Evidence of Genuine Faith
Jesus wants to see our lips and our lives align. Hence he ends His Sermon on the Plain with this most searching of rhetorical questions: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” He saw a contrast between what people were saying and how they were behaving, and He wanted to call them to perform a serious spiritual self-examination. He wanted them, just as He wants us, to see that a verbal profession of faith in Him must be accompanied by moral obedience to Him.
Jesus did not teach that entry into the kingdom of heaven is through the good works of obedience. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, plus nothing (see Ephesians 2:8). All that we bring to Christ is the sin from which we need to be forgiven. What, then, is He teaching? Simply this: that only those who obey Him—those who express their faith by their works—have truly heard and have been transformed by the gospel. As the Reformers observed, it is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone. The apostle John, picking up on Jesus’ words, says in his first letter, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). Scripture makes it clear that the manner in which we hear and obey Jesus’ words has significance for all of eternity because it reveals the true state and reality of our faith.
No accumulation of visible religious works and no number of religious words will be able to disguise our private behavior from God. The real test of those who name the name of the Lord, says Paul—and let’s not evade for one instant the chilling demand of this—is that they “depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Therein lies the evidence of genuine faith.
While none of us will live a perfect life, we are all called to live changed lives. We live under the lordship of Christ; His Spirit is now within us. Will we have complete success? No. But we will be different, and our lives will increasingly demonstrate that we have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). So consider your own life. Do you call Jesus Lord? Good! But, crucially, can you point to evidence in your life—in what you do not do and in what you do, in the temptations you fight and the virtues you strive for and the forgiveness your repentantly ask for—that He is truly your Lord?
Faith Without Works Is Dead
14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good2 is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
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