I have had many conversations with people who want to believe a relative or a friend is ‘saved.’ These friends hope this relative made a decision for Jesus in a coma, became a Christian secretly, or made a decision at camp years ago. Quite often, the life the friend or relative is living will show no sign of faith. There is no evidence the individual is walking with Jesus. People appeal for faith without works at the cross – literally the event of the crucifixion. Jesus turned to the sinner next to him and rewarded him for his faith. The repentant criminal beside Jesus chided his recalcitrant companion, asking humbly for Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Jesus, we remember, promised this sinner paradise.
However, even this example does not provide comfort for those who want faith without works. The repentant sinner on the cross acted in accordance with his faith when he spoke to Jesus. He didn’t do many things, but he did do one. We see evidence of a change of heart. Jesus states many times that the heart will show up in speech and action. If a person’s actions are not in accordance with salvation, we are to act toward that person as if there is no salvation.
People are very guarded on the issue of faith and works. They read the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8. It is by faith we are saved, and not by works, lest anyone should boast. However, later in the very same passage Paul states this faith will result in works. Faith is not a passive or static thing. James, Jesus’ brother, makes that very clear. Demons have a ‘faith’ which is passive belief. They believe in God, they know there are angels, they accept that Jesus is the Son of God. If saving faith is defined simply as knowing the truth about God and heaven, demons are saved. However, the faith the Bible requires is an active faith – it is a living faith. James declares he will show the authenticity of his faith through his actions, he mocks the inactivity of those who claim faith, but have none.
Can a person become a Christian in coma? Can a person be a ‘backslidden’ Christian? The Bible is unclear on these issues. However, if we have no evidence a person is walking with Jesus, we should do everything in our power to challenge them. The evidence is he or she is lost. Any hope we have is dangerously close to wishful thinking. At worst, it may be an excuse to justify our lack of action toward this person. We need to pray the world will repent and produce fruit in keeping with repentance. There is something truncated at best about a gospel which does not result in a walk with Jesus.
An inactive faith is almost certainly a non-existent faith.
This was written as preparation for teaching at Warrenville Bible Chapel on 10/21/18. I read a the introduction to the NIV Application Commentary on James.