And of those who know the history of the gospel, how few are there who know the nature of that faith, repentance, and holiness which it requireth, or, at least, who know their own hearts? But most of them have an ungrounded trust in Christ, hoping that he will pardon, justify, and save them, while the world hath their hearts, and they live to the flesh. And this trust they take for justifying faith.
–Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test? – 2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul commands us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. In the American evangelical church, though, we have come to believe that such examination is unnecessary, since we prayed the sinner’s prayer. We are effectively sacramentalists, trusting in the sinner’s prayer sacrament to save us.
But it’s not the sinner’s prayer that saves us, it’s true faith. If you pray the sinner’s prayer but have no faith, the prayer will not save you. And looking for whether the sinner’s prayer was prayed is not what God commands us to do, either.
So, how do we know if we have faith?
God has told us that a changed heart will produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Jesus says:
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
– Matthew 7:16-20
And then in the next verse, He says more pointedly:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
In The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter pulls together some marks of true conversion versus marks of an unbeliever. Baxter’s words are intended for a pastor shepherding his flock, but they are also a help to us as we test ourselves (and those with whom we share the gospel) to see if we be in the faith.
For the one who can see the fruit of repentance in his life, let him thank the Lord for this precious gift! And let him be spurred on to a renewed vigor in counting earthly things as but dross, and in pressing on to his eternal reward.
But for the one who sees fruit in keeping with unrepentance rather than repentance — O brother or sister, do not despair. Consider the grace of God that has come to you in opening your eyes to your perilous condition while there is yet time to repent! Our good Lord makes you a free offer of life today. Do not let your sin, or fear of man, or shame, or sloth, or any thing stand in your way; but make haste! Turn from the things of this world which are passing away; repent and believe!
This, then, from The Reformed Pastor.
…If he tell you that he hopes he is converted – all are sinners – but he is sorry for his sins, or the like; then tell him more particularly, in a few words, of some of the plainest marks of true conversion, and so renew and enforce the inquiry, thus: ‘Because your salvation or damnation is involved in this, I would fain help you a little in regard to it, that you may not be mistaken in a matter of such moment, but may find out the truth before it be too late; for as God will judge us impartially, so we have his Word before us, by which we may judge ourselves; for this Word tells us most certainly who they are that shall go to heaven, and who to hell. Now the Scripture tells us that the state of an unconverted man is this: he seeth no great felicity in the love and communion of God in the life to come, which may draw his heart thither from this present world; but he liveth to his carnal self, or to the flesh; and the main bent of his life is, that it may go well with him on earth; and that religion which he hath is but a little by the by, lest he should be damned when he can keep the world no longer; so that the world and the flesh are highest in his esteem, and nearest to his heart, and God and glory stand below them, and all their service of God is but a giving him that which the world and flesh can spare. This is the case of every unconverted man; and all who are in this case are in a state of misery. But he that is truly converted, hath had a light shining into his soul from God, which hath showed him the greatness of his sin and misery, and made it a heavy load upon his soul; and showed him what Christ is, and what he hath done for sinners, and made him admire the riches of God’s grace in him. ‘Oh, what glad news it is to him, that yet there is hope for such lost sinners as he; that so many and so great sins may be pardoned; and that pardon is offered to all who will accept of it! How gladly doth he entertain this message and offer! And for the time to come, he resigneth himself and all that he hath to Christ, to be wholly his, and to be disposed of by him, in order to the everlasting glory which he hath promised. He hath now such a sight of the blessed state of the saints in glory, that he despiseth all this world as dross and dung, in comparison of it; and there he layeth up his happiness and his hopes, and takes all the affairs of this life but as so many helps or hindrances in the way to that; so that the main care and business of his life is to be happy in the life to come. This is the case of all who are truly converted and who shall be saved. Now, is this the case with you, or is it not? Have you experienced such a change as this upon your soul?’