Ernest C. Reisinger
(Taken from the book, "The Faith of The Saints, The Assurance Of The Saints, The Perseverance of The Saints" Published by Mt. Zion Publications)
Just over four hundred years ago, in late October, a young Augustinian monk, professor of theology and pastor in Whittenburg, Germany, in the fire of his zeal for Christian truth, nailed 95 thesis to the door of the Castle Church. He had left the study of law and entered the priesthood, seeking to be justified before God. His name was Martin Luther. As a result of studying the Scriptures, he discovered biblical truths that had long been covered and obscured by the ritual and rubble of Rome. One of the great truths then restored to the Church was justification by faith alone.
The issue before us today is not a denial of justification by faith alone, but rather a perversion of that doctrine. Present-day preaching often excludes the possibility of spurious (or non saving) faith; however, religious deception is the worst kind of deception because of it's eternal consequences. We must distinguish properly between justifying faith, and a spurious or counterfeit faith.
The Bible very clearly warns against spurious faith; therefore, I wish to direct attention to it's warnings and note some differences between spurious and true believers. I intend to cite biblical cases of spurious faith, showing that the Scriptures teach the existence of belief which is not saving faith. I propose also to to define true faith and give some biblical examples of that faith which savingly joins one to Jesus Christ for all eternity.
Spurious or Counterfeit Faith
The Bible teaches that there is spurious faith. In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of temporary faith. "They on the rock are they, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13). These believers recieved the word with joy and believed for a season; but in the time of trial, they fell away. They lacked "root and fruit" and they did not continue.
Paul spoke of "Believing in vain" (Cor. 15:2). This is non-saving faith. Though it has many marks of true saving faith, the evidence of temporary faith soon appears. It lacks the following characteristics of saving faith: (1) continuance in trusting Christ, and in devotion to Him and His service; (2) desire to be useful in Christ's church; (3) attendance to Christian duty; (4) love of prayer and the Word of God and of assembling with God's people in worship; (5) devotion to loving the people of God as such; (6) progress in knowledge of self, sin, and the Savior; (7) progress in loving holiness and hating sin, with increased conviction of and humility concerning personal sinfulness.
A very vivid example of spurious faith is the case of Simon Magus. Of him it is written, "Then Simon himself believed also; and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip" (Acts 8:13) as far as Paul had. Although Paul believed all the Scripture before his conversion, his faith was not saving faith. Note also Agrippa. "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe" (Acts 26:27). But this faith did not save him.
James speaks of dead faith (James 2:17, 26), the giving of mere mental assent to certain historical facts. He also speaks of devils' faith (James 2:19). This is a religious appropriation of these facts. The demons have a sound confession. They believe in the person ("Jesus, thou Son of God") and the power ("art thou come to torment us?") of Christ (Matt. 8:29).
It is indeed searching and solemn to discover how much the Bible speaks of unsaved people having faith in the Lord. Though it seems incredible, there are those willing to have Christ as their Savior, yet who are most reluctant to submit to Him as their Lord, to be at His command, and to be governed by His laws. But more shocking still, there are unregenerate persons who profess Christ as Lord, and yet are not in possession of saving faith. The scriptural proof of this assertion is found in Matthew 7:22, 23: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" Here is a large class (many) who profess subjection to Christ as Lord, who do many mighty works in His name, and thus can even show you their faith by their works, and yet theirs is not saving faith. "Depart form Me," said Jesus.
It is impossible to say how far non-saving faith may go or how close it may resemble true saving faith. Saving faith has Christ as its object; so has spurious faith. "Many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men," (John 2:23, 24). Saving faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit; so also spurious faith has an apparent spirituality and may even partake to some degree of illuminating grace (Hebrews 6:4). Saving faith is a receiving of the Word of God so also is spurious faith. "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately received it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles." (Matt. 13:20, 21). Saving faith will cause a man to prepare for the coming of the Lord; so will spurious faith. Both the foolish and the wise virgins had the lamp of profession--they all trimmed their lamps and said "Lord, Lord"--but half heard the answer, "I know you not" (Matt. 25:1-13). Saving faith is accompanied with joy; so is spurious faith. "they on the rock....receive the word with joy (Luke 8:13).
When we realize how far spurious faith can go in its counterfeits, we are prone to say, "All this is very unsettling and confusing." Yes, it is distressing! But, if we value our souls or care for the souls of others, we will not dismiss this subject lightly. Since the Bible teaches that there is a faith in Christ which does not save and that it is easy to be deceived, we must earnestly seek the help of the Spirit. The Spirit Himself cautions us at this very point, "A deceived heart has turned him aside" (Isa. 44:20). "The pride of your heart has deceived you" (Obad. 3). "Take heed that you are not deceived" (Luke 21:8).
Satan uses his cunning and power most tenaciously and successfully in convincing people that they have saving faith when they do not. He deceives more souls by this stratagem than by all other devices combined. How many Satan-blinded souls will read this and say, "It does not apply to me; I know that my faith is genuine." Satan dissuades many from heeding that most salutary exhortation: "Examine yourselves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves" (Cor. 13:5). We will consider this text later.
Our Lord's parables show that He continually warned against self-deception. Spiritual houses often look the same until the storm of God's judgement comes (Matt. 7:24-27). Then it is revealed that one house is spurious (built on sand) and one is genuine (built on rock). Wheat and tares look so much alike that only the Lord Himself can separate them (Matt. 13:24-30).
Failure to recognize the Bible's teaching on counterfeit faith has led to other errors. The tendency is to treat spurious believers as saved but not consecrated or filled with the Spirit. The folly is often compounded by calling those who give no Bible evidence of saving faith carnal Christians, since they do not act like Christians. The solution to this unbiblical dilemma is sought in some kinds of second experience or second work of grace. Thus there is constant appeal to the carnal Christian, who in reality is a spurious believer, to finally surrender to Christ's lordship and be filled with (even baptized in) the Spirit.
The great theologians of the past recognized that the Bible distinguishes between spurious faith and saving faith. Charles Hodge speaks of historical or speculative faith, temporary faith and saving faith (Systematic Theology 3:67-68). James P. Boyce, one of the greatest Southern Baptist theologians and principal founder of their first seminary, speaks of implicit faith, historical faith, temporary or delusive faith, and saving faith (Abstract of Systematic Theology, pp. 389-94). With these great men of God, we hold tenaciously to that great hopeful and liberating truth of the Bible--justification by faith alone. But we also recognize that faith which is alone is not the faith which justifies.
True Saving Faith Described
Regeneration is inseparable from its effects, one of which is saving faith. Without regeneration it is morally and spiritually impossible to savingly believe in Christ. Except a man be born again, he cannot see, he cannot understand, he cannot come to Christ (John 3:3; 6:37, 44; 1 Cor. 2:14). Regeneration is the renewing of the heart and mind; and the renewed heart and mind must act according to their nature.
Regeneration is the act of God alone. But faith is not the act of God. It is not God who believes in Christ for salvation; it is the sinner. Although it is by God's grace alone that a person is able to believe, faith is an activity of the person alone. In saving faith we receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation. True, this is a strange, and to some extent, undefinable mixture. but this is precisely what the Bible teaches. This is God's way of salvation, expressing His supreme wisdom, power, and grace.
The Acting of True Saving Faith
True justifying faith is, in the Lord's deep wisdom and condescension, variously expressed in Scripture according to its different actings toward God and its outgoings after Him. True faith is sometimes spoken of as a desire for union with God in Christ--as a willing. And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17). Scripture also speaks of looking to Him. "Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" (Isa. 45:22; this text was used of God in Spurgeon's conversion). This may be the weakest act of faith. True faith is also expressed as hungering and thirsting after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6).
True faith sometimes goes out in the act of leaning on the Lord; the soul taking up Christ as a resting-stone because God has so offered Christ. Though He may be a stumbling-stone and a rock of offense to others, true faith is not ashamed of Him (Rom. 9:33). The acting of true faith is sometimes expressed in Scripture as <7, 18). Accordingly, faith's work here is to "Put on the Lord Jesus" (Rom. 13:14). To the soul that is hungry and thirsty for something that will everlastingly satisfy, Christ Jesus is "milk, water, the bread of life, and the true manna" (Isa. 55:1,2; John 6:48, 51). True faith will "go, buy, eat, and drink abundantly" (Isa. 55:1; John 6:53, 57). To the soul that is pursued for guilt and is not able to withstand the charge, Christ Jesus is the city of refuge. The poor guilty man exercises true faith by fleeing to Christ for refuge, laying hold on the hope set before him (Heb. 6:18).
In a word, whatever way Christ may benefit poor sinners, He declares Himself able to do. True faith desires Christ in whatever way He holds Himself out in the Scriptures. If He is held out as a Bridegroom, true faith goes out to Him as a bride. If he is held out as a Father (Isa. 9:6), true faith takes the place of a child. If He is held out as a Shepherd, true faith takes the place of a sheep. If He is set forth as Lord, true faith acknowledges Him to be the Sovereign. True faith desires Christ and aspires to be conformed to His image.
It is important to remember, in considering the actings of true saving faith, that every true believer does not manifest all these various actings and exercises of faith, for their condition does not require them. Not everyone in the New Testament is told to sell his possessions (Mark 10:21). Surely, not everyone dares say, "though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). Many would not have pursued Christ like the woman of Canaan (Matt. 15:22-28) but in discouragement would have given up.
There is, however, one thing common to all who possess true saving faith; that is, a heart-satisfaction with God's plan of salvation by Christ. When one is pleased with God's method of satisfying His justice through Christ's person and work and when the soul and heart embrace that plan, then one is believing unto salvation. Saving faith is not a difficult, mysterious, hardly attainable thing. We must first acknowledge it to be God's gift, above the power of flesh and blood. God must draw me to Christ. "No man can come to Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ....to believe on Him..." (Phil. 1:29).
Shall that which consists much in desire be judged a mysterious, difficult thing? If men have but a true appetite, they have a mark of true saving faith. They are "blessed that hunger after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6). If you desire, you are welcome (Rev. 22:17). Is it a matter of such intricacy and difficulty earnestly to look to the exalted Savior (Isa. 45:22)? Is it mysterious or difficult to receive that which is sincerely offered and declared to be mine if I will but accept it? "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Ps. 81:10). Such is justifying faith.
"It was the glory of our Protestant Reformation to discover again the purity of the evangel. The Reformers recognized that the essence of saving faith is to bring the sinner lost and dead in trespasses and sins into direct personal contact with the Saviour himself, contact which is nothing less than that of self-commitment to him in all the glory of his person and perfection of his work as he is freely and fully offered in the gospel" (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished andApplied, p.112). Here, Professor Murray gives us a superb definition of justifying and saving faith.
This is the faith of God's elect, and by it they are able to believe to the saving of their souls. This faith is the work of the Spirit in their hearts and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word. By this kind of faith, God's sheep hear his Word and believe to be true all that is revealed in the Scriptures. Where this faith is, there is a yielding of obedience to the commands, a trembling at the threatenings, and an embracing of the promises of God for this life and the life to come. The principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life. Justifying faith, therefore, includes knowledge, conviction, and trust.
Differences Between Spurious and True Faith
There is a hope that shall perish (Job 8:13, 14) and a hope that makes not ashamed (Rom. 5:5). Likewise, there is a faith which saves and a faith which damns. The need to distinguish between the two is vital on the contemporary church scene. "There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes. Yet is not washed from its filthiness" (Prov. 30:12). "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12). These searching passages have a very real application to our church membership today.
This brings us to our last consideration; that is, the differences between spurious faith and justifying faith, or false believers and true believers. There are many differences, but I point out four that separate the wheat from the chaff, the genuine from the counterfeit.
The first difference is that spurious believers want Christ, but not without exception. They want the grace of Christ, but not the government of Christ--like the prodigal son who wanted his father's goods but not his father's government. They desire the benefits of the cross without bowing to the implications of the crown. They want to go to heaven, but not by the narrow way that leads there. They desire the free gift of eternal life, but will not receive it with empty hands. Yes, they want Christ, but not without exception. They want Christ and their other lovers also. They want to be saved from the consequences of sin, but not from sin itself. But our Lord came to save from sin. This is clear from the very first chapter of the New Testament. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Jesus is not just a hell insurance policy, but a Saviour from sin and its consequences.
True saving faith wants Christ without exception. This is illustrated by our Lord's parables in Matthew 13. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matt. 13:44). Again, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45, 46). The treasure and the pearl is Christ; and saving faith wants Him without exception.
The second difference between spurious believers and true believers is that true faith wants Christ as He is offered in the Scriptures; that is, the only Mediator between God and man (1Tim. 2:5). As Mediator, Christ has three offices: Prophet, Priest, and King of His church. First, as Priest, Christ procures pardon and peach by His sacrifice on the cross and maintains peace by His intercession. Second, as Prophet, Christ is wisdom--teacher and counselor in all things. Third, as anointed King, Christ rules and reigns over the true believer in all things and protects them from all their enemies.
Spurious believers want Christ only as a Priest to procure pardon and peace, but not as a Prophet to instruct them or as a King to rule over them. We are not saved, however, by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him. "He that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12). If we have Him, we must have Him in all of His offices.
The third difference is that spurious believers never close with Christ and the inconveniences that follow. They want Christ but have never done what Jesus commanded--that is, counted the cost (Luke 14:25-33). &nb you nothing to become a Christian; but it may cost you everything to be a Christian.
The fourth difference between spurious and true believers is that the spurious believer's heart is not changed, and, therefore, his faith is not operative. Simon Magus believed, but his heart was not right in the sight of God (Acts 8:13, 21). True faith is operative, purifying the heart (Acts 15:8, 9).
We must distinguish properly between justifying faith and spurious faith. The consequences of remaining in deception are too enormous to neglect self-examination. There is a faith which will not save and men must be warned of its fatal consequences. We are justified by faith alone, but ture faith has distinguishing traits. That faith which is alone is not the kind of faith that justifies.
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16, 17).
Faith & Obedience
We may try our faith by its obedience. This choice, excellent faith is an obedient faith; that is, true faith on the promise works obedience to the command. Abraham is famous for his obedience; no command, no matter how difficult, came amiss to him. But what was the spring that set Abraham's obedience going? "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed and he went out" (Heb. 11:8). As it is impossible to please God without faith, so it is impossible not to desire to please God with faith.
Faith is not lazy; it inclines the soul to
sends the creature not to bed, there to sleep away his time in ease,
into the field. The night of ignorance and unbelief is the
sleeping time; but when the Sun of Righteousness arises and it is day
the soul, then the creature rises and goes forth to his labor.
first words that break out of faith's lips are, "Lord, what wilt thou
me to do?"
"Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke18:8). How valuable faith must be, friends, if the Son of Man will seek for faith, and pass by everyone of those who have it not. Oh, how essential it is that we have the right faith! How necessary that our faith be the gift of God.
-John Booth, 1908