Tuesday, June 3, 2008

False Conversion

I am posting here a real letter I sent out to a Christian who asked some questions regarding my own experience as a false convert. Details have been omitted to protect the identity of the original questioner. I hope that this might be helpful to anyone who might be struggling with this issue; it's one that I'm asked about frequently and trust that the Lord will use this to bless anyone who might be going through the painful yet necessary process of self-examination:

The original question was:

After reading your testimony on the Lost Cause Ministries website, I have had a question for you for quite some time. How or what made you decide that you weren’t really saved after all? Do you think it’s natural for Christians to question that about themselves? I find myself doing that from time to time.

The response I gave follows:

Yes, it is natural to question one’s own salvation. We all feel unworthy of the grace we’ve been given and if we understand (and are sensitive to) the true nature of sin and how prone we all are to it, even as spiritually growing believers, we sometimes wonder where we really are spiritually.

One difference between someone who is a soundly saved believer and one who is not is that the one who is not finds ways to justify his sin and is comfortable with it. The biggest difference is where you place your trust: your works or in Christ alone.

I was brought up in “easy-believism” churches. In other words, if you “pray the sinner’s prayer”, they taught that you are absolutely saved, no matter what, as long as you really meant it at that moment. Even if you prayed the prayer sincerely at the age of five and then went on to become a reprobate atheist for the rest of your life, then you were saved at five and just “backslid.” I do believe in backsliding, but this kind of thing I’m describing is nothing but presumption on the grace of God, making it something that it is not. Titus 2:12 teaches that someone who has experienced the true grace of God denies ungodliness (among other things).

In that religious system, I was never told about repentance (they viewed repentance as a “work”) and certainly never did repent. I got immersed into the Christian youth culture and started doing all of the things that evangelical teenagers do: go to Christian concerts, youth group, hang out with Christian friends. I became a leader in the youth group (mainly because of personality and things that I did) and the leaders all said that I should go to Bible college. So I went there, became a leader again and everyone there said that I should go into ministry. At the age of 20 I went into my first ministry, as an assistant pastor in a black church. And on and on it went, getting “promoted” to the position of pastor in a small church, doing well there and then being promoted to the position of pastor in a larger church.

During all of that time, I “struggled” with the same sins. At least I called it “struggled.” It really wasn’t a struggle. If I was tempted to sin, I did it. And when I did, my conscience would bother me, and I would take that as a sign I was saved. However sin bothers the conscience of the lost as well.

Then I would justify myself by saying that I must be right with God, look at all of the things I DO. I preached three times a week, visited the sick, prayed, studied the Bible many hours per week, “discipled” people, and on and on. Someone who is saved wouldn’t do those things, would they? But the truth is, yes, unsaved people study the Bible (liberal theologians), pray (every religion of the world prays), do charitable deeds (Catholics), preached (Muslim imams preach), and mentor people (Big Brothers, Big Sister programs do that too). In the end, I wasn’t trusting in Christ alone; I was trusting in my deeds. I had a cultural Christianity, but no reality with Christ. In the end, I had to do what Scripture says and repent not only of my sins (Acts 3:19) but also of my dead works (Heb. 6:1). I needed to be justified by faith in Christ alone and stop trying to justify myself.

All of this came to light over time, but culminated in a period of self-examination (2 Cor. 13:5) that was brought on when I heard a man named Keith Daniel preach on the topic of the “Complications of the Spiritual Birth.” This sermon caused me to ask myself about my own repentance; my total lack of it. That day I was forced to admit that I was never told I needed to repent, never did repent, and my reprobate, hypocritical life proved that I was not justified.

Later, I saw that I never really placed faith in Christ alone. My faith was creedal; very theological (I was Reformed) but characterized by what the easy believism folks call “an intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel” (their definition of saving faith). I was raised in a fundamentalism that taught if you can say “uh huh” to several basic facts, then praise God, you’re saved. Most of their evangelism was taking people through several facts and getting them to say they believed them. This kind of faith is demonic (Jas. 2:19). True faith is absolute trust, complete abandonment, to someone who is trustworthy. Combined with repentance and justification by faith in Christ alone, this is a magnificent Gospel. The other is nothing more than a half-breed Gospel which cannot save.

Sadly, most of this errant theology on salvation came from seminaries which strongly influenced the Baptist churches in the northeast: Dallas Theological Seminary and Philadelphia College of the Bible. These schools provided professors for smaller Bible colleges in the region and this heresy spread throughout the area. When Dr. MacArthur wrote his book “The Gospel According to Jesus” it was controversial in the Bible colleges of the northeast for about five years. Every evangelistic preacher and most pastors I heard in my life were strongly influenced by easy believism.

Richard Baxter wrote in his book “The Reformed Pastor” that it was possible to save others as a preacher and yet be lost yourself in the end. George Whitefield taught that the bane of the Christian ministry in his day was an unconverted ministry. I was one of those men; it is a fact which still causes grief when I think seriously about it. I preached a false gospel and baptized many people who responded to that gospel. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that fact, just as John Newton never lost sight of his own past as a slave trader. He didn’t let his past lead to self condemnation; he let it remind him daily of God’s amazing grace. I don’t think there is anything worse than a false convert preacher who spreads a false Gospel; a slave trader seems gentle in comparison. The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ saved me demonstrates that He is willing to save the worst of hypocrites. His grace truly is amazing. His love is astounding. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Here are some important messages on false conversion. These are all on our website: http://www.lostcauseministries.com/audios.html.

1. Paul Washer’s message, “Examine Yourself”.

2. Keith Daniel’s “The Spiritual Birth”

3. Ray Comfort’s “True & False Conversions”

4. John MacArthur’s “Hard to Believe.”

Soli Deo Gloria,


1 comment:

Thomas said...

Thank you for your encouraging testimnoy. I also greatly enjoy listening til Keith Daniel on my Mp3-player. It has been a great blessing and eye-opener to me.

You can visit my blog, if you want:

thanks - your brother in Christ - Thomas.