Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faith also Entails a Willingness to Follow Jesus

 This is my response to a Christian who believes that faith is just a matter of mentally giving assent to a set of teachings without any repentance or willingness to follow Jesus:

You feel that your testimony argues against the need to repent in order to be saved. You reason that since you made no effect to repent after coming to savingly believe in Jesus and consequently, lived like the devil, that repentance is not necessary for salvation. However, there might be other ways to interpret your testimony. (Sorry! I’m probably being a bit presumptuous by trying to interpret someone else’s testimony. So I must beg your forgiveness.):

  1. Perhaps you weren’t saved when you came to “believe?”
  2. Perhaps you were saved, but God had been very indulgent with you, since you had misleading teaching. (You had been taught that you didn’t have to repent or give up anything, and that you could live in any manner that you chose.) Consequently, your lack of repentance didn’t represent an unwillingness to repent but just a lack of understanding.
After all, the devil and his demons also believe, perhaps more perfectly than we do. They were at the Cross. They were even privy to Jesus’ post-resurrection teachings. Consequently, we shouldn’t assume that mere mental assent to a set of facts saves.

Instead, the Bible gives us a more robust portrait of the nature of faith. All we need to do is to compare the unsaved to the saved in order to see that we are separated by far more than just a mental assent to facts. Paul claims that the unsaved don’t seek God (Rom. 3:10-12) and are even at odds with God and the truths of God (Rom. 5:8-10). Consequently there cannot be any meaningful mental assent without a change of heart.

Jesus taught that we cannot even see the kingdom of heaven unless we are born again (John 3:3). Without this change of heart, the things/truths of God are “foolishness” to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, there cannot even be any mental assent without a prior change of heart.

Naturally speaking, we have become lovers of darkness who hate the light of God and flee from it:

  • This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Therefore, faith must entail a change of heart! And a change of heart must also entail a change about what we think about the light and the darkness, sin and grace. Loving God and turning to His light is essential. It is inseparable from faith. There are no Scriptural examples of saving faith associated with a hatred of God and a love for the lies of darkness.

Israel’s problem was that they refused to love God. Therefore, they required a change of heart, as Moses informed them:

  • The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut. 30:6)
A circumcised heart was imperative if Israel was going to love God and “live” eternally. These elements cannot be separated from faith. No one should expect to “see God” without these changes associated with “holiness” (Heb. 12:14). However, although “holiness” has behavioral implications, it is not itself a meritorious work. Instead, we are granted holiness when we repent and confess our sins (1 John 1:9).

Hebrews offers us a negative portrait of holiness through the example of Esau. He shed tears over the fact that he had lost out on the blessing. However, he failed to confess his sin of looking down on the things of God and repent:

  • [Don’t be a] fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it [the blessing] diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17)
Esau lacked a godly sorrow – one that leads to repentance. Paul argued that a godly sorrow was a necessity for salvation:

  • Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
I too have my own testimony. However, it doesn’t fit in too neatly with what I have been writing. I had come to a faith in Jesus without even believing in sin. I had been a product of a psychologized society. This worldview promoted the idea that there was no sin. Instead, it was all a matter of needs-fulfillment. If we had our needs met, then we would naturally be loving and merciful. Therefore, I understood Jesus as my needs-fulfiller, not as my Savior and Lord.

Was I saved at that point? I don’t really know. However, I know that the Lord had His hand on me, even from an early age.

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