True and False Conversions

In rebuttal to the easy-believist view that a conversion experience is proof of genuine salvation, we offer the following texts.

The Parable of the Sower

3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

9 Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. . . .

18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

Matthew 13:3-9,18-23

In this, the first of the seven Parables of the Kingdom, we learn that there are four categories of people who hear the Word.

The text urging us to work out our salvation

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

Philippians 2:12

Why does the writer, Paul, urge fear and trembling? Because if our life is not consistent with our profession, it is doubtful, despite any conversion experience to our credit, that we are truly saved. Thus, recognizing the terrible consequences of not being truly saved, we need to work out our salvation. That is, we need to live and act like a Christian. Notice that the next verse goes on to say that any good works we do come not from us, but from God.

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:13

The text urging us to make our calling and election sure

Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.

2 Peter 1:10

Here again, Scripture clearly teaches that a conversion experience is not a surefire ticket to heaven. We are entitled to confidence that we are saved only if we are doing "these things," explained a few verses earlier.

5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8

The text urging us to examine whether we are in the faith

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. . . .

2 Corinthians 13:5

Paul is addressing the members of the Corinthian church. He is holding out the possibility that some in that church who had doubtless undergone a conversion experience were nevertheless not "in the faith."

The text stating that partakers of Christ are steadfast to the end

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.

Hebrews 3:14

According to the rules of logic, the contrapositive of this statement must be true also. So, we may affirm confidently that those who are not partakers of Christ will not remain steadfast to the end. In other words, some who profess Christ eventually prove, by their defection from the truth, that they were never partakers of Christ.

The text stating that they who draw back go to perdition

38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

Hebrews 10:38-39

The writer distinguishes between two kinds of people who profess faith: those who draw back from faith and go to perdition, and those who retain faith unto the saving of the soul. Clearly, then, some who profess faith are not truly saved.

Those Who Disobey the Truth

The carnal Christian

The term "carnal Christian" derives from Paul's distinction between the carnal Christian and the spiritual Christian.

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

1 Corinthians 3:1-2

It is plain that, in Paul's mind, a carnal Christian is simply a babe in Christ. That is, he is a new believer who is still so immature in the faith that his spiritual impulses are weak and his spiritual knowledge rudimentary. The only teaching he can stomach is milk. He is called carnal because he is flesh-controlled. Like a baby, he has not yet learned to discipline his natural appetites.

But to suppose, as do the advocates of easy-believism, that all those converts who show little evidence of salvation—who soon forsake the church or who attend occasionally but remain worldly—are "carnal Christians" greatly abuses the Scriptural meaning of the term. When he compares new believers to babes, Paul does not expect us to think of the rare baby who fails to grow. Rather, he expects us to think of a normal baby—a baby who grows. He implies that a person truly regenerated by the Spirit of God will grow spiritually. Failure of a convert to exhibit spiritual growth is a clear sign that he has never been regenerated. Therefore, when dealing with a professing convert who has become mired in an unchanged life, we must avoid giving him a false security of salvation. To tell him that he is a carnal Christian is a vicious lie.

The idea that the worldliness in churches today is the result of their being filled with carnal Christians is a figment of easy-believism. They are filled not with carnal Christians, but with pagan pretenders.

The apostate

An apostate is someone who has turned away from the cardinal truths of Christianity after professing to accept them. Two qualifications must be attached to this definition. (1) When the apostate embraced these truths, he believed them not merely because he chose to believe, but also because he had seen them vindicated by supernatural evidence. (2) When he forsook Biblical Christianity, he perhaps did not turn away from all religion.

The principal passage dealing with apostasy is in Hebrews.

4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:

8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

9 But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

Hebrews 6:4-9

The writer says clearly that apostasy is an incurable sin, that an apostate cannot be renewed to a second repentance. He is like the thorns and briers that the rain brings forth alongside the desirable plants of the field. Such weeds are good only for burning.

This passage and its context support the two qualifications stated above. (1) The person described as a hopeless case is someone who falls away only after he has tasted the powers of the world to come (v. 5). (2) The same person does not necessarily become irreligious. The author is talking about people who have forsaken Christ and returned to Judaism (Heb. 8).

If apostasy is unforgivable, it must be the same sin that Jesus intends when He says that all sins will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Ghost (Matt. 12:31). The apostate described in Hebrews 6 not only crucifies Christ afresh and does insult to Christ (v. 6); he also shows contempt for "the heavenly gift" (v. 4), an allusion to the Holy Spirit.

The teaching of Hebrews 6 is not that a genuine believer can lose his salvation. In verse 9, the writer stresses that the people he has been describing, in verses 4-8, are not the same as the people he is addressing. The latter are set apart by their possession of the "things that accompany ['are connected with'] salvation." We infer that the latter are saved, whereas the former—those who apostate by falling away after they have tasted the heavenly gift—have never been saved.

Clearly, then, the apostate has never owned a salvation that he could lose. Clearly, also, the saved person whom the writer is addressing is in no danger of losing his salvation, for among the things in his possession that accompany salvation are many future benefits, such as the resurrection and glorification of his body. So, his salvation cannot be just temporary.

The book of Jude contains a similar promise for the saved.

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.

Jude 24

The writer assures those addressed as "you" that God will keep them from falling into apostasy. To whom is Jude speaking?

1 Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

2 Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.

3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.

Jude 1:1-3

In verse 1, Jude addresses "them that are sanctified." "Sanctified" means "set apart" through salvation. In verse 3, he emphasizes that salvation is what he and his readers have in common. So, the meaning of verse 24 is that all who are presently saved will be kept from falling. Verse 1 reinforces this conclusion by treating preservation as the natural, inevitable consequence of sanctification.

The backslider

The apostate is not saved, was never saved, and never can be saved. But the backslider is saved. How may the fact of backsliding be reconciled with the clear teaching of Scripture that works accompany true faith? This teaching is most prominent in the books of James and 1 John.

The central message of James is that faith without consequences is a dead faith, worthless for securing eternal life. But a backslider is not someone who has exhibited no improvement in his life. Rather, he is someone who has slid back from former spiritual progress. His faith wrought good works in the past, though these are now lacking or diminished.

The central message of 1 John, soon to be discussed, is that sin removes our right to have assurance of salvation. Thus, backsliding necessarily undermines assurance and casts a true believer into agonies of doubt about his salvation. Since his life is veering toward the lives of the unregenerate, he must consider the possibility that he also is unregenerate.

A backslider can be sure that his sin will not go unnoticed and unpunished. In many passages, Scripture teaches that God will chasten any child who strays aside from His will. For example,

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?

8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

Hebrews 12:6-13

We see that a backslider can expect God to administer firm and effective correction.

The penalties imposed for willful sin are in proportion to the offense. For the most severe offenses, Scripture specifies the penalties to be expected.