In our last article here at Sound Church, we highlighted 10 Illegitimate Evidences of True Faith. After focusing on many of the false evidences of the Christian faith, it would hardly be helpful to allow the discussion to end there. So, today, we are listing the characteristics that will be true of your life if you indeed have true faith. Scripture makes it clear that we can know whether or not we have eternal life, but the reasons by which we are confident in our faith must be biblically defined.
The evidences that follow will correspond to the original ten. You may also notice that in this current article, the church is mentioned often, so a brief word of clarification about the church is warranted. A biblical church should not be confused with the so-called universal church which is commonly understood to be some sort of nebulous, wide-ranging group of believers. There are individuals today who believe that they have made this universal church their first priority and by doing so, they believe that they have met the requirement of Scripture. In fact, many para-church organizations derive their authority from the idea that they function as a part of the universal church. This is a dangerous idea. The idea that one can be a part of the so-called universal church without membership in a local church is one without any biblical support. In fact, Biblical instruction for the church is always directed to the local church. It is the local church where one must reside and it is the local church to which one must be devoted in service – that is, a local church which preaches and practices the true Gospel. We are told in Scripture that false churches really do exist and it follows that a member of a false church cannot be a part of the Body of Christ. Therefore, the first step we must make as believers to make certain that the church to which we join ourselves is a biblical church and if there is no true church in our geographical area, we must be willing to forsake all in order to find and be a part of such a church (Matthew 13:31-50). A biblical understanding of the church is essential to our understanding of what it means to be a true believer, however, an in-depth treatment of what constitutes a biblical church will have to be reserved for future articles.
Here are 10 Legitimate Evidences of True Faith:
1. I have been born again into the family of God, the Church and I remain in that Body.
The first and most basic requirement for a true believer is to be born again. There can be no Christian without the new birth. Jesus pointed this out to Nicodemus in John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
However, this new birth is not a birth into a vacuum or a solitary faith, but we must be born again into the family of God. The Apostle Peter writes about this truth in 1 Peter 1:3 where he states that Jesus “has caused us to be born again . . . to an inheritance that is imperishable. . .” Then in chapter two, Peter makes it clear that one who is born again will be a member of a larger group (1 Peter 2:4-10). Therefore, if you are not a part of the covenant community and recognized as a believer by that covenant community, you can have no assurance of true faith. In Ephesians, Paul writes that prior to salvation, the Ephesian believers were “outside the commonwealth of Israel and were “strangers to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). But now, the Ephesian believers and all true believers are a part of the commonwealth of Israel – the spiritual Israel, the church. Hebrews 12:23 tells us that we have been born into the “assembly of the Firstborn.” If you are not a part of that “assembly,” you are not in Christ and it is because of this membership that we can have hope.
But it does not end there. Once we have been born again into the church and are reconciled to God, we must continue to remain in that place if we are to consider our faith genuine. Paul writes that all of the blessings of faith and the kingdom (the church) are ours only “IF indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven…” (Colossians 1:23). Be sure that you are not one of those who has received “the grace of God in vain” (1 Corinthians 6:1) meaning one who entered into the covenant and experienced the grace of God, but did not remain in that place. If you were born into a biblical church and you remain in a biblical church, you possess an important, legitimate evidence of true faith.
2. I have committed myself to lifelong obedience and continual repentance.
If your obedience or repentance ceases at some point, you must at least consider the fact that your faith is not genuine. The entire Christian life is one of submission to a Higher Authority. John sums it up well:
I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. – 2 John 4-6
Christ recognized that there would be many who initially committed themselves to a life of obedience, but who then turned from that life. We find in the story of the Parable of the Soils the fact that some will receive the Word with joy, but will ultimately fall away due to the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches and other desires (Mark 4:1-20). And if you think that there are no consequences for falling away, you are mistaken. Those who turn from a life lived according to the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) are clearly in danger of hellfire (Luke 9:62, John 15:6-11).
It is also important to point out here that repentance is not simply a change of mind, but it is a change of direction, a change of activity. One who is repentant will turn from sin and toward righteousness (Romans 2:1-11). In 2 Timothy 2:25, we read that repentance is a gift from God that leads “to a knowledge of the truth.” But repentance does not end with merely intellectual knowledge, knowledge must lead to action. In Acts 26:20, Paul writes that the Gospel demands that man “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” and the wonderful promise is that true repentance leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Thus, if your life is characterized by obedience and true, biblical repentance, you can claim the promise of God to forgive your sin and to cleanse you from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). As a result of that forgiveness and cleansing, God will “richly” provide “you an entrance in the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:9-11). Lifelong obedience and repentance are a legitimate evidence of saving faith. (Note that this evidence is not perfection. For a fuller explanation, see evidence #5)
3. I continue to serve my Church and submit to her leadership.
Service to the church is proof of our faith. Furthermore, our conduct in the church and our treatment of our brothers and sisters in the church will be factors in the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) because when we serve our brothers and sisters in the church, we serve Christ Himself. The church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). A passage from 1 Thessalonians explains more about how those in the church should conduct themselves:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
Note that Paul here mentions that the Thessalonian church was to “respect” and “esteem” those who labored over them – which brings us to the second part of this legitimate evidence of faith: participation and service to the church includes submission to her leadership. The writer of Hebrews further emphasized this submission:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. – Hebrews 13:17
The account given by the leaders of the church and the members of the church will be used in judgment. 1Timothy 6:12 tells us that saving faith will be confessed and lived “in the presence of many witnesses.” Where else other than the church could this place of “many witnesses” be?
One who serves his church and submits to her leadership has legitimate reason to be assured of his faith.
4. I am orthodox both in profession and in practice.
In Ephesians 3:4, the believer is called to understand the mystery of Christ. In chapter 5, Paul tells the Ephesian church to awake, to look carefully, to be wise, to make use of the time, to not be foolish and to understand the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:14-17). Why? because doctrine matters. The true believer will not be satisfied with doctrine that is loosely based on Scripture or has logical holes. Teaching that is mostly correct or just “in the ballpark” is teaching based on error and will eventually lead to the destruction of the hearers. We must understand that Scripture uses precise words, principles and paradigms in order to communicate sound doctrine because sound doctrine is a mark of the true believer.
Why is orthodox doctrine a sign of legitimate faith for the believer? Because all doctrinal error is sin (1 Timothy 4), because we must know the truth in order to discern the spirit of error (1 John 4:6) and because doctrine can save and doctrine can damn (Jude 20-23). Furthermore, ignorance of doctrine is no excuse for wrong theology or wrong practice. Leviticus 4 indicates that sins done in ignorance still required atonement and according to Christ’s words in Luke 12:48, a person who is ignorant of the truth will receive a less severe punishment – but he will still be punished. In other words, ignorance might reduce your sentence, but you are still going to jail. Paul bemoaned the theological ignorance of his Jewish brethren in Romans 10:2 because they “had zeal” for God, but that zeal was not according to knowledge and he knew that if their knowledge did not change, they would go to hell.
If God has graciously granted you the time, resources and understanding that are required to know His will, do not settle for ignorance. Settling for ignorance is the mark of an unbeliever, not a believer (Ephesians 4:18).Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2) and God has promised that those who seek Him with their whole heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). This must be especially true of those who labor in the Word (pastors, elders, and teachers), As Paul wrote to Timothy, who was an elder in the Ephesian church; you must “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Timothy 4:16).
If you are truly seeking to know the God of the Bible and submitting the thoughts and actions of your life to sound theology, you have a legitimate assurance of genuine faith.
5. I prove my love for God through full compliance to His Word.
Full compliance is one of the most important characteristics of the truth believer. Remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler? Christ never questioned or debated the fact that he had kept most of the Law faithfully. The reason that the Rich Young Ruler could not be a disciple was that he refused to obey completely or fully. When Christ asked him to submit in his one area of non-compliance, he refused and went away sorrowful (Mark 10:17-22). The book of 1 John constantly mentions the idea that a true disciple will be obedient to the faith in entirety. We read in chapter 5, verses 2-3:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Again, as we have mentioned before, this compliance must persevere all the way to the end, 1Timothy 6:13-14:
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony beforePontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is by this full obedience that children of God are obvious (1 John 3:10) to both outsiders and to the witnesses who make up the church. Furthermore, obedience is really the only basis by which a church can judge whether or not an individual is fit for baptism, can partake of the Lord’s Table or is a candidate for discipline. The reason for this is that the human beings who are a part of your church cannot know your heart, so outward obedience besides being included in “full compliance” also provides a practical function. Granted, there is a possibility that one could fool the Church by practicing outward compliance, but still hiding secret sin. However, Scripture warns that sin will be eventually found out (Numbers 32:23) and there is no sense in which hypocrisy could be considered full compliance. You know it and God knows it. If you are a hypocrite, you have no reason for the assurance that your faith is genuine (Matthew 23:27).
It is also important to understand that full compliance is not perfection because we know that we can never attain perfection in this life (1 John 1:8). This is one of the ways in which the covenant is gracious. God has made provision for our continued struggle with sin through the means of confession, repentance and forgiveness (1 John 1:9; 2:1). Remember that confession itself is one of God’s commands; therefore a fully compliant believer will confess sin on a regular basis. Full compliance means that a believer will be faithful to do all that God requires and a true believer’s sin will not dominate his life or persist to the point of his removal from the covenant community.
When you are fully compliant to all that God has commanded, you have legitimate proof of your faith.
6. I have both faith and faithfulness to God.
As a part of our faith we must accept (believe) the fact that God is who He says He is, has done what He says that He has done and that He will do what He says He will do. But our faith is not just intellectual. The idea that our faith must beactive in order to be alive is in every book of the New Testament. James makes it clear that one cannot claim to have faith and yet not also have the accompanying faithfulness (James 2:14-26). This is the theme of Hebrews chapter 11 where we read all kinds of examples of individuals who had genuine faith. All of the men and women of Hebrews 11were people who believed God and then did what He told them to do. This is the essence of true faith: action based on the promises of God.
Ultimately, true faith is an obligation – an obligation to do all that God has commanded. And even though our obligation can in no way pay for or earn eternal life, God has graciously obligated Himself to give the priceless gift of life to those who obligate themselves to Him and maintain that obligation for the rest of their lives. Peter once pointed out that he and his disciple brothers had left everything in order to follow Christ and Christ’s response? To tell Peter and the rest of the disciples that their faithfulness would be rewarded:
Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life. – Luke 18:29-30
Years later, Peter restated Christ’s words:
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:10-11
Does your faith result in action? Are you a doer of the Word and not just a hearer? Are you faithful to make the kingdom (the church) your first priority? Are you faithful to do all that God has commanded? Is your righteousness (faithfulness) greater than the outward-only faith of the scribes and the Pharisees? If so, you have a legitimate evidence of true faith.
7. I am daily motivated by feelings of love for God and fear of God.
Feelings are a gift from God that can increase our motivation and give us the energy necessary to do what needs to be done. However, feelings cannot and were not meant to be the basis for truth. If we are not careful to ground ourselves in the Word, feelings can motivate us to do the wrong thing just as easily as they motivate us to do the right thing. Christians can fall into the trap of making decisions based on feelings when the reality is that feelings mean nothing if one’s thoughts, words and actions are not also being consciously conformed to the will of God as revealed in His Word. Even Christ Himself experienced feelings that suggested that He find a way to avoid going to the Cross. Fortunately for us, He did not follow those feelings:
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” – Luke 22:41-42
Again, when one’s life is conformed to the will of God, feelings will be a part of that life and can be a great motivator. Feelings or emotions are a gift from God that when used properly, become a valuable asset for advancing the Kingdom. Consider how the following emotions are good when exercised biblically:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! – Psalm 111:10
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. – Proverbs 15:13
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. – Matthew 10:28
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. – Ephesians 4:26
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. – 2 Corinthians 7:10-11
For I [Paul] feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 11:2
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit. – 1 Thessalonians 1:6
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. – James 4:9
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers. – 1 Corinthians 6:5
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7
If your feelings and emotions arise from sound doctrine and motivate you to service that is pleasing to God (Ephesians 5:10), then you possess another legitimate evidence of true faith.
8. My sincere intentions never prevent me from pursuing sound doctrine.
Intentions are important! In fact, they are just as important as our actions. James 4:3 tells us that there are times when we are not given what we ask because we ask with the wrong motives. In 1 Corinthians 4:5 we learn that God will expose the hidden motives of man’s heart and reward or condemn accordingly.
Our intentions must be pure, but even good intentions can lead us astray if those motives cause us to subvert or ignore the commands of Scripture. If you have the intention of reaching the world for Christ, that is an admirable goal. But if your efforts cause you to work outside of the structure of the church, you are in error and all of your good intentions may be for naught because the ends do not justify the means. In fact, the Apostle Paul was accused of operating according to this philosophy and in Romans 3 he vigorously defended himself against the charge:
But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. – Romans 3:5-8
Paul refused to do something unrighteous, even if the goal was righteous. He wanted nothing more than for people to come to Christ, but even though his were the greatest of intentions, he refused to alter his methods the least bit from what God had ordained:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:1-2
Paul’s message was “not in plausible words of wisdom” (v.4), because the last thing that he wanted was for the faith of the Corinthians to rest in the wisdom of man instead of the power of God. Too many people have “great intentions” of service on God’s behalf, but they refuse to submit to the plan that God has ordained. Unfortunately, the entity that well-intended individuals choose to ignore most often is the church, the Body of Christ. When discussing the veracity of one’s faith, one of the first and most telling questions is whether or not they are part of a biblical church. For many people, this simple idea immediately exposes their lack of submission even though they might have the greatest of intentions. There is no way that any effort on behalf of God will be eternally successful if it ignores the church for which His Son gave His life (Ephesians 5:25). Manmade efforts to spread the Word outside of the church can indicate a heart of rebellion, despite stated intentions – and God does not save rebels (Titus 1:16).
Do you have sincere intentions that never cause you to violate any biblical commands? Then you have a valid evidence of faith.
9. I continue to persevere in advancing the Kingdom.
Until we take our last breath, our work on behalf of the kingdom (the church) is never finished. The time to “rest from our labors” (Revelation 14:13) is coming, but if we are still alive, that moment of rest has not yet arrived. How do we advance the kingdom? Here is a partial list:
Not neglecting the assembly (Hebrews 10:25-26) . . . bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) . . . loving the brethren (1 John 3:14). . . sharing the Gospel (Acts 8:25) . . . defending the Gospel (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3) caring for the poor in the Body (Acts 4:34; I Timothy 6:18-19). . . making the Church our greatest priority (Luke 12:31) . . . observing baptism (Matthew 28:19-20) . . . practicing church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18; I Corinthians 5) . . . submitting to authority (1 Peter 3:5-6; Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:7) . . .showing hospitality (Hebrews 13:1-3) . . . purifying the Church (Titus 2:14; Revelation 2,3) . . supporting our elders (1 Timothy 5:18) . . . praying for our brothers (James 5:16) . . . training our children (Ephesians 6:4)
The wonderful truth is that our work on behalf of the kingdom has real reward (Hebrews 6:10), will last for eternity (Luke 12:33) and the gates of hell itself can do nothing to resist our kingdom (Matthew 16:18). What a fantastic privilege we have to be an instrument used by God to increase His kingdom! If you are one who is finishing the course and keeping the faith (2 Timothy 4:7), you will one day hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of your master” – and you have a legitimate evidence of your faith.
10. I do not allow the supernatural work that I believe God has done in me to diminish my obligation and responsibility to God.
No man chooses God of his own will (John 6:44) and life comes through the Spirit (John 6:63). The new birth is a supernatural work of God that is still happening today and if you believe that supernatural work has been done in you, that fact will reduce or diminish your service to God. The Pharisees wrongly believed that since they had been born Jews, they were on their way to heaven no matter what. They believed that they had been supernaturally predestined for an eternity in heaven and thus could live any way they desired, but Christ brought them up short: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.” In the letter to the Romans, Paul reiterates Christ’s statement:
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regardedas circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written codeand circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:25-29
Your entrance into the Kingdom, your new birth into the family of God is a supernatural event, a gracious act by a loving God (Ephesians 2:4-8). But if that event has truly been done in you, you will submit to that loving God in humble obedience. If are not faithful to do all God has commanded, your belief that the supernatural act of regeneration has occurred in your life is likely mistaken:
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. – Romans 8:7-8
So here we have ten legitimate evidences of saving faith from Scripture. If you, before the God who tests men’s hearts (Psalm 7:9), can claim these evidences as being true in your life then you possess great confidence that your faith is genuine. It is important, however that all of these evidences be true of you. There is no room to pick what you like and throw away what you don’t. If you responded to one of these evidences by saying, “I don’t have to do that” or God doesn’t require that” or “that doesn’t matter,” then you now have two choices: either take the time to make certain that the command you are rejecting is not found in Scripture or admit that you are a goat and therefore not a disciple who is willing to be obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).
These evidences must be a part of your life if you claim to be a Christian and keeping these evidences in mind will make the Gospel a constant focus in the fellowship, worship and teaching of your church as well as in your daily life, occupation and family.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. – Hebrews 10:35-39