By Colton Corter
It is not uncommon to hear a brother or sister tell their testimony much like this “Well, I received Christ when I was nine but I really didn’t live it out until I got out of high school.” The words may not look quite like that but the sentiment is often the same. First, we must give thanks to God. It is nothing short of a miracle that a depraved human might turn from their sins and trust in the sufficient work of Christ for salvation. But it is necessary to point out that such a formulation of conversion is very unhelpful, unbiblical even. The call of the gospel is clear: repent and believe. Trust in the obedience of Christ and turn from the fleeting pleasures of sin to Christ, who is far better.
“But wait!” one might object. Is not salvation by faith alone? Indeed it is. We are not saved by works done in righteousness but by a righteousness that is not our own. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ ground our hope before God the Father. This is not to say, however, that we can claim to trust in Christ and stay in our sin. The Bible holds out no assurance of salvation to those who are still in their sins. Think of saving faith and repentance as two sides of the same coin. Both are gifts of God (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:25). Both are absolutely necessary to be saved. The book of Acts shows the Apostles declaring that repentance is a must, sometimes even only implying faith instead of differentiating the two. We are called to turn away from something when we turn to Jesus. After all, we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
Mark Dever once told a story of a person he met after a service at his church in Washington D.C. The man’s sister asked Dr. Dever to meet him and he gladly accepted. Dever found the man drunk and sitting in a car out in the parking lot. The man claimed to be a Christian but showed no sign of it. He took the man to the book of Galatians. Paul’s letter to the Galatians may be the clearest defense of justification by faith alone in the entire Bible. But as the Reformers so famously put it, “We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that justifies is never alone.” We are in Christ by faith, apart from works. Being joined to Christ comes with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit begins to work in us to will and work for His good pleasure (Heb. 13:21). Formerly, we were in the flesh. Those in the flesh (the unsaved) have lives characterized by what Paul calls the works of the flesh. Paul writes:
 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV).
Dr. Dever had the man read this passage. He asked him if his life looked more like this one or the one that follows it in verses 22 and 23:
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)
The man had to admit that his life looked more like the former rather than the latter. That man was not a Christian. Paul is clear as day when he says that no one who persists in these things will inherit the kingdom of heaven. No matter how many times you have prayed a prayer or walked an aisle. True faith is never alone.
That was precisely the point Jesus was trying to get across in Matthew 7. He uses the metaphor of a tree and its fruit. Many who thought they were good were only good in an external sense. They observed religious rituals and went to the temple with everyone else, not unlike many churchgoers today. But sadly just like many “churchgoers” their lives displayed no evidence of transformation. Jesus told them that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Jesus is not saying that good trees are made good by their fruit. Only the sovereign grace of God makes a bad tree into a good tree. But if that tree is good then it will always bear good fruit. The question is not if we have borne enough fruit. We will always be repentant sinners. The question is, “Is their fruit present and is it growing?”
Only the gospel of Christ brings peace with God (Rom. 5:2). But we cannot claim to have peace with God and peace with sin at the same time. When we are saved, it is because God gives us a new heart; new affections and appetites. We long to be godly and we hate sin. Do you hate sin? Do you give your all, however well you are doing, to fight sin and to enjoy Christ? If not, you are not a Christian. But the answer is not to try harder, bear more fruit. It is to repent and be united by faith to the vinedresser, to build our lives on the sure foundation of Christ. Our works will evidence that faith. Our trust in Christ as Savior cannot be separated from Christ our Lord and our supreme treasure. There is always more joy in Christ than there is in sin. Repent and believe, taste and see that God alone satisfies.
Colton Corter is a graduate student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @coltonMcorter