Summary: How do you know if you have truly come to know Christ? One important evidence is repentance, which flows from experiencing God’s love.
As you may recall, our current series of messages deals with the love of God. I hope you’re enjoying this series and benefiting from it. I know I am. Because this is one of the most uplifting and spiritually enriching topics we could possibly consider. In fact, the process of thinking about God’s love, seeking to understand it, dwelling on it, meditating on it -- this is a sure-fire way to deepen our experience of God. Why? Because the things which occupy our minds are the things which will shape our ideas and opinions, our attitudes and desires, and ultimately, our actions and our futures. That’s why Paul gave us this command:
"… brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." -- Philippians 4:8
And what could be more noble, and pure, and excellent than the love of God? Nothing.
So far, we’ve seen that God’s love is personal, that it comes from a personal being rather than some divine force, and that’s it’s directed toward you and I as individuals. We also saw that it’s holy; God’s love toward us is pure and perfect, and because of that, He is constantly working in our hearts to purify us and make us more like our Saviour, Jesus Christ. After the terrorist attacks on September 11th, we were reminded that God’s love is powerful; that ultimately He will completely triumph over sin and evil, both in our hearts and in the world. And finally, we’ve seen that regardless of our circumstances, God’s love can banish all fear, replacing it with His perfect peace.
This morning, I’d like to continue our inquiry into the love of God by considering another of the effects of God’s love. When the love of God comes into contact with a human heart, what happens? How does it change us? This is important, because you can’t see God’s love; you can’t directly observe the Holy Spirit working. You can only judge by the results. You can only infer that a person has come to know God’s love by observing the fruit which His love produces in their life. And this particular fruit I’m going to be speaking on this morning is so universally lacking in the population at large; and at the same time so basic, so fundamental to our identity as Christians, that its presence or absence is a pretty good indicator of whether God has been at work in someone’s life. In other words, if this fruit is genuinely and consistently evident in your life, then you have good reason to conclude that you have come to know Christ. On the other hand, if it is rare or nonexistent, then it may be time for some soul-searching and some spiritual reappraisal.
Now, to suggest that we should examine ourselves to see if we are truly converted may strike you as shocking, even heretical. I know that. Because many of you come from a religious background where entertaining any doubt as to a person’s salvation was considered out of bounds. So if you prayed a prayer, or were baptized, or could give some kind of testimony of an encounter with the Lord, then you were to be regarded without question as a Christian. In fact, not only were you told to believe with all your heart that you were saved, but you were actively discouraged from ever again entertaining any doubts about your spiritual condition. Does that sound familiar to anyone? But here’s the problem: Praying a prayer doesn’t make you a Christian. Being baptized doesn’t make you a Christian. "Going forward" in a church service or an evangelistic crusade doesn’t make you a Christian. Having warm thoughts about God and Jesus doesn’t make you a Christian. Having some kind of emotional experience doesn’t make you a Christian. Attending church, or singing in the choir, or teaching Sunday School, or putting money in the offering, doesn’t make you a Christian. None of the things which we tend to accept as evidences of conversion are what makes a person a Christian. The only thing that makes you a Christian is a work of God’s Spirit in your heart, producing faith and repentance and a changed life. And here’s the scary thing: our feelings can deceive us. We can be deceived about our own spiritual condition. We can be convinced that we are Christians when we still belong to the world. Is that really possible? Yes. Listen to the words of our Lord:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it . . . Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" -- Matthew 7:13-23