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1 Corinthians 15:2
This week we are hovering over 1 Corinthians 15:2. This week we will be looking at it from a broader theological perspective. We are going to be focusing in particular on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, because our passage here in 1 Corinthians 15 teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Although this may be a non-starter for some of you I am going to start this sermon off with a definition of this doctrine.
The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
This definition of the perseverance of the saints really consists of two major points.
1. “All those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power… until the end of their lives.” In other words, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches that a true born again Christian can never lose his or her salvation.
2. “All those who are truly born again… will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.”
In other words, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints teaches us that those who place true saving faith in Jesus Christ will persevere in the faith until the end. It can be summarized this way.
1. Every person who places true saving faith in Jesus Christ can never cease to be a redeemed child of God.
2. But how do you know if you have placed true saving faith in Christ? Perseverance in the faith. All of those who place true saving faith in Christ persevere to the end. The clear implication is that those who do not persevere to the end never placed true saving faith in Christ. They may have prayed a prayer or made an emotional decision, but they never placed true saving faith in Christ.
Two things are true about you if you are a true child of God:
1. You can never lose your salvation and
2. You will persevere in the faith till the end of your life.
It is tempting to go ahead and lay out a defense of the fact that a true child of God cannot lose his or her salvation. However, I already did that. You may remember that I preached a sermon on the first point about 4 months ago when we were in 1 Corinthians 13:8; “Love bears all things… endures all things.” In that sermon I emphasized this fact that the one who has truly been born again can never lose his or her right standing with God. I stated that the same God who had the power to save you has the power to keep you saved until either you die or Christ comes back. I pointed to many passages to establish my point. Although I am tempted to rehash the arguments I made in that sermon, and add a few more, I want to move along to this second part of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints because that is what the subject matter of 1 Corinthians 15:2 is all about.
We will now be focusing on the second part of the doctrine of the perseverance of the faith.
And this second part asks the question, “How can I know that I have placed true saving faith in Jesus Christ.” Now this is an important question to ask, and its important because the Scriptures teach that there is a type of faith (or belief) which does not save. I personally call it counterfeit faith, because it resembles saving faith in some ways. James talks about this counterfeit, non-saving faith in James 2:14-17.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Here James talks about someone who professes to have faith in Christ but does not produce good works.
James asks the question, “Can that faith save him?” The clear implied answer is “No.” This is why he goes on to say that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Here James is not saying that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ plus works, such that one must earn salvation by adding good works to their faith in Christ. No. This would contradict what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” What then is James saying? He is saying that a faith which does not produce the fruit of good works is not a saving faith. Saving faith always produces good works. This is why many say, Salvation is by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone—it is always accompanied by good works. So James here talks about a faith which cannot save. A faith which does not result in good works is a faith which cannot save.
So it is important to know that there is such a thing as a faith which cannot save.
Many Christians do not know this. I was never taught this while I was growing up—and I grew up in the church. I was taught that if a person prayed a sinners prayer or merely professed to be a Christian, they were truly born again regardless of how they lived their life. But this just isn’t biblical. There are many who think themselves to be saved and are not. They think that they are truly born again because they prayed the sinners prayer or because they made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ or because they asked Him into their heart or because they have been baptized or because they go to church or because they read their bibles and pray. But James here clearly states that true saving faith is always accompanied by good works. And it doesn’t matter if you prayed a prayer or asked Jesus into your heart or made a commitment to follow Him or have been baptized, if your faith does not produce good works, you have not placed true saving faith in Jesus Christ.
So you see why this question is so necessary.
We know that all of those who place true saving faith in Christ can never lose their salvation, but how can you know that you have placed true saving faith in Jesus Christ? And I must say that this is not just speculative Christian theology. No, this meets you right where you are at. You need to be asking yourself if you have embraced Christ with true saving faith. It is my contention that the overwhelming majority of those who think themselves to be saved are in fact not—they may believe the intellectual claims of Christ, they may have made a commitment to follow Jesus, they may have been baptized, but they have not placed true saving faith in Christ. So we need to ask, how can you know that you have placed true saving faith in Christ? Or to ask it in another way, what are the distinguishing marks of true saving faith? The Scriptures give us many ways to identify true saving faith. With the time that we have left I will list the different biblical marks of true saving faith.
1. True saving faith always leads to a changed life.
If you have embraced Christ with true saving faith you will have a changed life. One preacher said it well, a faith which does not change you is a faith which does not save you. This is why Paul says,
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jesus speaks of salvation as a “new birth” (John 3). The one who has been born again hasn’t merely made a decision to follow Jesus. The one who has been born again has been given a new nature. This is what Ezekiel 36 is all about. When God saves a person He takes out the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. The heart refers to who you are at the very root of your being, your nature. How can you be given a new nature and yet be left unchanged. The one who has truly embraced Christ with saving faith will have changed life. So what will be different about this new life that you have? That leads me to the second and third marks of true saving faith.
2. True saving faith always leads to love for both God and the people of God.
Because you have been given a new nature you now love the things you used to hate and hate the things that you love. The one who professes to be a Christian and yet does not love Christ, is not truly born again. Do you love Christ—do you love God—or have you only come to Him for fire insurance? Do you delight in God? Because you have a new nature you have new affections. But not only does the Christian love God, he also loves God’s people. This is just what John communicates in 1 John 3:14-15.
14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
What John says here is extreme. Many do not like the straightforwardness of it and so they try to dumb it down or explain it away. We must be content to take God at His word. John says what he means here. He says that the way that we know we have passed out of death into life is that we love the brothers. He says that the one who does not love the brethren abides in death and doesn’t have eternal life in him. Notice that John is not here commanding us to do anything. Rather, he is telling us what is already true of you if you are a Christian. He is not exhorting the people of God to love each other and to not hate each other. Rather, he is making a declaration—if you are a child of God you most certainly already love God and His people, and if you don’t, you are not a child of God. The one who has embraced Christ with saving faith is a new creature with a new nature—a nature which loves God and His people. Think on these things. Do you love God? Do you love His people. Don’t fool yourself. Let God search your heart. If you do not love God and His people, you are still in your sins—you have not “passed out of death to life.”
3. The one who has embraced Christ with true saving faith lives in obedience to the commandments of Christ.
I have to be bold here. I know that some of you will have a knee jerk reaction against this. But you have to understand that this is biblical. When I say that the the genuine Christian lives in obedience to the commands of Christ I do not mean that the genuine Christian lives in perfect obedience to the commands of Christ. However, I will say that obedience will characterize your life if you are a genuine Christian. If obedience to the commandments of Christ does not characterize your life, you are not a Christian. This is just what John say sin 1 John 2:3-6.
3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Once again, many either dumb the teaching of this passage down and explain it away or they outright neglect it. But John says what he means and he means what he says. Notice once again that John is not exhorting the people of God to do anything. He is simply making a observational statement. He is not telling us what to do; rather, he is telling you what is already true about you if you are a Christian. In other words, he does not say, “If you want to know God, you must keep His commandments.” Rather, he is telling us what is true about those who do know Him. And what is a distinguishing mark of those who know God? They obey His commandments. They live in obedience to His word. The one who says that He knows God but doesn’t obey His commandments is a liar. His profession is false.
We don’t like passages like this because we want to think that everyone we know, our family members, friends, and neighbors are on their way to heaven. I want to ask you, do you live in obedience to Christ? Is your life characterized by obedience? If not, you are not a Christian. I don’t say this to beat you up or because I enjoy watching you squirm. I ask you this because you need to know whether you are born again or not. You need to know where you stand with Christ. I know that you may have prayed to receive Christ. I know that you may have asked Him to come into your heart. I know that you may have been baptized. But none that means a thing if you do not keep His commandments. Are you born again? If you have placed true saving faith in Christ, you will live in obedience to His commandments. Now we know that the Christian will not live in perfect obedience to the commandments of Christ because John just said that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (John 2:1). So John is not teaching sinless perfection here. However, he is saying that the one who has embraced Christ with saving faith does live in obedience to the commandments of Christ.
4. The one who has embraced Christ with true saving faith hates sin and cannot live in it unrepentantly.
If you are in Christ you are a new creature with a new nature. As a new creature with a new nature, you no longer love the things you used to love. The sin you used to love and cherish now makes you nauseous. If God has given you new life you are miserable when you sin. This is ironically often times one of the most encouraging signs that God has done a work in your heart—that you are miserable in your sin. Have you ever felt defeated by sin and you are miserable because you can’t seem to get victory over it? Rejoice! Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” You are demonstrating that you are a new creature in Christ.
Would an unbeliever who is dead to the things of God be miserable in their sin? No. Unbelievers delight in their sin. But the Christian says, “I hate this sin. I want to please God. I want to live for His glory, but I just can’t get victory over this.” Rejoice in your misery. Paul does tell us in 2 Corinthians 6: that he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Some people want to say that the Christian life should be characterized by nothing but joy and others that the Christian life should be characterized by nothing but sorrow. Joy should be the consistent note of the Christian, although the Christian will experience sorrow over sin as well. Sometimes they come together. You can rejoice even as you are filled with sorrow, because your sorrow gives evidence that you are sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit—your hatred for sin gives you evidence that you are not spiritually dead. Consider what John says in 1 John 3:6-9.
6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
Once again, John is not telling us to do anything.
Rather, he is describing what is already true about you if you are a true born again Christian. If these verses do not describe you, you are not born again—you are still in your sins and you need to embrace Christ with saving faith. So what is true about the Christian. Well… the Christian cannot make a practice of sinning. John is not commanding us to not make a practice of sinning. He is telling us that a true child of God doesn’t make a practice of sinning. He takes things even one step further in vs. 9 by telling us that the true child of God “cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” John is not here teaching Christian perfection. That would contradict what John said back in 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” What he is saying is that the Christian, because He has been born of God, cannot live a life of habitual unrepentant sin. Can you live in unrepentant sin. Let me list a few sins. Lying, cheating, drunkenness, sexual immorality, greed, etc. Can you live a life of habitual unrepentant sin?
Some of you I am sure are asking, Can a Christian live in unrepentant sin at all.
The answer is yes, but only for a season. We of course can always point to David who committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle to cover up his sin as an example. Or we can point to Peter’s three denials. However, you will notice with both David and Peter that the did not live in this unrepentant sin. When God sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke David for his sin, how did he respond? Conviction, brokenness, and repentance. Just read Psalm 51 to see how David responded to God’s rebuke through Nathan. David fell into unrepentant sin for a season but God granted David repentance. The same was true with Peter. Peter was broken over his sin. Not long after Peter sinned we see him preaching the Gospel to thousands of Jews at Pentecost and then rejoicing that he was counted worthy to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. Both David and Peter evidence that the Christian can fall into gross sin. However, both David and Peter also evidence the fact that the Christian can’t stay there. The genuine Christian is miserable in his sin. The genuine Christian repents of his sin. The genuine Christian cannot live in sin, and if he should live in sin, God will discipline him just as he did with David and Peter.
6 the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
This is an amazing passage, isn’t it. God disciplines those he loves. The one who is left without discipline is not a son, but an illegitimate child. If God does not discipline you when you pursue sin, you are not a Christian. God disciplines those He loves. Do you have this confidence, that God will not let you alone in your sin? So the Christian fall into unrepentant sin, but only temporarily.
5. The one who has embraced Jesus with saving faith puts his trust not in his obedience or good works but in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Next week I will be adding to this list, but I wanted to end here because I don’t want you to misunderstand what the basis of your hope and confidence are before God. Your hope should not be in your faithfulness or in your obedience but in Christ. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This morning I have been answering the question, How can you know that you have embraced Christ with saving faith. I have not been answering the question, “How can you become a Christian.” I have been answering the question, “How can you know that you are genuinely born again.” The basis of your confidence before God is Christ and Christ alone. It is important to distinguish between the root and the fruit. You are to be rooted in the cross. And the evidence that you are truly rooted in the Gospel is that you will produce the fruit of love, obedience, and repentance.
But your hope is to be in Christ and in Christ alone.
You are not to put your hope in your performance or in your godliness. In other words, you don’t become a Christian by being godly. No… the only way you can be a child of God is by placing your faith in Christ alone. But the question is, how can I know that I have placed true saving faith in Christ. Well… do you live in obedience to the commands of Christ, do you love God and His people, do you repent of your sin? So what should you do if these passages we went to do not describe you? There is only one thing that you can do, embrace Christ with saving faith. Throw yourself upon Him as your only hope. Fruit follows saving faith. Good works flow out of saving faith. They are the result and not the cause of saving faith.
Next week we will continue to answer the question, “How can I know that I have placed true saving faith in Christ?” I will add one or two more answers to the list of answers that provided this morning, and we will turn our attention to 1 Corinthians 15:2.
Jimmy serves as pastor for “Preaching and Vision” at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Previoulsy he fulfilled leadership roles in both Kansas City, Missouri and Las Vegas, Nevada. Jimmy received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Hannibal-LaGrange College and a Master of Divinity degree from Liberty University.
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