Have you ever had that conversation with someone who tells you they are a Christian BUT.... you leave thinking they might not actually be saved?
For me this is far to often the case. One such instance that comes to mind, is when I was in downtown Cleveland at Public Square handing out gospel tracts. A young man came out there a little ways up the street from where I was and began to open air preach, I was excited, and thought to myself this is great, I need to talk to this person before they leave, thinking how nice it would be to have another brother in Christ to labor with on the streets in Cleveland. I was already engaged in a conversation with an individual when this young man stopped preaching, so I sent my son to go let him know I wanted to talk. After I wrapped up the conversation I was already in this young man and I began to talk and everything started off great until I asked him what church he belongs to. He responded by saying "he goes back and forth between two churches", going to Bethel Cleveland one week and a local Baptist church the next. To him that was not an issue but for me it was and lead me down another line of conversation with him. I expressed my concerns over Bethel and the many false teachings that come out of there, however, he did not see those as problems that he needed to be concerned about. When the conversation ended, I went from being excited at the possibility of having another brother to minister with, to being saddened by the fact that this young man may very well be a false convert.
That was not the first or last of the many conversations I've had with individuals that were not exactly the same things I discussed with the young man above but similar in the fact that I walked away with no sense of assurance that the profession of faith they initially made was valid.
Ultimately, I am not the final judge and my prayer is that if these individuals were true believers they have grown in their faith, and if they were false converts as I perceived them to be, they would come to repentance and genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
Why is this such a problem? Let me try to explain some reasons why I believe this is all to common.
1) They are goats
We need to be honest and say that many who profess Christ today are not His sheep, they are goats, they are tares and not the wheat. True and false converts alongside one another in the church. These false converts are goats and while pastors and elders do their best to minimize the amount of unbelievers who become members of their local churches, there will still be those goats who convince others they are among the sheep. The Lord will in the end be the one to separate the goats from His sheep.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
2) The are a new convert
We need to be gracious with those who may be new to the faith. If they are a new convert they may still be trying to figure things out within Christianity. While we believe there are some essentials to the Christian faith, some brothers and sisters may not be fully aware or even understand some of these essential doctrines yet. For example, they may say they believe in the Trinity but not understand the dangers of modalism and may make statements that sound as if they were a oneness pentecostal and not even know it, until someone points it out to them. This is why discipleship is so important for a new believers life. They need a biblical church and solid believers around them to hold them accountable and point them to truth.
>>>1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation--
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
3) They are in an unbiblical church
Most professing Christian's in questionable churches (although they do not see them as questionable) have no desire for the truth. They may say they love Christ, they may say they are a Christian, but care little to grow in their understanding of the scriptures and conformity to what is true but rather desire to stay biblically illiterate and under happy go lucky, make me feel good about myself churches. And the majoirty of the time they are more offended that you would challenge the teachings of their church than they are offended that their church would teach contrary to God's Word.
2 Peter 2:1-3
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
2 Timothy 4:3
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4) They are in a church that preaches the gospel but has poor theology
This is a tough position to be in because there are some churches that get the gospel right, and they don't teach things that would deny what many would consider the essentials of the faith. They may affirm the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Justification by faith alone, hold to a biblical view of the atonement, and yet still have very poor theology. This could be because the pastor and/or elders in the church aren't doing a good job of training up their people, along with teachers in the church teaching a very basic Sunday school class that just goes through the same teachings every couple of years and never digs in to deep theological studies on the scriptures. I was once in a church where the pastor kept his sermons short and never to deep because he would say he needed to bring it down to where he believed his people were at rather than preaching and teaching at a level that would bring his people up to a stronger theological standing.
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list, but I do believe these are reasons why we see so many who profess Christ but do not really know Him. These four reasons are not exclusive from one another but intertwine with each other.
A major indicator that one may be a goat is when they are in an unbiblical church and after being warned that their pastor is a false teacher time and time again with evidence given on the false teaching being taught, they get mad and disregard the warnings and continue to support and follow these false teachers.
A new convert may be under a false teacher in an unbiblical church, but because they are in Christ the Spirit will lead them into all truth, so when they receive correction they will over time come out from among them.
Honestly if you are a true believer and someone challenges something you have always been told or believed regardless of how long you have been a Christian, you response should not be well my pastor said this or my favorite preacher said..... it should be what does the Bible say.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Our first desire should be to honor the Lord and give Him glory, which means we must conform to the truth found in His word.
Not everyone who says they are a Christian is truly a Christian!
Let us remember that even those who may be a false convert may one day be brought to saving faith, so preach the gospel in season and out of season. Everyone from unbelievers to believers need to hear the gospel, unbelievers that they might be saved and believers that they might walk in accordance to the gospel which Christ used to save them.
Grace and Peace Be With You