Updated: Oct 16
I have listened to a lot of sermons in my day; most in person, many online, taped, etc. I have listened to a lot of inspirational and not so inspirational talks, and have gleaned a lot from many of them; even the not so inspirational ones. I will also say that I have been harmed, if not least painfully confused by a lot of what has come through pulpits. I will say that Acts 17:11 is a very important reminder for preventing such things from happening to you. In this passage Luke commends the Bereans for sincerely listening to preaching and then going to Scripture to see if what the preachers were saying lined up with Scripture; whether or not what they heard in the preaching was true. Speaking from experience, listening to and relying preachers, no matter how well-intended they may be, without studying the Word of God on our own, is a very bad idea.
One of the problematic things that all too commonly comes from the pulpits of many evangelical churches is a distorted view of the Gospel [that people all too often don’t check for themselves]. You will often hear the pastor stating [correctly] that salvation is by grace alone and not of works; by faith in the finished work of Christ; through Christ plus nothing. Unfortunately what will all too often happen next; perhaps even in the same sentence, is that he will then give a misrepresentation of what saving faith is. He may say that true saving faith; faith that the Bible is actually [not] talking about; that will get you to Heaven, involves a total commitment to Christ (which is indeed what all believers/saved people should be striving toward, but that is a separate topic); in other words he is saying that you must lay down everything in every aspect of your life and be willing to forsake it, including your family, your job, your life, and everything else you can think of. He may accompany that statement with something [quite unbiblical] like “we are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.” He may even quote James 2:19 out of context; which basically says that even devils believe in Jesus (Jesus didn’t die for the devils). He may build on that and tell you that real faith; faith that saves (including your own) will always be and only be evident by the fruit in the believer’s life and that any other view of faith is a cheap view of it (this is back-loading works into salvation). He may tell you that you have to count the cost of salvation and be ready to pick up a cross in order to be saved. He may even take you to the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11 to incorrectly reinforce this idea with the examples listed there. He will likely also tell you that you need to “repent of your sins;” meaning that you must turn from all of your sinful ways, or at least sincerely promise to do so (a promise that you had better keep if you don’t want to be roasting in Hell) BEFORE you can be saved, and essentially to stay saved, even though he may in the same breath tell you that salvation cannot be lost (which it truly cannot). This all may sound very wholesome, exemplary, lofty, religious, and spiritual, but it is not biblical; biblical is the only thing that matters here. Someone believing such a gospel without ever hearing the real Gospel and believing it, is in great danger, such as those mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23 (Please click on “never be scared of Matthew 7:21-23 AGAIN” in the "articles" section of the main menu for more treatment of this).
Saving faith has nothing to do with any promise that you make to Jesus [that you will most certainly never keep completely]; it has everything to do with the promises that He made to you [which He most certainly will keep completely]. Saving faith has nothing to do with your love and dedication to serving Jesus; it has everything to do with His dedication and love for you. Saving faith has nothing to do with what you do for Jesus; it has everything to do with what He has done for you (Eph. 28-9, Romans 6:23, 11:29, John 3:15-16, 6:47, Heb. 13:5, etc.).
The truth about saving faith is quite to the contrary, as I see it. A faith that is cheap [or un-trusting; faith by definition implies trust] is one that puts any reliance on the performance of the believer [sinner] as part of the formula for salvation and thus denies the sufficiency of the sacrifice and finished work of Christ; such faith does not trust Jesus. First off, someone who is unsaved cannot repent, or turn from and forsake their sin, because they are sinners and sin is their nature, right to the core; that’s how they were born. For example, a dog barks and acts like a dog because it is a dog; that is its nature; that is how it was born. It can’t stop its “dogness” unless someone is somehow able to make it into something other than a dog; something that it certainly is not going to be able to do under its own power. We cannot become something other than sinners by our own power; we cannot turn from our sin nature any more than a dog can turn from panting, scratching, barking, whimpering; dog behavior; the dog nature, while still remaining a dog. If such a thing were a requirement for salvation, no one would ever be saved. Sure, there is what most will refer to as will power, where someone simply decides that they will start or stop doing something (perhaps an unhealthy habit or behavior, etc.), but that is not even remotely a purifying or an elimination of the sinful nature that all humans are born in. Someone is still a sinner even if they quit stealing (or smoking) for example. Someone’s motive to quit stealing may not be at all rooted in righteousness; it may just be rooted in the desire to stay out of jail, because jail is unpleasant. Someone may give up cigarettes because of their disdain for the horrors of developing lung cancer. Think of how many long-time recovering alcoholics there are who have zero interest in Jesus Christ, with something like a door-knob as their “higher power.’ God sees all of the supposed righteousness of the flesh and the old self, which we put off [we still have the flesh] when we truly believe on/totally rely upon Jesus (Colossians 3:9) as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6); still polluted with sin, which they are. We can only truly turn from sin, at its root ONCE WE HAVE BEEN SAVED and have been given eternal life, present tense! This is because we have been GIVEN the new birth of God which cannot sin (1 John 3:9); thus it cannot receive the wage of sin and die. No one causes themselves to or helps themselves be born. We can only truly turn from sin when we choose to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16); which only the saved person; the person guaranteed Heaven; the person who POSESSES eternal life, present tense, has. James 2:10 basically tells us that if we have broken one law, we are guilty of breaking them all. The old self and the flesh are already polluted. The Spirit/new birth is not polluted and cannot be polluted.
A faith that is not cheap is that of one who has truly repented; not meaning that they have [supposedly] turned from their sinful ways, or promised not to sin or to try to quit sinning, or something to that effect, but they have realized that there is nothing that they are capable of doing or contributing, to save themselves from the consequence of their sins, as most religions fervently teach. They have turned from such futile thinking and now believe that Jesus is who he says and is fully relying on Him and His finished work on the cross (his death according to Scripture), his burial and resurrection, according to Scripture, for the removal of their sins; for their salvation. The saved person knows that there is nothing that they can add to the sufficient grace of Jesus (2 Corinthians 12:9). The saved person has been born again; they still have their sinful flesh while they are on this side of eternity, however they now also have the second birth which is sinless, as I have already discussed. The word for believe in the Greek means to total rely on, to commit your trust; etc. The Greek word for repent means to change your mind. When we choose to fully rely on Jesus and His gift, relying on nothing of ourselves, church rituals, etc., we have truly repented. By the way, the phrase “repent of your sin(s)” is found nowhere in the New Testament in relation to God’s plan of salvation. Please visit the article “Repentance; What does it really mean?” found in the “more” section of the menu of this website. Please read the article and then click the button to the link to the late Dr. Hank Lindstrom’s excellent sermon on this so important, yet so often misunderstood topic; please take the time to watch it its entirety; you will be blessed by it
Real faith, is not phony or halfhearted belief in Jesus supplemented by a “then work hard and hope for the best…” The Bible says that when we believe on Jesus that we have [present tense] everlasting life (John 3:15, 16, 6:47, etc.). In fact Ephesians 1:13 tells us that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believe the Gospel (1Corinthians 15:1-4). The language suggest that the seal is the Holy Spirit Himself; aka God; this is not a seal that is going to be broken. Jesus also tells us in John 10:28 and 29 that none shall snatch us out of His hand. I am not going to accuse God of having butter fingers. If we can somehow lose our salvation once we have it, then it is not eternal, or we don’t have it. It seems to me that such a conundrum would make God a liar. I am NOT going to call God a liar.
Please know that I am in no way condoning sinful behavior on the part of the saved individual; nothing could be further from the truth. We who are saved should to be more like Jesus in every way, all of the time. We should indeed be ready to forsake everything of this world and pick up our cross. God has promised us our salvation, but if we want to wallow in sin, He will chastise us and may even call us home [to Heaven] early (see Acts 5 and 1:Cor. 11). These things that are so often wrongly attached to saving faith are about DISCIPLESHIP; which can only meaningfully happen in the life of the saved person. Salvation is free, and truly costs you nothing, however discipleship may indeed cost you everything. Know this, however. If God calls you to sacrifice in such a way, DO IT, it will be WELL WORTH IT (Romans 8:18).
Evidence of salvation is found within unwavering and infallible Scripture, not the wavering and fallible behavior of any man. Faith [even by simple definition0] is total reliance; particularly upon Jesus and what He has done for you.
I did not fully develop these topics in this relatively short post, as they are treated much more thoroughly on this website. Please spend some time reading the various posts, articles, and the e-book “Angles and Aspects of Salvation,” that are found on this website. Some recent events have brought this topic to the front of my mind; I see it as one of the most important topics that can be discussed in the church right now.