Time for Examination
July 23, 2019
This summer I have been reflecting repeatedly on a question I have often thought about myself and been asked by many others: Why are there so many people claiming to be Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and yet so little transformation in their lives? Why is it that with so many claiming to be Christ-followers there is so little change in our communities?
I was reading in the book of Acts in The Message and came across this: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?” (Acts 19:2). Powerful questions. Do you think these questions have anything to do with the questions I’m asking?
Back in the days of the early church, there seemed to be the same issue with some people: belief but little change. James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” James, the brother of Jesus, is showing the difference between mental assent and genuine saving faith. Many were claiming that, because they believed in the God of Moses and they could recite Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Jewish Mantra) at the drop of a hat, they were right with God. James straightens them out on that bluntly. He says that false hope is essentially the kind of belief Satan and the demons have. If all that is required to be saved is mental agreement with the truth about God, then Satan and the demons can be saved too. They know it is all true. The demons are more aware of God’s reality than most people, yet the demons are certainly not right with God.
So what is the difference between the demons’ belief and the faith required to be truly saved? James is anxious that we know, and spends the rest of the chapter explaining that faith without follow-up action is useless (James 2:20). The only kind of faith that saves us is the kind that changes us. Think of it this way: A few years ago I had not been feeling well, and on the flight home with Patty, I experienced excruciating chest pains. I held on until we got to the Akron-Canton airport and then went directly to the emergency room. They treated me, and my pain was relieved almost instantly, but they admitted me. Before long a very professional looking and acting white-jacketed man came in and introduced himself as a heart specialist and surgeon. He informed me that I had significant blockage, and he wanted to do surgery the next morning. Shocking to me, to say the least. I had a brief amount of time to decide if I would place my faith in his diagnosis and ability. I assented immediately to his capability, but my true faith came when I willingly went to surgery the next day.
So it is with salvation. The demons know more than we do about the awesome power of God. They watched Jesus Christ come to earth, live as a man, and then be crucified. They trembled in horror as Jesus the Victor rose from the dead and walked out of the tomb. They saw Him ascend back into heaven, and they believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But demons do not have the kind of faith that saves, and neither do we if that is where our faith ends.
The difference between the demon’s faith and the faith that saves is a question of lordship. Who is the boss of my life? Where have I placed my trust for my life and my future? Who has the final say on my lifestyle decisions? Demons are fallen angels who have already made their choice to follow Satan. For our faith to be different than theirs we must make a voluntary and complete surrender of our lives to God’s control. We must love Him first and most. Jesus said plainly that if we love anything or anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of him (Matthew 10:37–38).
The demons believe in God, but they do not love God. They believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He died on the cross for the sins of mankind, but they do not care. They know He rose from the dead, but they are unmoved. Many “Christians” are just like them. They don’t realize that what they call “faith” is nothing more than what the demons have. They might have prayed a prayer, got baptized, joined a church, or even went to church, but the direction of their lives never changed. They remain the rulers of their own lives. Jesus clearly taught the cost of becoming His follower: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That cross we must carry represents complete surrender, absolute death, to the right to run our own lives. Without that cross-carrying, we are still awaiting the life-giving surgery.
The demons are going to end up eternally separated from God, eternally tormented by their decisions (Romans 6:23; Revelation 21:8). We don’t have to be like them. We can willingly open our hearts to the lordship of Jesus and humbly receive His forgiveness. God offers a chance to be adopted into His family as His own children (Galatians 4:5–6). It is a free gift that costs us everything we are (Luke 9:2). But the rewards are forever (Matthew 25:21; Psalm 23:6).
How about answering those questions in your own life? Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5