In my extended family there are at least two who affirm that they believe the Bible and believe in Jesus Christ, but their conversation about what they believe contradicts and something does not line up. Are they deceived in some way? Scripture says that is possible.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’” (Jeremiah 17:9–10)
This Old Testament prophet understood the human heart. He knew that only God knows for sure what goes on in the core of a person, and God will search and test the heart and mind. He also realized that genuine faith changes the ‘ways’ and ‘deeds’ of those who truly believe.
On the other hand, false faith can be very deceptive. On the surface, many who claim faith seem to have a great zeal for God. It seems their life has changed as they faithfully do their religious duties. They hate sin and renounce it. Some belong to major religious denominations (others are in cults). They are sure of themselves and their belief system.
Yet to all of that, Jesus 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.’” (Matthew 7:21–23)
In this, key words are knowing Jesus and doing the will of the Father. He also said their ‘good works’ are lawlessness. While many who fall under the spell of false religion would claim that they know Jesus and do the will of God, Jesus says appearances can be deceiving. He also says true faith passes a certain test . . .
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24–27)
While words can be false or deception, they can also be the result of genuine faith . . .
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10) True faith is more than a temporary belief or one that hums and haws. True faith produces a verbal confession plus obedience to Jesus Christ.
A false faith might point to their obedience as proof of their salvation, which confuses the issue. Is that person trusting their own good works, or are they trusting in the saving work of Jesus Christ?
Faith in Christ for salvation begins the journey, and that faith produces obedience which is usually visible as good actions, but not always. Faith can quietly trust God in a crisis, say ‘Thank You’ to God in all things, even obediently speak good news to those who come to the door offering it in a booklet.
On the other hand, false faith can open orphanages, visit the sick, and give to the poor — deeds that genuine faith produces, but with a difference. False faith is all about what I do; true faith is all about what Jesus Christ has done and is doing.
True faith says, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” and trusts Christ alone as Savior. True faith is committed entirely to Him as sovereign Lord and King. This faith is not handed down from my parents, or logical, or mine because someone persuaded me; it is the gift of God, the revelation of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit. I was and am as surprised by it as those who knew me before I had it.
While my heart can still be deceitful and even deceived, there is one thing that I know: I know Jesus Christ personally and consider Him precious. He is changing me from what I was to be more like Him. I also know that I cannot ‘plot or plan’ any ‘good works’ for they always originate with Him and the doing of them is beyond my abilities and often a total surprise, as in “Who? Me?”
Jesus, You say that true faith is a matter of the heart, not of creeds and doctrinal statements, even though they help me articulate what I believe. True faith is simply knowing what cannot be seen, believing that God revealed Himself in You, and having a deep assurance You will keep Your promises. And even when it seems illogical, faith is doing whatever You tell me to do.