Wednesday, March 12, 2014

My Lime Tree - Can You Be Sure of Heaven?, Part 3

I bought a little lime tree a few years ago. Fresh limes! Lime juice for fish, limeade, maybe even lime sorbet, I thought.

Anyhow, I planted, fertilized, and faithfully watered my little lime tree. Months passed. It wasn't growing, it wasn't green, it never got blossoms, let alone fruit. Finally it dawned on me that I was basically watering a stick. It was deader than Julius Caesar.

On the other hand, a few feet away I have a lemon tree. Over the last several years it has grown taller, greener, and right now it has dozens of lemons on it. I know it’s alive because of its growth, and most of all, its fruit. 

No one would think the lemons on my lemon tree were the source of its life. The lemons are the result of its life. Which is one of the key truths about spiritual life in Christ: Persevering in obedience and holiness is the fruit of saving faith. Without fruit, assurance of salvation is at least premature, and perhaps presumptuous. 

Saving faith, given time, will always produce the fruit of obedience, holiness, and love. And throughout the Scriptures, this evidence and confirmation that a person is truly saved is fruit. I'll present a couple of representative passages for the sake of brevity. (But consider also  John 15:2; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 John 2:3-6; 3:6-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Hebrews 12:14; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).  

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine…” (Jesus, John 8:31). Not that you become a disciple by obedience, but continuing in His word demonstrates that you are one. 

Or consider how Paul speaks of the power of the gospel to save. Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2). He assumes they will "stand," hold fast, and are truly saved. But what if they do not? It would prove they "believed in vain." But how could a person "believe in vain"? If their faith wasn't in Christ alone, but was a man-centered belief in "the power of faith," for example, instead of in Jesus as their only hope. 

Well, there are many other passages that make this point, but let John summarize what we've been saying: They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us (1 John 2:19). He's referring to people who represented themselves as Christians, who were even part of a congregation. But "they went out from us." It's not that they "lost" salvation. Ultimately their failure to persevere demonstrated that they were never saved in the first place. 

One of the reasons this topic is so misunderstood is that some well-meaning leaders have taught a distorted version of the truth. They claim that once someone makes a profession of faith, that person is undeniably converted to Christ. Even though, over time, the "convert" may have no evidence of a changed life, no devotion to Christ, no love for the Scriptures, and no practice of spiritual disciplines. 

In my early ministry I spent a lot of time trying to persuade people that they were really Christians because they once "made a decision." It was frustrating, since in many cases I saw no evidence of new life. It was a little like continuing to water a stick in the mistaken belief that it was a living lime tree.

Next time, I want to talk a little about the wonderful, hopeful, and encouraging promises of God's word - the divine side of assurance of salvation.