Luke 23:42-43 “And the thief was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Lots of people call themselves Christian. Does merely calling yourself one make it so? A rash of celebrities over the years, after a lifetime of hard and indulgent living, have come to call themselves Christian, but then continue to live as though nothing has changed. Can you just declare yourself a Christian, or does being one necessitate a visible life change?
The time-honored phrase throughout Christian history has been that we are “saved by grace through faith.” But, I submit that if you were to offer that phrase to the average non-believer (and even many Christians for that matter), they would have no idea what you mean. Practically speaking, how does somebody know if they have a saving faith?
Going back a step, grace is the word we use to describe how we are saved from eternal separation from God. We don’t earn salvation from God through the hard work of holy living. Rather, He gives it to us, not based on our deservedness, but based solely on His love for us. It is an unmerited gift.
But faith is a more difficult concept to unpack. What does it mean to believe in something? The Bible tells us that the devil and his demons believe that there is one God (James 2:19), but I don’t think we’ll be neighbours in heaven with them in the life to come. Their belief OF Jesus causes them to shudder! Clearly, saving faith in Christ is something beyond just believing that He’s real.
Do we need to believe that Jesus existed as a man on earth? Do we need to believe that Jesus was actually crucified and then rose from the dead? He’s the Son of God? He IS God? His dying on the cross paid the price necessary for humanity to spend eternity with God?
I know that believing in all those things is important, but how much of it is needed for a saving faith? Did the thief who hung beside Jesus (see verse above) really believe all that before Jesus told him he would spend eternity in paradise?
In Acts 16:30, a jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s short response tells us a lot about saving faith: “Believe IN the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” That’s it. No theologizing. No fine print to be read at the bottom of the page. Believe IN the Lord Jesus.
Most of the other biblical accounts of salvation offer additional instructions or criteria (be baptized in water, repent from sin, receive the Holy Spirit, etc.), but they all have only one common denominator: belief in Jesus.
How can you know that your belief in Jesus is the kind that saves? One way to know is from what your belief produces. James writes, “I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18). Of course, what a deed is (and is not) has been the subject of much debate. At the very least, we can conclude that a saving faith produces some kind of demonstrable life change.
Given the time, we can assume that the life of the thief would have looked remarkably different than it did before he found himself hanging on a cross. But a few short hours after his brief conversation with Jesus, he moved on to Paradise.
Does true faith in Jesus automatically give birth to a life change? In other words, if your life stays the same as it was before you claimed to believe in Jesus, then do you really have a true faith in Jesus at all?
Perhaps the life change we’re speaking of starts in the heart. Many of you who are Christians declared your belief in Jesus as children, but continued to live like hell for years before seeing a noticeable change. Therefore, your heart changed, even if your behaviour didn’t follow immediately. Sin is stubborn and transformation seldom occurs with the snap of the fingers.
But, check your heart; when you sin, does it hurt more? Do you regret doing it more? Do you find yourself wanting to stop and praying to God to make you stronger? For some of you, look at your life from 20 years ago and compare that to where you are today. Can you see a positive difference?
Don’t be deceived, though; a heart change is not a feeling. It’s a solid determination on your part that what your life was before is now rubbish, and Who you want your life to be about now takes centre stage. You really want to know who Jesus is. You want to honour Him by how you live your life. You want to love Him by living in service to Him.
If your heart hungers to know Him, to honour Him, and to love Him (even if you’re not very good at it right now), then you have true faith, Christian. Blessed assurance to you.
If you are a practicing Christian, here is something you need to hear. If your heart and mind is that the addicted, impoverished, and broken people dug their own grave and the rest of society is not responsible for their bad mistakes, then I ask you to wake up.