by Mike Ratliff
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)
How can we know if we are truly in Christ? Or you may ask, “What is the fruit which genuine believers bear?” If true salvation is as impacting on a believers life as we contend then there should be verifiable evidence or fruit manifested in that life. The problem is in knowing what evidences really prove the presence of God in a person’s life and those that do not. I have noticed most of us look at the wrong things in our self-evaluations to determine if we are in Christ. Real evidence of the presence of God in a person’s life will be the fruits of salvation. These fruits will in turn lead to outward manifestations of “goodness” or “religiosity” which, unfortunately, can be counterfeited. These outward manifestations are often what we look at to determine if we are a “good Christian” or not. That is a fallacy. Any activity or attitude that can be counterfeited by a false believer cannot be used to verify ones salvation.
Let’s take a close look at these evidences that should never be used to verify our salvation. The first evidence that neither proves or disproves ones salvation is Visible Morality. We all seem to fall for the idea that if a person is a “good person” God surely will automatically accept them. Some atheists and agnostics are “good people.” However, the Bible is very clear in stating salvation comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have known many people who were kind and decent yet were not genuine believers. People with a strong conscience will not stray far from high standards of behavior. Believers do not have a monopoly on high moral standards. In the book of Matthew, a rich young man comes to Jesus seeking a savior.
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have kept. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Then Peter said in reply, "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" (Matthew 19:16-27)
In these verses, a “good person” with Visible Morality comes to Jesus to fill the void in his life. Jesus tells him to put away everything else he valued in his life then come to follow Him exclusively. He would not do it. He was a person with high moral standards yet he was not a believer.
The next attribute that cannot be used to determine true salvation is Intellectual Knowledge. Many mistakenly believe that belief in God is the same thing as believing God. I pity the so-called Biblical scholars who have gone hard after intellectual biblical knowledge without one iota of faith. These are the same bunch who will issue statements every so often questioning the veracity of the Gospels or the Deity of Christ. I do not understand why people who are supposed to be intellectual believers do everything they can to water down and liberalize Christianity into just another fabricated religion. I do not know what their motives are, but it is obvious they do not know Jesus as Lord and savior.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21 NKJV)
The majority of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day had a great deal of head knowledge of their religion, but they were the ones who rejected Jesus as the Christ. Those who should have known and recognized Him missed Him. They had knowledge without faith.
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,"[as it is written. For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. (Romans 2:17-25 NKJV)
Rightness with God comes only by believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and savior not by knowing about God and the Law.
Another snare many fall for is Religious Involvement. Man is naturally religious. Many people who are deeply involved in religion are not genuine believers. Being faithful in church attendance is not an indication of true saving faith because anyone can do that. Remember only those who know Jesus as Lord and savior are truly saved. “Going to church” is simply religious works not an act of faith. In one of Jesus’ parables, He contrasted the genuine believers who are wise with the lost who are foolish.
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, 'Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'” (Matthew 25:1-12)
The wise know Christ and serve Him obediently. The foolish think their Religious Involvement will save them so they do not submit to Him as Lord or trust Him as savior.
The fourth indicator that should never be used to prove our salvation is Active Ministry. In every church I have been member I have seen people who have served in ministries for years who were not real believers. They thought they were, but they were trusting in religion and ministry to save them. In every case, I saw each one repent and come to Christ. However, many who have the title “Pastor” or “Preacher” or “Evangelist” or “Teacher” or “Deacon” or “Elder” do not even know Christ as Lord and savior. How can I say that? I have seen the evidence myself. I have heard the testimonies of those who have gone through seminary and entered the ministry and never knew they were lost. How can this happen? The only answer I have for that question is they used the wrong indications of true salvation instead of the correct ones.
Active Ministry can be counterfeited. Some of the hogwash I hear from some radio and television “evangelists” verifies that statement. Jesus Himself attacked them.
'"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.'” (Matthew 7:21-24)
What did Jesus say? He said not everyone who says Lord, Lord is really saved. He says many of them perform all sorts of religious activities, but their works are actually lawlessness. Only those who are obedient to the will of God by His grace are truly saved. Remember, Active Ministry can be counterfeited.
The fifth false indicator of true salvation is Conviction of Sin. Just because someone feels guilt about their sin does not mean they are saved. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost about their sin to draw them to Christ. Until the sinner repents and comes to Christ for salvation, they are still lost. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea before being sent to Rome for trial he witnessed to the Roman procurator, Felix.
But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case." So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you." Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. (Acts 24:22-26 NKJV)
Felix was convicted of his sins, but that did not bring him to salvation.
The sixth false indicator of true salvation is Assurance. Just because you or I might think we are saved because we believe we are does not mean we are. In fact, the self-righteous are the ones who attack the truth most vigorously. They believe they have a corner on the truth and are above everyone else. They believe they are the true believers because of their religiosity, but they do not know God and His truth. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were perfect examples of this.
"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Matthew 23:13-14 NKJV)
Their pride led them to believe they had the truth, but there Assurance was based on “works” not faith.
The seventh and last false indicator of saving faith is Time of Decision. Just because someone makes a public decision to receive Christ as Lord and savior does not mean they really do. I have seen many come forward at altar calls, tearfully confessing their sins, asking to be led to Christ. Of course, we would attempt to do so. After a few Sundays, they were gone. They had no power in their life to remain faithful. They responded to conviction by the Holy Spirit, but did not believe. Jesus told a parable about the false and true believers.
"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience." (Luke 8:11-15)
The ones on the rock and the ones in the thorns are those who “believe”, but not with a whole heart. They fall away because they did not really believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Their Time of Decision was false and could not save them.
Here are the seven evidences that cannot be used to prove or disprove ones salvation: Visible Morality, Intellectual Knowledge, Religious Involvement, Active Ministry, Conviction of Sin, Assurance, and Time of Decision.
Genuine salvation produces fruit that is produced abundantly as we abide in Christ. The more we abide in Christ the more fruit is produced so can bear it. We cannot manufacture it. It cannot be counterfeited. Since none of it can be faked, we should examine each one so we can “know” whether we are truly saved or not. If these fruits are missing from our lives then we should be very concerned.
The first fruit that is produced in the life of a true believer is Love for God. The true believer who learns to abide in Christ will be living closer and closer to the Lord each day. They will be changed from the inside out. The changes they see in themselves and the enormity of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross will bring deep gratification and Love for God. As the believer spends increasing amounts of time in the presence of God they commune with Him deeper and deeper each day. They Love the Lord their God with their whole heart. The Psalmist compares our Love for God as in insatiable thirst.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. (Psalm 42:1 NKJV)
God is above all in the hearts of the genuine believer.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. (Psalm 73:25 NKJV)
The believer abiding in Christ, the Spirit-led, loves God and that love grows continuously. The lost who is attempting to fake salvation cannot do this. It cannot be counterfeited.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
The second fruit that is produced in the life of a true believer is Repentance from Sin. True salvation produces true repentance. No matter how hard carnal people try to repent, they cannot do it for long. They are simply trying to change via will power. The believer abiding in Christ will be living a life of walking in repentance. Repentance from Sin is a hallmark of the abiding believer’s life. God changes the Spirit-led believer from the inside out. Repentance from Sin is not something we have to try to do via will power. Thank God! Our part is to determine to obey God then rely on His power to Grant Repentance in our hearts. This is the actual transformation that takes place in the heart of a believer who is Spirit-led. A life of repentance is a pure life. A pure life lived before God is a holy life. There is no way a non-believer can fake or counterfeit this.
Repentance from Sin is part our responsibility and part God’s. We must seek it and pursue it as the Holy Spirit convicts us, but God changes us.
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:20-26 NKJV Emphasis mine)
God grants repentance to those who pursue godliness. This Repentance from Sin is a work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer who abides in Christ.
The third fruit that is produced in the life of a genuine believer is Genuine Humility. The truly humble believer is that way because of the good work God has done in their heart. There is false humility, but it is actually pride pretending to be humble. Its goal is to bring recognition for being seen as humble. A non-believer can produce that form of humility. However, Genuine Humility is a fruit of salvation. The non-believer could never counterfeit it. Why? Genuine Humility is a product of “agape” love. This form if Love seeks the best for the one loved and is not concerned with self. Genuine Humility and “agape” love are two sides of the same coin. It is the outcome of God loving others through the believer. The Spirit-led believer will abide in Christ. As they stay in God’s presence God’s love flows through them to all around them. They will never be selfish or self-seeking. They will be treating all around them as Christ would.
The Spirit-led believer is humble because they can do nothing without God. They approach God recognizing their utter spiritual bankruptcy before Him.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalms 51:17)
They recognize they are sinful when compared to God.
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10)
There is no way for a non-believer to produce this fruit. Genuine Humility is a fruit of true salvation.
The fourth fruit of salvation is Devotion to God’s Glory. As the maturing believer spends more and more time in God’s presence, their character is changed. It becomes more and more Christ-like. Part of this change is an understanding of how vital it is to live for the glory of God. God is worthy of glory. We are not. The only good we do is submit to God as He works through us. The maturing believer understands this. The non-believer has no clue about this fact. When a non-believer tries to please God with religion, they are really after self-gratification not God’s glory.
The Spirit-led believer abiding in Christ is devoted to God’s glory. Their devotion is reflected in the next two passages from Psalms.
Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD! (Psalm 105:3 NKJV)
Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth. (Psalm 155:1 NKJV)
All praise and worship of God should come from a heart directed towards God like this. The non-believer cannot see this nor counterfeit it. They are dedicated to self-gratification.
The fifth fruit that is exclusive to true salvation is Continual Prayer. The non-believer does not really understand prayer. They see it as some sacred or holy exercise to try to sway God to please them. Continual Prayer is even stranger to them. The Spirit-led believer is in a constant state of communion with God. That is Continual Prayer. The Soul-led believer has a problem with this one as well. The reason they are Soul-led is they are not doing this. This is not walking around all day continually talking to God. It is consciously keeping the Lord in your heart and on your mind all the time. This is meditating on God Himself. All decisions are made in light of that communion. Worship is continual.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV)
This attitude and abiding in Christ cannot be faked our counterfeited.
The sixth fruit of true salvation is Selfless Love. This is “agape” love directed towards others. It is the expression of True Humility. The presence of Selfless Love for other believers is an indicator of true salvation.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. (1 John 3:14 NKJV)
Selfless Love cannot be expressed by anyone consumed by self-gratification. It is present only in those who are owned and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Soul-led believer has a hard time with this as well because they abide in Christ intermittently. The Spirit-led express it because they abide in Christ consistently.
The seventh fruit of true salvation is Separation from the World. This fruit in the life of a believer results in the jettisoning of worldly attitudes and activities that are replaced by godly pursuits. This comes as the vinedresser prunes us. The believer, who goes hard after God, abides in Christ and becomes Spirit-led fasts from secular attitudes and feasts on Christ’s character.
The ways of the world are going to be judged. The true believer must learn to separate themselves from them.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
The eighth fruit of true salvation is Spiritual Growth. The non-believer can not do this. Only the genuine believer, because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, is being sanctified.
“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15 NKJV)
In the parable of the sower from Luke 8, Jesus portrays the word of truth being scattered throughout the World. Some of the seed falls on bad or stony ground and does not grow. Some falls in thorns and is choked out. Only the seed that falls on good ground, the genuine believer, grows and produces fruit. This Spiritual Growth is not accomplished by habitual religiosity or will power. It is produced in the life of a true believer only. It will be manifest mostly in the heart of the Christ abiding believer. The Spirit-led are growing in Christ continually. The Soul-led grows in spurts accompanied by much backsliding.
The ninth and last fruit of true salvation is Obedient Living. This is living a life in obedience to the will of God. This life submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Many believe they are believers because of their religiosity.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
The non-believer does not have the ability to be obedient to the will of God because their will is in bondage to sin. Their will is corrupt and is incapable of choosing to not sin. They do not know His will anyway. The Soul-led believer may know the will of God, but they try to be spiritual by will power even though their regenerate heart now has the ability to choose to not sin. Sadly, it is still a haphazard process with them. The Spirit-led believer abides in Christ and is submitted to the Lordship of Christ. God’s will is imparted to them constantly as they stay in His presence. With their regenerate heart and their Free Will ability to choose to obey God through His grace they walk in victory. They are learning how to hear God. This cannot be faked or counterfeited by a non-believer.
Here are the nine evidences that are the fruit of true salvation: Love for God, Repentance from Sin, Genuine Humility, Devotion to God’s Glory, Continual Prayer, Selfless Love, Separation from the World, Spiritual Growth and Obedient Living.
If the evidences in the first list are true of a believer, but the spiritual fruit from the second list are suspect then so is that person’s salvation. If the spiritual fruit in the second list are manifest in a believer’s life then they will also take on the evidences from the first list. It makes sense if you prayerfully consider this argument. The first list can be faked, but no one can fake the second list. In addition, many sincere people are like that. They may really believe they are truly saved, but have never come to that place in their life where they have received Christ as savior. If that is the case, they are able to be “religious,” but not have the relationship with God that results in the fruits of salvation being manifest in their life.
The Soul-led believer struggles with the fruit of salvation. They produce small amounts. They tend to doubt their salvation because of this. I pray God will use this study to motivate them to become Spirit-led.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.