“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith”

Several days ago, many American Christians reeled with the news that a prominent pastor and author announced that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Speculation and commentary abounds concerning what led to this declaration. Some have traced his history and pointed out problems with the movements he has been associated with. But no one really knows his heart.

When a person becomes a Christian, he is “born again” (John 3:3-21, I John 3:4-10). That’s one of many reasons that a Christian can’t lose his salvation. He can’t become unborn spiritually.

Christians can sometimes fall away from what they’ve been taught to varying degrees. That may be influenced by listening to false teaching, failing to grow in the Lord, neglecting His Word, bitterness, or any number of things.

But that’s a different thing from repudiating their profession of faith alltogether. When that happens, all we can conclude is that they were never genuine believers in the first place.

I hold out hope, as do others, that the man I mentioned has not truly walked away from God and his core beliefs but is instead just confused and out of fellowship. Hopefully with prayer, contemplation, and counsel, he can get things straightened out.

But I shared all of that to say this:

Whenever this kind of thing occurs, I can’t help but ask myself, “How did that happen?

Jesus said one day people will stand before Him who called Him Lord, prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in His name, and yet He’ll have to tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21-23).

I can’t imagine a more tragic or frightening prospect. For years I feared every time I heard or read this passage. How did I know I won’t end up like these poor people?

When I asked this of a former pastor, he said that these folks all pointed to what they did. None of them said, “I came to Christ confessing my sin, repenting of it, and asking Him to be my Savior and Lord.”

That helped me a lot. But, since then, I have known people who made professions of having done this, yet fell away in later years. How does that happen?

I think perhaps for people who have grown up in a Christian culture, it’s easy to just go with the flow. They’ve heard it all their lives. It’s part of their thinking. Isobel Kuhn was like this. She says in her autobiography, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith, that when she went off to a secular college, she could have held a debate with anybody defending doctrines of the faith. But all it took was one professor saying, “Oh, you just believe that because your parents told you it was so” for her to realize he was right. She went off to gleefully live for herself, free from the restrictions she had grown up with. But God, in His mercy and grace, brought her to Himself.

Perhaps others did not grow up in a Christian culture, but weren’t adequately taught. Some I know responded to “positive peer pressure”–when all their friends were making professions, they figured they needed to get in on it, too. Or the person witnessing to them was so aggressive, they felt they dare not refuse to pray with the person. I’ve heard of many people who raised their hands in a church service, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, yet did not consider themselves truly saved until later in life. Perhaps they weren’t taught well; perhaps they placed their trust in those acts rather than in Christ. But however it happened, they realized some time later that they were not believers and needed to be. Some had been professing Christians for years and were even pastors or pastor’s wives.

The Bible tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The last thing I want to do is disturb the peace of genuine Christians. I lived nearly half my life unsure of my salvation, and that’s a miserable way to live. Just about the time I thought I had it settled, some new angle of doubt would creep in. I told more about that situation here.

But I’d dearly love to spare even one person from being told by Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from me.

For more information on how to become a Christian, see How to Know God.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 1 John 5:12

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:16-18

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

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