The most terrifying words any professing Christian could ever hear would be the Lord Jesus declaring: "I never knew you, depart from me" (Matt. 7:23). On judgment day those words will be heard by many who once made professions of faith and claimed to be followers of Jesus. Yet very few evangelical leaders appear to be concerned. Our churches are filled with people who are headed to hell and don't even know it. Who are these false converts and how were they deceived? What lulls so many people into this cruel deception?
Two Kinds of Deception
Scripture describes these false converts as victims of deception. They are either deceived by false teachers or they deceive themselves. Some are victims of a false gospel or an unbiblical method of evangelism.
I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: Which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. - Galatians 1:6-7
A false gospel offers the natural man what he wants: good feelings, healings, riches and success. The true Gospel offers him what he needs: forgiveness of sin, redemption, perfect righteousness, reconciliation with God and the power to live a victorious life.
Those who deceive themselves are people who hear the Word of God but do not do what it says.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves (NKJV) - James 1:22
Since obedience to the Word is a divine requirement of every believer, the disobedience of those who deceive themselves is marked by a lack of concern for God's will and His commands. They have little desire for God's people, His Word or His glory. They are self-absorbed and self-centred and love themselves more than they love God.
For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good … - 2 Timothy 3:2-3
Paul gave a stern warning for the self-deceived who reject what the Word says:
The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience - Eph. 5:6.
They perish because they fail to love the truth - 2 Thess. 2:10.
Ignorance and Pride Can Be Fatal
Tragically, the many warnings given in the New Testament about spiritual deception are not taken seriously. People are so comfortable in their church or religion that they have no hunger for spiritual truth. Deluded by arrogance, they deny their ignorance of God's Word. Many Christians have only a superficial knowledge of the Gospel. They know Jesus died for the sins of the world, but they don't know why He had to, or why it pleased the Father to crush Him (Isa. 53:10). They don't know the divine punishment for sin is death (Ezek. 18:4). They don't know the only way God will forgive sin (Luke 24:47; Acts 26:18; Eph. 1:7). They don't know God opposes the proud and justifies only those who know they are ungodly (Rom. 4:5; Luke 18:9-14; James 4:6). Religious pride keeps people in spiritual darkness. Many hold to a form of godliness but deny the power (or the necessity) of the Gospel (2 Tim. 3:5). Their self-conceit leads to self-deceit and their self-righteousness damns them to everlasting shame.
Failure of Self-Examination
A major cause of self-deception is the failure of self-examination. Some professing Christians go through life without ever examining their faith through the lens of Scripture. Paul exhorts us,
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 Cor. 13:5).
Probably the best way to guard against self-deception is to abide in God's Word, to be passionate for truth and to invite the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and illumination.
What happened to the God-centred method of evangelism that calls sinners to repent and believe the Gospel? For the last 100 years people have been told to repeat a prayer, come forward, sign a card or get baptized to be saved. Many of them have lived with a false hope because none of these methods are found in God's Word. The deadliest deception of Satan is to convince a person he is saved when he is not. The devil's ongoing strategy is to corrupt the church by planting tares or false converts where God has planted wheat. He knows he can be more effective in attacking the church from the inside than from the outside. Jesus described “tares” as "sons of the wicked one." The one who sowed them is the devil (Matt. 13:38-39).
Well-meaning Christians who use a man-centred approach to evangelism by manipulating people to make a decision are helping the devil plant tares. They promote “easy believism” with no call to repentance or discipleship because what they promote produces quick results that people can see and measure. The unanticipated results of their actions are devastating: God is not glorified, the sinner is not saved, the church is not sanctified and the devil is thrilled and delighted. The best way to produce true converts and reduce the number of tares coming into the church is to follow a biblical, God-centred method of evangelism. We must quit seeking quick results and instead glorify God by making disciples and faithfully proclaiming His Word until the sinner asks, "What must I do to be saved?" cf. Acts 16:30.
Strong and Weak Foundations
According to Jesus, true Christians build their houses (which represents their lives) on the solid rock of Christ and His Word (Matt. 7:24-27). False Christians build their house on shifting sand which is made up of traditions, opinions and teachings of men. When the storms and trials of life come, a true Christian continues to trust and act on God's Word while a false Christian gives up and suffers shipwreck of his faith. When his faith is tested, it is exposed as shallow, spurious and short-lived. He is the man who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; yet when affliction or persecution arises, he falls away (Matt. 13:20).
Narrow and Broad Roads
Jesus said there are only two paths to eternity (Matt. 7:13-14). There is a narrow road which is hard to find because false teachers are blocking the entrance and pointing people to the broad road. This is why Jesus said,
Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (Luke 13:24).
People must strive to enter because of Satan's fierce opposition to the Gospel. The only way to determine which door is the true door is to search the Scriptures. The narrow door is difficult to enter because unconverted sinners must be set free from the snare of the devil and repent (2 Tim. 2:25). They must have a heartfelt sorrow for sinning against their God and Creator (2 Cor. 7:9-10). The narrow road is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone which means no one can enter in their own righteousness or by their works or merit (Eph. 2:8-9). They must leave everything behind and enter with empty hands. The other path to eternity is the broad road. It is marked "heaven", but it leads people to hell. It is easy to find - just follow the crowd because many are on it. They are the ones who just don’t care or who are trusting their own righteousness and good works and see no need to repent.
Living and Dead Faith
Anyone can profess to be a Christian but genuine faith will be evidenced by how a person lives. Likewise, people are known more by what they do than by what they say. James asks the probing question:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? (James 2:14).
He concludes that a faith which does not produce any evidence of a changed life is a dead, spurious, worthless faith. Those with empty confessions profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works, being abominable and disobedient:
They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work (NKJV). - Titus 1:16
Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: "The Lord knows those who are His," and, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity." - 2 Timothy 2:19
In other words, it doesn't matter what you profess to be, what really matters is how you live. Those who have living faith are born of God. They are new creatures created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand for them to do (Eph. 2:10).
Right and Wrong Motives
Both true and false Christians follow Jesus, but for different reasons. Unconverted people seek Jesus for selfish motives or wrong reasons, usually for material blessings. Jesus said,
You seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled (John 6:26).
These false disciples withhold true allegiance and submission to Jesus and retain control of their own lives. They allow their own opinions rather than Scripture to control what they do and how they do it. True converts respond to the Lord Jesus in adoration, praise and worship (Mat. 2:11; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9, 17). They submit to Christ as Lord and obey His Word out of love and gratitude for all He has done and is doing. They are known by how they respond to sin - with conviction, sorrow, confession and repentance.
Christ is living water for those who thirst for righteousness (John 7:37). He is living bread for those who hunger for eternal life (John 6:51). He is the only mediator to those who want peace with God (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus is the only redeemer for those who want to be purchased out of the slave market of sin (Titus 2:14). He is the way for those who are lost, the truth for those who are deceived and the life for those who are dead in sin (John 14:6). He is the only Saviour for those who know their hopeless and helpless condition (Eph. 2:12; Rom. 5:6). His blood is the only cure for those who know their sin will end in eternal death (1 John 1:7). His perfect righteousness is the only passport to heaven for those dressed in filthy rags (Isa. 64:6; 1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is the Sovereign Lord who reigns over His people in love and will rule over unrepentant sinners in terror on judgment day (Rev. 20:11-15).
A Christian's Responsibility
How should we counsel those who say they have been sanctified by the truth but cling to false teachers? How can we help professing Christians who are not bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8)? We must intervene because a Christian who "turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death" (Jas. 5:19-20). We must lovingly confront them with the truth of God's Word and encourage them to examine their faith. Then we must encourage them to consider the exhortation of James:
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you" (Jas. 4:8-10).
Repentant sinners, who bear the fruit of the Spirit, can be sure they will never hear those terrifying words from Jesus: “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:24, 25).
About The Author
Mike Gendron exchanged his Roman Catholic religion for an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ at the age of 37. He soon gave up his business career to pursue a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Since graduating in 1991 he has been directing Proclaiming the Gospel Ministry (www.pro-gospel.org) which equips and encourages the saints to be ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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