What Is A False Christian?
D. James Kennedy, based on having visited many churches during a lifetime of ministry, estimated that more than 80% of those calling themselves "Christian" were in fact converts. If he erred in any way, his estimate may be too low.
Scripture is clear, there are MANY false converts:
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 will enter. 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
Some turn to the parable of the wheat and the tares to say that we should not judge another's "Christian" faith. However, that is not what this parable is about. Jesus is talking about the world, and using force to eliminate tares (false converts) that have been planted in a wheat field. A tare is a weed that looks exactly like wheat, until harvest time comes.
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” - Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus explains this parable in Matthew 13:36-43. This parable is not talking about the church. We are, for example, to use the church discipline process (Matthew 18:15-20) when sin (a possible unbeliever) is found in the church. We are also to be discerning in our personal relationships. For example, we are not to be yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). This not only refers to marriage, but also other relationships which may bring worldly beliefs into a relationship and cause a Christian to compromise and sin. So discerning and judging another person's status as a true or false Christian is important. What Jesus is saying is that we should not use force in an attempt to eliminate false Christians from the world.
For example, many Christians have been martyred in the name of rooting out false Christians and "purifying" the church. The Inquisition is an example of this. We are to keep false Christians out of the church (as best we can). We are to avoid yoking ourselves in a relationship with a false Christian. However, we are not to go into the world to kill (uproot) false Christians. Instead we are to go into the world with the gospel.
The Most Famous Example of A False Convert Was Judas
Judas was one of Jesus' disciples. He followed Jesus for three years, hearing His teaching, seeing His miracles, participating in His ministry. Judas was a trusted member of the twelve to the extent that he was placed in charge of the money bag. During the Last Supper, when Jesus announced that one of them would betray Jesus, no one suspected Judas.
When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.” The disciples began looking at one another, at a loss to know of which one He was speaking. - John 13:21-22
In the beginning Judas most likely thought of himself as a true believer. As did the other disciples, he left everything to follow Jesus and most likely truly believed that Jesus was the Messiah. However, his heart had never changed. His "conversion" was external.
Are You A False Convert?
Scripture commands us to evaluate ourselves to be sure we are not false converts.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? - 2 Corinthians 13:5
What are the characteristics of someone who is a false Christian? First, although a real Christian will experience failures, they will never turn against Jesus. When a Christian falls into sin, they seek cleansing through confession to God (not a priest) and repentance. A true Christian is looking for ways they can serve in the church, in ministry, or by helping others. On the other hand, false converts typically become Christians for what they will receive such as a good reputation, spiritual "fulfillment," having friends or contacts, education, health, wealth or because they think it is the right thing to do. Their focus is on self, not God.
The #1 characteristic of someone who has become a Christian is that there will be a visible growing in righteousness... a turning away from their old life and turning toward obeying God. If someone claims to have become a Christian, but there is no visible growth in obedience to God (rejection of sin), we have cause to doubt their conversion. HOWEVER, false converts, on the other hand, are masters of deception. They may appear to be growing in righteousness, but it is all a facade. The change is only external. Only a self-evaluation, such as commanded in 2nd Corinthians 13, may reveal the deception.
Some of the other characteristics of true conversion, are described in 1st John. They include:
- A love of scripture.
- Love for other Christians resulting in a desire to be with other Christians. Even in situations where an established church is not available, Christians seek out other Christians and spend time together. In addition, Christians actively seek to meet the true physical needs of other Christians.
We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren [other believers]. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. - 1 John 3:16-18
True Christians have a desire to know Jesus better, to be like Jesus, and be with Jesus.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. - Philippians 1:21-24
True Christians bear good fruit.
You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain... - John 15:16
John is talking about spiritual fruit. The following verses define spiritual fruit:
Godly attitudes: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23
Righteous behavior: ...having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. - Philippians 1:11
Praising God: Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. - Hebrews 13:15
Leading others to faith: I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. - Romans 1:13-15
True Christians know the answer is ALWAYS Jesus.