The subject of this post touches upon the question of whether someone is truly saved or not. Perhaps the recent news of a well-known rapper’s announcement of his radical conversion to Christianity, (and the speculation that has come with it), has kindled some interest and dialogue about what is or isn’t authentic faith.
Maybe you have wondered the same thing. Maybe you have a loved one who made a profession of faith at one point, one who seemed to come whole-heartedly into the faith. That person may have said and done the right things, yet the change was so radical that you wonder if it is sincere. Maybe the opposite is true. Maybe they didn’t exhibit any change at all, despite their profession of faith. Furthermore, Christianity in our society can be considered cultural. Many identify with it, but their association seems to be more of a nod of approval rather than a love for Christ. We hear quite a bit about the “good news” of favor in the form of a blessed and comfortable life, but less about sin and repentance, sacrifice and dying to self. Alter calls may look very effective in their responses, but what does that mean to the convert, really? Can someone be genuinely saved if they say that they trust Christ as Savior? Is that all it takes? Do we just take their word for it, no matter how they live? After all, Christ came to save sinners, and His grace is all we need, right?
In seeking to answer these questions, it must first be stressed that no one knows the heart except God. (Romans 8:27). He knows the thoughts and motives of everyone and we cannot presume to sit in His place. However, He has given us his Word to search our own hearts and to gently guide others. Second, I cannot begin to do justice to all that the Bible has to say about what it means to truly be saved, but I can share some bullet points that I believe the Word of God is very clear about.
Salvation is initiated by God
A reading of 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit”. That is, without God first opening our eyes to Him, we are unwilling and unable to say “yes” to him. When Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of God, (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (v.17).
True believers will display repentance, a turning from sin
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
It is always convicting to understand that we were bought with a price, although some may take that as a license to live as they please in the name of grace. This passage reminds us that saving faith is inseparable from repentance, surrender, and a longing to obey Him.
True believers will abide in Christ and bear fruit:
“I am the vine, and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing”. (John 15:5)
What is meant by bearing fruit in this scripture?
According to this passage, it is the accomplishment of Christ’s work in our lives, a result that can only come from abiding with Him. By this standard, no amount of piety, religious involvement, even emotions bear any weight, if one’s heart is far from the Lord. Think of the Pharisees in Jesus’s day. They took great pride in following the law, and yet Christ condemned them for their self-righteousness. Someone apart from God can do many good things, and yet bear no fruit in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6). Consider what it means to “abide” with someone. It connotes conforming to, and tying oneself closely with the other. As a result, there is a reflection of the other, an alliance, an evidence of that relationship.
True believers were created for good works
“We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. (Ephesians 2:10)
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (James 2:14)
The work that Christ does in us as believers are not only our predetermined purpose in Him, but also evidence of our faith in Him. The idea here is not that we are saved by works, but that those good works display a reflection of His will in our lives as we walk (continue) in it.
True believers count the cost of following Christ
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him”. (John 12: 24-26)
It is clear that Jesus never glossed over, or understated the cost of discipleship. He never overlooked our duty to submit to Christ as Lord, even instructing his disciples (and to us as believers) to “count the cost” (Luke 14: 28-33).
These are just a few scriptures that confirm that saving faith is a faith that goes hand in hand with a life that is shows evidence of heart-felt obedience over the long haul. Does that mean that the believer will never fail? No, but what it does mean is that when there is sin or rebellion, there is a desire to repent, confess, and be restored before God. Take our example of Peter again. On the night of Christ’s arrest, he denied him three times. However, he was remorseful and repentant, and did not ultimately sell out. (Luke 22:54-62 and John 21:15-25). In fact, the existence of a life that is truly the Lord’s is evidenced by a constant fighting of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16-18). While we have the Holy Spirit within us, we cannot be obedient unless we surrender to His leading. Otherwise, we default to the sin nature we are born with (Romans 8:3, Romans 7:14, Romans 6:6 ). Bear in mind as well that new Christians are just beginning their spiritual walk and exhibit this growth to various degrees and at various paces. At the end of the day, genuine faith will inevitably show a pattern of continual growth. In other words, time will tell. Continue to pray, watch, and guide. Someone who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit will have a gnawing conviction until that sin is brought to the Lord. (Ephesians 4:30). We will never be perfect this side of heaven, but strive to go in the direction of Christlikeness. (1 John 1:9).
These are just a few marks of true conversion, but God’s word has more to say. We can continue to study more by looking at the parables that Jesus used to describe His kingdom and those He has called into it. I’ll save that for the next post to continue the series. In the meantime, check out a related post, The Litmus Test of Faith, which is a short overview of the book of 1 John and a clear point-by-point look at further evidence of genuine faith.
Have you ever wondered if you (or someone you love) is truly saved?
Do you see evidence of genuine faith in your own heart and your loved ones?