One of the greatest dangers plaguing the church in our present day is the grandiose number of false conversions. As I read the Bible, I believe the most frightening passage in the Scriptures is found in Matthew 7:21-23 as Jesus warned about false salvation. Jesus said these words:
“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.  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?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
What a scene before the judgment throne of God. It’s clear from this text that many people will be surprised upon their death. It’s possible to have a false salvation. In the text of Matthew 7:21-23, the people are pictured as standing before God’s judgment throne and hearing those terrifying words, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” It must be noticed that these people are religious people who did not fall away from grace, but instead, as Jesus made it clear – they were never known by the Lord. Certainly the Lord knew who they were, but the emphasis in the statement is upon intimacy as a child of God. These people were religious, but they were lost in their religion. What a terrifying scene.
The Danger to the Soul
When a person dies, there will be no additional opportunities to repent and trust Jesus Christ as Lord. Man is appointed a specific time to die, and then he will be judged. The point is clear in all of the Scriptures that once a person dies, their eternal destiny cannot be altered. Take the story that Jesus told in Luke 16:19-31 about the rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. When the rich man died, he was immediately pictured in the burning flames of hell. Not only could he not alter his own destiny, he likewise could not send a warning to his five brothers who were still alive. Death was final and although he was a wealthy man in this life, his prestige provided him with no power or authority after death.
The holy justice of God demands that sinners must be judged. There is only one way for guilty sinners to be spared from the justice of God, and that’s for the justice of God to be satisfied on their behalf. The only means whereby guilty sinners can be saved is through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of guilty sinners. False salvation is a serious plague because people get involved in a form of religion, and in their misplaced faith they walk down a pathway to destruction without any fear for what is approaching them. Jesus pointed to the sobering reality that “many” religious people will find themselves in such a perilous condition in eternity.
What about you? Are you merely a member of a church, but inwardly you have no true understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you joined a church and nobody counseled with you to see if you’re a true Christian. This is a constant problem in many churches – especially those churches that major on size and want to add as many people to their church membership as possible. It would be wise to examine yourself and see if you’re in the faith.
The Danger to the Church
Perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is where Christian and Hopeful meet up with a man named Ignorance. Christian asked him where he was coming from and where he was going to which Ignorance responded, “I am going to the Celestial City.” When Christian inquired as to how he expected to enter the Celestial Gate, Ignorance replied, “As other good people do.” The final scene of the book ends with the Shining Ones binding Ignorance hand and foot and carrying him off to judgment away from the Celestial City.
It’s one thing for people to go to hell in their ignorance supposing that their goodness or morality is enough to please God. It’s quite another thing for churches to aid in this tragedy. Many churches pride themselves on how quickly they’re growing. In some circles, the number of baptisms that a church gains each year is the measuring stick of success or failure. A number of churches are baptizing hundreds of people each year when in reality their church size isn’t increasing at the same rate. In many church contexts, the specific methods of calling people to the front at the end of the sermon and inviting people to repeat a prayer can lead to an increase in baptisms, but it can also lead to an increase in false conversions.
One of the massive problems with Israel, as we read in the pages of the Scriptures, is that they had a form of religion but they were denying the Lord. They looked religious and practiced many religious deeds, but inwardly they were dead (Matt. 23:27-28). Israel had the temple which was arrayed in splendor, the law of God, the patriarchs, the glory and the covenants, but as Paul stated in Romans 9:4-6 – “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” What a troubling statement. Not everyone who was born as an Israelite was a genuine child of God.
The pragmatism and methods of church growth may look good on paper, but they can be detrimental to the purity of the church. Today, we can definitively say that not everyone in the church is a member of God’s church. Many churches are bloated with false Christians who’ve been welcomed into the church with open arms without doing the hard work of guarding the front door of the church to unbelievers.
One of the greatest problems that we face when sharing the gospel today is that people in our culture claim that the church is full of hypocrites. Could their excuse be valid? False conversions are dangerous to the local church because the testimony of the people who identify as children of God matters. Therefore, that’s why you see Jesus pointing the church to accountability (church discipline) in an attempt to promote an ongoing pursuit of holiness among God’s people (Matt. 18:15-20).
The Danger to the World
The world needs Jesus Christ, and the church of Christ has been commissioned to spread the good news to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). If the world hears the members of the local churches communicating a false gospel, that’s not only unhelpful to the church, but it’s damaging to the world. An unholy church and unholy ministers are extremely dangerous to a lost world.
If all the culture surrounding the church hears a message of church growth and pragmatism, they will believe that merely joining a church is the answer to their sin problem. If the unbelieving culture is taught a message of false hope in the health, wealth, and prosperity circles, they will learn to talk in form of declarations to God as opposed to genuine prayer and petitions to the sovereign God of all creation. If the lost world only hears a cultural Christianity of moralism, they will embrace the false hope of moralistic therapeutic deism, a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith, as they march onward toward eternity.
In short, doctrine matters and it’s essential for the church of Jesus Christ to communicate the gospel with clarity. Although I was raised in a good church, I was a lost church member until the Lord saved me in my mid 20s. I know what it’s like to be a member of a church and do many good things within the church context as an unconverted church member. It all began when I was approximately six years of age. I was led to repeat a prayer in a small church as a child when my parents were going through a divorce and custody struggle. I was taken to church each week by my grandparents and a pastor asked me to repeat a prayer after him and then I was congratulated as a child of God. Thankfully, the Lord in His mercy brought me to faith in Christ shortly after I graduated college.
Consider how many people today identify themselves as evangelical Christians, yet they’re presently living life without any knowledge that they’re on their way to hell for eternity. May God have mercy upon them. Perhaps God will use us to bring them to a point to where they understand the true meaning of the gospel. Charles Spurgeon once said:
“Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life. If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.”
What if I lack assurance?
- Examine yourself and see if you’re in the faith. It’s a good and necessary practice.
- Read 1 John, and after each section or paragraph, ask yourself – do I resemble the positive or negative examples?
- Don’t allow a lack of knowledge of the date and time of salvation cause you to doubt your salvation. Focus on the source of your faith and the fruit of the Spirit.
- Do you have a love for this world or a love for God?
- Why did you join your church? Was it merely a cultural expectation for you or was it as a result of your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior?
- Do you have a hatred for the things that God hates and a love for the things that God loves?
- Are you trusting in your own effort and works as the basis of your salvation?
- Have you considered what it means to be adopted into the family of God? Have you read Romans 8:14-16 and considered what it means to be a child of God?