.

Proverbs 28:13 declares, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” That verse links the two inseparable parts of true repentance: the confession and the forsaking of sin.

The true believer often hates sin even while he is doing it and always after he has done it, because it is completely contrary to his new nature in Christ.

True repentance is more than simply being sorrowful over sin. Many people are sorry for and feel guilty about their sin. After he betrayed Jesus, Judas became sorry for His sin, to the point that he committed suicide, but he did not repent of his betrayal or ask Jesus’ forgiveness, and he is eternally condemned to hell.

True repentance always involves godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9), which is not the sorrow which often comes when one is caught or shamed or public humiliated, but rather godly sor-row is sorrow that comes because one has disobeyed and offended his Lord.

If a person’s sin does not bother him and increasingly convict him, that genuineness of that person’s salvation is questionable. The test for true repentance is not an individual’s sorrow over how sin has harmed himself or others, but whether or not he is sorrowful for how his sin has offended his Lord. Our sin is a slap in the face of a holy God, and a true believer will recognize it as such and seek forgiveness.

But true repentance not only involves confession, but it also involves turning from sin. I should be grieved over my sin. I should ask myself, Do I have a settled conviction of the evil of sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing it really is? Does conviction of sin in me increase as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not merely because it is ruinous to my own soul but because it is offensive to my God whom I love? Does it grieve me more when I sin than when I have trouble? In other words, what grieves me the most: my misfortune or my sin? Do I find myself grieved more over my sin than over the sin of others? That’s the mark of salvation, true saving loves God, so it hates what God hates, which is sin.

3. Genuine humility. A proud person cannot be saved. By that I mean, the individual who trusts in his own ability to please God and who considers himself spiritually superior to oth-ers has not reached the point at which he can be saved. Salvation begins when one admits his absolute poverty of spirit and inability to do anything to please God. Like the prodigal son, the sinner who comes to his spiritual senses and recognizes his awful sinful condition, and then go to his heavenly Father and humbly confesses his sin and the fact that he is unworthy of forgiveness, is the one who will find God’s grace.

4. Devotion to God’s glory. The true believer will do what he does because he wants to glorify God. Sure, he fail in all of these things, but the direction of his life is toward loving Him and hating sin and being genuinely humble and self-denying and knowing his unworthiness and being totally devoted to the glory of God.

5. Prayer. I am not speaking of some type of formal prayer which is learned by rote and quoted in church on a regular basis. Rather, I am speaking of the continual heart cry of a genuine Christian who cannot help but call out to God, who is his heavenly Father and whose own Spirit is within him to generate that yearning.

As American’s greatest theologian and one of my heroes, Jonathan Edwards, succinctly observed, “Hypocrites are deficient in the duty of secret prayer.” That’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly because hypocrites want to impress people, but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. A true believer with true saving faith has a personal, private prayer life which seeks communion with God.

6. Selfless Love. This is love, not only for God, but also for other people, especially fellow Christians. The person who does not sincerely care for the welfare of true believers is, him-self, not a true believer, but still abides in spiritual death. Throughout his first epistle, the apostle John continually emphasized how love was the evidence of genuine faith.

1 John 2:9-10
The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

1 John 3:14
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.

1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

People who say, “Well, I would go to church, but I just can’t stand being around Christians,” need to examine their hearts to see if they are truly in the faith. True believers love being with and around other believers. They enjoy meeting their needs, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

7. Separation from the World. God’s Word calls believers to be in the world but not of it. Again, the apostle John addressed this issue in his first epistle.

1 John 2:15-16
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

On the other hand, 1 John 5:4-5 tells us, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

And throughout Ephesians 4 which addresses the Christian’s walk, we see that believers are not to be characterized by the things that are normal for the world, such as immorality, impurity, covetousness, greediness, lying, anger, theft, unwholesome filthy speech, bitterness, drunkenness, slander, and wrath. And then Paul concludes that whole litany of sins with this instruction: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Eph. 5:11). So believers are to live lives which are separated from the world in terms of practicing the sin the world loves to practice.

8. Spiritual Growth. The parable of the soils in Matthew 13 teaches us that true believers will grow spiritually to varying degrees, because by faith they have genuinely received the seed of the gospel. And Paul tells us in Phil. 1:6 that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” That word “perfect” means “to bring to completion.” True believers will grow spiritually because God is the One who is at work within them to bring about that growth.

9. Obedient Living. This is closely related to being separate from the world, but this is the positive side. Whereas separation from the world has to do with avoiding the world’s sin, obedient living is following the Scripture’s instructions about what we are to do. Again, we return to John’s first epistle:

1 John 2:3-5
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought Himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

So, we are to obey God’s Word and live like Christ lived. He was always obedient to the Father and always obedient to the Word. And therefore, our lives will be marked by good works. Although no one is saved by his good works, those who are truly saved will produce good works. Paul told the Ephesians, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

So look at your life. Paul says in 2 Cor. 13:5, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” Do you see all those things, including selfless love, separation from the world, spiritual growth, and obedience? If so, that’s evidence of a saving faith. But if those things aren’t there, don’t be misled because you have some of those first seven things we looked at which don’t really prove anything about the genuineness of salvation. You need to “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you” (2 Peter 1:10).

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