Mark Dever – False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church (Transcribed)

I have finally gotten around to transcribing this particular message from Together for the Gospel 2012 (T4G) Conference.

Here are the notes from Mark Dever’s message:

Tonight’s talk is a prequel: How did I get to be like that? Why should you, as a pastor care about those kind of, maybe, apparently arcane issues? Why should you as a pastor be concerned about your local church, more than in just the obvious ways you would in your day to day life? What’s going on? I want to talk to you tonight about a topic….

To you, tonight, I want to bring a topical message on this topic: False conversions, the suicide of the local church. My text for this evening is 1 Timothy 4:16 , a passage we frequently of to, those of us in the ministry. We may preach on it when we have a young person go into ministry or an installation service:

Watch your life and doctrine closely, persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

My fellow pastors, could it be that many of our hearers each week aren’t saved? Even many of our members? In his autobiography, mid century poet and novelist, Langston Hughes recounted a crucial teenage experience. Let me give it to you in his own words:

I was saved from sin when I was going on 13, but, not really saved. It happened like this. There was a big revival at my auntie Reed’s church. Every night, for weeks there had been much preaching and singing, praying and shouting. Finally, all the young people had gone to the altar and were saved, but one boy and me. He was named Wesley. Wesley and I were surrounded by sisters and deacons who were praying. It was very hot in the church and it was getting late now. Finally, Wesley said to me in a whisper, „I’m tired of sitting here, let’s get up and be saved!” So, he got up and was saved. Then I was left all alone on the mourner’s bench. My aunt came and knelt at my knees and cried while prayer and songs swirled all around me in the little church. The whole congregation prayed for me alone, a mighty wail of moans. God had not struck Wesley dead for taking His name in vain or for lying in the temple, so I decided that, maybe to save further trouble I’d better lie too- to say that Jesus had come and get up and be saved. So, I got up. Suddenly the whole room broke into a sea of shouting as they saw me rise. I couldn’t bear to tell my aunt that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, that I hadn’t seen Jesus and then, now, I didn’t believe there was a Jesus anymore.

Langston Hughes became and remained, to the best of my knowledge, a committed and persuasive atheist. Some might ask, „What’s the problem with false conversions? I mean, as long as people at the same time as being converted, aren’t the Gospels full of images to prevent us from over worrying about this?” I mean, I think Al mentioned earlier the ‘parable of the sower’. There are different responses to the seed that is sown. „You know, a fear of false conversions might lead us to a kind of too cautious, extra carefulness which is a fruit inspecting, grace suspiciousness that is ironically a seabed of all kind of self righteousness and legalism. Why not, just promiscuously preach the Gospel to all in any way? Wasn’t it D.L.Moody that famously quipped to those that criticized his evangelistic methods: I like my way of doing evangelism better than doing it for way of not doing evangelism.”

Well, the Bible tells us that there’s both opposition to the truth, that there will be false converts, so why give time to try to fix a problem that the Bible tells us is simply an inevitable part of the Gospel ministry in a fallen world? Well, the experience of Langston Hughes is but one example of what I fear must be thousands and thousands of people, if not millions and millions, merely in the United States, that have been taken into our churches unconverted.

I want to address you tonight as interested Christians and especially as brother pastors, to help us understand that this is in fact a problem, and a serious problem, and what we might do about it. In order to help us to do that, I want us to look first to the plan, then at the problem, and then at the source of the problem. And, I’ll conclude with a few practical suggestions.

 

False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

I pray that as we consider this topic tonight, that God may make our churches more faithful conduits of the good news of Jesus Christ, both to those inside and outside of that number. I pray further that He will help us to see what we might do in our particular, local church to be a better heralder of the Gospel and a better stewart of His name. And, I want to begin- number 1- with God’s plan:

1. God’s Plan

God has an overarching purpose to get glory to Himself through a people. So when God called Abram, He called him as an idol worshipping pagan, and as you remember back in Genesis 12, He gives him that great progress, that through him all the peoples on earth would be blessed. Now God is infinitely glorious and He rightly wants the creatures made in His image to know Him as such. So, David commanded in 2 Chronicles 16: „Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all people”, and the Psalms are full of this. Just one example, in Psalm 22-  „All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nation will bow down before Him„. I am sure you know that famous verse in Psalm 46- „Be still and know that I am God„. But, do you know the rest of it? „I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

This is God’s plan: to make Himself known and make His name exalted among the nations. In the 86th Psalm there’s a little preview of Revelation. Psalm 86:8- „Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. 10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God.”  As the Lord says in Maleachi 1:11 „My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun,  and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” 

Okay, this is what God said He would do and what He is doing and what He will do. Now, the question: How has He? How is He? How will He bring this about?  Well, if you were to go back to Genesis you have Abram at the beginning there in chapter 12, you go on to chapter 49, you get Jacob giving the blessings of his son, before Jacob dies. When it comes to Judah, you remember he gives his famous prophecy in Genesis 49:10- „The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Of course this ruler is the Lion of Judah: Jesus Christ. That’s how God would do this, through Jesus Christ.

And we know that this lion is also the lamb, as we see in the Book of Revelation. This is gloriously fulfilled in Revelation 5:9, where the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall down and sing a new song to the Lamb- ” And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”. And, in that great multitude appears 2 chapters later  in Rev. 7:9, where John describes it as a great multitude that no one could count form every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.

And, what of these purchased people? You remember when Peter confessed Jesus the Messiah, the Christ? Jesus promised that He would build His church, His people, His assembly on Peter and on that confession that he had made. That’s in Matthew 16 and then in Matthew 18 He gives His own authority to this assembly, this church. And what does He promise His disciples at the end of Matthew in chap. 28? That He, who had all authority in heaven and on earth- That’s Jesus- will be with them always, to the very end of the age and that they were to go and make disciples of all nations.

So, how would God accomplish His plan to bring Himself glory among all peoples? Through Christ and specifically through the church of Jesus Christ. So then we’re not surprised when we move from the Gospels into Acts. We find that this is what those first Christians did. It’s not merely a story of evangelizing the lost, but, of congregating the converted. That’s what they did. They planted churches. This shouldn’t surprise us. This pattern of God working with a people; it is the pattern that we already saw in the Old Testament. This is the way that God works; He’s done it from Adam and Eve. He did it with Abram and we keep going on through. In Leviticus 20 we read- The Lord said ti His people in the wilderness through Moses, „I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations. You are to be holy to Me, as I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own”. 

So, you see, Israel’s obedience was to lead the nations to blessings and to glorying in the true God. His people were the means to bring Him glory. That’s been God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation to have His name be brought glory by His people. So, as it was in the Old, so it is in the New. Our lives individually, yes, but, also together uniquely in the local church were meant to be and are the means of bringing God glory throughout the nations. So, brother-pastor I hope you are encouraged that what you are about is maybe even bigger than what you were thinking about when you came in tonight. What you are about is something at the very center of God’s plan for existence. This is how He intends to do this. But that then brings me to point 2: (12 min video mark here)

2. The particular problem

The problem is simply that God’s people, in the Old Testament were unfaithful. They had His name on them, God had set them in the midst of the nations, indeed their fame spread among the nations because of what God had given them, but, instead of honoring God’s name and bringing glory to God among the nations they (Psalm 106) mingled with the nations and adopted their customs.  They worshipped their idols. When the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon, God explained to them again and again that He does all He does for the sake of His own name. That’s why He called Abram, and put His name on the descendants of Jacob. Again and again, we find the Lord saying in Ezekiel like this, „For the sake of My Holy name, which you have profaned among the nations. My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned  among them.

So, in Romans 2:24 Paul quotes the prophet, „God’s blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”. That’s why God exiled His Old Testament people, so that the nations would see His disapproval of their unholiness of their misrepresentation of Him. Old Testament Israel brought shame on God’s name instead of being what they were called to be: a light to the nations. Whatever God did for His people, whether it was to bless them and set them apart, or to give them over in His wrath. Whatever He did, it was always for the honor of His name, that the nations would know that the Lord is God.

If you’ve never read through the book of Ezekiel looking at that, notice that particularly. Read through the book of Ezekiel and write down all the things the Lord is going to do for the sake of His name or so that He will be known as being the Lord. This is what God does. God does everything He does for the glory of His own name. And just a side note on this: non christians hate that message. They hate it. Christians love it. You preach that from your pulpit and you’ll get a very quick test of what’s going on in your church spiritually. But this is what God is about. It’s been His plan throughout the ages.

If God seemed hard on Israel and their sins it’s because He set His name on them so that their holiness was specially attached to His reputation and glory. Can you hear then the echoes of this teaching in the New Testament? So, when Jesus teaches this sermon to the disciples in the sermon on the mount, „Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” Christian actions reflect on God. What the result of our lives with good deeds, praise (goes) to us? No, not ultimately. Ultimately, they’re to bring glory to God, to bring praise to Him. They’re to reveal His character to His creation and so bring Him glory. That’s why Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:12 „Live such good lives among the pagans, that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may glorify God on the day He visits us”.

So, this is where we come to the significance of the members of our church who live carnal, worldly lives. Just consider the man in 1 Corinthians 5. dear brother pastor, the problem I am pointing to is not just of the occasional hypocrite, lost in their own unrepentant sin. But, I’m talking about systems which seem to produce false converts so much, that it’s not just one man lie that situation in Corinth, but whole congregations, that like Israel of old are typified and characterized not by holiness, but by worldliness. You see something of the dimension of the problem. Let me mention briefly

4 dimensions of this problem:

  1.  It’s a problem for the individuals who are deceived. They’re deceived by their own state before the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul gives one reason for urging the church to put this man out of their fellowship. He says, „So that his spirit may be saved from the day of the Lord. It’s just not right or loving for a congregation to leave men and women, made in the image of God with the impression that they’re reconciled to God when the truth is that there is no evidence whatsoever that they are reconciled to God. That is not a loving thing to do, for them.
  2. It’s also a problem for the church’s internal love, because the church’s internal love is tender. What I mean, the very nature of the congregation is affected by this. When a person is left in the membership, as Paul was talking about ‘the yeast working it’s way through a whole batch of dough’. What are the implications of not just one, but in a church where there are many such persons, in fact some congregations where there are hundreds of them? How does that change our life together? Does it make it less loving? Less forgiving? Less joyful, less hopeful? And just a side note again: What toll does it take on its leaders? Friends, think about this. Hebrews 13:17 says that we should make the task of the leaders a joy and not a burden. A pastor’s used to dealing with sins, we have our own sins, we understand that. Most of us are married, we have families to shepherd. We have churches that are composed exclusively of sinners, so all of our time is spent dealing with sinners. But, congregations are to be composed of born again repenting sinners. There’s a certain subset of sinners that christian churches are to be filled with and made up of. When a conjugation is filled up of many people whose lives resemble more ‘the works of the flesh’ than the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, the experience of following Christ together, of love and encouragement, of spurring on, of mutual edification and accountability- all of this is eroded and cooled and diminished. The church becomes more like the world.
  3. Third problem created, the people of Israel so ominously foreshadowed- The church’s witness to the nations is subverted. We become so much like the world they have no questions to ask us. It appears that we have no hope that’s any better than theirs. We have no hope that’s more of a better, a more humane, a more God honoring life to hold out to them. When the world is in the church the church begins to disappear from the world. We’re to be the light shining in the dark place, but if our words aren’t true, or if they are, but our lives don’t back them up, then the very group meant by God to be beacons of hope and life, that very group is dimmed. The way that God seems to disappear, hope vanishes.
  4. Worst of all, God’s name is defamed. Ultimately, the reason God sets apart a people for Himself is for His own glory. But now, what was designed to be for His praise, actually ends up, as He said in Ezekiel- being grounds for His name to be profaned or blasphemed. I’ve always been struck by how the Corinthian church, in their disunity and divisiveness, do you notice how in chapter 1 he deals with them? He asks this penetrating theological question. I don’t know about you, but as a pastor, if I’ve got divisions in the church, I kind of immediately wanna know, „Ok, who is it? What’s going on?” I start thinking, sort of practically, pragmatically, politically. Paul just goes right through theology. He hears this divisiveness is characterizing the Corinthian church and he asks, „Is Christ divided?” Chapter 1:13. You see, the theological assumption behind and underneath that is that the local church is to reflect the truth about God. How can this Corinthian church reflect the church about Christ, when it is unlike Christ- divided? He goes on and pursues this church about whether its holiness is reflecting God’s holiness. Whether its love is reflecting God’s love.Because our churches are to reflect the character of God, so that He will be brought glory among the nations. That’s His plan. This has always been His plan. This is what He has done, and this is what He is doing and this is what He will do. But we work against Him when we build churches that camouflage His character, that seem to hide it, rather than display it. Our lives in the congregation together is not to slander the character of God, but to reflect it, and to bring praise and glory to God. False conversion obscure God’s plan.

We see initially, „Well, the individual’s deceived”. And that’s bad. But, more than that, the life of the whole congregation’s affected. But, even more than that, if you think of the third problem, even looking out at the nations, all of a sudden the witness that we’re supposed to give, possibly is subverted. And then you find the biggest, most basic problem of all in this is (that) God’s name is defamed. All of that is going on when we have churches that are increasingly characterized  not by members that are truly converted, but by people whose lives are indistinguishable from the world. (ends at 24 min. mark)

3. What’s the source of the problem?

Why are there so many churches, where it would appear that the dominant number of people don’t evidence the fruit of the spirit, don’t seem to be born again. How does this happen? What do we do that we help to create such false conversions? We have to begin by looking at ourselves.

(I) Teachers

 The role of the pastor, the teacher, the leader in the church in the New Testament is so crucial. Have you noticed how many warnings are in the New Testament about false teachers? It’s all over the place. Paul told us this would happen, and it’s not just Paul. Peter warned the christians that he was writing to and so did John. Brother pastors, we see why our role is so important. We see why God has this great plan that He’s about, that He’s undertaken for the ages and if His people are such a crucial part in that plan, maybe as an individual, by ourselves is not sufficient to make shown everything that needs to be shown of the character of God, no matter how sanctified we get, cause there’s something with a bunch of us, related together in a committed way that displays His character, that’s unique to that. How many fruit of the Spirit can you show on a desert island? Maybe a couple of them. But, most of them are going to come up in difficult members meeting that starts not to go well. That’s where you really see if you’ve got the fruit of the Spirit or just merely carnal, convenient civility going on in your church. Is the fruit of the Holy Spirit evidenced in your church? The teachers have a particular responsibility and accountability for that. That’s why he says in James 1 „Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers. Because you know if you teach you will be judged more strictly”. We know that we must give an account to God. 1 Timothy 4:16 „Watch your life and doctrine closely, persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers”

Life & Doctrine– In order to prepare for this I had walked through the New Testament for what the writers are saying- shows that someone is a christian. What seems to bless the church. On the other hand, what seems to subvert it. And as I sort of made it into categories, I saw some of them were about behaviors that were going on and others are about what teachings are given. So, I just want to divide it into these 2 headings: Life and Doctrine. (at 27 min. mark)

(II) Doctrine

1 Timothy 4:16- We need to know we can teach the wrong things with disastrous results. We know from Romans 10 that saving faith comes only by the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What happens if there’s another message? What will false teaching do? Will it be completely ignored? NO, evidently not. No, false teaching will bring converts. But false converts. As, I looked through the New Testament I could see this again and again. Five truths which I know were distorted then, and are still distorted today, that I think if we are to preserve God’s word today, which has been established, we pastors want to be especially guarding these always attacked, closely related truths.

5 truths you should be especially clear on and preach in your teaching

  1. God’s judgment is coming. 2 Peter 3 First of all you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desired. They will say, „Where is this coming He promised? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Friends, if we deny or even ignore God’s role as creator and king and judge of the world, then people will, as it says here, follow their own evil desires. You realize you can easily fill a church with people who will follow their own evil desires, that’s not hard to do. But, beware this temptation. Avoiding the doctrine of hell is one step from denying it altogether. But when you get his right, when you begin to teach clearly and regularly that there is a judgment, then there’s the appropriately care and humility that characterizes your congregation’s life together. As we realize the brevity of life in its seriousness and the certainty of its judgment, we feel ourselves to be more objects of mercy, than judges. More pilgrims than settlers. More stewarts than owners.
  2. We should be judged by God. We are lost, depraved under the good, right, fearful and certain judgment of God. We don’t just merely teach then that there is a judgment out there for someone, but we need to know and feel our own helplessness. We have to be clear, not just simply that judgment exists, but that that because God is good and we are not, we deserve God’s judgment. If God is as good as He says He is, He SHOULD judge us. That’s the moral imperative. We need to be clear about that in our teaching. This is what Paul argues in Romans 1-3. One side note to pastors: we need to appreciate our natural state spiritually. We must understand from the Bible and teach clearly that part of our lostness means that all people have a natural indisposition to believing our message. People naturally do not believe our message. Men love darkness rather than light. By knowing and teaching this, we preserve ourselves from the mistake of thinking that if we just keep fiddling with things, we’ll get the right combination and then everybody responds. And until we get everybody responding we must not be doing quite the right thing. Be very careful with that reasoning brother pastor. That can land you up, far, far away from the Biblical Gospel that is so unpopular. Meditate on Ezekiel 3 and the call God gave to Ezekiel. How many churches seem to downplay or right out deny natural human depravity  and lostness? John tells us that those who are from the world will not accept the Gospel. And any Gospel they would accept is only because there’s been a change- not of them, but in the Gospel that we preach. But when we get this right, when we teach that we deserve God’s judgment, then you protect the church against those converts who are offended by the idea that they have done anything wrong, let alone anything so wrong that God should judge them. Consider how our general sense of God’s grace then gives us a keen sense of God’s mercy that we ourselves have never deserved, but that someone else deserved it for us.
  3. Our only hope is in Christ. We are to trust not in who we are and what we have done, but in who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ has done in His substitutionary death in His justifying resurrection as the incarnate Son of God, become a substitute in our place and the first fruits of the final resurrection. So any idea that some preachers would teach that some people are converted through our own works must be rejected. We must be clear, not only in the person of Christ, but also in His work. 1 John „This is how we know what love is , Jesus Christ laid down His life for us”. We need to be clear over on the theological liberalism that any denial of the bodily resurrection is, according to the Bible, a denial of Christ Himself.Without this, you can make converts to fatalism, or converts to an ethical society as so many protestant churches have become.But you truly cannot have a true christian church without this message about Jesus Christ clearly in your preaching and teaching. The self righteous and the wrongly self confident are offended at such talk of a Savior. But those that know themselves to be sinners in need of a Savior, hear the news and they rejoice that there’s such a Savior to be found. Only true converts finally respond to the truth about Jesus Christ.
  4. We don’t see the fulness of our salvation in this life. Christ’s death and resurrection secured for us forgiveness and reconciliation with God, ultimately  and His sustaining presence until then. But it is an error to teach that following Jesus is  for this present life benefits. That’s not true. Read Hebrews 11 and preach through that. Any authentic version of christianity includes waiting. Our basic posture in a fallen world, as believers of the Bible is waiting. We wait for our Lord to return. That’s the blessed hope that we have: The glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ! Even the carnally minded person  the desire to better their own life. Vast crowds can be assembled who want meaning & purpose in their life.But that is not the same thing as repenting towards God for your sins. Brother pastors when you get this right, in your life and in your teaching, you prepare the ground to live fearing God more than the ing’s anger. Accepting disgrace for the sake of Christ. Seeing Him worth more than all earthly treasure. Trusting all of God’s commands even when they seem to jeopardize your hopes in this life.
  5. We can deceive ourselves and others about our relationship with God. It is counter intuitive in our culture, but it is clear in the BibleIf we would prevent our churches from being characterized by unconverted worldliness, then we must be clear in our teaching that we can deceive ourselves. Today, we think we are the world experts on us. But 2 Corinthians 13:5 ” Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Friend, if I wee to come to your church on Sunday and  were to just read those words from Scripture, what would your congregation understand them to mean? Friends, when we get this right there is a humble joy and a sharpness of God’s grace and a childlike reliance on Him that can increasingly mark our congregation with an open handed joy.

If we aren’t offering these things it will result in false converts, because false teachers create false converts. And false converts hire false teachers. Don’t ever, ever, ever take refuge in the sovereignty of God and think, „Oh, you know what, I’ll go ahead and just not worry about that, because the elect are gonna get saved anyway and why does it matter otherwise?” Wow, that’s off on so many levels. One practical thing: Think of what it does to the future of our congregation. There’s this symbiotic relationship between false converts and false teachers. Brother pastor, if you wanna make sure that your successor doesn’t preach the Gospel, just admit lots of people in the membership who aren’t truly converted.

(III) Life

1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. If our churches are characterized by wrong living, that can be just as damning as wrong teaching. Those who listen to the Gospel also watch how we live. Let me share 3 common errors, that as I looked through the New Testament, I saw were there, that jeopardized the spiritual health of these congregations that the first churches were plagued with, that I think we are today too.

  1. It’s an error to present a church without holiness. Unholiness may thrive n some churches as pastors ignorantly avoid teaching on sin, fearing that it will undermine grace. Unholiness can thrive in churches with no accountability, churches that are built to cater to our culture’s individualism and commitment to privacy. But in the New Testament it is clear that the christian life is presented as being motivated by love of God that is contrary to the love of this world. Preach through 1 John on this point, it’s very helpful. Or Hebrews 12:14 „Without holiness no one will see the Lord”. Friends, how tempting it is for us to do something else. But that’s why the Lord has left us things like in Galatians 5- the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, to take these up and examine our own lives and consider teaching our people what it means to live as a christian and that’s ultimately why we have a local church. To wake us up from self deception when we would be confused. When our spirit would slumber when left to ourselves would be our undoing forever. How tempting it is to present the church as affirming and tolerating all sins, even those that people don’t repent of. But the truth is, there is a wonderful beauty and health and freedom in holiness. As God gives us the new birth, His Spirit helps us begin to live lives  that we were literally made to live. Now imagine a whole community in which we begin to reflect God’s character more and more and are changed more into His likeness. Do you see the powerful witness that is for Him? The powerful encouragement in our own lives?
  2. It is an error to present a church with no suffering. This is a temptation for all of us. Left to ourselves, we would all avoid poverty and sickness and in one sense, avoiding poverty and avoiding sickness are fine goals for our lives and our work. But, not as ultimate goals. Such goals are far too small for Biblical christianity. And if we espouse those as our goal and that’s what we teach and shepherd in our churches, then we will mislead others about what Christ saves us from. He saves us from ultimate bankruptcy and death. That is true, but not necessarily from suffering in this world. Indeed, true christianity will call us to suffering. You realize health and wealth preachers are false teachers.  We also need to ask ourselves: Do we do mild versions of the same thing in the way we present things? Do we think a healthy church is one of constant triumphalism? In everything form our smiles to our music suffuses the whole atmosphere of our gatherings? Have you preached through 1 Peter lately? In chapter 2 it says, „Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example”, that you should follow in His steps. In chapter 3 we’re told, „It’s better, it’s God’s will to suffer for doing good than for doing evil”. Chapter 4 „If you suffer as a christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. Will it be God’s will for all of us to suffer? Well, if you wanna get a lot of fake christians in your church, just tell them that there’s this free gift that entails no self sacrifice and that trouble and cross bearing is only for those super saints who choose extra large when they order their spiritual meal. The truth, however, is no cross, no crown. Jesus taught us that in this world you will have trouble. He told those who were considering following Him, „If anyone would come after Me, he should deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”.
  3. It’s an error to present a church without love. Let’s say you got a hold of holiness. You wanna behave differently than the world, in an apparently Godly way and you’re all okay with the suffering thing. So, you’re doctrinally sound, you’re orthodox, you have a grim willingness to suffer, but if love does not mark the church, then it may attract spiritual hobbyists, it may attract theological accountants who like to play at religious ideas  and theology, but not inconvenience themselves in love for others. Without love, there’s not a life faith that typifies unregenerate. There’s not the love  that’s the mark of the one that’s truly known themselves to be objects of God’s loving mercies. 1 John teaches us that if we walk in the light, we have fellowship with one another. That’s why he writes, „Anyone who claims to be in the light, but hates his brother is still in the darkness”. 1 John 3 we find that even the distinguishing mark of those that are truly converted- „We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death”. „Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God  is love”.

Friends, have you experienced life in a christian congregation which is suffused with love? Where care is initiated and grief is empathized with and meals cooked, rides given and offenses overlooked, and appropriate affection expressed, and help offered, and forgiveness extended, and joy shared freely? I pray that is the experience of everyone here. Imperfectly? Yes, but really in our local church.

One of the most striking needs our world has is churches full of true christians who are truly giving themselves away to each other and others in love. The world imitates cheap imitations and partial renditions of that love. Experiencing the real love, with authority and kindness and ability to correct and self sacrifice, and wisdom. Experiencing that kind of love is bracing, even shocking.  True, many are repelled. But, it’s also true that by God’s grace, many will be attracted by this message of the self giving love of God in Christ.

How can you prevent this problem of false conversions from happening?

  1. Always be evangelizing– steadily and well (Spurgeon). Remember our Savior’s words, „Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind, 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.” Spurgeon continues, „Do not count your fishes before they are broiled, nor count your converts before they are tested. This process may make your work somewhat slow, but then, brethren it will be sure.
  2. Always be shepherding sheep– Recenter your thoughts as a pastor on the individuals to be shepherded. Remember that to every person you’re taking into church membership, you’re telling them that they’re giving good evidence that they are born again and eternally fine. And that is a wonderful role to have, what great news to announce.
  3. Always remember the account you are to give to God. Our great accountability to God makes sense when we know how it started. This great plan that God has, what He’s about is something huge and wonderful and you see the crucial role the church has to play in that plan.

Together for the Gospel – Mark Dever – False Conversions: The Suicide of the Church

by Together for the Gospel (T4G) (64 minutes)

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