I grew up with Christian parents. I used to go to church every Sunday. I did my devotions and attended Sunday School. I was in VBS every summer. I was surrounded by not just my parents but also other men and women at my church who were Christians, including Christian friends and families. I could check all the boxes in the faith sphere. I memorized Bible verses, sang Christian songs, had my own Bible and was known as the kid that attended church without fail every Sunday. But, in spite of all this, I had mastered early on in life how to have my faith be a separate, compartmentalized part of my life. I was very moralistic. I was an expert in keeping the moral laws. I knew what brought joy to my parents and what grieved them. And, I was quite the Pharisee when it came to keeping those laws.
I had accepted Jesus into my heart many times, so many that I have lost count. Altar calls were given at every VBS and I repeatedly went forward because I wanted Jesus in my heart. I was a Pharisee who knew the moral code and how to keep it and I kept it well.
Over the years, as a pastor, I have witnessed many salvation experiences in people. They swing between two extremes. Either it is a conversion to a moralistic lifestyle [we get right with God because we keep God’s laws] or a conversion to licentiousness [we are saved so it doesn’t really matter how we live our lives]. Both of these are false conversions. So, what is true conversion?
By the grace of God, the Lord opened my eyes to my Pharisaical lifestyle. As a young adult, I was captivated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. I realized that I was a sinner in a need of a Savior. My storyline changed. Titus 3:3-7 became my new story. I was once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures. I spent my life in malice and envy, hateful and hating others. But when the kindness of God my Savior and His love for me appeared, He saved me, not on the basis of deeds which I have done in self-righteousness, but according to His mercy He saved me by regenerating me and sealing me with the promised Holy Spirit. I am justified by His grace and given eternal life. 1 Corinthians 5:17 states that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
In examining my own conversion to genuine saving faith, I am reminded of what Jonathan Edwards wrote regarding salvation. In his work entitled “Distinguishing Marks of a True Work of the Spirit of God,” he gives five evidences of genuine salvation. I found these to be true of my life when I was genuinely saved. The following are evidences or the fruit of true salvation:
- You Love Jesus
True salvation results when the Spirit of God awakens the sinner, opens their eyes to the Word of God, resulting in faith and repentance. They begin to exalt Jesus. Their desire for Christ is no longer contained within them but contagious to others around them. Christ is the author of salvation and so the sinner now reveres and exalts the risen Christ.
- You Hate Sin
The sinner recognizes that they have sinned against a Holy God. They do not just have a High view of God but they also have a High view of sin—resulting in an increased hatred for sin and a strong urge to put aside sinful practices. The sinner recognizes the dreadfulness of sin as their eyes are opened to its deceit and destructive power.
- You Love God’s Word
The third sign of genuine salvation is a love for the Word of God. There is an overwhelming hunger and thirst for the Word of God, in which the repentant sinner now truly craves the Word of God. They start memorizing Scriptures, meditating upon God’s Word, reading God’s Word, and asking questions about the Word of God. They now become lifelong students of God’s Word with a growing desire to live in obedience to God’s Word.
- You Love Truth
There is an increased desire for God’s truth. Since conversion is the work of the Spirit of God, the believer has a growing desire for the truth in God’s Word. The believer may have lived his life under the influence of false teaching, but with true conversion comes a growing desire to know the truth of the Scriptures. They will have a teachable spirit with an ever-growing desire for sound doctrine. They will be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, constantly studying God’s Word and growing in their understanding of the Word of God.
- You Love Believers
The believer will no longer be individualistic but will have strong love for fellow believers and people in general. They will begin to serve others because of their love for God. They will begin to evangelize. They will begin to disciple younger believers. They will be committed to the bride of Christ—the church, not for what they can get out of the church but in order to serve other believers in the church.
May these evidences be true in each of our lives and may we be a church that reaches our world for Christ by sharing the gospel.