The True Danger of Preaching False Conversion

By Gary Meredith

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[NOTE: The following is not offered as a systematic refutation of "false conversion" teaching, nor an attack on its proponents, whose motives are surely sincere. My purpose is to show how this doctrine of questionable value can do serious harm to the Body of Christ.]
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. Acts 15:24
The young believer was apparently having his first serious crisis of faith. He wrote:
I've recently realized that I'm a so called 'false convert' and never really got saved. I've already called upon the name of the Lord for quite some time to save me from my sins with a heartfelt conviction of the gravity of my sin but nothing really happened. I repented from my sinful ways and did quite well in the beginning to abstain from sin but it didn't take long before I succumbed back to some of my sins. I continue to repent, and desire and value the Word of God more than ever, but my momentum and desire to read it starts to lessen. Should I continue to call upon his name to save and regenerate me, and only then follow Him?
Aside from his obvious Christian faith, I was struck by how closely his words paralleled Paul's:
Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Romans 7:21-24
This young man's misdiagnosis of his problem as false conversion — what some preachers call "Hell's best kept secret" — directed him away from the only cure, which Paul reveals in the next verse: "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). Apparently no mature believer had explained to him that he already has been, is being, and will be delivered from sin by his continuously interceding Savior (Hebrews 7:25). His ignorance about the real Christian life, and the false explanation for his struggle with sin, disabled him from resting in and growing in that assurance (Matthew 11:28; Romans 8:35-39; Philippians 1:6).

Years before hearing the term "false conversion," a few young believers opened up to me about their private insecurities regarding their own salvation. It usually went something like this:
Maybe I'm not really saved, that I'm just another unsaved hypocrite. Everyone else at church seems to have a solid walk with the Lord, but I still struggle with sinful thoughts and emotions and failures. If they really knew me they probably wouldn't think I was saved. Our pastor probably wouldn't. He says Christ gives us daily victory over the world, the flesh and the devil — I'm losing all three battles! Maybe I should just leave the church and figure out what I really believe.
The correct response is: You wouldn't care if you weren't saved.

Distress about your sins is a healthy sign of a saved soul, not a symptom of false conversion. Sanctification isn't instant or easy, it's a lifelong, painful, humbling process. Real false converts don't care about their sins and don't know they aren't saved. Our warnings to them fall on deaf ears — ears which cannot hear (Jeremiah 6:10). That's because "the person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 2:14). False converts may call themselves Christians, attend church and use a lot of "God talk," but most are unaware and unconcerned that they are not reconciled with God and still destined for hell.

False conversion is presented as the reason for rampant immorality in many churches today — drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, sexual sin, divorce and more. That may be partly true (actually, the failure of church leaders to understand and counter the enormous power of modern culture is a fuller explanation).

But Scripture is far more concerned about false teachers than false converts (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1-2; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Galatians 1:6-9). The most dangerous false converts by far are those who infiltrate the Church into positions of leadership in order to tear the flock apart and lead it astray (Matthew 7:15; Luke 21:8; Acts 20:29; Romans 16:17). While the sinful behavior of a few members may infect others, they are a small problem compared to our real enemies, false teachers, who have wiped out entire Christian denominations, leading millions of followers to tolerate and even celebrate, in the name of Christ, doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1) and the evil behavior from which Christ came to set them free (Romans 6:11-18; Galatians 5:1).

Tragically, false conversion preachers re-aim the big guns of church condemnation from the primary target — false teachers — to our weak, stumbling brothers and sisters who desperately need God's love, and ours, starting with the reassurance of the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). In extreme cases such preachers may actually serve Satan's disabling function as accusers of the brethren (Zechariah 3:1-2; Revelation 12:10), rather than the edifying role of the Church under the direction of the Holy Spirit for the fruitful conviction of sin (John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 14:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5).

Preachers of "false conversion," however sincere, exploit a potent reality: that all of us sin (1 John 1:8-10). So there is always plenty of "evidence" available for every believer that he or she was never saved. That is a lie, and a faith-damaging distortion of the Christian life. It also misses a fundamental reality — that we saints are capable of some very nasty behavior.

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Published on 11-9-15