The Danger of a False Conversion
by Reed Benson
Regrettably, the prima facia evidence indicates that large portion of Americans who claim to be Christian are unconverted. For those familiar with Scripture, this is not necessarily a foreign thought, for the Bible warns us of this: "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matthew 7:14). Yet the large number of people who fall into this unfortunate category are unaware that they have accepted a false sense of security and lean upon past experiences that do not add up to genuine conversion and a full, saving faith. How did this happen? How can it be that so many assume they are converted, when really they are not?
Children Are Not Lovely on the Inside
The problem often begins with a flawed view of human nature. Too often we presume, when thinking of ourselves, that we basically are a good person. But that is not even close to the Biblical truth, and that is not how God sees us. In His absolute holiness, perfection, and infinite glory, God stands in stark contrast to our many flaws.
We did not acquire these shortcomings, but were born with them—indeed, born in them, conceived in them, as part of our warp and woof. Our sinful, flawed condition is as much a part of us as wetness is a part of water and beauty is part of a flower. Sin is not added to us, but is integrated in our fallen being from the beginning. While newborn children are sweet, adorable, and lovely, this outward appearance of the matter belies the hidden flaws that will emerge as sure as the sun will rise. This is why Paul wrote the way he did to the Church at Rome. Consider these words: "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:10-18).
Reading this, many might insist that Paul's view of people is far too harsh, too jaundiced, evidently the ramblings of a bitter, old man. But that is naive, for Paul is referring to the condition of men's hearts, the content of their secret thoughts, and the extent to which their evil might run. Paul is not arguing that people cannot do good and exercise kindness, but that they are not always good, and they are not forever kind with never a failing.
The first point in finding a solution to false conversions is our recognizing the unalterable fact that we are deeply flawed and stand in need of divine assistance.
Many well-meaning parents pressure their children to make public statements, trips down the aisle in an altar call, or some other outward display of faith. After such events occur, both children and parents rest at complete ease, assuming that a genuine conversion experience has occurred, and their child's salvation is now assured. However, these outward displays may not be spontaneously generated, or even if they are, may be motivated by some impulse other than complete contriteness before a holy God and an inward cry for help from the power of Holy Spirit as they look to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. These experiences are not guarantees of true conversion.
We must never assume that baptism, as essential as it is, is absolute proof of genuine conversion. Neither can we assume that a public profession of faith, as vital as it is to a real saving faith, is alone a guarantee of that faith. Sacraments are critical to the body of Christ's church, but participation in them does not, by itself, make one saved. Brave deeds, tearful emotional outpourings, an inner sense of purpose—all of these are excellent spiritual experiences; but they do not, by themselves, act as proof of conversion.
Scripture commands us to continually examine our hidden parts: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). How well do we do this? Probably not as we ought. Consider this dire caution offered for those who embrace the truth of God in a shallow manner that is not complete surrender to His calling and purpose: "While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (II Peter 2:19-20). Do you see how serious this is? Those who have fallen away to be entangled in the sinful pursuits of the world are worse than if they had never pursued God. Clearly, one should never look back and never make the mistake that Lot's wife did!
Sadly, many adults look on one or more of these events in their own childhood or youth and assume that true conversion took place then. Thus, they believe that they are fully set, and further spiritual development is unnecessary. Resting on our spiritual laurels, too many of us will end up on the "broad way that leadeth to destruction" (Matthew 7:13). Parents, please do not presume your children are walking in genuine salvation just because you have seen one of these spiritual events occur in their lives. Do not give them a false sense of assurance based on what may be a false conversion.
A Strange Ally
There is an unexpected source of help that we can call upon as we fight for the souls of our children. It is that Old Testament creature upon which so many are too eager to heap scorn—that thing which "New Testament Christians" run away from and insist is worse than useless. How foolish they are! It is the Law of God. Yes, the Law! Please consider carefully the words that follow from the Psalmist: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression" (Psalm 19:7-13).
These beautiful phrases are loaded with wisdom about the usefulness of God's Law. Note just a few quick thoughts. First, it says the Law of God is perfect. Wow! Perfect! Well, why not? As a reflection of God Himself, should the Law not be perfect? Second, it states that God’s Law can convert the soul. That is quite a claim. How can it be such a powerful agent as to convert one's soul? Third, the Law of God is pure, enlightening us, making us wise; it is altogether true. Sounds pretty good! Fourth, it is more valuable than gold. Far from being worthless, useless, or a hindrance, God’s Law is better than the best kind of wealth. So, what does the Law of God do that makes it so wonderfully valuable to us?
There are many virtues, but the one that stands above the others, the one that will convert our souls, is this: it reveals our sin to us and drives us to the grace of Jesus Christ for salvation. You see, the Law is the only thing in this world that will show us how flawed, sinful, wicked, and corrupt we really are. You say, how is that good? Because it tells us what we need to know, what we desperately need to hear, but also what we do not want to hear, do not like to know, and would prefer to pretend was not a problem. Yet, if we do not learn how deep is our sin, we shall never go to the cross of Christ to seek His righteous covering for our sin. Then, on judgment day, we will be justly condemned to hell.
The Law of God is a bit like the harsh drill sergeant in the military who pushes you, drives you till you drop, exposes your weaknesses, harangues and abuses you, and whom everyone hates—that is, until it’s time for combat. Then, everyone sings this sergeant's praises, for they know his apparent abuse has actually saved their lives. So it is with the Law of God. It converts your soul, that is, changes you from the inside out when you are exposed for what you really are. Like the drill sergeant who converts or changes you, so does the Law of God, preparing you to receive the grace of Jesus Christ that you previously would have scorned, thinking yourself good when truly you are corrupt.
Every Mouth Will Be Stopped
Can the works of the Law save us? No! But these same works certainly correct our flawed thinking and point us in the direction from which we can find salvation. In that sense, it turns our confused brain around, "converting our soul" (Psalm 19:7). But it also serves another corollary purpose.
Parents are accustomed to hearing excuses from their children. As teacher, I have heard a hundred reasons why the homework is not ready: everything from "I forgot," to "My mom took it with her in the car," to "My sister got peanut butter and jelly on it, to “My little brother ripped it…” On it goes to the proverbial "The dog ate it."
But there will come a day before God when excuses will not work. The Law, that harsh sergeant, will not accept foolish pretexts, cop-outs, and cover-ups. Consider what Paul said in Romans: "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20). Do you see the frightening truth we must acknowledge? "Every mouth may be stopped." Our big mouths, so full of excuses, will be shut tight. The Law will harshly condemn us for our failures. If we do not listen, the Law will condemn us on the Day of Judgment as a failure, a fool who would not listen. But, if we embrace our shortcomings now and look to the grace of Jesus Christ, the Law is our friend!
Teach your children the Law of God! Introduce them to this tough drill sergeant who will tell them the unpleasant truths they desperately need to hear!
It Is Good to Be Afraid
Proverbs 19:23 states, "The fear of the LORD tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil." This is an excellent preface to the point we now need to stress: fear is a wholesome motivator before the holy and all-powerful Creator of the universe. Consider the following passage in which Jesus teaches His followers of the value of fear: " In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him" (Luke 12:1-5). Observe that God has the power to see and know all of the dark secrets that hide in our hearts. He hears all of the mutterings we have made under our breath in hostility and anger. He perceives all of the wicked motives that we ourselves do not always recognize. And, He has the power to inflict the maximum torment upon each of us for eternity in the blazing heat of hell fire if His righteous sense of justice demands such a penalty.
Do we fear God? Psychologists today insist that fear is an unhealthy and worthless motivator that should never be a part of any relationship. By extension, our society then presumes that God would never use fear to any constructive purpose. Surely a loving God would not want any of His creatures to look upon Him with such a socially unacceptable emotion. Well, think again, for the Bible is plain enough. Fear is a powerful force for good that God is eager to utilize for our own benefit.
We ought to teach our children to fear God—I mean truly be afraid that God will know all about our secret sins and may choose to punish us forthwith in this world. And, if we pridefully disregard His chastening, He will on Judgment Day cast us into the eternal afflictions of hell. Please let the Bible speak to your children. Let the fear of God do its work in pushing them, in despair and dread, to the cross of Christ. Yes, in mortal terror for their soul, rushing to the atonement of Jesus Christ is a beautiful thing. Do not shield your children from the anger of God! Let it be displayed before their eyes in the stark words of Scripture that their souls may be saved and a true conversion result!
Confession, Repentance, and Faith
Romans 10:9-10 speaks plainly regarding the assurance we can have in salvation if we humble ourselves from the inside out, not just observing outward forms: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Too often we forget that we must believe with our heart, not merely say we believe; but really and truly, we must be convinced that God's way is the only way. Without a sense of the immense power of God and a dose of old-fashioned fear before that Holy Being, we often are not ready to surrender our own foolish ideas of our self-worth and goodness. That sense of self-goodness we cling to will be our ticket straight into the bowels of hell.
We must put all our faith in God, only in God, and none in ourselves. He alone has the power to save us, as Jude expressed: " Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24-25). This will result in true conversion of both ourselves and, with God's help, our children.