Was I Deceived by a False Profession?

What does God’s Word have to say about people who start off very well in their Christian profession, but then they begin to decay and become entangled with sin?


This is classic to a lot of the folks that are taking the liberty to use I'll Be Honest to ask questions, and who are struggling and who are looking for counsel. And I want you to biblically try to discern this, try to answer this. I mean, we want to come up with answers - does a guy need a kick in the rear end? Does he need softness? Sometimes it's hard to know without knowing these people personally.

Okay, it's from John Carter. He writes this, "Confused if faith has truly come." The subject line says, "Fall back into despair, feeling like I don't believe and feeling like I'm not saved." Like I say, this is a classic representative email.

"Please help. I'm so confused, Pastor Tim. I made a profession of faith several years ago. I was on fire for Jesus, loved Him, felt His presence with me... I think. Over several years, the zeal lessened and the harder days of Christian life came. I battled with pornography, pride, and doubting. I was in the fight of faith and glad to be. But then discouragement set in, and I slowly neglected prayer and Scripture reading and the battles became harder."

So, I mean, get a feel. Comes up, sprouts, received all of this gladly. There's a profession, on fire, love, His presence - I think. Zeal... and then, the zeal lessened. Pornography came in. Pride. Doubts. Slowly neglected prayer, Scripture reading. So that's the case.

Now, let's just stop right there. What do you do with it biblically? I mean, if we're wanting to be discerning, because what you want to do is you want to take this and seek something in Scripture that seems to resonate with this; that seems like this. What examples in Scripture? What situations? What specific people or what teachings or what letters are written or parables are spoken? What teaching is there, and I would say, in Scripture, but especially in the New Testament? What kind of teaching seems to be representative of this? The parable of the soils. So the parable of the soils - you've got the trodden path where the seed falls, plucked up immediately, that's obviously not this. This is classic second soil type: rocky soil; stony soil. The stony soil hearer. What happens? Seed falls. Springs up immediately. Everything looks good. It's flourishing - apparently. But there's a problem beneath the surface. There's no root. And so things get hard. He's talking about the difficulties. The difficulties come along and what happens? The thing withers. Things got hard. It seems like he was deferring to pornography. He says pride. There's doubting. And then, the zeal tapering. Prayer, in the Word dwindles. And then you look up one day and you're afraid because you recognize this isn't good. And what does this mean? Does this mean I'm going to hell? Does this mean I'm lost? Does this mean I'm making shipwreck? See, here's what you don't want to do. What you never want to do is say, well, my primary objective is to make this guy feel good. That's never the primary objective. What's true of the people who want their ears tickled? Well, they're always looking for some kind of teacher who's going to tell them what they want to hear. Now, I'm not saying that's true about this guy. This guy didn't just go to somebody who's going to tell him what he wants to hear. But our primary response to these people needs to be, if we really love, you wouldn't want to tell the guy what makes him feel good and then watch him go to hell. What you want to do is you want to be honest with him. And honestly, this sounds bad. This is bad. People who receive the Word gladly and there's zeal and then it tapers off and they fall back to sin, that's bad. Like, Hebrews 10. You have somebody come face-to-face with the truth and then what? They purposely choose sin. They crucify afresh the Son of God. And you know what it says? They outrage the Spirit. Can I say that he hasn't done that? I can't. I cannot say that. But I know this, this is bad. And you don't want to say anything less than that. This is bad. But we know this. It seems like he's concerned. It seems like the Spirit is still at least even a little still poking his conscience. That's positive. What that tells us is that he's not totally hard, totally unconcerned. Because that's bad. If nobody's concerned, and they're hardened, they're done. Because if they're hard and they don't care and they just go on in their sin, what can you do? But see, as long as there's concern, you can call upon the Lord. And calling upon the Lord, there's enough promises in Scripture to tell us that if you're calling on the Lord, there's reason to hope. Because we have a God Who is in the business of hearing those who call upon Him; those who need Him, those who are desperate, those who recognize they can't save themselves. They recognize they're ill. They recognize they need a doctor.

Now do I know that he recognizes this? I don't know that he recognizes this. In fact, let me go on with what he says. "After hearing a podcast where a pastor was encouraging a listener to not look to the past to find assurance, I recently decided I could have been deceived about my profession and began to cry out to God anew for salvation." So he got to the place where he heard a podcast and it made him think about that he didn't want to look to the past to find assurance. But whatever that did and however that connected with him, he came to recognize I might not have ever been truly saved. So, then he says, "I've been praying and asking for a new heart." Now obviously, God is the only one that can give a new heart. But the thing about asking for the new heart is it's really falling short of doing what the Gospel tells us to do. The Gospel tells us to repent and believe the Gospel. Not to ask for a new heart. It puts the responsibility on us. And you remember this. Jesus found fault with people who didn't repent. He said it's their fault. He pointed at them and He said it's going to be more tolerable for Sodom than for you in the day of judgment. Why? Because many, many works were done right in your face, right before your eyes, and you didn't repent. It's a personal responsibility. Christ came and He came preaching: "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." We have a responsibility to repent. And what happens is people neglect their responsibility, and then they say, I'm praying to God for a new heart. But you see what they're doing. They continue on in their rebellion. They continue on fighting against God and claiming they're praying for a new heart. That's never what Scripture says. And then they convince themselves, well, the reason I'm not being saved is because God's not saving me. Because I'm asking for a new heart, and He's not giving me a new heart. But that isn't what the Gospel demands. (incomplete thought) Well, let me just finish this. "One day, I felt that He did come, and I had peace and what felt like true faith. I was finally looking away from myself to Him for salvation only to have a few days later fall back into despair feeling like I don't believe and feeling that I'm not saved. I've had this happen three times in the last two weeks and continues to two months later. I'm so confused and scared. I don't understand. I don't want to deceive myself. I don't know where I stand with Christ. I want to close with Christ and know I'm His and He is mine. Please help." Well, okay, please help. So what do you say. How do you help this guy? You recognize as Christians the primary way to help people like this, well, we could pray for him, but the primary way you help - when James gets these emails, he's had his wife answer some. He has his mother-in-law answer some. We have Jeff answer some. We have Craig answer some. I answer some. James undoubtedly answers some. What do we do? We seek to use words to help them. We communicate truth. So what truth are you going to give this guy? That he probably hasn't already heard, that might rock him out of whatever situation he's in? (from the room) I guess Hebrews 6 comes to mind. It's somewhat difficult because you don't know if this gentleman is looking for a clear conscience or he's actually looking to serve the Lord. But it says in Hebrews 6:4, "For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, as they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm..." Tim: Okay, now, is that going to encourage this guy or send him to throw himself off a cliff? (from the room) Well, what I was going to say is I'd start with that, but I'd also talk about Psalm 105 that God is slow to anger. He is patient with us. So it's kind of hard because you need to make sure that he understands the fire that he's somewhat playing with when he is looking at pornography; when he's doing these things, that he is putting himself in a place that is dangerous. But at the same time, let him know if you come to Christ and you seek repentance, He will forgive you. He is slow to anger. He is patient with His people. And the example of Peter comes to mind. At the pinnacle of Christ's ministry, Peter denies Him. There couldn't have been a worse time to deny the Savior in front of all these people, and yet, God came back and restored him. Tim: So, even if you convince the guy that God is long-suffering, where does that put him? I mean, he claims he's called upon the Lord afresh. Momentarily, he felt like maybe it was okay and then he went back into despair. And he's cycled back and forth he said three times in two weeks, and now this has been going on for two months straight. I mean, what do you do with somebody who says I'm calling on the Lord and something's wrong. Help me. Because it doesn't seem to be working. What he says is I feel saved, and then I feel not saved and in despair. I'm calling. I'm asking God for a new heart. (incomplete thought) Think with me here. Let's actually crack our Bibles to Matthew 19. I just want to consider something like the rich, young ruler. (incomplete thought) Oh, somebody mentioned at the conference, was it Geoffrey who mentioned a book on evangelism? That he said dealt with a lot of different approaches to evangelism? Who was in there? Anybody in there when he did that book deal? He recommended a certain book on evangelism. (unintelligible) No, no. (unintelligible) No. Well, anyway, he's coming. But that was a book that sounded interesting. Because I think about these things all the time. We get these people and it's like okay, there's something in us that almost wants to pity them. And we have to be careful. We have to be careful that we don't start thinking: God is being cruel to them. They want to be saved and God isn't saving them. The fault is with God. God is slow to save. That this sinner is trying to come to God on God's terms and God's not regarding him. So we want to be careful there, but on the other hand, if you just tell the guy, well, you must not be coming honestly. Well, I think there's something to that. But you see, the problem is - the real problem is this. Know it for sure. He is holding on to some sin he's not forsaking. Guaranteed. And it can be so subtle. Oftentimes, they really want to take part in their own salvation. Or they've made repentance and faith out to really be a work that they do. They really are not broken. They really are not needing Christ to save them because they're wanting to take part. I think that is often the case. But I think taking some of the biblical examples, like think with me here about Matthew 19. You have the rich young ruler in v. 16. "And a man came up to Him, saying, 'Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?'" So, this man John Carter, it sounds like he wants eternal life. It sounds like that's what he's seeking. It sounds like he wants assurance that he's saved. He wants to know. That's what this man wanted. This man wanted to know. I'm concerned. He's lived this apparently righteous life. You know, why doesn't he just not go to Jesus at all? He's kept the law. Why not? Why go to Jesus and ask what good thing he has to do? Because you know the problem being under the law is the law always says, "Do! Do! Do!" And if you don't do everything written in the book of the law, you're under a curse. And so there's always this sense: have I done enough? I think I've done enough. I've tried to, but that's how the law speaks. It just cracks the whip all the time. Bang! Bang! Bang! And so, he just feels the thunders of Sinai in all of this. His conscience is not totally at rest. Jesus says, "keep the law." Well, he's pretty confident. "I've done all those things." But why would he even say, "what lack I yet?" Because he had a sense that he did lack. This man has a sense that he's lacking something. What does Jesus say? It's very interesting. What does He say to him? After He goes through the law and this man says, "I've done all these things." Let me just tell you this, he did not take the Ray Comfort approach and get him to admit it and say, "You're a lying adulterer at heart." He didn't do that. I'm not saying you can't do that. I'm just saying He didn't use the law that way. It's interesting. He says, "keep the law." And when the man says, "I have," He didn't even take issue with him. He simply said, "okay..." Okay. We'll take this just to another level. And He says to him, "If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven, and come, follow Me." And the interesting thing about all that is it doesn't have to do with whether I feel saved or I feel not saved. Jesus doesn't say let your feelings basically declare this thing. You see what He's saying to him? "I'm Lord. Surrender. And you follow Me." You know what following Him is? Today? His footsteps aren't out there. His footsteps are in here. You know what He says. "If My Word abides in you..." That's following Him. The wise man who built his house on the rock, he hears what Jesus says and he does that. And he does it by faith. Because we're called to do things all the time that we can't do in our own strength. And so what do you do? You do what He calls you to do and you trust Him. If you do what He calls you to do and you do it in your own strength, it's self-righteousness. You perish. You go to hell. But if you have a faith, you have a form of godliness, but you deny the power thereof that actually conforms your life to living the Word of God, you die, and you perish, and you go to hell. And so what does it look like? It's not how I feel. It's Christ is my only hope. And by faith, I'm going to follow Him. And so you know what, when I wake up tomorrow, even if I don't feel saved, even if I feel crummy, even if I feel depressed, if I feel discouraged, if I feel despair, if I feel whatever, what am I going to do? Lord, what time I am afraid, I'm going to trust in You. What time I'm in despair, I'm going to trust. Soul, why are you cast down? I mean, here's a Christ Who promises to save. And the thing is, if I'm following Him, if I'm looking to Him and I'm trusting Him and trusting to do what He's called me to do, and trusting that He's going to wash the stain of my sin away, and He's going to empower me by way of His Spirit, and I'm going to follow in His tracks. You see, if this guy would have gone home, had his servants gather up all of his wealth, put it out on the tables outside, put a for sale sign in front of his mansion, you could say, well, that's works. No, that's not works when you're trusting Christ. It's works if you think that that's going to earn your way to Heaven. It's faith if you're saying this is what the Lord asks me to do. Not that I'm saved this way, but He's saving me from the things I was putting my trust in. He's saving me from things that are harmful to me. And He wants me to give those things up. He wants me to get rid of the poison. And if I'm not willing to get rid of the poison, I show I'm not willing to be saved the way He wants to save me. Being saved by Christ means I forsake everything and I'm resigned to Him, to His will. "Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things I say?" Luke 6. That's the issue. (incomplete thought) This isn't walking around living the life licking the finger and saying "do I feel saved?" You see, that's not looking to Christ. That's looking at your feelings. That's letting your feelings be the measuring stick of whether you're in or out. But that's never the issue. The issue is: is Christ your only trust? Is Christ your only hope? That's always the issue. That was the issue with that young man. It's not: do you feel saved? It's not: Well, go over there and stand in the corner and pray that God gives you a new heart till you know He has. That wasn't it. It was this: It was just like to Matthew at the tax table. "Matthew, follow Me. Give up all your tax enterprise there. Walk away from it. Walk away from your livelihood. You trust Me from now on. You follow Me. I may lead you to your death, but you trust Me." Because Heaven's in the end. That's exactly what He told him. You'll have treasure in Heaven. You see, that's it. Do we trust Christ? Not: Do we feel in? Feel out? Feel this way? Feel that way? Our feelings go all over the place. The devil will come in, make us feel all sorts of things. Depressed, discouraged, lost, assurance all over the place, but you set your eyes on Christ. I need Him. He's my only hope. He's my only hope of my sins being forgiven. He's the only hope of giving me the strength to live this life. See, you can sell everything and you can give it to the poor. And you know what happens then? All the crutches are gone... except Christ. Because that man leaned on his money. You know what the real issue is? These guys that come along just like this and they end up never getting saved, they had a crutch. They never stepped out and said either Christ is going to save me or I'm dashed on the rocks. I'm all in. I'm all in. Christ is my only hope in this thing and I don't have any other and I'm throwing all the marbles in here. You see, that's what that guy was being asked. Throw it all in. But most people aren't willing. They want a contingency plan. "Well, I'm kind of trying Jesus... oh, but it doesn't feel right. I don't feel saved. I'm not having the nice, fuzzy feeling that I really want to have." And that's not what Jesus is saying. He's saying, "lay down your arms. You surrender to Me. Because unless you forsake all that you have, you cannot be My disciple. You lay it all on the altar. And you trust Me. And I'll save you. I'll take you all the way through. You'll have treasure in Heaven. And you'll end up in Heaven. And you'll be there with Me." That's the real issue. And see, I don't know this man well enough to know what that crutch is in his life. But I would say this, anybody who will follow Christ can follow after Him. You can come to Him. You can follow Him. He didn't tell the rich young ruler it was impossible. He told him it was the only way to life. He laid it out there. And the guy rejected it. Matthew didn't reject it. He got up. He followed. And you can do the same today. Jesus says, "Follow Me." What do you do? You look here. What does He want you to do? How does He want you to live? You read His Word and you're not hearers only. The wise man, he does the Word. That's always the issue. If My Word abides in you, you are My disciples for real. What we want to do is we want to go to examples like in the Scripture. Jesus dealt with people and we want to deal with them in the same way. What did He tell them? What was His expectation? Not just that they wait for a new heart. Even when He's talking to Nicodemus, it wasn't: You must be born again so go over there and stand there until you're born again. That's not what He said. Even though He said you must be born from above, you must be born of water and the Spirit, isn't it interesting that He doesn't just stop in this hyper-Calvinistic mode. What does He do? He actually reaches back to Numbers and He pulls up this story about Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. And He says if you do the same, you're saved. You look at Christ lifted up and you find your hope there. How does that hope express itself? By faith. You trust in Christ and you follow Him. Anything else on that before we move on?