One of my philosophy professors told me about an exchange he witnessed in a philosophy of religion class he took many years ago. While speaking on the topic of the New Testament, the teacher was asked what the Apostle Paul believed about salvation and the afterlife. My professor said he was surprised to hear his teacher give one of the most theologically accurate and moving presentations of the gospel that he had ever heard.
In fact, it was so good that many in the class became uncomfortable. Finally, one student raised his hand and asked, “Professor, you don’t believe that do you?” The teacher paused and then said, “I was not asked what I believe; I was asked what Paul believed.”
Is knowing the facts about God, Jesus, and salvation enough for a person to be saved and born again? Or is it something more than that?
The Litmus Test of James
In the book of James, Jesus’ half-brother makes a very sobering statement that everyone needs to hear. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James discusses what real saving faith looks like in chapter two of his epistle. Midway through his arguments he says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (v. 19).
James reminds his Jewish readers about the Shema, which tells Israel to hear and know that God is one (Deut. 6:4). But then James goes on to say that just knowing about God is inadequate as evidenced by the fact that even the demons acknowledge God and greatly fear Him.
James’ point is that mere mental assent to the facts and truths of God won’t save anyone. The faith that saves is one that accepts God’s truth and then acts accordingly, with the transformation being evidenced by the changed affections and actions of the individual.
What Does Your Faith Look Like?
The great theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards starts his book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, by saying: “There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and what more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards?”
Just knowing the facts about God and His plan of salvation like my professor’s teacher won’t cut it according to James or Edwards. That gets you to the level of a demon’s faith.
The Pharisees knew all the facts about the Messiah such as where He was to be born (Matt. 2:4-6) but in the end, Jesus asked them how they would ever escape the sentence of Hell (Matt. 23:33). Sadly, I think there a lot of people today who know God exists – maybe even know a lot of facts about God – but aren’t really born again and have no evidence of saving faith.
I should know; I was one of them. From a young age, my mother had me in church all the time and I was well schooled in the Christian faith, but there was no fruit or godly affections alive in me. But when God called me to Himself – whoa – everything changed inside me with respect to my affections and actions towards God.
Hopefully that’s what your faith looks like. Not one that merely knows the facts about God but instead one that’s alive with godly affections and fruit that gives evidence you’re a child of the King.