Do you have saving faith? If not, why, oh unbeliever, will you trust in anything or anyone other than the Triune Jehovah, who loved you and sent His Son to die for your sins? Is not hope in men in vain? Why will you perish? For you certainly will do so. There is not the slightest doubt that you will be eternally damned unless you repent of your sins and come to the Lord Jesus Christ in saving faith. Turn from any confidence in works, sacraments, self-righteousness, outward decisions such as the repetition of a “sinner’s prayer,” and all else, to trust only in the all-sufficient merit of the atoning death of the Son of God. Surrender to Christ as Lord. Roll your full persuasion and confidence upon Him and His gospel promises. He will not fail you, nor ever cast you out. He will effectually deliver you from the penalty, power, and presence of sin, and keep you eternally secure from the moment of your regeneration to all eternity future, if you will, enabled by His grace, come to Him.
Saving faith is not just mental assent, but whole-souled entrustment of Christ as both Lord and Savior, as a product of supernatural grace working in the heart. Consequently, all who have truly embraced Christ in faith will be faithful. Nobody without faithfulness has true saving faith. Saving faith always results in obedience, and faith without works is dead. If, after your professed conversion, you are still like the heathen who stayed in Jericho rather than Rahab, or still like the idolators of Ur rather than like Abraham, your eternal destiny will be the same fire and brimstone which those unconverted pagan wretches have been hopelessly enduring for the last three thousand years and more. Abraham was not a sinless man after his conversion (e. g., Genesis 12:10-13), but he was unquestionably a changed man. The new birth does not bring sinless perfection, but it always brings genuine spiritual life. The New Covenant includes both the Divine promise, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” and the equally sure Divine promise, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10-12). If you do not have the law written in your mind and heart, your sins have not been remitted. If you are still a proud and rebellious man (Habakkuk 2:4a), your problem is not that you have not entered into the Higher Life or into a Second Blessing, but that you have never become a just man by means of genuine faith (Habakkuk 2:4b). All the saints, not an elite minority of them only, are just, and not by imputed only, but also by imparted righteousness. The Bible never teaches that some Christians are entirely devoid of spiritual life because they have failed to make a post-conversion faith-decision to appropriate sanctification. Rather, Scripture teaches that all believers have spiritual life and the kernel from which all spiritual blessings, including not justification only, but also sanctification, progressively unfold themselves in ever-greater fulness and glory. There is no evidence in either the Old or New Testaments that some saved people do not live by faith.[i] Can the believer’s faith fail him in particular trials? Yes, certainly. Can he fall into spiritual declensions and periods in which his faith is growing weaker? Sadly, the answer is an unequivocal affirmative. However, notwithstanding all such concessions, it is nevertheless those only who are just who will live, and will do so because they exercised saving faith, entrusting themselves to Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior, at the moment of their justification and regeneration. Have you truly come to Jesus Christ?
Furthermore, one who does not manifest the obedience of faith should neither be self-assured, nor be assured by others, that he has indeed passed from death to life. Believers have the blessed possibility and privilege of being assured of their salvation (1 John 5:13), but only those who manifest the changes evident in 1 John are truly believers. Christian personal workers should follow the pattern of Jesus Christ, who told new converts, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:30-32). Someone who has newly professed conversion should not be given assurance because he has repeated a sinner’s prayer or made an outward profession. While it is most proper to rejoice that someone has made such a decision, personal workers should explain that true conversion results in a lifestyle of obedience to Jesus Christ, and explaining what Scripture sets forth as the faithfulness that pertains to the just, they should allow the Holy Spirit to give assurance. Indeed, neither one with a merely outward profession, nor a true Christian who is backslidden and spiritually decaying, should expect to have Biblical assurance of salvation. Also, before a backslidden Christian can possess Biblical assurance, he needs to repent and have an upright heart before the Lord restored.
On the other hand, believers who do manifest the obedience of faith should not doubt their salvation. God wants His faithful people to joyfully possess an assured salvation, and a lack of assurance is a great hinderance to the further growth of Christian faith and to holy living (1 John 1:4; 2:1; 5:13c). Believer, be assured of your salvation, so that you may more deeply believe in Christ! It is not a secondary or a little thing for you to have assurance. It is the will of God. God has changed you, and His Spirit testifies inwardly to you that you are a child of God. Will you supress and deny God’s testimony and His work in you? What sort of ingratitude and unreasonableness is this? God has specifically, and in love, “written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). Receive His promise—be assured of your salvation—and go on in your Christian walk from strength to strength.
The exercise of saving faith is a definite, conscious, willful action that takes place at a particular moment of a person’s life. One who has, by grace, turned with all his heart and soul to Jesus Christ and been born again would in all but the most extraordinary of situations be able to clearly testify to and explain his conversion. The idea, often set forth by advocates of Reformed theology, that one can have “always believed,”[ii] so that someone who has grown up under Christian influences, or who has had baptismal water applied to him in his infancy, need never consciously come to a point of conversion, is an extremely dangerous, indeed, a soul-damning heresy. Ephesians 2:1-3 states: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians was written to the Christian congregation at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1), which, of course, included parents who had infants and children (6:1). The children of Christians, like everyone else, are dead in their sins, under the power of the devil, and fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, until they are made alive at the moment they are born again by grace through faith in Christ (2:8-9). Since infants have “no knowledge between good and evil,”[iii] they do not conduct themselves “in the lusts of [their] flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Since all those made alive in Christ at one time conducted themselves in the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, people—including those with Christian parents—are only born again after they have reached an age where they are able to so conduct themselves, and consciously repent and believe the gospel. Nobody has always been a Christian. The only people who are made alive in Christ are those who have been consciously lost, walking in sin, and have subsequently repented and believed.[iv] Conversion is the most important event that can take place in the life of any individual. One does not repent by accident. A person who has experienced the stupendous change associated with conversion should be able to describe when and how it took place.
[i] That is, the Higher Life view of Habakkuk 2:4 and its New Testament quotations, as set forth by William Boardman and others (cf. Hannah W. Smith’s article in the Friends Review of 1867, reproduced in the entry for February 18 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter), must be reckoned eisegesis, not exegesis:
“The just shall live by faith.” The just shall be made alive first, and afterwards learn to live by faith. The just shall be justified before God first, and afterwards learn the way to become just also in heart and life, by faith. . . . [This is the] two-fold significance of the text, illustrated by its suggestion the first and second time in [Luther’s] heart, as by a celesial voice within, with the interval of years between the two, and meeting in each case a want so different[.] (pg. 191, The Higher Christian Life, W. E. Boardman. New York: Sheldon & Co., 1859. Italics found in original.)
Boardman’s “afterwards” disjunction that leaves some Christians, those who have not yet discovered his Higher Life theology, without any spiritual growth, has no support whatsoever in the New Testament doctrine of the just living by faith, and his historical reconstruction of Luther’s life is most questionable.
[ii] E. g.: “We must insist, with . . . the Reformed confessions . . . that . . . it is intolerable cruelty to demand of people a dramatic conversion experience before they can be assured of their salvation. Such obstacles may not be placed before believers who grew up in the church, who were taught to pray on their mother’s knee, who were catechized and who therefore do not know a time when they did not believe in Christ. . . . Nor may it be demanded on the mission field. . . . True conversion is a lifelong process, where the child of God daily turns from sin to God[.] . . . This is the Reformed doctrine of conversion as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism” (pgs. 83-84, “The Notion of Preparatory Grace in the Puritans,” Martyn McGeown. Protestant Reformed Theological Journal 41:1 (November 2007) 58-84). While such an idea may indeed be the teaching of the Heidelburg Catechism, it is certainly not the teaching of the Bible.
[iii] Deuteronomy 1:39; Isaiah 7:16; Jonah 4:11; Romans 9:11.
[iv] This fact is supported not only by the pattern of Old and New Testament conversion, but also by facts such as that the saving faith seen in the perfect tense uses of pisteuo, “to believe,” contain within them the idea of a snapshot action—the point of conversion—with results that continue. One must come to Christ with an aorist, point-action of faith before one can have a perfect tense belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.