A reader named CM sent in this interesting email. There is an implicit question at the end regarding faith and works.
Repenting is turning away from sin by turning to Christ. Jesus said, “either you are with Me, or you or against Me”.
Faith is a decision to respond to the gospel; acknowledging that our only hope for salvation is believing Jesus paid for our sins, and then inviting Him into our lives as Savior and Lord, accepting His free gift. As we turn to Him, we are abandoning all hope that any other way to salvation, including our own works, will not get us to heaven.
Once we are saved, James 2:18 says, “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Works will follow the faith of a true believer.
Thanks for your heartfelt email.
I might quibble with whether repentance is a condition of everlasting life (see here), whether faith is a decision or not (see here), and whether faith in Christ is synonymous with inviting Him into our lives as Savior and Lord (see here). However, my main concern is with your last paragraph concerning faith and works.
Your view on James 2:18 (really James 2:14-26) means you can never be sure you are a “true believer.” (See a blog by me here and a blog by Shawn Lazar here and another blog by me here for articles on James 2:14-17, which address the issue you raise. If you want a more scholarly presentation, check out this 19-page Journal article by me on James 2.)
Even if your works today were perfect, which we know they are not (Rom 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10), you could not be sure you would not fall in the future.
What happens if in 5 years you become a drug addict and die in that condition?
If the promise of John 3:16 is true, then you would go to be with the Lord if you ever believed in Him for everlasting life.
But if your view is true, then John 3:16 only applies to “true believers,” and you would end up in Hades, awaiting the lake of fire.
Worse yet, by your own interpretation you would not even need to be a terrible sinner like a murderer or drug addict at the time of death to prove you had never been a true believer. If you died as a jealous or selfish or angry person, you would disprove your true-believer status (Gal 5:19-21, though see this article to explain that passage).
The promise of John 3:16 is absolute. Whoever believes in Jesus has everlasting life. There is no condition that you must later persevere in good works until death to show that you have true faith.
I get the appeal of your view. It would be nice if all believers were godly people all the time in this life. Or at least that all believers are godly people all the time except for short time periods when they may have a fall. If that were true, then after a few months or years of proving themselves, you could be sure that believers would never have a fall that lasted more than a short time and that they would surely persevere in faith and good works until death. Well, unless they later proved to have a secret sin that lasted a long time. If one or more of those people had a pattern of immorality that lasted for years or decades that then came to light, or if one of them died while away from the Lord, you would be forced to say that they most likely were not (or had not been) true believers. Dr. Ravi Zacharias? Ted Haggard? Jim Bakker? Bill Gothard? Bob Coy? Robert Tilton?1 And what about people from the Bible who had major falls? Solomon? Ananias and Saphira? Nabad and Abihu? The believers of 1 Cor 11:30 who died? Any believer who dies as a result of the sin unto death (1 John 5:16-18)? The end result of thinking that all true believers manifest godliness nearly all the time (and certainly at the time of death), as I said above, is that you cannot be sure you are one of those true believers.
I hope you will prayerfully consider whether your view of the gospel might be flawed. I suggest you read the Gospel of John prayerfully. My hope is that you will become certain that you have everlasting life that can never be lost.
1 I’m not saying those Christian leaders are believers, or unbelievers. I’m saying that if they ever believed in Jesus for their eternal destiny, then they are still born again no matter how serious their subsequent sins. Nothing can undo the new birth. Compare John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; 11:26.