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 their faith.
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 tests.
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 accept it.
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 Gospel.
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.