A person can hear the gospel, but if he never exercises saving faith he remains lost for eternity. While many people try to justify themselves before God on the basis of their religious activity or their good works, the Bible clearly tells us that the only way to come to God is through faith in Jesus Christ. Too often, faith is misunderstood.
1. There are four kinds of faith
First, there is a historical faith, which means that a person believes what the Bible says because they have been culturally conditioned to believe it. In communities where the Christian faith is strong or there is a strong sense of divine authority, a person who does not believe the Bible's message about Christ might become an outcast. This happens due to the strong social and cultural influences which often have roots in Christianity. The only problem is that this kind of faith cannot save. The demons of hell exercise this kind of faith...and they certainly are not saved! You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder (James 2: 19).
Second, there is temporary faith, which lasts for a while, then fades away because it does not have any roots. Jesus describes this in the parable of the sower in which the Word of God is sown upon a heart with shallow soil. Just like a little seed which germinates in shallow soil, there springs up what appears to be life. But because of the shallow soil the life is only temporary and quickly withers.
And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away (Matthew 13: 20-2 1).
Some people have a religious experience or even have great excitement about the Christian life, possibly even making a public profession of Christ. But if the Word of God does not take firm root in his life by its saving power, this kind of person quickly fades away when the demands of the Christian life confront him. This kind of faith cannot save.
Third, there is a miraculous faith, which describes those individuals who through some means or another are able to perform miraculous works and because of this they believe themselves to be saved. Judas Iscariot followed Jesus Christ for three years and was even involved in doing miraculous works. Yet he perished in hell! Pharaoh's magicians imitated the miracles of Moses for a time, yet they were by no means believers! Jesus warned against this kind of false faith in Matthew 7: 21-23:
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. 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. '
Finally, there is a true, justifying faith or saving faith, which is a gift of God given to us that we might believe the Person and Work of Christ on our behalf. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2: 8-9). Let's clarify this wonderful gift of saving faith.
2. What faith is not
Sometimes it helps to see what something is not in order to see what it really is. Saving faith is not a mere acknowledgment of the historical facts of Jesus Christ. Most people will acknowledge. this, yet remain lost. Saving faith is not just believing in God. Remember that the demons believe in God too! Saving faith is not simply an acknowledgment that Jesus is a Savior or that Jesus can save. Neither is saving faith simply faith in faith, nor faith in a decision. ..nor faith in a prayer. ..nor faith in a profession...nor faith in your own plan of salvation.
3. What justifying faith is
True faith is based upon the fact of what God has declared in His Word. The object of saving or justifying faith is Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished on behalf of sinners through the cross. It is when the sinner humbly approaches Jesus Christ in absolute trust in Him that the work of the cross is applied in saving power to the sinner's life. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law (Romans 3: 27-28). It is not the works of the sinner that saves him. His works are powerless to bring about salvation. But when God gives him grace to believe in Jesus Christ and trust what Christ did on the cross for him, that person is transformed by the power of God.
How does justifying faith operate? There are three facets to this kind of true, saving faith. First, there is self-renunciation in which a person comes to the end of himself, recognizes his absolute sinfulness and hopelessness before God, and turns from his sin, then turns to God, Who alone can save him. Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3: 19). This self-renunciation is evident by repentance, which involves a change of mind about life, so that the person turns away from his life of rebellion toward God and casts himself wholly upon the mercy of God to save him (see also Acts 2: 38; Luke 13: 3; Mark 1: 15). The Apostle Paul described this work in his own life in Philippians 3: 8-9.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
Second, justifying faith involves a total reliance upon Jesus Christ and His work on the cross to save you. That's what faith or believing means, a total reliance or absolute trust in someone or something. in this case the Someone is Jesus Christ! When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do in order to be saved, they replied, Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household (Acts 16: 30-31; see also John 3: 16; 3: 36; 5: 24; 6: 40; 6: 47). This belief in Christ goes beyond head knowledge of Jesus to a trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. Faith means "Forsaking All, I Trust Him." The Apostle Paul never boasted about anything he did in order to be saved, because he realized that it was all of Christ and none of him. But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6: 14).
Third, Justifying faith involves appropriating or receiving Christ Himself as your Redeemer, Justifier, Savior, and Lord.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1: 12-13).
When a person comes to Jesus Christ in absolute trust, he receives Christ into His life, and with Him, all that He has accomplished for sinners. Now that new believer knows Christ in a different fashion. No longer is He just an impersonal God in the heavens. But now he enters into a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord. Jesus has redeemed him from the power of sin, so Jesus is now his Redeemer. Jesus has applied His blood and righteousness to his life and declared him to be righteous before God, so Jesus is now his Justifier. Jesus has saved him from the wrath of God, so now Jesus is his Savior. Jesus has laid claim to his life for eternity by His atoning death and mighty resurrection, so now Jesus is his Lord.
What kind of faith do you have?
("From the Pulpit" is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)