So you say you have ‘faith’. Great! But is the faith you say you have the kind of faith that will save you? The Bible clearly elucidates a kind of faith that is fraudulent; one that will not hold up under the scrutiny of a holy God on the last day. Are you sure the faith you have isn’t that one? Let’s explore it.
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them” (James 2:14).
"You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).
These two verses paint a picture of counterfeit faith. Two points are noteworthy: First, counterfeit faith intellectually acknowledges the truthfulness of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Second, counterfeit faith lacks deeds. A person characterized by counterfeit faith may mentally agree Jesus really lived and died for the sins of humanity. They may mentally agree the Bible is God’s Word. They may mentally agree going to church is a good thing. But this person ultimately does not possess saving faith because they lack deeds. They give lip service to love of God, but their hearts are far from him.
The parable of the sower provides another snapshot of counterfeit faith (see Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8). In this story, Jesus tells us a farmer scatters seed. It lands on four different types of soil; only one of which produces a crop. Two of the soils that fail to produce a crop begin with promise. They sprout up with positive signs of growth only to die prematurely. In this story, there are two traits of counterfeit faith we should notice. First, counterfeit faith does not produce a crop. Most often in the New Testament, fruitfulness is metaphoric for character and the deeds that emanate from it. Second, counterfeit faith doesn’t last. It grows weary and eventually dissipates.
Let’s consider one more. In Matthew 19, a young, rich man approaches Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to obey the Ten Commandments. The young man affirms he has. Jesus then instructs this man to sell his stuff, give it away, then come follow Him. The young, rich man walked away disappointed. He couldn’t do it. A person with counterfeit faith may believe Jesus lived, died, and rose again. A person with counterfeit faith may have character and good deeds. So what’s the problem? Jesus is 2nd or lower to some other love. Let's illustrate this using a scenario I’ve encountered numerous times in ministry. It’s a conversation between me and an engaged or dating couple:
Me: So you say you’re Christians. What makes you a Christian?
Couple: We believe Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead.
Me: What about good works?
Couple: Well, those are important, but they don’t save you. We can’t be good enough for our works to save us.
Me: Excellent! Does that mean once people believe, they can do anything they want?
Couple: No. Our works don’t save us, but they are important.
Me: What works are important? Give me some examples.
Couple: Oh, things like: being kind to people, generous, that kind of stuff.
Me: Good answer! How about one more good work. On your application, I see you have the same address. Are you living together?
Me: I’m assuming that means you’re relationship is of an intimate nature.
Me: Jesus makes it pretty clear to us that following Him isn’t compatible with everything we’d like to do. There are some things He tells us we need to leave behind if we’re going to follow Him. In your case, it’s abstaining from sex until you’re married and finding different living arrangements. Are you willing to do that in order to follow Christ?
Jesus asks everyone who wants to follow him (i.e. be a Christian) to re-prioritize and, in some instances, leave behind our other loves. In the scenario above, often times it is the case that asking this couple to abstain from sex until marriage and find other living arrangements is too much to ask.
Putting all of this together, a positive portrait of saving faith is characterized by:
So, is the faith you say you have the kind of faith that will save you?
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