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Are There False Professors?
If So, How Can We Identify Them?
by Bob Wilkin
Recently I received a friendly letter from a
GES News reader who wondered about my
view of false professions. Below is an excerpt from his letter
and my reply.
"Do you believe that there is such a thing as
a false profession of faith in Christ, and, if so,
how would you recognize one if you were to
see it? In other words, how would you
distinguish between a genuine and a spurious
(i.e., a false profession of) faith?
Blue Bell, PA
Dear Mr. White,
Yes, I believe that some people who profess faith in Christ are
not believers at all. In
fact, I am convinced that there are millions
upon millions of such people today.
Surveys indicate that 80 million or more
Americans profess to be born again. However, such figures are
highly suspect due to
the nature of the question. Mormons,
Jehovah's Witnesses, and a host of moral yet
unsaved churchgoers would profess faith and
yet I would not consider them to be born
again Christians because of the content of
No one other than God is perfectly able to
discern false professors. However, let me
suggest how I do not and do attempt to do so.
In attempting to determine whether one is
a true or false professor I do not: 1) consider
the quality of his works, 2) try and figure out
how grieved he is when he sins, or 3) attempt
to discern how much he desires to have an
intimate relationship with God. Those are
three commonly suggested tests (see, for
example, Dr. Darrell Bock, Bibliotheca Sacra [Jan-Mar 89]:
pp.31-32). The problem
with such tests is threefold. First, some
unbelievers may appear to do well on all three
counts. Indeed they may be fervently trying
to be good and may be living a very moral
life. Second, some believers may do poorly
on one or more of these tests. King David
would have failed the test during the first year
after his fall. Many of the believers in Corinth
would have failed these tests (cf. 1 Cor. 3:1-3; 6:1-20; 11:30).
Third and most importantly, the Scriptures do not give such
Rather, I feel there is one test we can
utilize. Since belief is an understanding and
acceptance of the Gospel, a false professor is
one who claims to believe yet who either does
not understand or does not accept the gospel.
Therefore, I talk to people about the gospel.
I ask them questions. Do they believe in
eternal security? Are they sure they have
eternal life? Why should God let them into
heaven? How would they share the gospel
with someone else? If they indicate that they
are sinners who are eternally secure by grace
because Jesus died and paid the penalty for all
of their sins, I conclude that they are saved. If
not, I am unsure as to whether they are a
confused believer or whether they never were
saved in the first place. In any case I then
attempt to make sure that they now understand the gospel and
It is conceivable that a person could understand the gospel,
claim to believe it, and yet
not believe it. People can lie. Some street
people hear the gospel often. They learn the
lingo. In order to get some handout they
might parrot back words they don't believe.
However, I think that this is a rare occurrence. I would only
suspect that someone
was lying to me if there were circumstances
that made that likely. Otherwise, as in any
conversation, I assume that people are being
honest with me.
The bottom line is this: I evaluate other
people on exactly the same basis I evaluate
myself. I am sure I'm saved because I am
sure that Jesus is dependable when He says
that whoever believes in Him has eternal life
and will never perish. That includes me.
Likewise, I am sure that someone else is
saved if they indicate that they believe that.
Four passages of Scripture come to mind in
this regard: Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 3:8;
18:9-14; and Romans 10:1-3. According to
Jesus in Matthew 7:21-22, professions of
faith are to be questioned if people point to
their works as the reason why they should get
into the kingdom. Likewise, in Luke 18:9-14
Jesus rejected the profession of the Pharisee
who piously claimed to be saved because he
was not a sinner like other men. Yet He
accepted the profession of a tax collector who
looked at the ground, acknowledged his sinfulness and need, and
cried out to God for
mercy. According to John the Baptist in
Luke 3:8, professions of those who claim that
they deserve kingdom entrance because of
their ancestry, because they have Abraham as
their father, should be questioned. Likewise,
in Romans 10:2-3 Paul implies that we should
question the professions of those who think
that they merit kingdom entrance on the basis
of their own righteousness. We must take
care not to let one's zeal for God confuse us
(Rom 10:2). The unsaved may be very
zealous for God. Rather, Paul makes it clear
that we must concern ourselves with whether
or not people understand and accept the
In my estimation it is very important for us
to share our faith with all people, including
professing believers. A few weeks ago I was
on a plane seated next to a lady who was
reading her Bible. I asked her if she was a
Christian. She said she was. I shared with her
my burden for the purity of the Gospel. I told
her about faith alone in Christ alone as compared with
faith-plus gospels. It was obvious
based on how she responded--rather than
picking up on what I had to say she changed
the subject to Christian issues with which she
was more familiar--that what I had to say
was not something she commonly discussed.
I left her with something to think about.
I think that it is even important to discuss
the Gospel with people who are clearly saved.
We all need reminders about His marvelous
grace. There are so many passages which
need our attention that we will never exhaust
them all in a lifetime. As we discuss the
Gospel together we become more and more
effective in sharing it with others.
Yes, false professors exist. Why? Because
confusion abounds. May the Lord use us to
clear up the confusion in our day.
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