Imagine walking on railroad tracks with a friend. You see a faint light growing larger and conclude a train barrels toward you. You and your friend begin to argue about what sort of train it is. You’re sure it’s a coal train from Pittsburgh. Your friend insists its a passenger train from Chicago. You argue your experiences with trains makes you a better trainspotter. He argues he has read everything about trains and knows more about them.
You bicker and call each other names. You call other mutual friends to lampoon each other’s locomotive arrogance and idiocy. “Can you believe what he thinks about trains?”
As you argue and fuss about the details of the train, you lose sight of the obvious issue. You’re both about to be flattened by a train.
Perhaps morbidly melodramatic, I wonder if that describes how churches fight about the source/origin of saving faith. Calvinists insist God grants faith to dead hearts at conversion. NonCalvinists insist God has given everyone a measure of saving faith to which we must appeal. All the while, we lose sight of the obvious issue. What exactly is saving faith?
Regardless of when God grants it, when, and to whom, how can we be sure we actually have saving faith?
We often equate saving faith with “coming” to Christ (e.g. Jn 6.37) or “receiving” Christ (e.g. Jn 1.12-13). Does that mean coming down an aisle at the end of service? Does that mean praying to receive Jesus into your heart? What does it actually mean to come to or receive Christ?
Consider a few ways Jesus spoke of and illustrated saving faith.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My father who is heaven will enter” (Mt 7.21).
Saving faith is not lip service to some emotional event in the past. It’s not getting juiced up by a song or ginned up by platitudes. Saving faith is a life devoted to doing the Father’s will, like Jesus.
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6.54).
Jesus is the Bread of heaven and his followers have an insatiable, voracious appetite for his name, glory, word and honor. Jesus is our food and Living Water. We starve the world in us and gorge ourselves on him.
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes so that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15.2).
Saving faith produces a consistent fruit-bearing life cultivated by Jesus.
“You are My friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15.14).
Saving faith compels us to obedience to Jesus’ commands.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Lk 9.23-24).
Saving faith is self-denial. Death to self. Losing your life and all its worldly temptations, ambitions and self-glorification.
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be My disciple (Lk 14.26-27).
Saving faith is to love Jesus more than the nearest and dearest of relationships. We’d rather have Jesus than our parents, our spouses, our children, our siblings. We’d rather have Jesus than life itself. And therein is life eternal.
Jesus summed up saving faith well: “For this the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in him will have eternal life (Jn 6.39).” There are no degrees of saving faith. There is no other type of Christian. There is only a life devoted to beholding the Son–basking in his glory, pursuing his fame, exalting his power, following his example (1 Pt 2.21-25). We are so taken up with the glory of Jesus Christ that we cannot help orient life and death around him. Nothing satisfies our soul like Jesus.
It’s no wonder Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn 6.44). We don’t naturally gravitate towards a life of devouring Christ, denying self, dying to self, losing our lives, humbling ourselves. This is the sort of faith God must work in us as he declared light in darkness (2 Cor 4.4-6).
Paul wrote, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom 8.9). To have the Spirit of Christ is to have his desires, attitude, love, courage, and humility (cf. Phil 2.1-11). We don’t give our lives to Jesus. He gives his life to us. There is no other way to be a Christian.
Is this the saving faith that defines our churches? Is this the faith we’re calling people to? Is this the faith that marks you and me?
Or are we cheapening it a smidge to keep the buildings and coffers full? Do members beg to be at a church fight but must be begged to attend congregational prayer? Do we expect more members at a pool party with pizza or baptism with the Lord’s Supper?
Are we a community of Christ-devouring, self-denying, cross-bearing, world-crucifying (Gal 6.14), life-losing, fruit-bearing family-haters? Because there is no other sort of saving faith. There is no other sort of church.
It really does not matter who is “Reformed” or not if we ignore the obvious question: are we a regenerate community? If so, then brew another pot so we can delve deeper into the saving faith we share. If not, then let’s drop our rocks and humble ourselves before Christ and one another.
Either way, let’s get off the tracks. I hear a train coming.