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WHEN IS BELIEF TRULY SAVING FAITH?
by Philip Owen

            In an age when easy-believism is rampant, when the church has become polluted with those who have professed salvation but do not possess it, and when many people have been deceived into thinking they have eternal life when they do not, it is critically important to know and adhere to what the Word of God reveals respecting the reality of saving faith.  The Lord states a failsafe measure regarding the reality of salvation in the Gospel of John.

            The Remarkable Revelation.  The Lord Jesus had been speaking to a heterogeneous group of Israelites.  Knowing that He alone offered the cure for their sin problem and knowing that His natural brethren must know who He was in order to be saved, He revealed a remarkable quantity of information about Himself to them.  Just a partial list of those revelations is impressive.  “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  “My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.”  “The Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”  “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”  “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.”  “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”  “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”  “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:12, 16, 18, 19, 23, 24, 28, 29).  Were we to include the revelations recorded in the preceding chapter of John, which were part of the same discourse, the impact would be overwhelming.  Using metaphors and descriptions of His actions, citing the Father’s authorization and approbation of His Person, His activities, and His words, and declaring Himself to be equal with the Father, the Lord immersed His audience in a series of irrefutable proofs of His deity.

            The Ready Response.  Having been confronted with such a barrage of truth and having witnessed the miracles that Jesus had performed as attestations of the truth of His testimony about Himself, the expected occurred:  “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him” (8:30).  The miracles, the compassionate personality, and the compelling words inevitably moved people.  Their minds could not refute nor their emotions resist the gripping truths.  They readily and willingly believed that the Lord Jesus was the One promised in their Scripture, the long-awaited Messiah.

            The Real Reckoning.  What might we expect from the Lord as a response to the statement that “many came to believe in Him”?  A paean of praise for their salvation?  A command to His disciples to baptize them?  A word of assurance that they were saved?  Unlike some modern evangelistic practices, He did not offer any immediate assurance that they were saved.  Instead, He took the long view.  “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (v. 31).  The Lord knew that saying a prayer, feeling a strong emotion, or giving intellectual assent to a body of truths is no proof of salvation.   No event offers genuine evidence of deliverance from sin, of a transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, of a life transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Rather than offering instantaneous assurance to some who might only think that they had believed unto salvation, He kindly and graciously gave them a warning that provided them with the means of measuring whether their faith was the saving variety given by God (see Eph. 2:8, 9) or merely of their own manufacture.  The ultimate reckoning lay not in what they had just done or had just experienced but in their response to the Word of God.  Will they “continue” in God’s Word?  The question is not one of whether they became saved and then might lose their salvation, but whether the Word of God had truly entered their hearts, whether they had genuine trust.  If indeed they had, then they would have a hunger to know, to understand, and to obey it.  They would want to know its doctrines, obey its commands, heed it warnings, be strengthened by its doctrines, and believe its promises.  As John observed later in his first epistle, those who are saved and love God “keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome” (5:3).  And they do so, not in order to become saved but as the fruit of God’s redeeming work in their lives.


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