The Evidence of Things Hoped For
Basket of Figs, June, 2005
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1 AV)
How Can a Man Know That He Is a Child of God?
The question is a critical one, for a person’s eternal destiny is at stake. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his soul? Or what shall a man give for his soul.” How does a man seek salvation, and how does he demonstrate to others that he is a Christian? The two last questions are not the same. Being a Christian and convincing others that you are a Christian are not the same thing.
Great and Mighty Works Do not Certify Faith.
Jesus said that in the last judgment there would be those who would say,
“Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” –Matt. 7:22,23
If mighty works in the name of Christ are no evidence of salvation, then what is? God gives gifts to men for the benefit of the church, but does not necessarily give grace to the person who receives the gift. Contrariwise, those who have little or small gifts may be very godly and devout with little demonstration.
What of the New Perspectives of Paul?
Some, especially the New Perspectives people like Norman Shepherd and N.T. Wright, argue that “faith without works is dead.” They would say that faith alone justifies, but faith is never alone, and that a person cannot be saved apart from a living faith that demonstrates itself in works. This sounds all well and good until it is examined more closely; then we see that they don’t mean the same as the classical Reformed statements of biblical truth.
Don’t let them kid you. They do not mean what the confessions mean. They mean that the works that you do by faith are justifying and prove your faith.
The words of Christ quoted above in Matt. 7 show that this formulation is wrong. Works do not prove faith. What more works could you want than casting out devils, prophesying, and doing wonderful works in the name of Jesus? If that doesn’t demonstrate faith, what does?
The Pharisee in that famous parable thanked God for the good works that he did. [Luke 18:11ff] He was moral and good. He performed the required religious duties. He gave tithes of all that he possessed. But he was not justified. The publican who was in church that same day brought no good works at all, but cried out to God to have mercy upon him.
The True Place of Religious Business.
It is important thing to remember that a man’s true religious business is always done in the secret of his heart before the Lord. This is the reason that Jesus said:
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Mt 6:6 AV)
God Does Not Need Any Proof of Faith.
Faith itself is the evidence of the things we hope for: salvation, eternal life, the favor of God. God approves His own work in the heart of the believer, the work of the Holy Spirit [Rom 5:1ff] Man does not need to “prove” anything to God.
True saving faith is not a natural work of man that arises from his own strength or from the fallen nature. Paul is very clear:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:8-10 AV)
Good works are not things that we do to gain the approval or justification of God, but they are the fruit and gifts in us of the Holy Spirit who is freely given to those who believe.
God Knows His Own Work, and Recognizes His Own Sons.
He is pleased with them, for they are His new creation in Christ Jesus [2 Cor. 5:17]. So they do not need to prove anything to Him, but by simple faith take all things from His fatherly hands. He knows what they need before they ask. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it:
Q27: What do you understand by the providence of God?
A27: The almighty, everywhere-present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by His fatherly hand.
1. Acts 17:25-26; 2. Heb. 1:3; 3. Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:17; 4. John 9:3
5. Prov. 22:2; Psa. 103:19; Rom. 5:3-5a
His provision is sufficient for them. He freely forgives all their sins because of Christ’s righteousness; He gives them all things necessary for body and soul; He loves and protects them from all their enemies, not the least of which are spiritual ills—sinful desires, pride, self-confidence, unbelief, etc. He has promised to preserve them unto the end.
It Is a Completely Different Thing to Demonstrate Faith before Men.
No man can know the mind of another except as the thought is revealed in physical actions. We use body language, facial expressions, gestures, sighs, laughter, sneers. Most importantly, we use language to convey our thoughts to others.
Faith can be demonstrated to other men only by means of the works of the body, because only God is privy to the thoughts and intents of the heart. Men communicate to others in some physical manner in terms of the five senses. God does not need to do so, but He has graciously chosen to deal with man as a whole person, body and soul. It is the mind and the soul that give meaning to the stimulation of the senses, but there is never communication from one man to another without such stimulation of the senses.
The Law was given by Moses through the mediation of angels who took forms discernable to the senses. In these last days, God has spoken by His Son, who came in our own human nature, but without sin.
The True Nature of Christ
But even the true nature of Jesus Christ could not be understood by the stimulation of the physical senses. He must be known after a different manner, as Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 5. We know Him no more after the flesh, because God is known only through the inner man. Faith rests in the inner man alone. Our love for Christ and our faith in Him does not need demonstration to God, because He is the author of that faith. It does need demonstration before men, as we said above.
This is the reason that James says,
“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” (Jas 2:18)
Such a demonstration of faith, however, falls short of an absolute proof, for all the works of faith can be mimicked by the flesh. Men can prophesy in the name of Christ; they can do mighty works even to the point of casting out devils, but they themselves may be lost men, without true faith, without love for Christ.
Jesus Warned Us Against a Radical Desire to Prove Ourselves before Men.
He said in Matthew 6 that our alms, fastings, and prayers are to be done in secret before God. God, who sees them in secret and knows their true nature, will reward the openly. They are not done to be seen, but are done for God alone.
“Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” (Heb 4:13)
Our business is always before God. Those who live to be seen of men will neither please God nor men. It is a hard trial to faith when famous people fall into sin or error. This happened even in the early church. To believers who were going through such a trial, the Apostle Paul wrote:
“The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2Ti 2:19)
Only God Knows Who the Elect of God Are.
That is the reason we have been forbidden to judge men’s souls. The only ones who will be saved are those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and their redemption has nothing at all do with any works that they do at any time in their lives.
Those who call themselves Christians, however, are called to depart from iniquity. We are to do this to demonstrate before the world and to ourselves that our faith is real and living. No amount of good works can make a dead and hypocritical faith living and real.
Why Do Chickens Cluck?
A chicken clucks and lays eggs and can be cooked into really good Kentucky Fried Chicken. Godly Christians can buy the fried chicken and sit down with thankful hearts for God’s gracious provisions. But no amount of clucking, no laying of eggs, and no number of the Colonel’s special spices can transform a non-chicken into a chicken. And no amount of works can bring dead faith into the life of the Spirit. Only God can do this, and He only does it according to His own will. [John 3:8] If the Lord Jesus does not confess us to be His own, dressing up in the clothes of the family of God will not give us a title to eternal life.