Can Such a Faith Save?

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? James 2:14 NIV.



Looking around these days, it seems like too many of us who claim to be Christians have been seduced into the notion that salvation is a matter of correct beliefs about Jesus. It’s a scary thought that the devil and we could believe the same things about God with no related behavioral change! Shouldn’t our salvation demonstrate some corresponding change in lifestyle?

To be sure, I am a “grace guy.” My books and teaching revolve around God’s incredible, relational grace. I am His favorite—and so are you! He loves the real “us,” the person he designed and created us to be. God’s grace-filled plan for our lives includes complete restoration to Him, ongoing fellowship with Him and His People, and learning to live in love. Discipleship is the process of responding to God’s Grace, walking with Jesus, and becoming transformed into His Image. According to Jesus, discipleship is required. It’s not optional.

I fear that many of us live as “Christians” in name only. John tells us that Jesus came to us “full of grace and truth.” It’s a package deal - if we have a genuine relationship with Jesus. In both church and secular culture, many of us love grace – but don’t allow the truth about love, sin, repentance, and restoration to pierce our hearts. We’re armchair disciples who sit on the sidelines and mistakenly believe we’re actually on the road to discipleship.

Reveling in our supposed “freedom,” we continue to “do what is right in our own eyes.” We continue practicing lifestyles and sin habits that are an affront to God. We’ve bought into the delusion that confessing the “right things about God” is a substitute for actually walking with and learning to follow Him. Glad that God accepts us as we are, we overlook that we are called to a lifestyle of repentance and organic growth as we learn to yield to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

John says it like this: "This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us." 1 John 1:5-10 (NASB) 

A look at the historical context of John’s writing will help us understand how it applies to our situation today. In John’s lifetime, the early roots of what would grow into Gnosticism were starting to grow. The heresy of John’s time included the belief that faith without repentance was possible. Those false teachers suggested that it’s possible to say the right things about Jesus – but routinely practice deliberate, habitual sin without any corresponding changes in behavior. Some of my Southern friends might say, “they talked north while continuing to walk south.”

Sadly, this doesn’t sound very different than many of us these days. Do you and I really believe the lie that faith without repentance and recognition of sin can truly save us? Is it possible to be a Christian without being a disciple learning to “walk in the light as He is in the light?” How long can we walk in darkness and pretend that it’s light?

Please don’t take John’s epistle—and this blog—as an opportunity for self-condemnation. John makes the truth plain: If I’m walking in the light with Jesus, His light will shine in the dark places of my life and expose sin. John’s solution is simple: confess that sin to God, and he will be faithful to forgive and cleanse. The difference between a disciple and someone who deliberately persists in habitual, consistent sin is simple: disciples don’t ignore or self-justify sin. Armchair Christians justify sin or pretend it doesn’t exist. They abuse grace and encourage others to do the same.

Grace without truth is a lot like Jell-o®. We wiggle and wobble back and forth but have nothing solid on which to stand internally. Apart from truth, grace leaves us walking away from God, side-by-side with our gleeful enemy. A proper understanding of grace always leads us to Jesus. And Jesus promises to lead us into all truth through His Spirit.

And, I know, dear brothers and sisters, that His way is the one we want to go.

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  • I agree, good word Ed. As we grow in relationship with Jesus moment by moment walking in His light then love draws us to desire that everything be exposed and come into the light. Nothing hidden in darkness. We Learn to trust in His character and nature that He has only our best in mind.  He does all things well!

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