Years ago I was invited to attend a “salvation party” for a young lady who had just made a profession of faith in Christ. I’ll call her “Anne”. It was the first time I had heard of such a party. Out of profound curiosity and my heart for Anne, I went. We gathered at a local restaurant, with cake and gifts in tow.
I noticed the people most excited were the ones throwing the party, the ones who had witnessed to her. Anne sat appearing unsure and distant.
One could think she was just an introvert who didn’t like the fuss of a party, or that it was a bit too silly for her taste- I would have agreed with her. Perhaps she was thinking what I was thinking….is she…. saved? I silently prayed for her and tossed around in my head the question, “how did anyone really know she was saved when she was saved a few days ago?” I mean, salvation is worthy of celebration, don’t get me wrong, yet she had just come to faith and from what I was hearing and seeing from her there was no fruit, no evidence, and most noticeably, no joy.
Sadly, a brief amount of time later, she fully returned to her old lifestyle with limited interest of anything Christian. I would gather with the ladies who had been ministering to Anne and would hear concerns of how she was hard to get a hold of, not desiring to go to church, any church, and no longer interested to meet with them for Bible study. It all seemed to be too much for Anne.
I may not have been entirely surprised but my heart hurt. After the gentle urging from those who had been discipling her and celebrating her salvation, she withdrew further and pushed every single Christian out of her life. It was growing apparent that her salvation wasn’t true. I can imagine the embarrassment she might have felt- leading these people to believe she was saved, having a party and investing so much time in her, being told she shouldn’t question her salvation, being embraced and encouraged as a Christian, not having those convictions herself and not being able to honestly walk the walk– I would imagine she just wanted to run and hide.
I decided to bring it up with the few that encouraged her salvation party and asked why they were so sure Anne was saved. They quickly responded with, “she said she believed in Jesus!” “She asked for forgiveness!” “She was remorseful and sincere!”
But did she really WANT Jesus? Was it true repentance? Did they convince her or was she convicted?
I believe it’s important to clarify that we don’t have to doubt a profession of faith from someone and tell them we cant believe it until they start showing consistent fruit. That’s not supported in Scripture. The problem is the premature celebrations and confident declarations of what has happened in someone else’s heart, especially when not looking at the glaring inconsistencies in their behavior. We prayerfully hope for the genuineness of their faith while discipling them, loving them and reminding them to examine themselves.
“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5
In Scripture, we read about people being saved, and with fervor for the Lord and His Word, they follow Him. They desire to know His Word, to know Him, and obey Him. We also read false followers can look the part at first but then drop the half-hearted desire to follow Christ as soon as the road gets a little bumpy or when the world lures them back into the cesspool of empty pleasures and promises.
“These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way, these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Mark 4:15-19
I remember telling those who loudly proclaimed of Anne’s salvation, no one should have to be convinced this hard to follow Christ and to read his Word if they are truly saved. No true Christian will bolt and hide from anything truly Christian. No true Christian will have to be taken by the hand and pulled into church.
Even though the lady lacked good fruit, they still refused for a while to believe that they may have been presumptuous. “Perhaps”, they said, “she needs to just be encouraged more in her salvation.” Sadly, they already did that to her when they shouldn’t have. Now she was running harder away from Christ.
A few years later, I saw “Anne” standing up in front of a church to give her testimony and to be baptized. It seemed those ladies had been able to reach her again and “encourage” her. I hoped perhaps she had finally come to faith and repentance. Yet as soon as she opened her mouth, my heart sank. I noticed in her testimony she seemed to be looking for Jesus and a feeling of salvation in her baptism. Not sure how this passed the test of the leadership when they met with her prior, that’s another story for another day. And just like before, she vanished shortly after. The ladies tried again to encourage her in her salvation. She was being pulled by Christians, without being led by the Holy Spirit.
Sadly this lady wasn’t the first person I saw being prematurely lauded as a Christian. In a Bible study I had been a part of for years, a new lady came in and listened to the Gospel. She cried as it was presented to her. The study leader decided to lead her in the sinners prayer, doing the “repeat after me” thing.
The lady repeated the prayer with such emotion that it moved me, I must admit but after the prayer, the leader declared she was now saved. The way it was said was off-putting. “Welcome to the family!” He exclaimed.
She was overjoyed. After a few times of coming back to the study, we noticed the joy soon faded and she quickly darted fast and far away from anything truly Christian. My heart sank as the months/years went by and she seemingly sprinted harder from the Lord.
I wish those two women were the only false conversions I’ve witnessed over the years. It’s heartbreaking to see one profess then slip away, yet it’s even more heartbreaking to see it being encouraged by Christians who should know better. They seem so eager to see these precious souls saved and to share with the world all about it that they fail to realize they may have encouraged a false convert to believe something that wasn’t true.
You’ll find in most evangelical churches every single child in a particular family are baptized. Like clockwork, each of their children around the age of five wanted Jesus. First off, what small child in church doesn’t say that? You are likely not to find one. The parents continually remind them that they are Christian and to take communion despite very little, if any, fruit. Then in their teen years they are given emotional highs in youth programs and camps and being told those highs, those tears, are the work of God in their hearts. Christ is this super amazing cool Lord. Three weeks later or so, no more highs and no more interest in Christ. It saddens me to see the leadership getting in front of the church shortly after these kids make an emotionally driven profession and proclaiming they are in Christ, HAULLELUIA!
Such exuberant and immediate declarations without a stitch of real fruit.
One church leader used passages such as Acts 2:40-42 to explain why they believe we are to immediately celebrate professions and declare them saved:
“And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Actually, that passage makes my point exactly. Notice the phrase, “Continually devoting”.
A Christian will drop the world and follow Christ. The will devote themselves to Him. They will not have to be forced to worship the Lord, to care about His Word, to gather with other believers or to desire to live for Him. They will be devoted to the truth. They will desire to be baptized out of obedience. They will devote to the Gospel. Sure, they will need from other Christians direction, clarity, and encouragement to know better how to live for Christ, but they will be willing and ready.
It’s also important to note what was going on at the beginning of the Church age, with Apostles uniquely moved by the Holy Spirit, isn’t exactly how it’s going to look, or necessarily should look, in the Church today.
If a person knows the Gospel, seems to really desire to follow and obey Him and wants to baptized, that’s wonderful. They should be baptized under the leadership of a sound church and be spurred on to good works.
There is no way we can read the heart of any person, we are not God (1 Kings 8:39 and Acts 15:8) but there is fruit that should show, especially in time. There needs to be fruit of a changed life, changed perspective on sin, changed relationship goals, changed motives…etc. When the people in Scripture came to true faith, they devoted themselves to the ways of Christ. They didn’t need to be continually convinced and coerced to follow Him. The fervor to serve Him was evident. They picked up their cross. They grew in love and good works. They had hope and joy.
So why do some church leaders feel compelled to decree and declare a professor’s salvation? Why, when some of these professing Christians show no real fruit or when giving warning signs, christians around them sweep it under the rug and dismiss them, excusing it without question or discussion?
Some pastors seem to hear the supposed salvation successes and frequent baptisms in other churches, as well as, reading passages such as the one above and believe that is what they are supposed to be experiencing in their own ministry. Perhaps it stems from not seeing people saved and transformed so instead of trusting God and just being faithful with the preaching of the Word, they want to force the round peg in the square hole. They want Acts 2:41-42 to be their experience so bad that they neglect to remember the obvious – salvation comes when the Lord chooses it to. It’s all to be done in His timing and in His way.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” Ephesians 2:8.
“for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
Some leaders are weak in their own faith and begin to wonder where God is when the land seems barren. They are desperate to see movement, to see life. Many times they fabricate conversions without even knowing it.
With that all said, we have to remember we can’t always know if someone is a false convert. Judas Iscariot fooled the other eleven (John 13:21-22), Simon fooled Philip for a time with his deep interest and desiring to be baptized (Acts 8:9-24).
Matthew 13:28-30 explains that it can be impossible to tell the difference. Tares look almost identical to the wheat until the head matures. That’s the devil’s scheme – to plant tares in the Church and grow discord.
The most sufficient way to protect against tares is Truth. The whole, hard, sufficient, and unwavering Truth. Be diligent, discerning, and dogmatic. Truth reveals hearts.
“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, “For this reason, I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father. As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. John 6:60-68
The tares will not count the cost, will not stick around to follow Christ into the difficult places.
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” 1 John 2:19.
We don’t get to declare the hearts of those who make a profession. We aren’t to be their conviction. Their salvation is between them and the Lord. We encourage what the Scripture says about salvation, we urge them to go to Lord in repentance and faith and we trust the Lord to save whomever He saves. And fruit matters. Simply professing means nothing, especially when there is no cost.
If we play the role of persuader and declarer we may very well encourage tares to ignore the constant nagging in their conscience that there is a problem with their relationship with the Lord. The embarrassment of admitting the truth to all those who celebrated their salvation in a “rebirthday party” could prove to be their biggest stumbling block.
Have joy in someone’s profession of faith but know only the Lord can see the heart. Everyone must work out their salvation.
Above is an article written by Gina Cook, Gina and Tami write Through the Narrow here at Tulips & Honey Hub. They’ll be posting articles every other Tuesday. Both are published authors, you can find Tami’s book here, and Gina’s book here. We’re blessed to have them apart of our team, and pray their writing will be as edifying to you as it is to us. – Lauren Hereford