Crimes of homicide, kidnapping, and rape have been allegedly committed by those who testify that there is a God. This begs the question – what is genuine, saving faith? Is it mere belief in a God Who created the universe? Is it understanding that God is loving and forgiving? Or is it something altogether different?
Susan Hendricks, the South Carolina resident who recently pled guilty to killing four family members in October 2011, said she knelt with her family in prayer prior to murdering them. Just days before he was arrested, Ariel Castro - the man accused of kidnapping, raping, and holding three women captive in Ohio - commented on Facebook that “Miracles really do happen, God is good.” These people have, through their actions and words, professed a faith in God. But is this saving faith?
Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”(English Standard Version, John 3:3b). Numerous people around the world profess to believe in God, and many call themselves Christians; however, the human heart is deceitful (see Jeremiah 17:9), and even if we have professed to follow Christ for decades, we ought to examine ourselves to test whether we have truly humbled ourselves before the Lord.
Jesus warns all who would heed His word that there will be many whose hearts have not truly been regenerated who proclaim to be His followers. In Matthew 7:21-23, He said, “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.’”
In one 2010 sermon, John Piper said that he was “more concerned about nominal hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God, than I am about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God…There are millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy, what is it? … A regenerate person loves to praise God’s grace in our adoption. A nominal Christian simply loves the natural benefits of adoption.”
Those who acknowledge their sin before the Lord and have received His mercy and His grace through the sacrifice of His Son on the Cross are given new hearts and are sealed with His Spirit (see Ezekiel 36:26). Believers are born again to a living hope - we stand justified before the Lord, and we are adopted as children into His family. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 says that we will be with Him for all of eternity, and this hope changes our lives. Though we are far from sinless, those in Christ are given His righteousness and we have right-standing before God based on Jesus’ merit (see Romans 3:21-28).
The Holy Spirit, Who seals believers for the day of redemption, bears witness with our spirit that we are sons and daughters of God. In 1 John 4:13-15, the Apostle John writes:
“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and He in God.”
God’s Spirit produces fruit in the life of a believer as our minds are renewed in Christ; He convicts us of our sin and leads us into righteousness. A believers’ heart is repentant, and our faith is evidenced in our lives as we are conformed more and more into the image of God.
Geoff Ashley, a staff member at The Village Church in Texas, writes, “By its very essence, saving faith produces contrition, sorrow, and a changed perspective on our past sins and present dispositions, leading to ever-reforming attitude and action… we do not understand salvation to have produced a life of consistent, visible and static perfection, but rather a continued process of being conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we understand the need not only for initial repentance during the season of conversion, but also continued reflection and subsequent restoration in the light of known sin.”
1 John 2:3-6 says that we know God if we keep His commandments, and that those who profess to know Him without doing His commands are liars. John Piper highlights two ways that a professing believer can check their heart – by whether they acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and their Savior, and by how well they love.
Susan Hendricks will be sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty for her crime. Ariel Castro has yet to plead his case before a jury. What is of utmost importance, however, is whether the blood of Christ will pardon these alleged criminals before Almighty God.