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Further Questions About False Professors
by Bob Wilkin
In the August 1989 GES News I wrote an article about false professors-people who claim to be Christians but actually are not. The article was in response to a question a GES News reader asked about the subject. I suggested that false professors exist but that their problem is that they do not understand and accept the gospel, not that they lack sufficient commitment to Christ. I suggested that we need to make clear to them the issue of their sinfulness and the sufficiency of the Savior's work on their behalf on the Cross.
Recently I received a follow-up letter from the person who raised the question in the first place. He had additional questions which arose from my answer. What follows are two questions and my responses.
Question #1. In Matthew 7:21-23, a passage you cited in support of your view, Jesus condemns His listeners because they are evildoers (v.23) and because they do not do the Father's will (v.21). How does this fit in with your view? Isn't Jesus telling us to identify false professors by their practice of evil deeds--especially in light of the immediately preceding context where Jesus told His disciples to identify false teachers by their bad fruits (7:15-20)?
Matthew 7:21-23 says: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
I suggested that this passage teaches that we should question the profession of anyone who points to their works as the basis of their hope of eternal life. None of the concerns raised in the question above actually conflicts with the view that the problem with the people in view is that they were self-righteous people who were relying on their works, not Christ alone.
The will of the Father in verse 21 clearly refers to God's desire that people place their faith solely in the Lord Jesus to save them. "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). "He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:23). "If you do not believe that I am He [i.e., the Savior], you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). Compare also Matthew 21:28-32. Those who fail to believe in Christ fail to do the will of the Father.
When Jesus called these false professors evildoers (v.23), He was not suggesting that there were some people on earth who in and of themselves were not evildoers. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Rather, He was pointing out their problem. They were sinners and they did not realize it. They thought of themselves as righteous, as not needing a savior. Only those who see their sinfulness can turn in faith to the Savior.
The reference to bad fruits in the preceding context does not at all look at bad deeds. Jesus warned that false prophets come in sheep's clothing. Outwardly they look like sheep. Inwardly they are ravenous wolves (v.15). The reference to fruit in this context looks to the false prophets words, not their works. When we compare the other use of this expression in Matthew 13:33ff., we find that by fruit Jesus means that which "the mouth speaks" (13:34). We know false prophets by their words.
It is easy to misunderstand passages like Matthew 7:21-23 if we forget what the Gospel is. Matthew was not written primarily for evangelism. John was (cf. John 20:30-31). The readers of Matthew's Gospel must understand it in light of the clear teaching on the Gospel found in John's Gospel, the Epistles, and the rest of the New Testament.
Question #2. You gave the Pharisee of Luke 18 and the Jews of Romans 10:2-3 as examples of false professors. How can they be regarded as false professors when they didn't even profess faith in Christ?
Luke 18:9-14 concerns a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple. The Pharisee is pious and self-righteous. He thinks he deserves kingdom entrance on the basis of his good life. The tax collector is humble and contrite. He recognizes his sinfulness and begs for God to be merciful to him. Jesus indicates that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went away that day justified before God.
Romans 10:2-3 concerns Paul's deep desire for the salvation of the Jewish people. He points out that while they have a zeal for God, their zeal is not according to knowledge. Not knowing about God's righteousness which is freely available in Christ, they seek to establish their own righteousness before God.
The Pharisee of Luke 18 and the Jews of Romans 10:2-3 are examples of what to look for in false professors in the sense that they believed that they would obtain eternal life because their deeds were, in their estimation, good. The texts make it clear that their faith in their works was misplaced. Rather than trusting in their deeds, they needed to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone.
The Pharisee of Luke 18 and the Jews of Romans 10 are convicting examples since people who claim to believe in Christ may likewise be relying on their own supposed righteousness. sadly, many today who profess to believe in Christ are like the self-righteous Pharisee. They remain unsaved and deceived.
Conclusion. We should evaluate the spiritual condition of others on the same basis we evaluate our own. I know that I believe in Christ because I consider Him trustworthy when He says that whoever believes in Him has everlasting life. So too, I ask others what they are trusting in for eternal life to find out if they are trusting in Christ alone. Only by looking to Christ, not our works, can we be sure that we believe in Him.
Bob Wilkin is the Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society
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