by Floyd Chappelear
Sentry Magazine, June 2000
"Faith is always active," the speaker declared. "It is never passive, but always indicates a spirit of obedience," he quickly added. He is not the only preacher I have heard who has said such a thing, nor will he be the last. There is something in the concept that gives us a certain degree of comfort when we assert that believers are always Christians. T'aint necessarily so.
The devils believe and tremble, we are told (James 2:19), yet we would never think of the demons as believers. The thought is just too incongruous to entertain. They, the spirits of the nether world, called him the Son of the Most High God even and adjured him in the name of God (Mark 5:7), but still, we shudder at the thought of referring to them as believers. After all, "believers are always Christians."
However, we can dismiss the devils as a mysterious anomaly that cannot be easily explained, but the stated maxim still applies. Believers arc always Christians because, it is asserted, "faith is always active and implies obedience."
There are others
The parents of the man born blind (John 9) obviously believed it was the Christ who had healed their son but refused to acknowledge Him because it had been declared that any who would confess Christ would be put out of the synagogue (John 9:22). Their faith was concealed that their son's faith might be revealed.
Certain chief rulers believed on Him but, Iikewise, refused to confess Hirn because the Pharisees threatened to expel believers from the synagogue. Some have argued that they believed on Him and not in Him, but this distinction is made in English, not Greek. The NASB, the Bible in Basic English, the NIV, and numerous other translations do not follow the form of the KJV and the ASV. These believed in Him, not merely on Him. (See John 12:42).
When men approach religion from a horizontal perspective (that is, with a view toward this life and the things that pertain to it, I John 2:15) rather than from a vertical (looking to the things above, Colossians 3:1), they will follow their pursuit of the praise of men rather than the approval of God. These men and women although "believers" may never become believers in the more comprehensive and active sense. (Consider such passages as Acts 5:14. And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
Nothing is gained.
Nothing is gained when we deny that those with imperfect faith are believers in the broadest sense of the term. Their faith, not coupled with works of obedience, is dead [figuratively], but they are still believers. Apollos may have been an example of such a one with dead faith. He knew only the baptism of John so had not coupled his faith with obedience (see; Acts 18:24-28). Two loving disciples took him aside and taught him the way of the Lord more perfectly. Who, however, can deny that he did some (much) good in his bold and eloquent preaching about Christ even before they corrected him. He was a believer who was not yet a believer as we are wont to style one.
The number of Apollos-like believers may be legion today: men who are boldly and eloquently preaching the Christ yet knowing only the baptism of John ( or no baptism at all). Will they go to Heaven? (Why do we have such a fascination with whittling on God's end of the stick?) I will not decide for God whether or not He may choose to extend his grace to them, but what I will not do is to decide that He will. God alone is the Judge. He gives no indication in Scripture that any but the obedient will be saved, I refuse to choose for Him certain ones who believe but who do not obey as subjects of salvation. God, alone, is the Judge.
What disturbs me is the reluctance of some to merely acknowledge that there may be some believers today who are not children of God. Yet, interestingly, we are profoundly dependent on many of them for us to succeed in the work of planting and watering that souls might be saved.
The contribution of non-Christian believers
Not one significant translation of the Scriptures is the product of exclusively Christian scholarship, yet we use them unhesitatingly. The lexicons, dictionaries, word studies, and most commentaries are the products of non-Christians, but certainly not nonbelievers. In this many of these believers may be somewhat likened to those in II Kings 17:33, "They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance ·with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought" (NIV). The fear of the lions leads them to worship God (the Devil as one walks about -- I Peter 5:8), however imperfectly, but they have no desire to give up their practices from earlier times.
Like the Samaritans of Christ's day, they serve the Lord without going all the way to Jerusalem (see; "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (John 4:20). The Restoration Movement is about going all the way back to Jerusalem. It is easier to worship God "in this mountain." That many remain in this mountain for their religion, rather than coming to the Mt. Zion of God (Hebrews 12:22) does not mean that they are not believers. In fact, they may have gone even further in their faith. They may have received Christ and all that such entails.
However, those who have received Him have the power to become children of God (John 1:12) but are not yet His offspring. Let us therefore never denigrate those who have faith but who have not yet been immersed into Christ. Contrariwise, let us rejoice that they are "not far from the kingdom" and do what we can to help them bridge the chasm that remains (see Mark 12:34).
Let us note that there are two kinds of believers whose faith is not dead. They are passive and active. On the other hand, there are two kinds of unbelievers as well. They are passive and active. Acts 14 gives a very good treatment to both kinds. Let us close with the thought that you should read that chapter from the New American Standard Version.