“And now abide in faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
Christians maturing in their faith often desire to be more genuine. It is a natural progression as we read and learn more about the Lord and what He expects of us. Interestingly, the apostle Paul points out that we should regularly examine ourselves to determine if we have genuine saving faith.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Some may believe genuine saving faith depends on our apparent morality, how smart we are, or how much we pray. But the Bible says none of these prove or disprove our faith. So, how can we be sure we have genuine saving faith? Thankfully, the apostle John presents nine characteristics all believers must have.
Open and Honest Faith
Right from the beginning of his first epistle to the church (1 John), John challenges us to determine if we have genuine faith by examining the following nine characteristics in order as he presents them. As sinners in need of a Savior, no one can possess each characteristic perfectly, but a consistent trend should be apparent to others.
1 John 1:3, “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Fellowship with Jesus implies salvation and genuine faith. John further says our fellowship with Him produces fullness of joy (v4). It is not a casual fellowship but an intentional effort to connect and grow in relationship with the Lord.
2. Walking in the Light
1 John 1:6–7, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”
Do you walk in the light? God promises that those who walk in the light will have fellowship with Him and others. And in so doing, He will continually cleanse us from sin as we pursue holiness. Jesus said He is the light, and we share in that light. We are not to hide it but shine it like a city on a hill for all to see (Matthew 5:14–16). If we hide it, then we walk in darkness and do not have true saving faith.
3. Confession of Sin
1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Those walking in true faith never deny their sin. Bodily sin is not something we pretend does not exist so we can go on sinning (which is the premise of John’s letter). We must regularly confront and confess our sins, knowing that God judges us and He is the only One who can give us the grace we need.
Holiness and Obedience
1 John 2:3, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
Those with genuine faith strive to obey God’s commandments. We often do not do it perfectly, but we keep trying. God promises that those who never give up running their race and persist will receive the crown of life.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus: not with certainty. Thus, I fight.” (1 Corinthians 9:24–26)
“I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
Obedience reflects an assurance of salvation and genuine faith in God’s grace.
5. Set Apart from the World
1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Two terms pastors sometimes use are “lukewarm Christians” and “fence sitters.” We cannot be either of these things if we want genuine faith. Multiple times God tells us to be holy as He is holy (Lev 11:44; Isaiah 6:3; Thess 4:7; 1 Peter 1:16), which means we are to be set apart and different from the world. Love for the world does not exemplify a true love for God. Love for Him must always be first in our lives.
6. Righteous Living
1 John 2:29, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.”
Practicing righteousness (doing the right thing/integrity) is a primary feature of a believer’s hope in Christ. Those who have genuine faith display this ethical behavior routinely. Righteous living sustains our faith and proves that we are truly born again because we possess God’s righteous nature.
Purity and Love Reflect our Faith
1 John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Again, John reminds us to pursue holiness and to grow in purity as God is pure. Those with genuine faith always seek to be more Christlike and conform to His image. We do this by reading and obeying God’s word, which results in pure and righteous decision-making, attitudes, and behaviors.
1 John 3:5–6, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.”
This verse can be a bit confusing. Even those who have put their full faith and trust in Christ still sin. The apostle Paul himself admitted that he often struggled with sin (Romans 7:15–20). The difference is whether you sin habitually.
Those with genuine faith make concerted daily efforts to confess (1 John 1:8, characteristic #3) and repent of sin. They do not go on sinning with a casual attitude. If one does not repent of their habitual sin yet profess to be a Christian, the unfortunate truth is that they never received true salvation.
9. Loving Others
1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.”
By accepting God’s gift of grace, we spiritually pass from death to life. Supernaturally, love replaces hate in our hearts. According to John, those who lack love remain in a spiritual death since they never truly experienced being reborn.
Paul makes very plain the consequences of lacking love through Christ.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. And now abide in faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
How we treat others — kindness, compassion, generosity, honesty, and love — reflects our genuine faith in Christ.
Benefits of Love
Jesus was the perfect embodiment of love. As we seek to be more like Him and grow in our faith, love must always be the most important. John provides us with three benefits of loving others, further proving that we have genuine saving faith.
Assurance of Salvation
1 John 3:18–19, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him.” (1 John 3:18–19)
Acts of love should be deliberate and sincere. We can claim to love, but if we do not put it into action, we do not truly have love in our hearts, and there is no proof of our salvation.
“And whatever we ask we receive from Him because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” (1 John 3:22)
Genuine faith has a heart for obedience. We exhibit submission to God’s commands and live intentionally in pursuing His approval. In return, God promises to answer our prayers and bless us in unimaginable ways.
The Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit
“And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as he gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:23–24)
In addition to answering prayer, God also promises the presence of His Spirit. He promises to abide in us, meaning He will come and continually dwell within us. Through His indwelling, He empowers us to overcome whatever the world sends our way. Through Him, we have victory.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:3–5)
John summarizes his epistle with three main features — believing and trusting in God’s faithfulness, obeying His commandments, and loving others. Other places in the Bible tell us we should also long for His presence (Ps 42:1; 73:25), have a hunger for His word (1 Peter 2:2–3), live a transformed life (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 5:17), and behave with authentic humility (Ps 51:17; James 4:6).
If these characteristics are evident in our daily lives, then we have the assurance of genuine saving faith through Christ and hope for eternity with Him.