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Monday, June 30, 2014 | Comments (8)

by John MacArthur

There is colossal confusion about what it means to be a Christian. Through mass communication the culture receives conflicting messages about what defines authentic Christianity. Cults, charismatic speakers, and criminally convicted church leaders only muddle the confusion on a grand scale.

What’s perhaps worse than confusing the culture is giving false confidence to professing Christians and false doubts to true believers. False confidence comes from a gospel of cheap grace where one can believe without any cost to themselves (contrary to Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38). False doubts rise out of accusations of legalism and works-righteousness.

These problems are not new. Nearly as soon as the church began, counterfeit Christians brought confusion. The longest living apostle who witnessed counterfeits of every kind addressed these very issues under the inspiration of the Spirit.

The book of 1 John is about testing the authenticity of your faith. It’s about knowing what a true Christian’s life ought to look like, and carefully evaluating yourself according to the standard the apostle John spells out for his readers.

John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation. That’s particularly clear in the verses we’ve been discussing over the last few weeks (1 John 3:4-10).

And as we come to the end of this passage, John presents us with one more reason that sin and saving faith are incompatible. The first two focused on the nature of sin and the work of Christ; today we focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. 

Old Sin Versus New Birth

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10)

The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.

The instrument by which the Spirit gives new birth to sinners is the Word of God. As the apostle Peter explained to the readers of his first letter,

You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)

The new birth is from imperishable seed, securing the believer’s salvation for eternity. It enlightens the mind so one can discern spiritual realities (1 Corinthians 2:10, 13-14). It gives believers the mind of Christ so they can understand the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:16). It liberates and energizes the enslaved will, previously unable to obey God but now freely able and willing to do so (John 6:44, 65; Colossians 2:13).

The new birth signals the end of the sinner’s old life. Those who were hopelessly corrupt become new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), buried with Him and raised unto a new life of righteousness (Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:24). Therefore he states again that believers cannot practice sin because they are born of God.

God’s Work or My Work?

The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process). Paul’s language in Ephesians 2:4-6 is unmistakably clear in this regard:

God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

Because unregenerate people are spiritually dead, they are unable to respond to divine truth. This doctrine of total depravity—better understood as the doctrine of total inability—does not mean that the unredeemed are as sinful as they could possibly be. Rather, it means that the fallen, sinful nature affects every area of life and renders them incapable of saving themselves. Thus the spiritually dead person needs to be made alive by God alone, through His Spirit. That same power energizes every aspect of Christian living (Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 2:12-13).

The Spirit-Empowered Result of Salvation

John concludes our passage with the summary statement of verse 10: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

There are only two groups of people in the world: “the children of God and the children of the devil.” The first exhibits God’s righteous character through obeying His law; the second exhibits Satan’s sinful character by disregarding the Word and habitually sinning. No matter what people may profess, or what past religious ritual or experience they may point to, the true nature of their faith ultimately shows itself in how they live.

The popular gospel today has no time for that truth. It only wants to drum up an emotional moment and affirm people’s salvation on the basis of that moment rather than on the evidence of a transformed life. But a no-repentance, no-holiness, no-submission, no-transformation gospel is the devil’s lie to give false security to damned people.

If you truly love the Lord, your life will evidence the authority of His Word, the righteousness of His Son, and the manifest work of His Spirit. If it doesn’t, then you have good reason to question whether you truly belong to Him.


(Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John.)


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#1  Posted by Joseph Wade  |  Monday, June 30, 2014 at 8:09 PM

I needed to read this, in fact, I've been struggling for years with my salvation. I'm 50 and believed I was born again at the age of 15. A gentleman from a Christian college group share the pamphlet with me. I was excited, and overjoyed only to realize that my "conversion" was false! How do I know it was false? Lying, fornicating, adultery, pornography. This lifestyle continued for 30 years. God was and is merciful to me, because of hearing clear biblical preaching from pastor MacArthur I prayed and sought repentance and asked Jesus to rightly save me. I believe God heard and answered my prayer. I've been growing in Christ. I still struggle, and it grieves me deeply when I sin against my LORD! This article has convicted me, and I want to thank you for it.

#2  Posted by Randy Johnson  |  Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 5:50 AM

Amen to that.

"The instrument by which the Spirit gives new birth to sinners is the Word of God." God the Holy Spirit does not minimize or circumvent the Word of God, rather He magnifies it. Message to self: Remember that when some "religious leader" says the Spirit led him or her to a new understanding of marriage, sexuality, etc. In the context of the Supreme Court's decision regarding contraception mandate, it is plain, at least to me, that the "ruling class" increasingly wants to decide what are "valid beliefs" in every aspect of our lives, including our faith. "For the Jewish leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue." (John 9)

#3  Posted by Kelly M  |  Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 7:04 AM

My experience was the same as Joseph Wade's. I never questioned my salvation because every "Christian" teenager around me was living the same way (and most "Christian" adults I encountered in my adult years). In fact, the young man who witnessed to me was the one who lead me to believe it was okay to have sex before marriage, go to strip clubs, drink excessively, curse, and not have to go to church. It's GTY that has allowed me to see the false faith I had and PTL I do NOT want that kind of faith. I want my faith to be genuine and have prayed to be rightly saved as well. Sadly, I lead many teens in the "sinners prayer" while I served in youth ministry for ten years and I have deep guilt over the cheap grace and false assurance I presented to so many teens or people I witnessed to in general during that time. I pray that God makes right what I did wrong and I am so, so, so thankful for GTY and John MacArthur's unabashed presentation of the truth of God's word.

#4  Posted by Glenn  |  Tuesday, July 1, 2014 at 9:16 PM

I am so confused about my salvation and after reading this message need help. Here is my short story.

I was adopted when I was 7 years old and didn't know anything of God. Never seen a bible or even knew what prayer was. My step dad was a christian and got me involved in a christian school. When I was 9 I was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church. My life was drastically changed. I could feel the presence of God when I prayed, I treated people with love and compassion, I was patient and kind. Then I was pulled out of the school 4 years later because of finances and sent to a public school. It was hard for me to fit in. I slowly began to digress and not want to go to church and didn't spend much time in prayer like I used to. Then when I was 18 I made the biggest mistake of my life. I was dating a girl that I really cared about. But I was also going through the normal life changes to and was never taught about sex or how to control it. One night I was lying in bed and really thinking about this girl and my feelings where very strong and I was struggling in my thoughts and said "ok devil, if you let me have this girl I will worship you." I dont remember exactly how I said it but it was along the same lines.

Well, about a month later we had sex and my life has gone down hill since then. I drank, partied when I wanted, became rebellious, was lose with other women, married and divorced 2 times with multiple kids with different moms. I really made a mess of things. I left my dads house when I found my birth mom and stayed with her. When I left my dads, it was sudden and contact wasn't all that great.

15 years, a marriage, divorce and 1 child later I finally returned home and to my surprise my dad welcomed me with open arms but he was still concerned about me and always prayed for me. From time to time throughout my life I would pray for help from God but lost the passion I had when I was 9. My dad tried getting me back into church but I was still lazy.

Well I left the house again but this time I talked with my dad and moved out of state. This time I left I aready got someone else pregnant and just ran away from my problems.

My dad passed away in 2010 and it devestated me. I got into listening to christian radio but realized I was doing it to be like my dad. Then I prayed to God to help me and give me wisdom and to come into my life. Since then I have been growing stronger but still am not sure if I'm saved or not. Now I struggle when I do sin and am aware of it. Listening to John and reading these blogs helps me but am still struggling. I am still living with the girl I got pregnant but have sustained from sex because we want and need to live biblically but after 5 years being with each other it is difficult.

Knowing all of this and sharing my testimony my question remains..... Was I saved when I was young and walked away? I know God can abandon us but waits for us to seek him. Please help. Hope to see replies soon. God Bless

#6  Posted by Gabriel Powell (GTY Admin)  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 11:50 AM

Dear Glenn,

I'm grateful these blogs have been helpful to you. It sounds like the Spirit has been working in your life to make your conscience sensitive to His convicting ministry. Praise the Lord for that!

There's a lot of things I don't know, but I do know this—you are not alone in your experience. While it is unfortunate, many have experienced a similar pattern of an apparent conversion and faithfulness in their youth, a significant period of sinful living, and an eventual repentance. So your question is one asked by many people—was I actually saved when I was young?

While I understand that is a gnawing question, it's not a question the Bible encourages us to ask, or even gives us concrete ways to answer. That is partly because only God knows the heart and whether a profession of faith in the past was genuine or not. All we have to work with is what we have experienced and what we can see.

With what you've described, you remind me of the parable of the sower in Luke 8. Specifically, you sound like the seed that "fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it" (Luke 8:7). Jesus explained, "And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and their fruit does not mature" (v. 14).

Glenn, only the Lord knows if you were saved. I can't know that and neither can you. But you can know whether you are saved. Have you repented of your life of sin against God? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life and died, bearing the penalty of sin, and rose from the dead victorious over sin and death? Have you acknowledged your desperate need for a Savior, and confessed that you are incapable of pleasing God, thus being fully dependent on the work of Christ for salvation? Have you counted the cost of what it means to follow Jesus—a complete surrender of your life and pursuits and relationships—and made the decision to follow Him no matter the cost?

Romans 10:9 says, "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." God does not abandon us. He is faithful. If we seek Him, turn from our sin, and seek His forgiveness, He will grant us eternal life. Isaiah 55:7 says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."

Friend, if you have not repented and believed on Christ, then I would urge you and any who read this to do so even now. If you have, then you need to find a Bible-teaching church were mature believers can care for you and help you take the steps of discipleship. In your situation, it sounds like you have some difficult but necessary decisions to make, and you will need the help, encouragement, and support from a faithful church.

#5  Posted by Patty Duke  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 8:41 AM

My experience was the same as Joseph and Kelly. I prayed a sinner's prayer at 18, but saw no real change in my life. It was very confusing for me, because going to church and being in Christian circles, I felt like I was missing something. No matter what face I put on for those Christian friends, I deep down knew something was wrong, but did not know what it was. I was told in all those churches that I was saved because of a prayer at 18. For me, the habitual continuing sin was theft, and although I knew it was wrong (everyone does- I did not have anyone like Kelly saying it was OK), I could not stop! It was because I was not a new creation with a new nature- I was still a slave to sin. My turning point was beginning a study of all books of the Bible with excellent godly commentaries- starting with James Montgomery Boice, and then finding and reading John MacArthur SAVED WITHOUT A DOUBT and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS. I am now reading the follow up THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE APOSTLES. Now I am a new creation in Christ, and finally now I am going through real sanctification - my prayer every day is that I will be a slave to Christ, because I have finally been set free from even the desire to be a thief. One thing John MacArthur helped me with in his writings is, he said to choose one huge sin and pray to conquer that one, and the others will soon follow. He is so right- I have a long way to go, but now I am on the narrow road Jesus talked about- not on the broad one that leads to destruction. My heart hurts for all the other people who also think they were saved, but have been led by a false teacher down the wrong path.

#7  Posted by Randy Beardslee  |  Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 10:17 PM

Hello, I wanted to say that as most of you here I too have had a similar situation making a profession of faith as a young adult, faithfully working in the church as a youth lay-leader and yet living in sin. God had to bring me to my knees in humble brokenness through a series of situations over a period of years before I really would accept the truth. Yet all along I knew deep down in my heart what the truth was.

So, John Mac's book Hard To Believe (and most pointedly the scripture used within the book) changed my life. I am 52 and that was 2010. We all need to hear and heed our Lords words when He said "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me". Denying yourself is the hardest thing to do, for no man yet hated himself. This is why its Hard To Believe! For that is the ONLY narrow gate that leads to the Kings kingdom. True salvation only comes through a genuine heart that denies itself.

I have since been saturating my mind and heart with TRUTH. I have listen to hundreds and hundreds of Johns sermons and read most all of his books. For all of us in a similar situation and ones still struggling please listen to his sermons 42-119 through 42-123 for they will REALLY help you.

2255 and 2256 are very good as well and 90-7 and 90-8 too. Plus I could give SO MANY more that have helped me to praise God whom all blessings flow! Take time to listen and study what pastor John is preaching. He compares scripture with scripture and is spot on most all the time I can tell. I have told my adult children multiple times, that if you don't want to be lead astray then listen to the teaching of John MacArthur for you will not be lead down a strange and wacky path spiritually.

I don't know about you but I find myself thanking the Lord practically every day for TRUTH!

And I thank you GTY and John MacArthur for providing the resources for all of us out here that are drowning in the tsunami of lies this world so successfully floods us with.

To God Be The Glory!

#8  Posted by Patty Duke  |  Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Thanks Randy,

Sounds like Hard to Believe should be my next book!

I love John MacArthur's straightforward honest approach. In The Gospel According to Jesus on page 96 he says "How can we begin a gospel presentation by telling people on their way to hell that God has a wonderful plan for their lives?" And on the same page "You cannot preach a gospel of grace to someone who has not heard that God requires obedience and punishes disobedience". That hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it, because what I had always heard and believed was that if you prayed the prayer, and gave mental agreement to the gospel, then you were saved and you would find the plan and purpose for your life. Thing is, I never found it at all, and I did not have the ability to be obedient anyway. I was totally lost and still told by the majority of churches that I was saved. But I really wasn't, until I repented and believed on Jesus, and became a new creation.

I can remember thinking of all the saints who gave their lives for Jesus, and not understanding how they could have that kind of faith. I knew I would not have laid down my life for Him. That was then, this is now. Now I believe that He would give me the grace to do that if He requested me to do so, and now I have faith that I would indeed be willing. Maybe everyone who calls themselves a Christian should ask themselves that question quietly in their hearts and answer honestly. That might help you know if you are truly saved- because the first Christians definitely had to answer that question "yes".