Its Source, Its Essence, and Its Effects
Good morning, and welcome to Grace Baptist Church. We are continuing our study of the Gospel of John. Our text today will be John 2:23-25. We will be considering the topic of saving faith, especially with respect to the source, essence, and effects of that faith.
However, before we read our primary text, I would like to introduce you to a man we will call Wendell. Now, be assured, you do not know this man. He has never attended our church, and you have never met him. Nevertheless, we encounter people like him all the time.
Wendell's faith.Wendell was a man who had a very rough entry into adult life. Before he was married, he wasted his paycheck on booze and sexual thrills. Yet, he always said that once he was married he would reform.
One day he met that special lady to whom he would pledge his heart. The first couple of years of marriage were sweet. A daughter was born. Wendell worked hard and tried hard to be a good husband and a good daddy. But, eventually, the old ways returned.
He began to stay out all night, and he would often be too drunk to go to work the next day. When he woke up from his drunken slumber he would curse his wife and child. Now his wife was threatening to leave, and his boss was threatening to fire him.
In desperation his wife began attending church. Soon the pastor visited her at home and had a chance to talk to Wendell. Finding that Wendell was sober, the pastor shared the gospel with him.
Wendell was very open that night. He admitted that he was a sinner and that he had let his family down. He still wanted to be a good daddy and a good husband to his wife. He also admitted that he deserved God's judgment. With bitter tears, he asked God to forgive him of his sins and to save his soul. The pastor assured him that he was now a new Christian -- that he had just passed from death to eternal life. The pastor also warned him that he would be tempted to doubt the authenticity of his conversion. When he doubted, he was to turn to 1 John 5:13 which says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."
Wendell and his wife embraced. She repledged her love and assured him of her forgiveness. Surely the nightmare was over. Surely this was the beginning of a new life together.
The next day Wendell showed up for work sober. The next Sunday Wendell was sitting beside his wife in church. This was the pattern for many months, and everyone rejoiced over the apparent conversion.
Yet, at home there was much evidence to challenge the genuineness of his conversion. Eventually, his rough treatment of his wife resumed. He yelled at her and called her names like "stupid" and "idiot." He was a racist who hated black people, Asians, and Hispanics. And when he brought his Bible home from church, it stayed on top of the bookshelf until the next Sunday. He seemed to have no interest in God's word.
One Sunday his Sunday School teacher made a comment that offended him. Wendell was so angry that he did not even stay for the preaching service. He left the church and never returned. Without the influence of the church, his old pattern of behavior soon returned. Impossible to live with and unreliable as an employee, within a mere six months, his wife had moved out, and his job had been terminated.
When Wendell's friend Raymond came to visit, Wendell was in a hospital bed. He had been in a terrible automobile accident, and he was not expected to live much longer.
Just as Wendell's pastor had done several years before, Raymond tried to talk to Wendell about his soul. But this time Wendell was unconcerned.
"Don't you worry about me," said Wendell. "I have my ticket to heaven. It was your pastor who prayed with me. I asked Jesus to save me; I put all my trust and confidence in Him; and I believe I am just as saved as you are, Raymond."
"But Wendell, look at how you have been living," answered Raymond. "Genuine believers don't live that way, at least, not for long. How could you possibly think that you are on your way to heaven?"
"Listen Raymond, haven't you ever heard the saying 'once saved always saved?' Don't you know about eternal security? Once God has saved me, I can't be lost again."
"Wendell, I don't know whether you were ever truly born again or not, but I do know this -- you have destroyed your own life and you have been unfaithful to your wife and child. Does that bother you at all?"
Wendell was furious. "Who are you to judge me? You have no idea how hard that woman was to live with. Nag, nag, nag, nothing I did was good enough for her. It was her fault that I went back to drinking. And as for my daughter, her mother turned her against me. It was her mother who got her to testify against me in court. You don't understand, but I am sure God understands. He knows that I have had a hard life."
Two weeks later Wendell died. The firmness of his confidence that he was on his way to heaven was matched only by the firmness of his resistance to repentance. He blamed everyone but himself, and he sought no mercy from God.
In the funeral that followed people expressed both regret and hope. There was regret over the way Wendell had wasted his life, but there was hope that even though Wendell had died while living like an unbeliever, because of his conversion several years before, his soul was now in heaven.
Not all faith is saving faith.But was Wendell really saved? Was Wendell really born again? Wendell had a kind of faith, but was it saving faith?
That is what we are going to talk about this morning -- saving faith. Please turn in your Bibles to John 2:23-25:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.Last time we talked about Jesus cleansing the temple. But, apparently, Jesus had done more than that. He had done some miracles there in Jerusalem, signs that were so convincing that many had believed in His name. To believe in Jesus' name is to believe everything Jesus says about His person, His work, and His authority. Jesus surely had not revealed as much as He would reveal later, but whatever He had revealed so far many had believed. In other contexts, to believe in Jesus' name is to have saving faith.
But here there was a problem. The passage goes on to say that Jesus was not entrusting Himself to them. The word translated as believe and the word translated as entrust are from the same basic Greek word pisteuo. In a sense, you could say that they trusted Jesus but Jesus did not trust them. What was the problem?
The passage tells us that Jesus knew what was in man. He was able to discern what kind of heart a person had. Now, by heart I do not mean the organ that pumps blood. I mean the intellect, the will, and the emotions. In that sense of the word heart there are only two kinds -- those that have been regenerated and those that have not. I believe that the reason Jesus rejected the faith of these people was because he knew they had not been regenerated. He knew that their faith was not the kind of faith that would last. It was not saving faith.
II. The Source of Saving Faith.What is the source of saving faith? Saving faith cannot rise from an unregenerate heart. A man who has not been born again is sometimes referred to as a natural man as opposed to a spiritual man. 1 Corinthians 2:14 describes the limits of the natural man. It says, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
In contrast, saving faith springs from a regenerated heart. It springs from the heart of a person who is no longer natural but spiritual, due to being born again. Saving faith must arise from a regenerated heart, because a regenerated heart -- a born again heart -- has an intellect that can comprehend the gospel, emotions that love Jesus and hate sin, and a will to obey Jesus. That is why regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit that has to happen before, yes, before a person can have and exercise saving faith.
For this reason, we say that faith is a gift of God. In Philippians 1:29 we read, "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." The ability to believe savingly in Christ is something that is granted, making the ability to believe a gift. Also consider John 6:44-45, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." In this passage, a person believes, because He has learned from the Father, and the Father has drawn him. Since the person's ability to believe is a result of the Father's action, this ability to believe is a gift.
In summary, the source of saving faith is regeneration. Saving faith cannot come about in any other way. The faith of the people who believed in Jesus' name in John 2:24 was commendable, but it was not saving faith.
The fact that not all faith in Jesus is saving faith should greatly concern us. Did Wendell have saving faith? What about us? How can we tell whether or not our faith is saving faith? We have already discussed the source of saving faith. You have to be regenerated -- you have to have a new heart. Only a new heart produces saving faith. But who is there among us who can truly look into the heart? Who is there among us who can truly know his own heart? Do we not read in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?"
But do not be discouraged. No, we cannot look at a person's heart and tell whether or not that person has saving faith. But we can look at a person's actions and see whether those actions show the essential qualities and necessary effects of saving faith.
III. The Essence of Saving Faith.Therefore, we now press on to consider the essence of saving faith. What are the qualities that have to be there in order for faith to be saving faith? Those qualities are knowledge, assent, and trust; which, incidentally, spell the word kat, if you are willing, for the sake of the memory device, to allow the word kat to start with a k.
Knowledge.Consider knowledge. In order to believe the gospel, people first have to hear it. They have to know what it is. Thus, we read in Romans 10:14, "How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" They hear; then they believe; and then they call. It is all in that verse.
And you need all three. Knowledge by itself is not enough. Our secular religion schools are filled with people who know the Bible inside and out, but many of those people do not believe it. They are aware of what the Bible teaches, but they have not assented to its teachings.
Assent.Thus, to have saving faith, people must also assent to what the Bible says. To assent means to agree after thoughtful consideration. The Bereans serve as an example of those who believed after thoughtful consideration, as we find in Acts 17:10-12, "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men."
They must hear the gospel, and they must believe it. They must know the facts of the gospel, and they must assent to those facts. But is that all that is required for saving faith? James would tell us otherwise. Consider James 2:19, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder."
Faith that stops with knowledge and assent is sometimes called historical faith. A person might believe the Bible in the same way that he believes his automobile maintenance manual. But that is not all there is to saving faith. Trust is required.
Trust.The object of that trust must be Jesus Christ, Himself. He, Himself, must be the focus of our confidence, our hope, our assurance, and our reliance. This relationship to Christ is analogous to marriage. In Revelation 19:7 we read, "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." Now, from the earthly union between a bride and her husband we learn some particulars about our union with Christ. For instance, when you marry someone, you are united to that whole person, warts and all. You might be able to choose the features you want in a new automobile, but when you marry someone, it is a package deal. You receive that person for all he or she is.
Similarly, when you are united to Jesus through saving faith, you must trust Jesus for all that He is. Of course, since Jesus is perfect, we have abundant reason to trust everything about Him. A favorite description for Jesus is the word Savior. It occurs twenty-four times in the New Testament. An example is 1 John 4:14 where we read, "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."
A less popular description of Jesus is the word Lord. Yet, the word Lord occurs 1,349 times in the New Testament, and, according to John MacArthur, at least 747 of those occurrences pertain directly to Jesus.
Furthermore, the Father, Himself, establishes the importance of that title for His son, as we read in Philippians 2:9-11:
God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.For a variety of reasons, we tend to miss the significance of this title Lord. One reason is the trite way in which people tend to use the word lord in their casual conversations. They say things like, "Lordy, lordy, look who's forty," or they use minced oaths like "Good Lord!" or "Lord have mercy."
Another reason is the insignificance of royal titles like lord in American culture. In the old days a Lord would have had the authority to tax us or press us into military service. But for most of us today, the word lord is merely a dignified title that no longer carries the weight of authority.
Notwithstanding the above, the word lord must have retained some of its authority, for now people are going to great lengths to say that we can have Jesus as Savior without having Jesus as Lord.
But how can this be? Is He not both? Are they not both aspects of who He is? Consider the conversion of the Philippian jailer. This is one of the most dramatic evangelistic stories. What a vivid picture we have of him trembling and falling down before Paul and Silas saying, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Marvel at the simplicity of the answer that follows in Acts 16:31, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." Believe! What could be easier than that? Perhaps saving faith really is as easy as A, B, C. Or did we read this verse too fast? It says "Believe in the Lord Jesus." The jailer will be saved if he believes, but in his believing he must trust Jesus as Lord.
Also, consider Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." The verse says that you will be saved if you confess what? You must confess Jesus as Lord.
At this point, proponents of easy-believism -- people who believe you can have Jesus as Savior without having Jesus as Lord -- would charge that I am adding works as a condition to the offer of the gospel. But works are an effect of faith; they are not of the essence of faith. Far from believing that we are saved by works, I readily affirm that:
Now, if you wish to have Jesus as Savior but not as Lord, then what you really are saying is that you trust Jesus as Savior but you do not trust Him as Lord. Or to put this in other words, you have faith in Jesus as Savior, but you do not have faith in Jesus as Lord.
So while I fully agree that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, I must insist that this faith have, as its object, the whole person and divinity of Jesus Christ who is both Savior and Lord. Anything less is a partial faith, and a partial faith is no faith.
Consider John 3:35-36, "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
In this passage, believing is contrasted with disobeying. Just as obedience is the outcome of faith, disobedience is the outcome of unbelief. Those who are not willing to trust Jesus as Lord do not have saving faith.
Now, I want to make sure that I am clear on this subject. We are not saved through works; we are saved through faith. Expanded, we are not saved through the works that spring from receiving Jesus as Lord; we are saved through the trust that receives Jesus as Lord. Trust precedes actions, and it is this trust that is an essential quality of saving faith. When we do not trust Jesus as Lord, we do not have saving faith.
To summarize, we have noted three essential qualities of saving faith: knowledge, assent, and trust.
IV. The Effects of Saving Faith.
So far we have talked about the source of saving faith and the essence of saving faith. We are now proceeding to the effects of saving faith.
What kind of faith did our friend Wendell have? Did he have knowledge? Yes, he did. He had been taught the basic facts of the gospel. Did he assent to those facts? Yes, he did. He believed that Jesus is God's son. He believed in the resurrection. And he believed that we are saved by grace through faith.
What about trust? There is a sense in which he did trust Jesus. He at least trusted Jesus as Savior. Wendell admitted not only that he was a sinner but that he deserved hell. He was truly sorry for the way he had lived his life, and his sincerity was underscored by his tears. He saw Jesus as his only hope for a home in heaven, and he took hold of that hope and held onto it until the day he died. But did he trust Jesus as Lord. He probably did not think about. His pastor did not mention it. He neglected to tell him, since he didn't believe it himself, that in order to have Jesus as Savior you must have Jesus as boss.
Instead, to make sure that Wendell never lost hope, his pastor gave him 1 John 5:13 and told him to cling to that verse whenever he had doubts about his salvation, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life."
The effects are to be sought.What the pastor failed to tell him was that the expression, "these things," made reference to the whole book of 1 John, not just chapter 5. And the rest of 1 John is a description of the things we should expect to find in people who have truly been born again. The idea is that if you want to be reassured that you have saving faith, you should look for these things in your life.
In contrast, Wendell's assurance of salvation rested upon his one-time response to Jesus and the sincerity of that response. In Wendell's mind, he had done his duty: he had prayed the right prayer; he had used the right kinds of words; he had come with the right kind of attitude; and now, as far as he knew, God was obligated to save him. And he sustained that confidence through a resolve to never doubt his salvation, even if his manner of life suggested that he had never been saved at all.
Thus, Wendell never learned to look for the effects of saving faith. He was never taught 2 Corinthians 13:15 which says, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?" Because of his deficient teaching, Wendell failed to perceive that he was still lost in his sins, and he failed to continue seeking the Lord for salvation.
The effects are listed in 1 John.The study of the effects of saving faith falls under the heading of assurance of salvation. When 1 John discusses how we can know that we have eternal life, it points out six things that we can look for, six things that are effects of the rebirth:
The first effect is what we believe about Jesus Christ. This belief in Christ initially belongs to the essence of saving faith. However, as we abide with Christ, our belief in Him and our commitment to him grow deeper. Are you trusting in Him alone for your salvation? Does your trust embrace Him as a person? Do you recognize and honor Him for all He is? Do you love Him? In 1 John 5:1 we read, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." To believe that Jesus is the Christ is more than mere intellectual assent. No, I am not adding to scripture. For the word Christ is another word for Messiah, and when you recognize someone as Messiah, you recognize them as having authority. Authority is implicit in the word Messiah. Matthew Henry expands on this:
Here the Christian brother is, described by his faith; he that believeth that Jesus is the Christ-that he is Messiah the prince, that he is the Son of God by nature and office, that he is the chief of all the anointed world, chief of all the priests, prophets, or kings, who were ever anointed by God or for him, that he is perfectly prepared and furnished for the whole work of the eternal salvation-accordingly yields himself up to his care and direction.
The second effect is what we practice--do we practice a lifestyle in which we are submissive to Christ, or do we live any way we want? In 1 John 3:9, "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Born of God, those who have saving faith do not practice sin. They slip into sin from time to time, but sin is not their practice. Instead, they deliberately seek to live holy lives. So if your sin does not bother you, it is possible that you do not have saving faith.
The third effect is what we reflect--are we becoming more and more conformed to the character of Christ? In 1 John 2:29 we read, "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." Christ is righteous, and those who have been reborn into Christ reflect that righteousness.
The fourth effect is who we love--do we love other believers. Do we delight to join them in worship? In 1 John 3:14 we read, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." This attitude stands in contrast to many outside of the church who excuse their absence by saying that the church is full of hypocrites. First of all, if the church really is full of hypocrites, such a person should fit in very nicely, and secondly, don't hypocrites need love too? I am personally grateful to people here who have continued to love me at times when I was not very lovable. We see the direction of born again love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Yes, I acknowledge that most of us, myself included, need to grow spiritually if we are going to love like that. Nevertheless, typically, someone who is truly born again does not sit around looking for excuses to avoid fellowship.
The fifth effect is how we stand--are we willing to stand against the world, or do we cave in and conform to it? In 1 John 5:4 we read, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith." Our faith is not in our own ability to answer every theological problem. Our faith is in the One who knows the truth and is the truth. Meanwhile, an unbelieving world demands answers. Why did God let this happen? Why did God let that happen? Why doesn't God regenerate everyone? We do not know how to answer every question they bring. But we do know the One who both has the answer and is the answer, and by the grace of God, and through being born again by that grace, we stand. Our faith remains, and we are not overcome by the world.
The sixth effect is how we persevere--are we continuing in our faith, or do we deny this faith by the way we live our lives? In 1 John 2:19 we read, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us." Many believe that if a person ever once makes a profession of faith -- some will add, and if he was sincere in that profession -- then that person was saved, and that person can never be lost. Well, what does "of us" mean in 1 John 2:19? It means those born of God. Those who were truly born again are never lost. However, when people leave the fellowship of born-again believers and never return, they reveal that no matter how sincere they were when they first professed Christ, their profession sprang from the flesh, not from a regenerated heart.
With respect to perseverance, more needs to be said about sincerity of faith. Generally, people recognize that not all who profess faith are truly saved. Sometimes they argue that the person was not sincere when he came to Christ. And it is true that some people might try to come to Christ as nonchalantly as one might add an accessory to an iPod. But then you have other people who, as far as they are able to understand sincerity, came to Christ with an attitude of seriousness regarding their need and remorse regarding their sin, but who, years later, show none of the effects of saving faith. Why? There is only one kind of sincerity that counts with God, the kind that springs from regeneration. Why, because that is the only kind that lasts. Man can produce repentance for a moment. Only God can move man towards repentance that becomes a way of life. Man, on his own, can produce a moment of faith. Only God can produce a life of faith. Only God can produce the kind of faith that lasts a life-time.
That is why when we look for evidence that a person is truly born again -- that the person truly has saving faith -- we look not so much at what was going on when the person first made a profession of faith but, instead, we look at how the person is living right now. Do we see the effects of faith that are mentioned in 1 John?
V. Summary.That's a lot to think about, isn't it. Let's summarize what we have discussed. We have discussed saving faith: its source, its essence, and its effects. The source of saving faith is regeneration. The difference between mere faith and saving faith is saving faith springs from a regenerated heart.
The essence of saving faith consists of knowledge, assent, and trust. The essence of a thing is the parts, without which it cannot exist. Saving faith does not exist without knowledge, assent, and trust. Under knowledge, we must know the teachings of the gospel, and under assent, we must believe that the teachings of the gospel are true. Under trust, we must respond to the gospel through humble reliance upon Christ. Trust must have an object, and the object of that trust is the divine person, the God/man, Jesus Christ. For those who wish to trust Jesus as Savior but who will not have Him as Lord, failure to trust Jesus as Lord is exposed as distrust and unbelief. Their confidence in Jesus is not complete, their trust is divided, and a divided trust is not faith but suspicion. The essential, non-negotiable qualities of saving faith include a complete and undivided confidence in Jesus as Savior, Lord, and everything else He claims to be.
After we considered the essence of saving faith we considered the effects of saving faith. We are saved through faith, not through the effects of faith. Nevertheless, scripture lays out the expected effects of saving faith in order that we might examine ourselves and be able to discern whether or not we have truly been born again.
For those who would disregard these effects and would cling to a form of easy-believism that ignores the authority of Christ as Lord, this warning from Matthew 7:21-23 should be taken to heart:
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.'
As we come to a close, my heart is very sad. People I love and people you love are probably going to wind up in hell, because the object of their faith is their profession of faith, not Jesus Christ Himself. Having rejected Jesus as Lord, they have rejected Jesus as Savior too. Yes, they walked down the aisle when the invitation was given. Yes, they prayed some form of the sinner's prayer. Yes, they were sincere at the time, as far as they were able to understand their own sincerity. But their commitment to Christ did not last, and now their lives show no evidence that they were ever born again.
Meanwhile, from the smallest county in Tennessee, and from the only town in that county we continue to cry out, hoping that some will hear, "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!"
Let us pray: Lord, we do not pray for a big church but for a regenerate church, not for affluent people but for regenerate people, not for super-star children but for regenerate children. Help us all to comprehend what it means to trust Jesus as a person, and help us to better understand and communicate the essence and effects of saving faith.