Examine Your Faith MacArthur
The following excerpt is from a message that was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape, GC 80-83, titled “Looking at the Cross from God’s Perspective.” A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ. Examine Your Faith by John MacArthur
It is faith that is at the heart of our Christianity. Now, I want to give you a little test that will help you examine your faith. I am convinced that churches are filled with people who have a kind of faith that doesn’t save them. James called it a “Dead Faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith.” You want to be sure your faith is real. Now, as you look at yourself and you’re asking, “Am I really a Christian? Have I really appropriated this gift that God gives? Have I believed genuinely?” What do you look for in your life to discern whether your faith is real? What are the marks?
First of all, let me show you some things that neither prove nor disprove saving faith. OK? I am going to give you a little list of things that don’t prove anything. You could be a Christian; You could not be a Christian, and still have these things. They don’t prove or disprove saving faith, but you need to know what they are so you’re not deceived.
THINGS THAT DON’T PROVE OR DISPROVE SAVING FAITH
- Visible Morality
What do I mean by that? Well some people are just good people. Some of them are very religious like Mormon people who on the outside appear very moral, or Roman Catholic people, or any other kind of cult or religion. Some people are just good people. They’re honest, they’re forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings. They’re grateful people, they’re kind people, and they have an external visible kind of morality. By the way, the Pharisees certainly rested on that for their hope. They’re loving people, some of them are tender hearted people. But of loving and serving God, they know nothing and feel nothing. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God.
This person is honest in his dealings with everybody except God. He won’t rob anybody but God. He is thankful and loyal to everybody but God. He speaks contemptuously and reproachfully of no one but God. He has good relationships with everybody but God. He’s very much like the rich young ruler who says, “All these things have I kept, what do I lack?” This is visible morality, but it does not necessarily mean salvation. People can “Clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration.
2. Intellectual Knowledge
Secondly, another thing that doesn’t prove or disprove saving faith is intellectual knowledge. Intellectual knowledge. This doesn’t prove true faith. Knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation and visible morality is the fruit of salvation, but neither one equals salvation. You see, you can know all about God. And you can know all about Jesus, and who He was and that He came into the world and died on the cross, and that He rose again, and that He’s coming again. And you can even know more of the details of His life. You can understand all of that and turn your back on Christ.
The writer of Hebrews writes to those in chapter 6, who knowing all of that, refused Christ. In chapter 10 he says, “You’re treading underfoot the Blood of Christ by not believing what you know is true.” There are many people who know the Scripture and who have knowledge but are bound for Hell! You will never be saved without that knowledge, but having that knowledge doesn’t necessarily save you.
3. Religious Involvement
Thirdly, religious involvement. Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. There are people who have, according to Paul writing to Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:5, “A form of godliness, but powerless.” An empty kind of religion. Remember the virgins in Matthew 25 who were waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And they are waiting and waiting, but when He comes they don’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil, probably emblematic of the new life, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They were religious but not regenerate. You can have external visible morality, intellectual knowledge, and religious involvement, and it may not indicate genuine faith.
4. Active Ministry
Fourth, active ministry. Balaam was a prophet. Saul of Tarsus thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher. Judas was an Apostle. Remember Matthew 7, “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, and done many wonderful works? Cast out demons in Your name?’ And He says to them, ‘Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.'” Ministry activity, that’s not necessarily a proof of saving faith.
5. Conviction of Sin
Lots of people feel bad about sin. Listen, this whole world is full of people that are just guilt ridden to the core. You know, fifteen years ago, we used to talk about people going to the Psychologist, and we used to say, and it was pretty true from tests, “That most of the people who went to the Psychologist were suffering from guilt.” People used to write books about that. I remember the Menniger (sp.) Clinic put out tremendous amount of material on the fact that all these people were suffering from guilt. Well, the Psychologists of the world have absolutely no answer for guilt, because the only answer is the Gospel.
Now what has happened in the last fifteen years, is that you don’t have any people at all today who feel guilty, because we have come up with a new Psychology that eliminates the guilt. Now what we do is we displace the guilt on somebody else. And the new therapy is to make the person utterly irresponsible for any of the guilt that they might feel inside, and to free them from that guilt. And you do that by making the ultimate virtue pride, the ultimate virtue self-fulfillment, self-aggrandizement, self-glory, self-esteem, and that eliminates the need to feel guilty. So we really have come up with an utterly ungodly, unchristian, unbiblical Psychology, that has taken the guilt issue and eliminated it.
Now what happens in the Church, instead of the Preacher standing up to preach, “Freedom from guilt to guilty sinners,” they expect him to preach self-esteem to egocentric people. The whole climate has changed. And we have been skewed in our message, because we have allowed the philosophy of the day to create a new kind of sinner who thinks he feels no guilt. And the most important thing you can preach to a bunch of sinners is the sin of their lives, and the law of God which they fall short of and the impending judgment they await. But that message is not popular because the new philosophy and the new psychology has long ago eliminated guilt.
We don’t have people feeling guilt anymore, because they’ve learned that therapy can tell them they can put that guilt on somebody who did something to them. And now I don’t care who you talk to, when they go into that kind of situation of counseling they will inevitably say, “I have been abused! I am a victim! I am not responsible for the way I am!” And so the sinner is dispossessed of his guilt and dispossessed of a direct approach of the Gospel. I liked sinners better when they felt guilty. They were much easier to deal with. But there are some people who do feel guilty. Some people who do feel guilty about sin. Felix trembled under the preaching of Paul, but never left his idols. The Holy Spirit convicts many of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and many that He convicts don’t respond with true repentance. Some may even confess their sin. Some may even abandon their sin and say, “I don’t like to live this way. I want to shape up.” Amend their ways, but not necessarily come to saving faith. That’s reformation, not regeneration. And no degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Believe me, even the demons are convicted of their sins, that’s why they tremble, but they are not saved.
Some people say, “Well, I must be a Christian, I feel like one. I think I am one.” Listen, just think it through. If to think you’re a Christian makes you a Christian, then nobody could be deceived. Right? Because as soon as you thought you’re a Christian–you’d be one! So you could never be deceived. The whole point of Satan’s deception is to make people think they are Christians who aren’t! That’s the whole point. Many people feel sure they are saved–but they’re not. I’ll tell you, there are millions of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists who believe they are on their way to Heaven! They’re not.
People say, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” That means nothing, necessarily.
7. A Time of Decision
I hear people say, “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card. I remember when I prayed a prayer. I remember when I went forward in a Church service. I remember right where I was.” I heard people say, “I remember right where I was the moment I did that.” Oh really? Listen, because you remember a moment doesn’t mean that moment meant anything. It doesn’t mean that decision was valid. Nobody’s salvation is verified by a past moment. People have prayed prayers, and gone forward in church services, and signed cards, and gone into prayer rooms, and been baptized, and joined churches, and never had saving faith.
So those are some of the non-proofs. They don’t really prove anything. You say, “Well, what does prove saving faith?” Well, let me give you quickly a list.
THINGS THAT PROVE SAVING FAITH
- Love For God
Now you’re talking! Now you’re talking down about the heart, because Romans 8:7 says, “The carnal [sinful] mind is enmity [hostile] against God.” The non-Christian resents God; rebels against God down inside, but the regenerate mind is set to love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the excellency of God, who is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God becomes his chief happiness. By the way, there is a great difference between such love for God and the selfish attitude that focuses only on my own happiness and sees God as a means to my end, rather than as me to the end of glorifying Him. In fact Jesus said, “If you love your Father and Mother more than me, you’re not even my disciple” (Matthew 10:37).
Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of the true faith. Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises–because you love Him?
2. Repentance From Sin
A proper love for God must involve a hatred of sin. Well, that’s obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If I love somebody, you assume that my loving them means that I seek their wellbeing. Right? If I said to you, “I love my wife, but I could care less what happened to my wife,” you’d question my love. Because true love seeks the highest good of its object. So if I say that I love God, then I will have to hate sin, because sin offends God. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God and his work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. And if I say that, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then you have every reason to question my love. I cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. So true repentance involves confession, it involves turning from sin. I should be grieved over my sin.
I should ask myself, “Do I have a settled conviction of the evil of sin?” Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing it really is? Does conviction of sin in me increase as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not merely because it is ruinous to my own soul but because it is offensive to my God whom I love? Does it more grieve me when I sin then when I have trouble? In other words, what grieves me the most–my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear many? Frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my sin–more than the sin of others? That’s the mark of salvation. True saving faith–it loves God and it hates what God hates, which is sin.
3. Genuine Humility
It manifests genuine humility. This obviously comes through in the Beatitudes. The poor in spirit; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; those who, in Matthew 18, are like a little child, humble and dependent; those who are in self-denial, willing to take up their cross and follow Him. The Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit. James says, “He gives grace to the humble.” We must come as the Prodigal Son. Remember what he said in Luke 15, I think about verse 21, he said, “Father, I am not worthy to be called your son.” There is no pride. There is no ego about religious achievement [or] spiritual accomplishment, but genuine humility.
4. Devotion to God’s Glory
There is a devotion to God’s glory. True saving faith that manifests genuine salvation shows devotion to God’s glory. Whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we are literally consumed with the Glory of God. We do what we do because we want to glorify Him. Oh sure, we fail in all of these things, but the direction of our life is in loving Him and hating sin, and being genuinely humble and self- denying, and knowing our unworthiness and being totally devoted to the Glory of God.
5. Continual Prayer
Humble, submissive, believing prayer marks true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do is to impress people, but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. A true believer with true saving faith has a personal prayer life; private prayer life; seeks communion with God.
6. Selfless Love
Another mark of saving faith is selfless love. John says, “If you don’t love your neighbor, your brother, or one in need, then how are we to believe the love of God dwells in you?” And also in 1 John 3, John says, “If you love God you’ll love whom God loves. And we love Him and others because that’s the response to Him loving us.” John 13 says, “By this men know that we are true disciples–by our love for each other.”
7. Separation from the World
Paul told the Corinthians that we haven’t received the spirit of the world but the Spirit which is from God. And John put it this way, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” A true believer is separated from the world. Again, I say, we fail in all these areas, but these are the direction of our lives. We aren’t perfect. We haven’t arrived, but we love God and want to love Him more. We hate sin and want to hate it more. We have a genuine humility and want more of it. We are devoted to God’s glory. We have a prayer life that is private and personal. We have a love for others that comes from God, and we find ourselves disassociated from the world, as a general rule.
8. Spiritual Growth
If you are a true Christian you are going to be growing, and that means that you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. You’ll grow, because whoever has that new work begun (Philippians 1:6), is going to see it perfected. It’s going to go on; it’s going to keep moving. The Spirit is going to move you from one level of glory to the next. So you look at your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? The increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?
Obedient living. “Every branch in me bears fruit.” “Bears fruit,” says John 15. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “Look, you are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that you walk in them.” That’s obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith.
Look at your life. Do you see all those things? Including Selfless Love, Separation from the World, Spiritual Growth, and Obedience? If so, that’s evidence of a saving faith.
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