Salvation: The Deception of Non-Saving Faith
“Faith or No Faith, That is the Question”
All throughout Scripture we see examples of people who have faith, but it’s non-saving faith. After all, every one of us has some type of faith and we exercise faith every day. We have faith a car will stop while we cross the street, we have faith our prescriptions will do what our doctor told us they would do, we have faith a chair will hold us up when we sit down in a crowded restaurant, and we have faith the sun will come up in the morning as we prepare to go to the job we have faith we still have. We all have faith— but we have faith at different levels and in different things. And not all faith is the same.
For example, we have a certain type of faith in our government, or our economic system, or in the media. But that faith is not as strong, nor of the same substance, as the faith we have in the sanctity of our marriage, or the trustworthiness of our best friend, or in our ability to keep a promise to those we love. Each of these kinds of faith is as varied as the objects of that faith. And none of these reaches the level of faith or trust or dependence we would expect to have in Christ. Hence, we would call these examples non-saving faith.
But what happens when a seeking person, just like you or me, comes to Jesus for salvation with nothing more than non-saving faith? Would that person be saved? Or would they be deceived into thinking what faith they had, bordering on intellectual curiosity, was sufficient for salvation?
The Deception of Non-Saving Faith
The Scriptures repeatedly warn about the deception of non-saving faith. In the Parable of the Sower, seventy-five percent of the seeds sown did not lead to salvation (Matt. 13:3-9). Those who sowed in the shallow soil and the thorny soil were deceived into thinking mere growth, without corresponding fruit, equates to salvation. Or, to put it another way, faith, without corresponding fruit, leads to salvation. And the Scriptures clearly state they don’t.
The Scriptures also talk about having a “form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:5). We see people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, both lost, serving as prominent members of the church (1 Tim. 1:20). There are those who come to the wedding feast dressed in clothes of their own righteousness. The result? They were bound, hand and foot, and “cast into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13). We have the warning from the Lord about the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). And, in the book of Hebrews, some were “once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift” but never fully drank of the living waters of salvation (Heb. 6:4).
Remember, Jesus said He “did not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36). How? Because our commitment to Christ must be greater than our love and devotion for those we hold most dear, even our own family. Jesus, when asked “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” said of His own family, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50).
The sad truth is many people come to Christ but never fully partake, or drink, of Him (John 7:37) and are deceived into believing they are truly saved. Many people, most in fact, go part of the way towards Christ and end up short of true salvation. They feel and recognize their need for Christ and acknowledge He is the only One that can satisfy their deepest longings, yet they fail to appropriate Him into their lives on His terms. They thirst, they come— but they fail to drink. They create their own gospel, their own way of salvation, and their own standards of righteousness, holiness, and sanctification. Yet they are deceived— because a man-made Gospel does not lead to Christ.
Thirst, Come, and Drink
On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, approximately six months before Jesus was to celebrate His last Passover in Jerusalem and was later betrayed and crucified (John 13:1), He stood amid the crowd and gave the following invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Jesus gives His gospel presentation to a group of people who have very different views about who He is. And whenever Jesus presents us with Himself— He always forces us to choose. We are forced to either accept Him on His terms or reject Him outright. There’s no middle ground, no gray area, and it’s not open to personal interpretation. It happened to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles and it happens today every time we proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
The questions are always the same: Who is Jesus? What is truth? (John 18:38). Is Jesus who He says He is? And, if He is, what does that mean for me? Is it possible to have my sins forgiven? How can I be reconciled with God? Tell me, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 2:37).
In this passage, three key words describe the path to true salvation. The words are thirst, come, and drink. And the promise, of course, to those who thirst, come and drink is eternal life with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the living water Jesus talked about (John 7:39).
Thirst – those who thirst recognize a deep longing, an intense craving, an unsatisfied need in their life. It’s those who come to grips with the reality that their life has no eternal purpose or meaning and they are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). They instinctively perceive there’s more to life than what they’re experiencing and, therefore, they try to fill the void they feel with all sorts of carnal sensations— sex, drugs, food, false religions and philosophies, immoral relationships, pride, selfishness, arrogance— until they finally admit only Jesus can bring light into their darkness.
Come – when the personal longings become unbearable and the promise of redemption seems so alluring, so captivating, and enticing, many come to Jesus for what He promises to offer. These understand who Jesus claims to be, the exalted Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord, and they understand what He has done for them, redeeming them from the penalty and power of sin by dying for them on the cross. What they know and understand about Jesus is true. The problem, however, is what they do with that truth.
In other words, there’s more to salvation than simply coming to Jesus. You can’t just come and receive Him on your terms as some sort of trade or barter transaction. You must enter through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13), on His terms, and His terms are not open to negotiation. His terms are all or nothing, total commitment, His life for yours. He doesn’t come to make us better or to enhance certain aspects of our life. No, He comes to put us to death and raise us to life again in His image, as His child, to do His will and not our own (Rom. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:18). He is the Lord, the Sovereign One, God Almighty (Phil. 2:10-11), and we are now voluntary slaves, bondslaves, of His. Remember the words from Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Note, it’s Jesus as Lord and nothing else. You cannot come to Jesus as Savior only. He is Savior, because He is Lord.
Most people never make it this far. They never move past simply coming to Jesus and they never progress to true salvation. Most view Jesus as an enlightened master or great teacher or the supreme moral example for all mankind, but never as Lord. They fail to take Him at His Word, or count the costs of salvation (Matt. 8:19-22), and give their lives to Him in abject submission and humility. They want what He can do for them to make their life better, but they do not want Him as their Lord. So they say a prayer and try to incorporate some behavior or moral changes into their life and maybe even experience a deceptive sense of salvation, like a sensation of peace or contentment, but they never yielded or surrendered their life to Him nor submitted to His Lordship. And, as sad as it may seem, they’re still lost. Why? Because their nature has not been changed (2 Cor. 5:17), redemption and conversion have not taken place, and the Holy Spirit does not indwell them as their deposit, the guarantee of their future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:14). And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).
Drink – this is where true salvation takes place. You have a thirst and you come to Christ to quench and satisfy your thirst. Yet simply coming to where the Living Water flows does not, in itself, quench your thirst. You must drink. You must partake. You must be engulfed, enveloped, saturated in Christ, the Living Water. He must be everything to you if you are to receive anything from Him. Salvation, being a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), requires more than reciting some prayer as a nine-year-old at VBS. It’s a radical, unconditional, total and complete, without reservation and with reckless abandonment, pledge, vow, promise, commitment, and allegiance to Christ as Lord. You are no longer your own to do what you wish with your life (1 Cor. 6:19). You have been bought with a price, you now belong to Him, and you are to live to bring Him honor (1 Cor. 6:20). You are now pilgrims and strangers on the earth (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11) because this world is not your home (Heb. 13:14).
This is this kind of all-or-nothing relationship that marked the disciples, the early church, and every true believer from Pentecost until today. And, if you truly know Christ and are known by Him, it will mark your life also.
Those Who Believed Jesus… Kinda
The Scriptures tell us when Jesus finished His invitation to the unbelieving crowd to come and drink of Him and those who would come and drink would receive, in themselves, the flowing rivers of eternal life in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), the crowd was divided. Some believed His words, but only partially. Some didn’t believe at all, and wanted to destroy Him (John 7:44).
Nothing much has changed. As it was back then, so it is today.
“Truly this is the Prophet”
John 7:40-41 states: Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” Note, they said He was the Prophet, capitalized, and not a prophet. This first group was asserting that Jesus was the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” For centuries, this passage had been interpreted to prophetically speak of the coming Messiah, the Christ. However, by the time of Jesus, the Jewish scholars, from their understanding of Malachi 3, believed the passage spoke more of the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6), and not the Messiah Himself. Now the Prophet was someone who would show men their need for a Redeemer, for Christ, and then faithfully point them to the only One who could satisfy their need. But the Prophet was not the Messiah and could not, himself, satisfy their thirst, need, or longing. He could just point the way or be a path or channel, but He had no power or authority to grant salvation.
Unfortunately, many people still believe this about Jesus.
They believed Jesus came to point men towards the truth, but they would fervently deny He was the Truth (John 14:6). They would declare Jesus came to point men to someone or something coming to satisfy all their needs, but He was not that Someone and He did not possess the something they were looking for. The men who said, “Truly this is the Prophet” (John 7:40), recognized and affirmed the special status Jesus had as a one-of-a-kind religious leader who did things and taught things unlike any religious figure before (John 7:46). He was in a class all by Himself. They would even go so far as to say Jesus was sent by God and had a special relationship with God (John 3:2). But they would not receive Him as God or serve Him as Lord. They wanted Jesus and something else, anything else. These were those who thirsted and came, but never drank.
“This is the Christ”
The second group said, “This is the Christ” (John 7:41). This group recognized and believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of Israel, the One prophesied from the Old Testament (Luke 2:11). Yes, they knew these facts about Him to be true, but they defiantly refused, like the first group, to bend their knee to Him as Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). They refused to commit their lives and future to Him as the Sovereign One. The Scriptures do not indicate this group followed Jesus as Lord. They simply said, “Yes, I believe He is the Son of God and, yes, I believe He is the Messiah and the Christ. So what? What does that mean to me? Now, pass me the butter and biscuits. I’m hungry.”
This group confessed Jesus as something, but not as Lord (Rom. 10:9). They had non-saving faith in Jesus as the Christ.
“This is the Christ… uh, but…”
Then there’s the group that fully confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), but would rather argue and bicker and debate over trivial matters of their own theology and reject Jesus because, in their mind, He didn’t meet every jot or tittle they thought He should (Matt. 5:18). These are the ones who argue saying, “He can’t be the Christ because He came from Galilee and the Christ is supposed to come from Bethlehem. Plus, the Scriptures teach the Messiah must come from the line of David, and I’m not sure where this guy comes from” (John 7:40-42). So they compared what little they knew about Jesus with their own limited and incomplete knowledge of the prophetic Scriptures and concluded He could not possibly be the Messiah because He failed to meet all their sincerely held convictions of what the Messiah would be. We have many in the church today who operate the same way. They smugly elevate their own statement of beliefs or denominational creeds or preferences to the level of infallible Scripture and use them as a litmus test for fellowship or, sadly, salvation, and even truth.
But if this group would’ve investigated further, they would’ve discovered Jesus was from the line of David (Matt. 22:42) and did come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah (John 5:39). But they were more concerned with being right in the eyes of each other and promoting their own theological brand or position than in knowing the truth. In their apathy and laziness, they failed to look for the truth because they arrogantly assumed they’d already found it. And in their pride and hypocrisy, they missed their Messiah.
Again, just like the first two groups, they also missed out on eternal life.
Those Who Did Not Believe Jesus
The final group was those who hated the Lord Jesus and wanted to destroy Him. These were the ones who wanted to take Him by force (John 7:44) but were prevented because, from God’s perspective, it was not yet His time and His hour had not come (John 7:30). Needless to say, the people in this group did not understand Christ nor receive the gift of salvation He offered (John 7:37-39).
To What Group Do You Belong?
So where do you fit in? What is your response to Christ? Do you believe partially, somewhat, kinda, in Him? Do you say, “Yes, He was a good man, and yes, He was sent from God, and yes, He’s a great moral teacher and example, and, yes, He’s a path or a way of some sort to God.” If so, that’s not enough. Your confession of Him or your profession of faith is severely lacking. Fatally lacking. For Jesus, He is all or nothing. There is no partial with Him. There’s no halfway, no honorable mention, no consolation prize, and no kudos for trying. He’s all or nothing, totally in or totally out, through the narrow gate only, and on His terms without negotiation or compromise.
Remember His words,
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53-55).
Or, in other words, Jesus gives eternal life to those who ingest Him into the core of their very being, as their strength, source of daily nourishment, their very sustenance. Jesus did not come to make us better or to enhance or improve our fallen lives. No, He came to make us new, to put the old man to death, and to raise the new man to live with Him. And what kind of life does He promise? It’s beyond anything we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20-21). He offers a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). And He promises we will be children of God, and if children, then heirs, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). Just think, all that Christ is and all He possesses becomes ours as a joint heir with Him— when, and here is the requirement, we give all that we are to Him. This promise belongs to those who exercise real, genuine, saving faith in the completed work of Christ.
One final thought, the seeds that fell on the path, in shallow soil, and in the soil infested with weeds and thorns, did not produce fruit (Matt. 13:3-9). They did not lead to eternal life. Why? Because Jesus never said you’ll know My disciples by their profession, nor church membership, nor civic good works, nor non-profit activities, nor from the applause of men — you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20).
Fruits. And nothing else.
Do your fruits show you belong to Him?