False conversion is a major and sobering theme in the Bible. How much of a true Christian can a person seem to look like, and in the end turn out to be deceived?
“I would love for some help navigating my Christian experience. My question is how far can a person really go as a false convert?”
He’s asking this question for this reason: “I’ve been reflecting on my own life, and I’m a bit confused about some things that might be evidences of salvation. I believe the Gospel, repented of my sin – or so I thought – spent countless hours preaching the Gospel to people, evangelizing, even street-preached a couple of times overcoming much fear. It seemed like the Holy Spirit was working to some degree. I also had a deep sensitivity, conviction over sin. I spent a lot of time in prayer by which I was also deeply affected. I wept over sin and for others to get saved. There seemed to be a real love for Christ, for the brethren, for the lost. I was doing my best to walk in obedience to God, though I suspect I wasn’t wholehearted. I may have been holding back some secret idols. I also fought hard and had victory over much sin like pornography, much worldliness, though there were still a few things that were an ongoing struggle that I continue to fight really hard like lust, pride, fear of man, watching bad TV and movies which often got the better of me. Regardless, I made a lot of progress in sanctification. However, I ended up holding on and toying with one or two of those sins and fell into a very hardened heart and lukewarmness and just deliberate unrepentant sin and stopped feeling conviction. My question is: Is it really possible to have such fruits as I have had and still not have saving faith? How far can a person go in deception? If so, how is an unsaved man able to even feel that way if not by the Spirit? Any tips to help me understand my past experience? Could God have caused me to fall like this so it would become clear that I’m not saved? Giving some hope since only a lost person can be saved? I’m trying to seek the Lord now for salvation, but my past experiences have been a cause of confusion. Hence, my question. Thanks.”
I just want to look at several texts. How far can a person go? He’s asking this: how far can a person go in deception? How far can a person really go as a false convert? I just want to look at several texts. The first one is Hebrews 6. How far can they go? When I was a brand new convert, I read a Puritan book by Matthew Mead – the Puritan Matthew Mead – called “The Almost Christian Discovered.” Anybody heard of that book before? Have you ever read it? As a brand new Christian, I found myself falling on my face on the floor often as I read that book, pleading with the Lord that if I wasn’t genuine that He would search that out and show me because that book really rattled me. I had come to the Lord, but it had never occurred to me – you know what? Because I was around such lost people, I just assumed – because I was around such lost people and around nominal Catholicism, I just thought if people claimed to be true Christians, they were. That’s what I thought when I was first saved, so to come across that book, it really jolted me. Hebrews 6:4. Somebody begin reading right there. “For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened…” Tim: Okay. What he’s going to say is it’s impossible to renew unto or to restore unto or to bring back to a state of repentance somebody who has been – so this is a person who it’s impossible to be saved. So one thing we know for certain: They’ve never been saved if it’s impossible for them to be saved. They’ve been enlightened. That was the first thing that was said. They have been enlightened. What does that mean? Light. You know what it’s like. It’s dark outside. You come to the light, you can see things. If you guys go stand on my porch, and the light’s not on, you can’t see things. If I turn the light on – whoa! All of a sudden, everything appears around you. Light we are told makes manifest. What is it about light? Enlightenment. It means I am brought to see what I never saw before. So, how far can a person go? They can be exposed to preaching, to the Word of God. They can be exposed to the light of truth and brought to a place that they never were before. What’s the next thing said there? “…Who have tasted the heavenly gift.” Tim: Okay, isn’t that amazing? They’ve tasted. It’s like the heavenly gift – it’s like they’ve taken salvation. They’ve put it in their mouth. And they’ve rolled it around on their tongue. They’ve got the flavor of it. Keep going. “…Who have shared in the Holy Spirit.” Tim: Okay. You know what’s interesting? He said this: “Is it really possible to have such fruits?” Or he says this: “How can an unsaved man be able to even feel that way if not by the Spirit?” Well, I would say this, it probably was by the Spirit. You say, what do you mean? I’m saying this, the Spirit of God works in many people who come short of genuine salvation. The Word of God can be preached. You know what you find oftentimes in times of revival? Or you find this even on a given Sunday. Somebody stands up and preaches a message. You get people who – they’re moved. They’re swayed. They’re convicted. They feel some power in the preaching. They go out and they’re concerned for their souls. Their conscience has been made alive. (incomplete thought) They’ve participated in the work of the Spirit. It’s possible for that to happen and truly be of the Spirit, and yet they get to a place where it’s impossible for them to repent. Keep going. “…And have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Tim: See? They’ve tasted of the Word. They’ve tasted the truths. That’s swirled around in their mouth as well. And even the world to come. There’s power. They’re actually experiencing the power of the supernatural. And not just any supernatural, this is actually the power of God that they’re being exposed to. Something even that’s representative of the world to come. There’s exposure. Keep going. “…And then have fallen away.” Tim: Okay, now these people have fallen away. Here’s the reality we looked at before. When it’s genuine salvation, it can’t be lost. So these people – it’s impossible once they’ve tasted – look, when it says that they’ve fallen away, you can’t fall away from true salvation. Why? Because He puts His fear in us that we not fall away; that we not go away from Him. Christ says if you come to Me, I will raise you up at the last day. You see, these people, (incomplete thought) what they fell away from is not being saved. They’ve fallen away from the very things that are described there. They’ve fallen away from the impact. This is a person who is exposed to truth. They may claim to believe the truth. They may make a profession. They may get baptized. They may join the church. They feel they’ve been impacted. They feel they’ve been convicted. And look, based on that text, it’s real supernatural operations of the Spirit. But it comes short because they fall. They go away. Remember this: If you’re sealed with the Spirit, He’s the guarantee of your inheritance until you acquire possession of it. It’s a guarantee. These operations of the Spirit right here fall short of that. (incomplete thought) All those things right there a person can have happen and come short. Let me take you somewhere else in Hebrews. Turn to Hebrews 12:16. This is Esau. Esau is another great example to look at as far as how far a person can go and still come short. Somebody read v. 16. “…That no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal.” Tim: Keep going. “…For we know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent though he sought it with tears.” Tim: Here’s the thing. We know he was lost. “Jacob I have loved; Esau I have hated.” This text says he’s an evil person. But what was true of him? I’ll tell you two things that can be true of a person and yet they fall short. You see them there. You can repent of sorts. Remember, that’s a change of mind. He had a change of mind where he easily cast away his birthright. He then later had a change of mind. He wanted it back. In fact, he even wept tears. A person can weep. A person can change their mind, but fall short. I want you to see another one. Turn to Luke 8. Somebody read verse 13. “And the ones on the rock are those who when they heard the Word received it with joy.” Tim: Okay, you can have people who hear the true Word. Something has happened in them. The Spirit may be moving and convicting. They may see something in this that their eyes have been opened to – enlightenment like we saw in Hebrews 6. They embrace it. They receive it with joy, but keep reading. “…But these have no root. They believe for awhile…” Tim: Notice that. They believe for awhile. Very interesting. Keep going. “And in time of testing fall away.” Tim: They fall away. So they weren’t genuine. They had no root. They never had any root. It’s not like they were saved, and then they weren’t saved. They were defective from the beginning. But here’s the thing, you can be enlightened. You can taste of the heavenly gift. You can taste of this good gift. You can participate in the operations of the Spirit. You can repent. You can weep tears. You can even believe. You can receive gladly. You know what Matthew 7 says. You can say, “Lord, Lord.” You can know the right lingo. They say, “Lord, Lord.” What did they do? Well, we cast out demons, and we prophesied in Your name. We cast out demons in Your name. In Your name! We prophesied in Your name. We did many mighty works in Your name. You remember Judas? He undoubtedly cast out just as many demons and healed people as well as the others. You can do many mighty works in His name. He’s not saying the people didn’t do them. Many of these things can happen and still people fall short. You know the church at Sardis? “You have a name that you’re alive, but you’re dead.” Oh, you can call yourself all the right names. I’m a Christian. I’m a child of God. I’m born again. You can say all the right things. You can say, “Lord, Lord.” And He says it’s not everybody that says to Me, “Lord, Lord.” You can have a name that you’re alive, but the name is a lie. People run around calling themselves (incomplete thought). When Jesus comes, He’s going to set all names right. He’s going to put the right names on people. You know, there’s a place there in fact, Jesus talks about the people who say they’re Jews, but they’re not. They lie. Physically they were Jews, but they weren’t really Jews. And Jesus is going to set all names right. People love to call themselves by names. You can call yourself many names and still fall short of being genuine. So, I just want us to think. Okay, how does all of that compare to the genuine? And that’s the thing. And James preached through Philippians not long ago and I think I mentioned it last week or one of the last times. But Philippians 3:3 – can anybody quote it besides James? James, can you quote it? “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” Tim: Yeah, worship in the Spirit. So, this is the reality that their glory is in Christ. They worship in the Spirit. They put no confidence in the flesh. Their confidence is in Christ. I mean, look, listen. If somebody falls away because of persecution, you know what? You know what they really believed? They didn’t believe that Jesus was to be had at all costs. What will make a man walk away from Christ? Only if he truly believes that Christ isn’t the most necessary thing. Because as persecution goes up, why does it cause people to fall away? Because they put suffering and Christ in the scale, and they say my own not suffering, my own ease, my own not being persecuted and feeling bad is more important than having Christ. The reason the true believer will not let go of Christ is because he truly believes. He believes he’s got to have Christ or perish and he won’t let go of Him for anything. He glories in that. That is his hope. He worships God in the Spirit. That’s what Christ said the Father’s looking for. Not worshiping in the flesh. You say, what do you mean? You know what worship in the flesh is? It’s praying like the heathen do. They think by their repetitions, they’re going to get God. Believing that because you pray – it’s trusting your prayer. Trusting the repetition of your prayer. It’s trusting in what you do. The person who worships by the Spirit, what’s happening? From the heart, they delight in God. From the heart, they admire and they adore and they’re amazed and they’re in awe, and they find God glorious and they’re shaken by His majesty and by His purity and by His holiness. When they sing, there’s a joy that comes. You see, those who don’t worship by the Spirit, it’s a work. What’s happening in the worship is it’s an exercise that they go through because they’re accumulating points with God. Versus the worship that’s of the Spirit – it’s when the Spirit takes the blinders off and allows us to see the beauty and majesty of God and we worship Him from the heart level because we’re thankful, because we find beauty. We’re legitimately thankful. We come to God thankful that He saved us based on the merits of Jesus Christ. Not like the Catholic comes who counts the beads. What is bead counting? Why? Why each one? Because it’s merit. I’m doing it to get something. So I count all these out. I’m rigorous. I walk on my knees till they bleed. I told you guys this. I went to high school with a guy that became a Jesuit priest. He likes to tell people that when he was a kid back when he was my friend – I grew up with this guy – that he put rocks in his shoes. He likes to tell people. Why? Because it’s another notch in the belt of his righteousness that he’s earning this merit. That’s what it’s all about. What do you think purgatory is? Purgatory is where you go pay in the fire. If you weren’t able to pay well enough here and get enough here and do enough here, then you pay more there. It’s all this merit system. When you worship God in the Spirit, it’s totally different because what the Spirit does is exalts Christ. You see there. There’s appreciation and there’s thankfulness that He has saved you. And it’s based on Him. And there’s thankfulness and gratefulness. And you don’t put confidence in the flesh. Counting those beads is all flesh. It’s what you can do in your own strength. But you see, we cast that away. That’s what Paul did. That’s what Philippians 3 is. It’s this great big list of all these things that he put his confidence in. But you know what? That’s what it is to worship in the Spirit. The Spirit comes in and just devastates all the confidences that we formerly had. All the hopes we formerly had of how we were going to get to heaven – He just devastates them all until we’re broken, we’re empty, we’re bankrupt, and there’s only one hope, and that’s we glory in Christ Jesus. Those three things stated there in Philippians 3:3. That’s the essence of it. Sometimes people can feel discouraged or you feel like when I was a brand new convert reading this Puritan book and falling on my face all the time. But the reality is even though so many things can be real of your life and you fall short of being the real thing, you never fall short of being the real thing if your only confidence is in Jesus Christ. You will not be put to shame. No matter what else may happen, no matter whatever winds may blow, whatever persecutions may come, whatever attacks you may suffer, whatever thoughts may run through your mind, I’ll tell you this – if your sole confidence in being saved before God rests in the merits, the death of Jesus Christ, that’s your only hope, that’s your only confidence, and you have none in the flesh – in your own doings, in your own worship, in your own merit – none in your own goodness, it’s not there, it’s only in Him, I’ll guarantee you this: you are saved. You are going to glory. Scripture promises it. You have root if that’s the case. So, this guy, I would say this to him. He said, “I made a lot of progress in sanctification.” But he says, “I’ve ended up holding on to one or two sins.” He says, “…lust, pride, fear of man, watching bad TV, bad movies… often gets the better of me.” I would say this, that that isn’t a good picture of sanctification. He says, “I’ve made lots of progress in sanctification.” I don’t think that is lots of progress in sanctification likely. If lust, pride, fear of man, watching bad TV and bad movies are often getting the better of him, that’s not a good picture of sanctification. And so, what I would say to people like this is if you look at your life and you recognize something’s wrong – look, people are looking for the solution. They’re looking for the magic formula. But I’ll tell you this, if something’s wrong, there’s only One who can fix it, and you can’t. And the thing is you’ve got to be like blind Bartimaeus where you cry out until He fixes it. You cry out until He sets your eyes right. Because if you don’t, if you just go back to your life, go back to your sin, go back to your religion, you just ignore these kinds of things, and you just let them go, he’s going to drift deeper and deeper into what he describes as lukewarmness, unrepentant sin, stop feeling conviction, hard heart. And you just wake up in hell. You cry out until the Lord heals you or you perish. If something’s wrong, there’s only one place to go. It’s not the church. The church doesn’t heal you. It’s not the pastors – any of them. All of us together – all the pastors in our church, all the pastors from every church in town, we can come together and we can all lay hands on you and we can’t do anything for you. We can pray for you, but in the end, we’re going to call upon Him who is your only hope. That’s the only hope of anybody sitting here, anybody listening. If something’s wrong, if you’re spiraling into sin, look, what we can say is this: Scripture says in no uncertain terms you’ve been raised to newness of life. Sin shall not have dominion over you. You need to reckon yourselves dead to sin. The reality of Scripture is without holiness, you don’t see the Lord. The reality is God is in the business of transforming people into the image of Jesus Christ. And if that is not happening in some stark, very real, very recognizable fashion, something is wrong. Like I say, if something is wrong, only Jesus can set it right. Only He can heal this. Only He is the doctor to do the kind of surgery that’s necessary on the heart of people. You go to Him. You go to Him. You cry to Him. You look to Him. Scripture says if you call upon the name of the Lord you will be saved. So you call. You call. You go there. That is the only hope. There is no other place to direct people. I would give the Lord no rest if you’re in a position where you’re uncertain. And whether there’s such things happening in your life with regards to lukewarmness and hardness and spiraling into sin and just not really knowing what it even means to worship the Lord in the Spirit and glory in Jesus Christ and to find all your hope there. Give Him no rest. Look, hell is real and once you’re there, it’s permanent. It’s done. It’s over. And you’re devastated forever. You’re damned. You’re destroyed. And there’s no hope. Fire is real. You wouldn’t cast yourself into a bonfire. Think of the lake of fire. It’s real. You’re going to be cast in there. You don’t want to just play with your soul as though it’s some cheap little toy, something easily squandered. You don’t want to do that. You lose your soul – Jesus said, what will a man give in exchange for his soul? There’s nothing. You’ll give everything in exchange for your soul. There’s nothing to hold on to at the cost of your soul. This sin that you think that you have to have? You will curse yourself one day for holding on to it if it costs you your soul and you end up perishing. Especially when you were so close. If you perish after having sat under the preaching that you people have sat under, what a horror in that! Can you imagine? It’s one thing to end up in hell and how devastating that is, but can you imagine? Can you imagine if you came this close? It was like, wow, God put me in church where they taught the truth and I heard the truth and I entertained the truth and I saw it from the pages of Scripture and I heard Christ proclaimed and He was lifted up as the only hope. And you know there were times I even experienced some of that power of the Holy Spirit and I felt convicted and I came this close. And there were times I was even reaching. There were times I asked the Lord to save. Oh, I look back now and I recognize I wasn’t totally committed to that. I didn’t totally want it. I wasn’t really being honest. But there was some movements and I was this close! Can you imagine if you got that close to the Treasure? To touching the Treasure and then you turned and you chose your sin instead? And you perished. You will curse yourself forever. You came that close. And you will hear those words. It is now going to be more tolerable for Sodom than for you. That’s what Scripture says. Oh Father, I pray that there would be some serious dealings with You by hopefully some of these young men who have written will hear these things and others like them. Lord, I pray, have compassion upon sinners. We pray You’d bring revival to our land. Bring a stirring. Sweep people into Your kingdom. Cause salvation to fall down from above. We ask it in Christ’s name, Amen.