Have you come to Christ? If so, when the topic of repentance comes up, do you mentally check out because you’re a Christian and feel this no longer applies to you? If so, hold on, because consciously turning away from sin is something we need to do on an ongoing basis throughout our lives.
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23)
The Bible is full of verses that don’t line up neatly with what we sometimes believe. Passages such as what Jesus taught about genuine repentance, as recorded in Matthew 7:13-27, for example, can be downright disconcerting to someone who believes he is guaranteed salvation on the basis of a one-time prayer, regardless of his subsequent lifestyle:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. [Many are on the path that leads to destruction! The way to life is difficult and few find it!]
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. [Every good tree bears good fruit; a bad tree bears bad fruit–you will know them by their fruits! Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire!]
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ [Only he who does the will of My Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven! I will declare to them, “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”]
Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” [A wise man hears these sayings of Mine and DOES THEM!] (Matthew 7:13-27 )
Another troubling passage which many choose to not delve into too deeply is Hebrews 10:26-31:
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31 NIV)
These are longer passages, and many people choose to forego working through them to understand what God is telling us, but as His people it is important that we know THE ENTIRE COUNSEL OF GOD’S WORD, not just the portions that appeal to us or comfort us. Which brings us to the question of faith versus works, clearly brought up in these verses. So, what is the interrelationship between belief and behavior?
When you study the book of Hebrews, especially Hebrews 4, you see that belief is equated with obedience–the words are actually used interchangeably. So, while these “difficult” verses seem to be suggesting the opposite of what many of us have been taught–that behavior rather than belief is at the crux of Christianity–the answer to this question is that BEHAVIOR AND BELIEF DO NOT EXIST INDEPENDENTLY: BEHAVIOR FOLLOWS BELIEF–WE ACT CERTAIN WAYS BECAUSE WE BELIEVE CERTAIN THINGS. James explains it like this:
“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?…You see that faith was working with his [Abraham’s] works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected…You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone…For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26 NASB)
If, for example, I’m not really sure that what the Word of God says about a resurrection and another life in eternity with Christ is true, I will spend my time and energies building my kingdom–getting all that I can–here in this life. I will not give it all up to gain Christ and His kingdom because I don’t really believe what God says. If I don’t really trust either that God exists or that He cares enough about me and that I have a future with Him, when push comes to shove I will deny Him rather than suffer on account of Him. Do you see that it all begins with what I believe–not with what I say I believe, but with what I truly believe in my heart of hearts?
So, can we ever have assurance of salvation?! Yes (!!!), because of beautiful verses such as I John 5:13:
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” (I John 5:11-13)
If I have Christ I have life! And how do I know I have Him? Jesus told us how Himself:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:5-10 NASB)
And the Apostle John explained:
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (I John 2:3-6 )
So, have you come to Christ? Do you really believe? Are you denying your own sinful desires, taking up your cross daily, and following Him? Are you abiding in Christ by keeping His commandments? Are you bearing much fruit, and so proving to be His disciples? If so, know that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son,” and that “he who has the Son has life.”
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Help me deny myself, take up my cross daily, and follow You. Amen.