How do we examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith?

Jim Allen

Vain Faith

Within the church today are millions of professing believers without any evidence of changed lives. John Mac Arthur said about this condition, "The Bible never verifies anyone's salvation by the past but by the present." [1] Pointing to a time and place when a believer makes a decision to receive Christ is good, but is Christ a living reality in that person today? For an estimated 85 percent of the people who prayed to receive Christ, the answer appears to be no.

Searching the Internet using the words "Powerful Testimonies from Former False Converts" will bring forward disturbing stories from people who thought they were born again, told others they were born again, but then slowly discovered they were false converts (Romans 12:2). Now, they share stirring stories about pastors and teachers who pressured them to accept Christ before their hearts had been prepared to receive the seed of God's Word.

What is causing the church to grow in false conversions? Churches today avoid teaching about human depravity and the need for a humble and contrite heart. They avoid and deny the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-8) that leads to Godly conviction (Luke 18:13-14). As a result, the unconvicted heart is unbroken soil that cannot receive the seed of God's Word (1 Peter 1:23).* Many in the church hear the Word of God but it cannot penetrate the soil of the heart to take root and grow (Matthew 13:1-8, 19-23). They have vain faith.

True Faith

God does not want anyone to sin away the day of grace by living in a vain faith, as many do (2 Corinthians 6:2). What can a person who is unsure about salvation do to guard against vain faith? The apostle Paul says, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Corinthians 13:5).

"The apostle asked this question because he knew believers would—or should—know that if Christ lives in them they would know it to be true. How would they know? Jesus said that those who abide in Him (or have true faith) will bear much fruit (John 15:5). And, what is this fruit? The apostle says, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…" (Galatians 5:22-23). [2]

"Of course, we agree a Christian is not simply one who says a prayer, joins a church or one who adheres to a certain moral standards in life. Nor is a Christian one who consistently reads the Bible and does good works. A true Christian is someone in whom Christ lives. This person will be different, possessing certain inescapable traits of behavior that mark the person as changed and changing. Paul, then, is merely saying believers should ask themselves what evidence is their in their profession of faith to suggest they are born again." [3]

While some Bible verses sound menacing, they are necessary for Godly conviction and written for leading us into all truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It took me a long time to understand the enormously awesome privilege and responsibility we have as living tabernacles (Colossians 1:27). Every morning is an opportunity to recognize this miraculously wonderful God who knows our failings and yet gives the Holy Spirit to enlighten, guide, and abide in believers every moment of the day (Romans 12:1).

While the fruit of the Spirit is one measure of true faith, the Bible brings forward several more inescapable traits that mark a believer as born again.

First – A believer is changed and changing. A believer is changed when justified; but then continues changing over a lifetime. We know the ongoing change as sanctification. As new creations in Christ, believers draw near to God much in the same way a moth draws near to light. God is light and true believers prefer the light of the gospel to the darkness of the world (Ephesians 5:8-14; Romans 8:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 1:6-7).

Second – A believer is hungry for the Word of God. New-born babes in Christ are eager for the pure milk of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2). They thirst for truth and search the scriptures daily like the Bereans in Acts 17. They feed, pray, grow and through it all learn to cast off bad behavior, ungodly attitudes, and unprofitable pursuits (Romans 8:13-14).

Third – A believer has a new perspective on life. Over time, believers change from a "self-centered life" to a "Christ-centered life." Placing God and others before self is a trait demonstrating God's ongoing work in them, the "fruit of love." Change follows because God is renewing the believer from old worldly perspectives to new ways of thinking about eternal truths (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Mark 12:28-31; 1 John 2:29).

Fourth – A believer undergoes increasing freedom. Slowly but surely, believers learn they have power over sin, guilt, and condemnation. God works in believers to show they are already free from "worldly pursuits for self-benefit" to seek after "holy pursuits for Christ's glory" (1 John 3:5-6; 1 John 3:21; 1 John 5:4; 1 Peter 1:15; Hebrews 12:14).

Fifth – A believer has peace of mind. Peace for believers comes from an enduring faith focused on Christ (John 14:27; 1 John 3:21). God empowers believers to live holy as faithful witnesses to His indwelling presence (Colossians 1:27). The believer's body is a temple, a living and breathing tabernacle whose interior is sealed with the righteousness of Christ (Ephesians 4:30; Romans 4:5).

While the preceding lifestyle of the born again is helpful for self-examination, there is a long list of traits equally relevant. Additional traits might well include "love for the brethren, burden for lost humanity, compassion for the poor, help for the needy," and so on.

The take-away is "God wants us to have assurance of our salvation (John 3:16). We cannot and should not live our lives worrying each day about our eternal fate, an immense burden too heavy for anyone to carry. This is why the Bible makes the plan of salvation so clear, and why we need to settle the reality of our salvation by self-examination. If you believe (sincerely trust) in Jesus alone for salvation then you are saved, changed, and changing!" [4]

*The unconvicted person is unable to see himself as a sinner nor unworthy in the presence of a holy God.

1. Grace to You – Examine Yourself – John MacArthur
2., 3. Paraphrased from Ray Stedman – The Power of His Presence
4. Got Questions; "Assurance of our Salvation" (Edited)

Photo Credit: Sheila Guevin

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Published 7-2-13