The more contemporary Hardshell apologetics I read the more I meet with the exact same argumentation, sometimes almost word for word. On the subject of the conditionality of salvation their elders are quick to remark that activity on the part of the sinner is not a condition, but rather evidence of their saved state. This has become a staple in their supposed defense. Indeed, when one reads their many attempts at refuting the necessity of what we would refer to as the human side of salvation he will see such statements as these made over and over again.
“Faith is not a condition, but the evidence of eternal life.”
“Calling on the Lord is not a condition for salvation, but the evidence of it.”
“Hearing is not a condition of regeneration, but the evidence of it.”
And so forth.
Just take any element from the subjective experience of salvation (e.g. repenting, believing, looking, seeing, thirsting), frame it like the above, and you’ll get the idea. In fact, shortly after being excluded from this order (a blessing in disguise) I received an elder’s sermon in the mail entitled “Evidences or Conditions”, an obvious attempt to rescue me from my apostasy from Hardshellism. As soon as I received it I gave a big hearty laugh as if I was not immediately aware of the arguments and inferences he would make, having myself used the exact same argumentation for the past 10 years or so! It was part of my deliverance that I was able to see through this feeble defense, and thus come to where I now am.
Many times, in fact most of the time, the evidence vs. condition one-liner is made without addressing the most glaring follow-up question which demands an answer. So faith is an evidence of life. Very good. Now is it a certain or uncertain evidence? That's the question. But I should not be surprised that this matter receives such little attention, for Hardshells have relied upon this argumentation for so long that they have all come to believe that it is sufficient proof to refute the claims of all other Christians that faith is required for salvation. Such is the case now that if something can be established as evidence it is automatically inferred that it doesn’t have to be. The only purpose that evidence serves is to make apparent an objective reality. To make use of their own man-made unscriptural analogy, “Fruit doesn’t make a tree good. It only manifests if the tree is good.” Hence, according to Hardshellism, the fruits of faith, repentance, holiness, etc. are not necessary, and many of God’s elect can exist in this life basically as spiritual vegetables void of these virtues.
Hmm. What if the One who planted the vineyard is actually concerned with making sure that the trees bear fruit? You know, part of the plan?
But in order to illustrate that this argumentation is in a sense beside the main point let us suppose a case. Suppose that I were still an elder among this denomination who believed in immediate regeneration and I felt that faith, repentance, and personal holiness were not conditions, but evidences of a prior regeneration. However, upon study of the scriptures I came to see that none of the elect would go to heaven without them. Though I held tenaciously to the Hardshell dogma of regeneration before faith (or anything else subjective), yet I felt that faith would nevertheless be conveyed to the elect at some point before he died. Would this be a problem? Would I be received as an elder in good standing? Would I be “invited into the stands” because I held to immediate regeneration and regeneration before faith? No I would not. You see, the Hardshell belief in these ideas, and that faith is merely an evidence of prior regeneration, is in a sense a red-herring distracting from the point they rely wish to convey to their audience. Faith may never come at all!
That is what they're trying to say!!!
So to my deceived brethren out there who so rely on this argumentation, whom I pray oft could be delivered, I ask is faith a certain or uncertain evidence? Is following Christ a definite fruit in those regenerated? If these are certain to come to pass at some juncture, regardless of when, then what is the point of the continuous harping that faith is an evidence, apart from just wanting to defend that particular view of the ordo salutis?
Though they choose not to express it this way, that faith is an optional evidence is the point that Hardshell elders are really trying to make when they use this argumentation. A woeful error!
May God grant my erring brethren to come to see the reality of progressive sanctification in the Christian life and thus have a correct portrait of salvation. Christ is a Savior, not as Hardshellism suggests, saving only from the penalty of sin. He saves His people from the power of it, and it is the role of these so-called mere “evidences” to effect such and to draw His people closer to Himself. If we choose to denote faith and other Christian virtues as mere evidences, we greatly err in saying that they are thus unnecessary, for there are "things which accompany salvation" (Heb. 6:9). The elect go to heaven not as men who had empty, unconverted Christian (if we can call it such) lives, but saints whose works follow them (Rev. 14:13).
They are trees of righteousness. Trees which do bear the evidence.