When Paul was converted from ‘Saul the persecutor’ to ‘Paul the Christian’ and later an apostle, he came to Jerusalem and attempted to join the disciples. But they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. (Acts 9:26)
That would be about the same response the church would have if someone like Hitler declared he had converted to Christianity. Not one would believe him. He would need to demonstrate a changed life for a long time. Maybe this is why Paul later wrote these words to the Christians in Ephesus . . .
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1–7)
There are people who claim they are converted to faith in Christ, but they have not actually done so. They were once proud, harsh, impatient, unloving and divisive — and nothing has changed. This does not mean that new Christians are instantly godly people, but there will be a change that increases as time goes by. If change does not happen, others are wise in questioning the reality of their faith.
Faith can be misunderstood. Some think it merely means believing in God. However, James 2:19 says that even demons believe. This is not saving faith.
Others trust God in a temporary way. A problem comes up or their lives are threatened, so they turn to God in desperate prayer. Those prayers may receive answers, but because their faith concerned a temporary situation, as soon as the situation is not longer a threat, that faith also disappears. It is not saving faith either.
Another version of faith shows up when people say, “Sure, I believe in Jesus, that He lived and died and rose from the dead,” but their faith is at arm’s length. These things happened, but not for them or their sin. This is an impersonal faith, based on facts but not on the love and mercy of God behind those facts, nor on the need for them because of personal sin and guilt.
Others put faith in their church attendance, their donations to the church, that they were baptized, and many other things, but the faith that saves is more about the Object of what is believed than it is about the declaration.
Faith is also life-changing. Paul was feared because he had persecuted Christians, but as soon as they realized he no longer hated them but loved them, he was welcomed into their fellowship. He became a great leader and man of God. In other words, faith comes with a ‘before and after’ picture that verifies that it really does exist because it is placed in the only One who can transform lives.
Jesus, You died and rose from the dead so that my sin could be atoned for, and so I could put my faith in You and be transformed from a life of going my own way to a life of following You. While I often stumble and fall backwards, You patiently bear with me, showering grace and blessing as gifts of Your great love. Thank you for granting me faith to believe and for blessing me with a new life that demonstrates the reality and power what it means to believe in You.