What Faith Isn’t and Is
When people pursue faith in an unbiblical way, false converts are made, and the world is misled about what it means to follow Jesus. Pastors, therefore, need to keep an eye out for false faith, that they might separate the false from the true:
1. True faith is not deedless, but shows itself in deeds.
James asks what kind of faith is saving by asking about faith’s relationship to deeds. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). According to this passage, knowing the truth is not enough. It is possible to know about the truth, and be deceived. So mere knowledge does not equate to a real saving faith. Rather, true faith shows itself in deeds.
2. It is not faith in yourself, but in God.
Walk into any Christian bookstore and you’ll see bestselling Christian books with self-help advice. Westerners today love talk of the God within. Yet we cannot save ourselves: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). Following ourselves and believing in ourselves will not result in eternal life, but eternal death.
3. It is not faith in heritage, but in Christ.
Growing up in a Christian home is not what saves you. Having grandparents who are saved is not what saves you. If anyone had reason to place their faith in heritage it was Paul—“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews,” and on and on he goes (Phil. 3:4-11). But all this is rubbish, he concludes—our heritage does not save us. Christ does.
4. It is not faith in faith, but in Christ’s completed work.
Much so-called Christian TV and radio programming today panders to what peoples’ “itching ears” want to hear: the promise of earthly gain. Over and over again we hear the testimonies of businessmen who “turned on to Jesus” and saw their businesses double. “If you don’t have these things,” people are told, “it’s because you are not believing hard enough. So believe harder!” Notice two problems here: stuff (not Christ) is the end, and looking inward (instead of outward at Christ) is the means. Sadly, people take their eyes off of Christ’s finished work on the cross, and put them on themselves. But true faith does not look to itself, it looks to Christ, his work on the cross, a sacrifice that we know God accepted because he raised him from the dead.
5. It does not fail to repent, but changes direction.
Apart from repentance, faith is not real and it is not saving. There are many people who say they believe in Jesus, but nothing has changed in their lives. They refuse to renounce the old way of living. Repentance is not just feeling sorry for sin. Anyone can feel bad about sin. True repentance begins with sorrow, seeks forgiveness, and then culminates in a change of direction. A person turns around and starts walking the other way.
Real saving faith is repentance and trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.
It is full reliance on Christ. He is the object.
It is the way of surrender, and evidences itself as real by the authentic crop it produces.