As we have tried to demonstrate, the Christian faith is a wonderful asset for life. Knowing and following Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the greatest blessing in all of life and yields the greatest rewards in the afterlife. However there are people, including teachers who call themselves Christians, who take the truth about faith and twist it. They present a wrong conception of the Christian faith.
So, now that we know what true faith is, we need to make sure we distinguish Biblical faith from false, twisted, or distorted concepts of faith which are popular in some so-called Christian circles. I hope by covering this topic we can sharpen your discernment about the Christian faith and about your own faith. Often learning what something is NOT helps us understand better what something IS.
The following is a list of TEN twisted conceptions of faith you need to distinguish from what the Bible means by saving faith:
First, Faith + Works: Maybe the number one wrong conception of the Christian faith is that good deeds or good works must be added to faith for someone to get saved and become right with God. In other words, a person’s lifestyle and goodness is part of what God takes into consideration in choosing to forgive us and make us one of His children. This is emphatically false. The Bible teaches that we are only saved by grace and not by human works at all. The Bible teaches only faith in Jesus saves because only Jesus saves. If good works contributed to our salvation then we would contribute to our salvation. Therefore nothing else may be added to faith to save. Romans 3:28 makes this abundantly clear, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” This idea that good works must be added to faith to become delivered from God’s wrath is such a common misconception some of you may be befuddled at this point. So I write again, the Bible is emphatic that good works do not contribute to anyone being saved. Good works are merely the proof that your faith in Jesus is real. In other words, good works follow salvation, they do not precede it. Christians do charitable work and acts of love to show their faith in Jesus not to gain salvation.
If someone tried to be saved by doing good works plus their faith it would show they did not understand four things:
- First they would not understand that their good works are not really that good. God does not consider good what many people boast about in this world. People made in the image of God can perform what humans call acts of kindness & goodness. However, ultimately these are not so good that God is pleased with them, for none of them are done as acts of worship toward Him.
- Second, no amount of good works anyone does will erase the wrong he/she has already done. A broken law is still a broken law no matter how much community service is offered following the transgression. So it is with God’s law. A broken moral law makes a person guilty before God. No amount of good works can erase that guilt. The debt to God is still owed.
- Third, someone can only be saved when they admit they are helpless and in deep trouble with God. If we could add good works to our faith in order to be saved, we would not be in all that bad a predicament. Yet since we can only be saved by God’s mercy and grace, good works have no part in it. All we can do is fling ourselves on the mercy of God.
- Fourth, God gets all the glory and honor in our salvation. If we could do good works and get saved we would have something to boast about. But God cannot stand for any human boasting. Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Good works would be produced because of the belief but are not the same as the faith.
Second, Moralistic Faith: This distortion of faith is akin to the previous one which adds good works to faith and thus nullifies faith. The difference is that this one thinks of the Christian faith mostly in terms of living a civilized or moral lifestyle. This is wrong. Christianity is NOT merely a way of living which treats others with civility and fairness. If this were actually the case, an atheist who did acts of civility could be considered a “Christian.” One could say that anybody of any religion was a “Christian” and had faith in Christ, if not explicitly then implicitly. This is far from the Christian faith. Many people think they have faith because they try to live by the Golden Rule, or they take the Ten Commandments seriously. Others hold to other ethical codes they were taught early in life. They interpret this as living a life of faith of sorts. This belief is called “moralism.” However, moralism or choosing civility or tolerance is not faith. Faith is first a belief before it is a way of living. The living ethic stems from the belief. While it is true that what you believe should translated into how you live, it is not true that attempting to live a life of self-control or self-sacrifice proves you are believer in Jesus. That logic does not follow. There are plenty of other motives people have for attempting to be moral, including self-glory and self-benefit. The Christian faith is lived primarily for the glory of Jesus Christ as the sole and unique Son of God who died for our sins on the cross and rose from the dead. So those who hold to a moralistic “Christianity” are not Christians themselves.
Third, Syncretistic Faith: Another deviation from Christianity comes from those who claim to believe in Jesus but also follow other religions which are in contradiction with Christ and the Bible. Religions which attempt to meld two or more religions together are called syncretistic. As far as many in the world are concerned, there is nothing wrong with attempting to harmonize and join religions together. As far as God is concerned, though, it is an utter compromise of the Christian faith. To claim to believe in Jesus along with one of the other leaders of other religions is to so dilute faith in Christ to such a point it no longer exists.Faith in other religions is really a denial of the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. It therefore is equivalent to unbelief. When you believe two or more things that contradict, you reveal your inner confusion. Those who claim to believe in Buddha and Jesus do not really believe in Christ. Jesus called for exclusive devotion just as the Law of God in its first commandment forbade worshipping or serving any other God, i.e. Ex. 20; John 14:6. Jesus comes to triumph over all other belief systems not share His glory with another.
Fourth, Worldly/Cultural Faith: Another variant of the Christian faith is popular, ironically, in the Bible Belt yet spills over into other parts of the country. It is the claim that you can believe in Jesus and follow the lifestyle of the sensual world. This is the opposite error of the moralist who sees faith in Jesus as ancillary to good works. A moralist performs good deeds, then gives lip service to faith in God. He takes the real credit for himself. The man of worldly faith, on the other hand, is openly worldly and claims God has no problem with it. He attempts to meld an indulgent lifestyle with Christianity. Sometimes this indulgence involves using faith for material gain, treating Christianity as a means to worldly health and wealth. This has been dubbed the “Health and Wealth Gospel.” Other times proponents play fast and loose with sexual pleasure and a flamboyant lifestyle. They advance the notion that Jesus is okay with letting people live the way they want to live. In effect, they turn the wondrous grace of God into a license to sin. A defense of this worldly life comes in the form of a false love. They twist God’s love into a tolerance of all things perverted. God’s love is falsely pitted against God’s holiness.This worldly mindset even influences the way some congregations worship. Antics on stage are performed by these peddlers of religious entertainment. They turn worship into a show full of wild thrills rather than a joyful and reverent adoration of God. Of course, this kind of falsehood finds a ready following on the part of thousands who have no problem marrying the world to God. It truly is shameful what is done in some churches to attract people to their “worship.” They entertain people to build the sizes of their churches and enrich their pastors in the name of Jesus. Yet they have lost the soul of Christianity. In their congregations there is an antipathy towards God’s commands.
Fifth, Easy Believism: Many there are in the churches or society at large who will say they believe in God or even in the Bible and Christ. What they mean is that they agree God is real, Christ is the Son of God, and the Bible is the word of God. They have not, though, wrestled with their own personal need of salvation due to their sin. In other words, they intellectually agree with the truth, but are not individually rushing to Christ to throw themselves upon him for mercy. They do not have a lively or personal interest in Christ to drive them to Christ as Savior. This weakened and watered-down concept of faith is akin to the intellectual assent we warned about before which falls short of full faith. True faith in Christ necessarily brings a life change. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “Faith is the fountain, the foundation and the fosterer of obedience.” In John 2:23-25 we learn that the kind of faith Jesus expected from people went beyond a barren belief. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” This erroneous and incomplete belief has been labeled “Easy Believism.” Easy Believism is a profession of faith in Jesus with no serious intent to follow Christ. As Christ Himself taught, this is not a real faith at all. It is only an intellectual agreement which even the demons have, James 2:19. True faith in Jesus results in obedience toward Jesus. Obedience is not what saves a person. Faith alone saves, but true faith is a surrender of the life to Jesus to follow His teachings. In other words, following Jesus is the fruit of faith. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved unto the doing of good works. A vital trust in the person of Christ is not adding works to salvation. James 2 challenges professing believers, “Show me your faith without works and I’ll show you my faith by my works.” He writes very directly at the end of that chapter that the faith that does not work is a “dead faith.” Some claim to believe in Christ but will not turn from sin. They live by their own rules and then claim Jesus is okay with the way they live. They do not believe they have to follow the teachings of Scripture or the moral guidelines of Scripture. “The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are at opposite sides of the same coin.” ~ A. W. Tozer (American Preacher and Author)