WHEN FAITH DOES NOT SAVE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 9, 2020
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
— John 8:31-59, ESV
The second of five pillars of the Great Reformation is “Sola Fide,” or “Faith Alone” saves. This distinguishes Reformed churches from Roman Catholicism, which touts faith plus sacraments, and Churches of Christ, which preach faith plus baptism, and the contemporary Church of Oprah, which believes any belief will do as long as you are a good person.
While I would not leave the Reformed tradition to embrace any of the above religions, I must confess they have a point. While I support the second pillar of “Faith Alone,” I confess there is a faith that does not save. It is not faith alone, but a faith that remains alone, unaccompanied by biblical obedience, genuine repentance, spiritual disciplines, and a pattern of good works.
Such is the superficial faith that plagued many Israelites of the Old Covenant, whose lips gave service to God but whose hearts were far from Him. It is the unsaving faith of modern day revivalism, which woos people down an aisle to make an emotional decision for Christ, which wears off as soon as the emotion dies down. It is the worthless faith without works criticized by Paul and James in the New Testament. It is the faith that is aptly illustrated by fickle followers of Jesus during His last days at His last Feast of Tabernacles.
Faith does not save when it is not accompanied by obedience to the word of God.
Apparently the Lord had made a big impression upon people in Jerusalem. His astounding claims of possessing living water and true light, backed up by three years worth of miracles and messages, had prompted a profession of faith from many. So they came forward at the end of the festival, like a crowd streaming down the aisles of a Billy Graham crusade or a Baptist church revival, and Jesus counseled with them.
Jesus’ first word to those making profession of faith was, “If.” He did not have them fill out a pledge card, or write a date down in their Bibles to never doubt, or give them any other kind of false assurance. He admonished them to prove it. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but salvation is not a profession of faith alone. It is a proven faith.
Jesus made the following declarative statements: “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples” (vs. 31); “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (vs. 47); “If anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (vs. 51); and, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (ref. John 14:15). Consider the converse of those statements. Look at what the Gospel writer John wrote later, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (ref. 1 John 2:3-4).
The only way to prove that faith alone has saved you is to prove your faith is not alone. It is accompanied by obedience to the word of God, the Bible. The commandments in Scripture are relatively clear and uncomplicated. Those who profess faith in Christ are to be baptized into the membership of the church. They should attend public worship on the Lord’s Day and always put God first in their hearts. They should subject their speech, their sexual morals, their home, and their habits to the Lordship of Christ and the word of God. A Christian cannot achieve perfection is this life, for such belongs only to Christ, but he or she will be committed, obedient, and faithful to the faith they profess in the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, then they have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when there is no repentance from sin.
The opposite of saving faith and its ensuing faithfulness to God is an unsaving faith marked by the perpetual practice of sin. It is a faith without repentance, which is all too common in our modern Christian culture.
Jesus’ first sermon was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ref. Matthew 3:17). He also said, “Unless you repent, you will perish” (ref. Luke 13:3,5). Repentance is a change of mind and heart that turns away from sinful habits and toward faithful obedience to the Lord. Again, repentance is not perfection, but it is the practice of holiness rather than the practice of selfish sins, like spending Sundays for yourself instead of God, or engaging in repeated sexual immorality, or spending your life striving for money and material things at the expense of a spiritual and faithful life.
The bad news about the common man is that he is depraved, spiritually dead, powerless to fight against sin and selfish pleasures. The good news about the gospel, when brought home by the Holy Spirit with true faith and repentance, is that, in Jesus words, it will “set you free” (vs. 32) from being that person “who practices sin [as] a slave to sin” (vs. 34).
The people professing faith in Jesus on this day denied their need for repentance, for freedom from the slavery of sin, of needing to be washed clean of wrong and empowered to do right. They did not repent. They did not obey. They looked like a great number of contemporary church members today. They have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it clings to religion rather than the gospel.
Not every lost church member blows off church attendance. Some of them don’t miss a Sunday. Some of them have memorized sections of Scripture. Some of them get elected to church leadership positions. But like the false believers in Jesus’ day, these people have faith in religion, not in the real gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The people who came forward to profess faith on this day were Jews, staunchly practicing their Jewish religion. They were at the required Festival. They were in and around the right Temple. They clung to the right patriarch, Abraham, the literal grandfather of Israel. But when presented with the full gospel, the gospel of faith in God’s Son that requires faithfulness to God’s word, they let go of any acceptance, affection, or allegiance to Jesus Christ.
They fell back on their religious commitment instead. Since they could say, “Abraham is our father” (vs. 39), they could claim God as their Father, too (vs. 41). They did not need a personal relationship with Jesus. They thought their membership in the Jewish faith would be enough to earn them acceptance with God.
I am an obituary reader, morbid though it may seem. And though I do not mean to be as critical as this may sound, I am always dismayed when someone is eulogized as being of the Baptist faith, or the Methodist faith, or the Catholic faith, or any other denomination or tradition. Being Jewish cannot save any Jew who rejects Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, nor is salvation found in being a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever. If your faith is in religion rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ, then you have a faith that does not save.
Faith does not save when it attacks Christ or true Christians.
Not all unbelievers and false believers overtly attack true believers. But, it is common, and proof that a person is no closer to God than Pluto is to the Sun. When Jesus told those who professed faith in Him that they really had no faith at all, they went on the attack.
First they said to the Lord, “You are a Samaritan” (vs. 48), the equivalent of a racial slur. Then they said Jesus was demon possessed (vs. 48, 52), which was blasphemy. At the end of the day, “They picked up stones to throw at Him” (vs. 59). But it was not Jesus’ time to die, not for another few months, so their attack failed and they all fell away to resume their lives without saving faith.
I have been under attack in every place I have ever served. It is not because I preach false doctrine, but because I preach the true gospel of real repentance, genuine faith, and persevering obedience to the word of God. It is not because I violated the church constitution and bylaws, but because I reformed them to be congruent with the Scriptures. It is not because under my watch people were not added to the church rolls, but because I removed people from the church rolls who were living in sin or forsaking the church. I have been called a legalist and I have been called a liberal. I have been called a goody two shoes and I have been called that drinking and dancing preacher. I have seen my family’s faith grow during these trials and I have watched family members abandon the faith because of the pressure.
But my problems pale in comparison to those endured by the Lord Jesus Christ. He suffered rejection by the Jews in this story, and the vast majority of mankind rejects Him still. He escaped stoning here but He could not, He would not, escape the pain and death of the cross.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the eternal God and only Savior. Yet true, historic, and biblical Christianity has never been harder to find. This is in spite of the fact that most people in our culture claim to have faith. I’m afraid the faith they have, is a faith that does not save.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org