The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in obedience, not just a plea to make a one-time decision or pray a prayer. To answer His invitation to salvation was to submit to His Lordship and divine authority to govern ones life.
Jesus’ words about eternal life were accompanied by warnings of those who might be tempted to take salvation lightly. He taught that the cost of following Him is high, the way is narrow and few find it. He said that many who call Him Lord will be forbidden from entering the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 7:13-23).
Present day Christianity, in large part, ignores such warnings. The prevailing view of what constitutes saving faith continues to grow broader and more shallow. A “profession of faith” is all that is necessary to be considered a Christian, whether or not the person’s life shows any evidence of commitment to Christ.
One segment of Christianity even teaches that conversion to Christ involves “no spiritual commitment whatsoever.” Those who hold this view teach that the Scriptures offer salvation to anyone who simply believes the facts about Christ. There is no need to turn from sin or no need to yield to Christ’s lordship. Those things, they say, amount to human works, which corrupt grace.
This is a wrong view of the doctrine of salvation. It is justification without sanctification. Many believe they are saved, but their lives are utterly barren of any verifying fruit.
Jesus gave this sobering warning, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven….. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord,’ did we not prophesy in Your name…. And I will declare unto them, “Depart from Me, you who work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-22). According to Jesus Himself, workers of iniquity are not saved. Clearly, no past experience - praying a prayer, doing good works in Jesus' name, not even prophesying - can be viewed as evidence of salvaiton apart from a life of obedience.
Jesus was not speaking about an isolated group of fringe followers here. He said there will be “many” on that day who will stand before Him, stunned to learn they are not included in the kingdom.
We have been conditioned to believe that reciting a prayer, signing on the dotted line, or walking the isle, is all there is to it. Yet Jesus clearly teaches a fruitful life is the evidence of true conversion and saving faith (Matt. 7:17-20; Luke 6:44). The apostle John taught that the clear way to distinguish between the children of God and children of the devil is by ones behavior (I John 3:10). James said that any faith that does not result in righteous living is dead and cannot save (James 2:14-17). Finally, John taught that any professing Christian who lacks the fruit of righteousness in his or her life is a liar and has no assurance of salvation (I John 2:4).
Real salvation not only justifies the sinner; it also sanctifies the sinner. Genuine salvation is verified by seeing the Holy Spirit’s transforming work in one’s life, not from clinging to the memory of some past experience.