What is a false conversion?

I have seen a recurring theme lately on social media sites… the false conversion!  These social media posts, videos, images, and websites are claiming that a false conversion is when people think they are Christians (or saved), but in reality, they are not.  Why wouldn’t they be saved?  It’s not because they don’t believe Jesus died for their sins, it’s because they aren’t doing the things Christians ought to do.  This means these false converts are somehow openly sinning in a way that  Christians should never do, they aren’t bearing the proper Christian fruit in their lives, or they think that a prayer that they said at some point means they are absolved of all their sins.  The other recurring theme I am seeing amongst these posts that talk about false converts is a question of “true repentance”.  They claim that a false convert hasn’t truly repented, or hasn’t really surrendered to God, or doesn’t actually desire a relationship with God, they’re just wanting “fire insurance”.

Here’s a recent example I saw:

An example of this false conversion talk.
An example of this false conversion talk.

This quote by itself leaves a lot of questions of what exactly does Paul Washer mean, but a guy named Michael on Facebook explained the above Paul Washer quote by saying:

He’s speaking about how people are very quick to get someone saved that they basically never tell the the gospel but rather spend five minutes and make them mouth a sinner’s prayer. Then we end up spending the next 50 years trying to get them to actually follow Christ as part of God’s flock.

In other words, people are being deceived into believing they’re saved just because they said a simple prayer, without ever actually understanding what the Gospel is, and so they’re unfortunately never brought to the place of actual conversion to truly follow Christ. And unfortunately many will indeed do as Jesus says, “Many will say unto me, Lord, Lord,” and believe they’re saved, but they never actually gave their lives to Christ.”

Another commentator agreed with Michael, saying:

What Michael said is correct. Our current society [I think he means church congregations] tries to do whatever they can to get a “decision” for Christ, with a Gospel void of repentance and faith. Then this “convert” doesn’t act like a Christian, so we spend years and years trying to “disciple” a non-believer into acting right, without realizing they were never saved to begin with.

There are even websites dedicated to warning people that they might not be true converts to the Christian faith.  At one site, you’ll find numerous confessions from former “pretenders” and you’ll be greeted with a load of questions that are designed to lead you to the realization that you are not a true believer, such as the following question:

What if I have not honestly been broken over my sins against God and completely surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?

The measure of your salvation in all of these “false convert” warnings lies with YOU and YOUR work, not in Christ and HIS WORK.  The work lies upon your degree of commitment or involvement.   Do you really believe, have you completely turned from your sins, do you actually hate ALL of your sins, are you truly following Christ?

Based on these types of questions and warnings, a person is left to turn inward to himself, and not outward to the cross of Christ and his empty tomb.

Do I really believe?  What does that mean?  Do I ever have doubts?  Do I ever question God’s calling in my life? Is my entire theological system 100% correct, free of all errors?  Are there miracles accompanying all my prayers?  Have I been bitten by a poisonous snake and not harmed at all?

Have I completely turned from my sins (often worded as truly repented)?  What does that mean?  Does it mean I hate every single one of my acts of sin?  Can I even enumerate all of my acts of sin?  God forbid, but what if I fall into some sort of horrible cycle of sin, such as what King David and Samson did?  Were they not truly repentant because of those nasty spills of temptation and failure to resist?  Is it even possible to completely turn from my sin in this life?  Won’t I always have sin in this life?  And since I know I will always have sin this life, how many sinful acts are too many for me to have completely turned from my sin?

Am I truly following Jesus?  Let’s see… Am I holy as he is holy?  Do I always pray for and love my enemies?  Do I ever have hatred in my heart, or lust?  Do I ever covet my neighbor’s house, or my boss’ salary?  Do I have one too many coats?  Do I always do the things that Jesus would want me to do, just as he was always doing what his Father wanted him to do during his time here on earth?  Do I ever go astray like the dumb sheep of Psalm 23?

Do you get my point?!!?  Are any of us really, truly, completely (fill in the blank) so that we are deserving of salvation because we have (fill in the blank)?  Are any of us even capable of properly making these judgments about ourselves?  And I know for certain no other man can know my heart!  So please, don’t get sucked into justifying yourself, or trembling that you aren’t doing enough to prove yourself a true convert.

So how does conversion take place?  A person hears the Gospel and believes.  It’s that simple.  Conversion occurs instantaneously, as does our justification.  Sanctification however is a process, in which we will become more and more like Christ, likely sin less, and grow in faith and love more and more, etc.  But that process will never be complete in this life… NEVER.  When we die and are raised at Christ’s return, we will then receive heavenly bodies – that are sinless.  As for now, we will always struggle between our new nature in Christ and our sinful nature that we inherited at our conception (Romans 7).  And our justification is not dependent upon how we are progressing in sanctification!  Our justification always comes by grace through faith in Christ.

Here is Paul Washer (to use him again in this blog post) explaining how a person is converted:

I absolutely love that Paul Washer explanation of how a person is converted and how we should lead a person to Christ! I hope you watched it. His explanation shows that conversion is not saying a prayer or making a decision. It’s simply faith coming to a person through hearing the Gospel message proclaimed, just as Paul says it does in Romans 10. After we have faith, we do pray, we do decide to follow Christ, etc.  Perfectly?  No. Never, not in this sinful body.  Should the quality of my obedience dictate my salvation?  No. Never. The perfection of Christ’s obedience dictates my good standing before the Lord, and Jesus was obedient unto death – even death on a cross!

And to close… since the focus of these “true conversion” tests is for a person to discern his works and see if they are in line with the Lord’s will (“acting like a Christian”), I offer the following passage, Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Do you note what happened here?  Not everyone who prophesies in Christ’s name and drives out demons and performs miracles will be saved.  Why?  I think it is because they were justifying themselves.  If Jesus ever said to me, you can’t enter heaven, I won’t respond with, “But Lord, did I not (blank), (blank), and (blank) in your name?”  No!  I will say, “But Lord, did you not take on flesh and humble yourself to live amongst us in order to fulfill all righteousness for me?  Did you not die as an atoning sacrifice for my sins? Did you not rise from the dead, conquering sin, death, and the devil?”  Do you see the difference?  The ones who did not know Jesus, pointed to themselves and the work they did in Christ, not recognizing that they are evil-doers.  The one who knows the Lord will point to Christ alone for his salvation.  The point is that we are all evil-doers.  We don’t deserve salvation.  We deserve hell.  So let’s not make salvation (or our conversions) about how well we are following Christ, how committed we are to the one True Lord, how much we hate our sins, or how much fruit we are bearing.  Let’s always beat our breast and proclaim how wretched we are and that we need Christ to justify us!