False Conversion

(Continued from previous post)

This argument seems to set the decisive moment about whether and when someone is saved at the time they confess faith. They either pass or fail at that moment, with no second chance at growing after a less-than-stellar moment of conversion. According to the argument, those who lack the “real saving faith” at that moment are not saved, period. (Because if they are still saved but later do not demonstrate the necessary deeds during trials, then they will lose their salvation which is the possibility that this argument tries to preclude.) In that case they are doomed without recourse, since if they are not saved at that moment of opportunity when they think they are — with everybody congratulating them while the Holy Spirit flunks them quietly — they really don’t have the sense of urgency to do what they can to turn the situation around. Besides, justification is by faith, not works, so they are still doomed regardless of what they do. This argument seems to imply that if someone is not “up to standard” at the moment of conversion then nothing can help them make up for it. In that case all the encouragement about attending church, reading the Bible etc. appear moot in terms of salvation, because if they do have the “real saving faith” then nothing can knock salvation off them (once-saved-always-saved), whereas if they don’t then no amount of efforts can save them.

What you described is a case of false conversion, someone who thinks he/she is saved, but who really lacked saving faith. What happens to them? If the church is doing her job, she would follow up the individual, visiting him to see whether he has assurance of salvation, encourage him to attend worship, and teach him to pray, read the Bible and join fellowship or a cell group. They would monitor his progress to see if there is any change in his behavior, as evidence that he has been “born again”. People progress at different pace, but if after a period of time there is still no sign of life they would doubt whether his “conversion” was genuine in the first place.

What next? His Christian friends, assuming they are concerned about his spiritual well-being, would question his “faith” and witness to him as if he were an unbeliever, since his conduct leads them to such a conclusion. Is he doomed without recourse? Not necessarily, because although “once (genuinely) saved, always saved” is true, the converse “once lost, always lost” is not true. That person may not have any sense of urgency to repent, but neither has any non-believer until the Holy Spirit convicts his heart.

All of us start out rebellious – it’s in our fallen nature. The false convert has an extra hurdle of self-delusion, thinking he’s saved when he’s not, but it’s not insurmountable. With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. (Mt 19:26) He may send other Christians besides his friends, even total strangers e.g. a short-term mission team, to witness to him. I take “the Lord does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9) at face value. “Any” would include “false converts”, so it is not hopeless as you’ve described.

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