For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
We understand that it is based upon the saving work of Jesus Christ alone that we find forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. This means that we cannot earn salvation; rather, we must come in faith resting alone in the saving work that Jesus accomplished on our behalf. And that faith through which God extends His grace, in the words of Martin Luther, is faith alone, but not a faith that remains alone.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Following this conversion, believers are no longer what they once were. Elsewhere, Paul explains that “if any man be in Christ, He is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things become new.” What Paul is teaching is that the life of a believer is marked by more than faith. This truth mirrors the truth that we have already seen Jesus teach in John 8:31, “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.” Now, as we arrive at John 15, we see Jesus use another analogy to explain this process of Christian life and growth.
Jesus explained to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion that He was the true source of all life and good works. Those who were truly joined with Him produce fruit in His power alone, and not theirs. In the analogy, there are those that produce fruit and those who do not produce fruit. According to Jesus the fruitless branches are cast into the fire and are burned. In essence, those who are fruitless are the ones who are imposters and not truly believers.
They may have made a profession, or attended Sunday School, or been married to a really good Christian, but their lives were not marked by a constant fruitfulness. Instead, fruitlessly, they hung around, hoping to be mistaken by the pure-eyed husbandman, God, to be one of the fruit-bearing branches. But God is not duped. He can see clearly if there is any fruit on a branch, and ultimately He will cast away the fruitless branches into the fire.
So what about that guy that you know who “walked away from the faith”? He was such a good kid, and always sat up straight in church and mowed Widow So-and-So’s lawn. He was really a sweet guy, and unfortunately just got caught up with the wrong crowd. He always said that he was a Christian, and although he may not live like it now, doesn’t the Bible say, “Once saved, always saved.”?
While salvation is not contingent on our works, Jesus is also clear that fruitless branches are cast into the fire. In James 2:26, we find that just “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Faith in the present paired with evidential fruit is the assurance from Scripture that any person can have that God has truly saved them.
Food For Thought: If a person is fruitless and has no evidence of God’s grace working in them, what does Jesus say God will do with them?