When the Gospel takes Root

The following is an excerpt from my book, From Death to Life: How Salvation Works (you can order this at our shop here at ThingsAbove):

Affections, Actions, and Attitudes

Here’s a helpful alliteration to assist in discerning whether or not the gospel has actually taken root in a person’s heart: affections, actions, and attitudes. Essentially, all the ways that sin has left us totally depraved, the gospel comes in and begins to affect and rearrange.

First, if the gospel has taken root, a person’s affections will be changed.[1] The truth of the gospel enters the mind and affects the heart. Affections, more than mere emotion, are better understood as deeply rooted longings.

Our affections are what we really want. If Christ reigns in our hearts, it means we’ll desire Him. Believers can be characterized as people who love Christ with a deep-seated love.

Christians desire Christ as our supreme treasure. We aren’t satisfied with the Sunday morning small talk of football games, hunting, and the latest sale prices. We long to talk about Christ with one another because we truly love Him.

Furthermore, an increasing love for Christ goes hand in hand with a decreasing interest in the things the world has to offer us.[2] As we grow in Christ we become less and less enamored with the accolades and applause of men. Even what society might consider good things, we may choose to cast away if they hinder our worship of the One whom our soul loves.[3]

Secondly, as previously discussed, our actions change. When the gospel penetrates our hearts and changes our affections for Christ it will show in our outward behavior.

Show me a person who loves football, and I’ll show you a person who enjoys going to football games. Show me a person in love with Christ and I will show you a person who is zealous for good works and seeking to live righteously.

It is contradictory for a person to say, “I love Jesus,” but simultaneously live their life apart from what Christ commands. Phrases like, “I love Jesus, but not the church,” “I love Jesus, but don’t have time for the Bible,” or, “I love Jesus, but I don’t want to be considered as ‘holier than thou’ or come across as legalistic,” hold no water when examined in light of the New Testament.

They make as much sense as a person who says, “Apple is the best company ever,” but he doesn’t know what an iPhone is. If I tell you, “I love spinach,” you would probably cook me some when I visit your house for supper. You could reasonably expect that when I took a bite I would love it. If I curled up my nose, instead of diving right in, and said, “What is this green stuff? It looks terrible!” you might question my truthfulness. A disconnect exists when we profess our love for something—anything—but never show that profession to be true by our actions.

In this way, when someone says they love Jesus, we have a biblical expectation that their actions will match their profession over time. We have a reasonable and biblical expectation that they will love Scripture, the local church, righteous living, prayer, generosity, and God’s people as well as being engaged in hating sin. So if we hear a profession of faith in Christ, but don’t see the fruit or evidence of that profession, we begin to question their commitment and/or honesty. [4]

That’s because those who have received the decree of “no condemnation” for sin have no desire for compromise with sin.[5] Instead, believers want to obey Jesus because they love Him.[6]

This means we can’t use the excuse of, “that’s just the way I am,” to continue in sin, whether we are trying to justify greed, anger, homosexuality, or a litany of other sins. If we are believers, that’s not who we are any more. It’s who we were.[7] Now is a new day. Now we put on the things of Christ because we have been transformed by the power of the gospel.[8]

No, this is not perfectionism. None of us will ever come anywhere close to perfection. That’s why we need Christ’s finished work. The reality of the gospel is that it truly is the power of God to bring people from death to life.

As Davies preached: “It does not appear a kind of privilege to the true penitent that he cannot be perfect in this life, but it is the daily burden and grief of his soul that he is not.”[9] Christians desire, in increasing measure, to be ever freer from sin and have all areas of their lives under Christ’s kingship. Believers want to be more like Him. Living things grow.

Thirdly, the gospel affects our attitudes. The motivation behind our actions is the glory of God. If the gospel has taken root in my heart, then it is my desire to bring Him glory in all that I do.

It is not my desire to merely “do enough to get by” but to do all I can to bring God glory in my worship—giving, serving, and living. My motivation for life becomes glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.[10] The glory of God is the end goal in all things for the Christian.

A gospel shaped attitude is what enables us to live in harmony with the local church. Sister Nona likes to sing slightly off key. Brother Bryce is a little eccentric in his mannerisms. The team working with children did not pick the theme for Vacation Bible School that I would have chosen. But I patiently love them all because my motivation is to see Christ glorified in the unity of His church.

Conversion to Christ occurs instantaneously. If that conversion is genuine, we will be able to see changes in that person. If it’s not, we won’t.

No, we can’t play Holy Spirit and know what’s in the heart of man. But we can use the discernment He gives us to see evidence of such a dramatic event as conversion—still the greatest miracle in one person’s life.

We rejoice when someone professes Christ as Lord and Savior. Then, even as we hope to teach and encourage and support that new believer, we also know we should be able to see the difference wrought in his heart.[11]

This is messy at times because God saves sinners. Sinners always carry baggage. We must be patient with new believers as God works in them. You didn’t get to where you are today overnight, did you? And you and I still aren’t where we need to be. So, patience and genuine love are a necessity with new brothers and sisters in the faith.[12]

This being said, the reality remains: not everyone who professes Jesus as Lord and Savior will prove their profession to be genuine. As we’ve previously discussed, sometimes people “make a decision for Christ” for varied reasons—sometimes because of wrong motives and other times because of a temporary attraction to the Lord that flutters out of existence two days later. If that happens, that decision was not genuine.

Sometimes conversion is a dramatic event—maybe not as dramatic as that of Paul on the road to Damascus—but one we remember forever. Sometimes conversion appears to take place gradually.[13] We may not fully know the exact moment of salvation.

I am not suggesting that people are getting saved apart from the proclamation of the gospel or personal repentance and faith—this is impossible.[14] What I mean is that Scripture makes less out of when conversion happened and more out of the fact that it did happen.

And if it happened, the fruits of sanctification will show. Are the affections, actions, and attitudes changed? When the New Testament writers exhort readers to examine their salvation they aren’t telling people to think back to the moment of conversion but rather asking them to consider if they love Christ now.[15] Is there fruit in their life now?[16] Is there obedience now?

[1] Deuteronomy 30:6

[2] 1 John 2:15-17

[3] Hebrews 12:1 (Song of Solomon 3:4)

[4] For example, John says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers,” (1 John 3:14, emphasis mine). Love for the local church is an indicator that a person is a believer. A lack of love for the Body indicates that someone is not a true believer. A commitment to the local church does not guarantee one is committed to Christ. But lack of meaningful commitment to the local church reveals a serious issue and may in fact indicate that one is not actually a Christian.

[5] Romans 8:1-13

[6] John 14:15

[7] 1 Corinthians 6:11

[8] Colossians 3:12ff, Romans 12:1-2.

[9] Salvation In Full Color, 209.

[10] 1 Corinthians 10:31

[11] Jesus teaches that over time the good soil will produce good fruit. I don’t think He means that only 1 in 4 people who hear the gospel will become Christian, but I do think we must listen to our King as He speaks both authoritatively and wisely on this matter. See Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

[12] 1 Corinthians 13

[13] Conversion is instantaneous in conjunction with regeneration. This does not mean we can always accurately pinpoint it. Not everyone knows for sure when their first birth took place. But they do know they’re alive, don’t they?

[14] See chapter 2 and 4.

[15] 2 Peter 1:10, 2 Corinthians 13:5, 1 John 5:13

[16] Galatians 5:22

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