The Eternal God, part VII (part 2 of 3); the God Who is Present With Us.
How can one know that he has truly been given the gift of faith? There are definitely different indicators that prove someone’s faith is genuine. I Thessalonians 1: 4&5 really gives clear marks by which we can measure the validity of our faith. It says the following: "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."
First, Scripture tells us that our salvation always comes through the preaching of the gospel. Even though this has been mentioned, it needs to be more fully addressed. There is no possibility for someone to be saved without hearing the good news about Jesus.
This often raises all sorts of questions about people who have never heard the gospel and then die. What happens to them? The reason that people all over the world die, regardless of location, is because of sin. The fact that every person that has ever been born has died or will die is the concrete evidence that all persons are condemned in their sin. The Scripture is clear that people also go to hell on the same basis that all persons die; sin. This means that people who have never heard the gospel do not get a free pass to heaven simply because they never heard the gospel any more than they get a free pass on death because they never heard about Jesus. People who die in their sin without ever hearing the gospel die without a Savior and therefore go to hell. This should sober and grieve us.
Romans 5:12 "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-"
This is the reason that Jesus gave the Great Commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!" If people go to heaven automatically because they never heard the Gospel it would have been better for Jesus to not commission His disciples to go and preach for fear that many would reject the gospel and go to hell. According to this kind of thinking it would have been better for Jesus to leave people blissfully ignorant in their sin, but at least headed to heaven.
This is not the case! We must go and preach the Gospel, because it is the only means by which people are saved. Satan does a great job of convincing people to stay at home with a charlatan doctrine that says "Don’t worry about going, lost people who have never heard will still make it to heaven." This is a pathetic and sentimental lie from the father of all lies!
There have been many stories of people who have never heard the Gospel either being given dreams or visions by God about Jesus and then the Lord sends someone to share the Gospel with them, explaining the point of their dream or vision. Of course, someone could also receive the gospel itself in a vision or dream, but this is not the standard way God works in spreading the Gospel; He uses us. Yet, regardless of how the message arrives, it is not until a person hears and believes in Jesus as announced through the articulated Gospel that he may be saved. This is a great motivation to spread the Gospel with urgency and passion. So, the first thing that I Thessalonians tells us is essential for faith is the hearing of the Gospel.
Yet, notice it is not just the hearing of words that are then accepted by the hap hazard reception of a person who manages to muster up some belief in them; not at all. The person who gets saved comes under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit’s convicting presence. A person begins to despise his sin and sees himself as guilty and worthy of God’s judgment. This person knows that he is headed on the wrong path and is disturbed by that. Yet, there is also an immediate release from guilt and shame in the Holy Spirit as He gives supernatural faith in Jesus to this believer. This person sees that Christ really does love Him and gave Himself for him! The very nature of God is love and a person brought under the convicting presence of God not only is clearly aware of his sin, but is also convinced of God's love for him!
At this point we must be clear that the way in which people respond emotionally to the Holy Spirit’s work varies. Some people get very emotional while others are much more reserved in their outward and observable response. Yet, regardless of the type of emotional response a new believer experiences, the transformation the Holy Spirit brings is still genuine, convincing the person about the truth of Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit is one that causes a definitive change in the heart with one’s affections having been made alive for Christ.
So to start, how does someone know that they have genuine faith? The answer to this depends upon what message they have heard. Have they heard the Gospel? Have they been convicted over sin, received God's love in Christ, and believed in their heart on Jesus?
This does not mean that every person will be able to remember the moment that this happened to them; many will. However in some, a person will just know that he has experienced a change even though he cannot place his finger on the exact moment of his conversion. Yet, there is no doubt in a believer's mind that a supernatural transfer has taken place: one knows he has been moved from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
The next marks that should be discussed are the things that Peter addresses in his first book as true of believers. He says that a person who has been born again loves Jesus: I Peter 1:8 "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory." This kind of love is a love for Jesus that desires Him above all other things in this world. This kind of love treasures Jesus with the soul and values Him above everything else. This kind of love is loyal, steadfast, and yielding. If one wants to examine if he knows God the Father, he must ask himself if he passionately love His Son. The one who loves the Father also loves the Son.
Peter also notes that a believer has a supernatural joy that is so great it cannot be fully captured by words. This joy is a deep happiness in God that is filled with the very life and atmosphere of heaven. This joy is even present in the midst of deep trials and tremendous sorrow. There is a remaining delight and happiness in God that satisfies the soul. If someone can say that his greatest joy in life and his deepest happiness in life is in knowing God, then this is a mark that his faith is genuine.
Both love and joy are marks of genuine faith because both of these qualities are fruits of the Spirit. It is the love and joy of God Himself that we richly partake of as believers. When the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence is present there is life and where there is life there is the deepest and richest love and joy. To think that God pipes into our souls the love and joy that He experiences in the Trinity is amazing!
It is by and through these fruits that the Spirit sanctifies the people of God. The more a person loves and rejoices in Jesus, the more a person will then display other marks of genuine faith such as obedience to Christ and a hunger for His Word. Sadly, we have gotten it backwards many times. We forget that people will not and cannot obey Jesus when they do not have regenerated hearts that love Him or rejoice in Him. A person’s obedience to God’s Word is directly related to His love and joy in Christ. The person that loves Him will obey Him; the person that rejoices in Him will hunger and thirst after righteousness.
As a person is born into the kingdom of God, he is born with an appetite. He is fed by the Word of God. As the person feeds on the Word, his joy in Jesus and love for Him only grows and intensifies. Yet, if there is no new birth, if there is no faith, if there is no love and joy, there will be no true obedience and no true change. The only change in a person’s life that is worth anything is that which spring from the supernaturally given love and joy of the Holy Spirit. Is the change in a person’s life a mark of genuine faith? Absolutely, but only if it is coming through a heart that has been made alive and delights in worshipping God.
Someone might say, but aren’t there times when believers don’t obey, even long periods of time when they rebel against God? Yes, but there is always a point when the true believer will realize that the joy and love that he has been given in Christ satisfy infinitely better than the poisonous junk food of the world. He sees that his joy tank is on empty, his love has grown cold, and he returns to the great shepherd of his soul finding again springs of living water!
However, even though genuine believers sin daily and often rebel, we must heed the true and faithful warning of Charles Spurgeon in the following: "If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he know's the Lord's will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved." There has been a growing danger in the church today to pamper people's presumption that they may willfully engage in a lifestyle of hardness toward God, be consumed with a love for the world, and be unmoved by Jesus and yet be headed toward heaven. This kind of person may say he is a Christian, but in reality he is devoid of the Spirit and outside of the Kingdom of God.
God is interested in giving life! He is present with us by the Holy Spirit still causing many sons and daughters to be born again!
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