“He invited Jesus into his life many years ago.”
That’s what the prayer request I held in my hand described. It was a small detail, but I felt my heart sink and twist.
Becoming a Christian isn’t like an immunization where, after a round of injections [sinners prayer], the patient [sinner] now has the ability to fight off infection [sin, wrath of God, hell].
They were not really of us
There are a lot of people who “leave” the faith—people we believed were brothers and sisters in Christ. This hurts, especially when it is our close friends and family that, having once confessed Jesus as Lord, walk away.
The apostle Paul experienced this; having listed Demas as a fellow worker in Philemon and Colossians, he seems to agonize in 1 Timothy 4:10 when he says, “… Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica …”
So was Demas a believer, or not? Was his confession of Christ a true confession? To be honest, I don’t know. Jesus, however, sheds some light on what is at stake, here:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he 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 cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’— Matthew 7:21-23 NASB
This is to me the most sobering verse in Scripture. It isn’t enough to call Jesus, “Lord”. It isn’t enough to prophecy in his name. It isn’t enough to exorcise in his name. It isn’t enough to perform miracles in his name.
“I never knew you; depart from Me”. Those are the most terrifying words in the universe. They make my heart tremble to read. Oh, how I pray that those words would never be spoken to me! Keep me, Lord Jesus.
Clearly simply professing faith is not enough. Making a decision for Christ is not enough. Confessing your sins is not enough. How many people have walked straight into hellfire having once prayed the “sinner’s prayer”?
“I never knew you.”
What does this tell us? It tells us that only God knows the heart of man. Only he knows if our confession is true or not. One who professes Christ and turns away from the faith never to return never truly believed in the Christ. Jesus never knew them. In 1 John 2, the apostle tells us when speaking of those who had left the fellowship,
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.— 1 John 2:19
Turning again to Paul and Demas, I believe Paul would have said this—weeping!—of Demas: you left us because you were not really of us. Jesus said it would be, John and Paul witnessed this truth.
Of All that He has given me I lose nothing
In John 6:39 Jesus reveals,
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
Later in John Jesus says of himself,
I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.
I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me.
It is clear: Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11,14), he knows his own and they know him (John 10:4,14-15,27), and Jesus promises that those who he knows will be saved—a “stranger they simply will not follow” (John 10:5).
This brings the statements we saw earlier into focus, Jesus saying “I never knew you” parallels his knowing his sheep, and John’s “they were not really of us” shows that those who leave the fold forever are not really Jesus’ sheep to begin with.
Joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
What about those who come back to the faith? Did they ever really belong, in the first place?
With the shepherd parables in mind, we turn to Luke 15. There we read,
What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The meaning is clear, Jesus mixes it up with sinners because he has come to find his lost sheep—he calls them and they know his voice; listening, they follow him; following him, they enter through him into the sheepfold, and are saved, to be raised up by Christ on the last day.
Jesus said that he “has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Jesus promises that he will not lose one of his sheep, and he came to earth to seek them out and save those that the Father gave to him (John 6:37). Those who return to the faith and endure to the end do so because of the upward call of Christ.
He who has My commandments and keeps them
Considering the person who leaves the faith and returns; has he exhibited anything that would indicate he was ever saved? If one leaves the faith because they were never in the faith, do they really return to the faith? Jesus said,
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.— John 14:21
The person that loves Jesus keeps Jesus’ commandments. The corollary is that those who do not love Jesus do not keep his commandments.
This does not mean that the Christian will be without sin—but what it does mean is that the true Christian will strive to keep God’s commands because he loves Jesus. One who has left the “straight and narrow” for unrepentant sin and will not be “restored” (Galatians 6:1) does not do what is right because they do not love Jesus.
So the person who made a confession of faith but does not remain in the faith made a false confession. They do not love Jesus. But that does not mean they will never know Jesus—there is hope!
Parable of the Sower
Jesus again taught of false conversion in Matthew 13:3-13, where he explains four results of one hearing the Gospel
- The one from whom Satan immediately snatches away what has been sown (v. 19)
- The one who receives the Word with joy but falls away when affliction or persecution arise (v. 20-21)
- The one who bears the world but becomes unfruitful because of the wealth and worries of the world (v. 22)
- The man who bears fruit (v. 23)
Of these four examples, only the last corresponds to a fruitful, lasting faith. we can see the first immediately rejects the gospel. The second appears to accept it until it becomes difficult. The third appears to accept the gospel but eventually we find out that his heart is not truly inclined toward Jesus.
The fourth, of course, bears fruit, and that in abundance. Notice here what it says about the good soil; “ this is the man who hears the word and understands it“. The others did not understand—nor did they produce fruit.
He will abundantly pardon
Coming full circle to where I started, we must not place our hope in whether someone once made a decision, or prayed a prayer. Hoping in the so-called “sinners prayer” makes the object of our faith the prayer prayed, and not Christ crucified. Faith is not a flu shot. Faith is trusting in Christ and his provision—“It is finished!” His shed blood on Calvary sealed forever his righteousness upon His own , and those He cannot fail to save.
“Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”Isaiah 55:6-7 NASB
Instead of looking back to the time your son “invited Jesus into his life”, pray earnestly that your son would throw himself upon Christ’s mercy—before it is too late! He must seek the Lord, call upon Him, repent of his evil way, and “He will have compassion” and “abundantly pardon”!
for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”— Romans 10:13
We must put all hope only in the mercy of God, and call others to do the same, joining with the tax collector of Luke 18:13 in saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”
Jesus said this man went home justified.