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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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What Is It That Most Distinguishes the Believer from the Non-Believer?

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R.C. Sproul Jr.


Right from the get go we have something of an epistemological/ontological problem. That is, there are differences that are easier to see, and then there are differences that are more central, but harder to discern. On the ontological side the whole of the order of salvation, or ordo salutis, describes the difference. The believer has been regenerated, given the gift of faith, is indwelt by the Spirit, gifted by the Spirit, and grows in grace and wisdom. The unbeliever has none of these. Neither the believer nor the unbeliever, however, has magic soul-exposing glasses by which we can judge the invisible changes.


While we cannot see into the souls of others, Jesus does tell us that we can read fruit. That, however, is not as easy as we might think. Suppose for instance you knew a man who not only was unfaithful to his wife, but was unfaithful to his wife with the wife of another man. When his paramour becomes pregnant with his child he then murders her husband. Or consider another man who spent years studying the Word of God. He boldly went into hostile lands and proclaimed that same Word. He spoke with Jesus in the context of the utmost intimacy. He was even known to cast out demons in Jesus’ name and to heal the sick. It would be hard to imagine two piles of fruit more radically diverse. Yet we would be wrong on both counts if we affirmed the first was not a believer and the second was a believer. For of course the first is King David, the second Judas Iscariot.


Unbelievers are more than capable of living visibly righteous lives. And believers not only still battle against sin, they often lose the battles in public and spectacular ways. Which is why I would suggest that the best distinguishing mark isn’t that believers sin less, though that certainly may be the case, but that believers repent more. We are the repentant.


I would argue, in fact, that before we begin to talk about the fruits of repentance, or fruit befitting repentance, we recognize that repentance is fruit. It is cultivated by the Spirit in us, and blossoms into God-honoring sorrow for our sins, but also God-honoring confidence in His grace. Indeed, the fruit befitting repentance, I would suggest, is less the committing of fewer sins, or sins less flamboyant, and is instead the fruit of the Spirit. The repentant bear love, for they know they have been forgiven much. The repentant are marked by joy, for they know they have been forgive much. The repentant are at peace, for they know they have been forgiven much. The repentant are patient, for they know they have been forgiven much.


Christians ought to know this. I wish still more, however, that unbelievers would have to confess it. Rather than grumbling that we are a holier-than-thou people, I wish they, at least in their moments of honesty, would admit that we are a more-repentant-than-thou people. I pray a day will come when we will be known more for humility than pride, joy more than anger. Until that day comes, however, I will continue, by His grace, to repent for my failure to obey His law.

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Judas never really appeared to be good man. Jesus chose him, and Judas used the opportunity to steal money. Nothing Judas did spoke to self-sacrifice. Judas didn't appear to be an especially bad man, but he wasn't a good man. Where does the Bible clearly tell us that Judas cast out demons or ever put his flesh at risk for the Gospel? Even if Judas did perform miracles, it would be only to leave Judas without even superficial excuse to betray Jesus.


David did some horrendous things, but as bad as they were, he otherwise appeared to be a good and godly man. For his sins, he repented, and that makes all the difference. And, he did great good in leading people in the ways of God, including authoring many of the Psalms.


I don't think it's so hard to know people by their fruit, if we're thoughtful, not that we should be going out of our way to judge people.

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I agree with all your points, Cornelius. Jesus wants us to be careful about how we judge people and tells us how... by their fruit. I should add that when doing this, we should not be a respecter of people no matter who they are, as God isn't a respecter of people in how He judges us. Also, "Judge not by the appearance but judge righteous judgment."

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