John Bunyan said, “For some the entrance to hell is from the portals of heaven”. His words could not more accurately depict the sad plight of many who believe they are Christians! They are at the very gates of heaven as it were, but will never enter because they are under a terrible delusion.The church is filled with people who are not really saved, but think they are. They have been lulled into a false sense of security about their future state. The church I speak of is that entire body which holds to the basic tenets of the Christian faith, as set out in the Nicene Creed, not the numerous pseudo-Christian groups or cults masquerading under the Christian umbrella. Those I speak of fall into two distinct groups.
The first group comprises those who lay claim to Christianity by natural descent. Their parents or grandparents were Christians and so they are naturally Christians too! It’s as though Christianity, once received, can be passed on genetically. In this they are not unlike the Pharisees who claimed salvation by direct physical descent from Abraham. Like the Pharisees, they remain blissfully ignorant that God has no grandchildren! But that’s only the beginning of their delusion. They legitimise their Christianity by subscribing to a religious system. This system lays claim to infallibility whilst it promulgates the traditions of men, and teachings contrary to scripture. Sadly, this group forms the major percentage of ‘Christians’ in the world. By their own undertaking they have submitted to the lie that they are either saved or condemned in accordance with the rules of the religious institution they belong to! To be ‘born-again’, which is the absolute requirement for anyone to enter into the kingdom of heaven, is something alien to them. The term ‘born again’, which in biblical language refers to an unnatural birth, a birth by the Spirit of God, without the machinations of men, is something they are uncomfortable with. These diehards faithfully hold to the error that salvation is through the mediation of duly appointed priests, and made more certain by sacramentalism and sombre ritualism. Since they will not surrender to the supremacy of scripture over the teachings of men, they remain just like the Pharisees whom Paul commented about when he said: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old Covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor.3:14, 15). And so they continue blindly in their church attendance, religious systems, sacrifices, and dead works, fully convinced that they are justified through them, despite access to the truth in the written word of God. Such is the power of the lie into which they have been indoctrinated! The enemy has made it difficult for the unsaved churchgoer to receive the truth. As scripture says, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor.4:4 - word in brackets added by me).
Then there is another group of professing ‘Christians’. Unlike the first, these have been ‘converted’. Nevertheless, the whole process was painless. This lot received a simple formula – just invite Jesus into your heart and say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and presto! You’re in the kingdom. No doubt they were told of Gods’ love, but never of their total depravity; of God’s desire that none should perish, but not about God’s wrath against sin; of eternal life in heaven for the righteous but not of eternal damnation in hell for the wicked. The word they heard was full of promise, but failed to arouse even the slightest uneasiness about their utter filthiness in the presence of a Holy and Righteous God. They were never really convicted of sin. Neither did they see their disastrous condition and their desperate need to be delivered from it. Therefore accepting Christ was just a good and beneficial thing for them to do – the acquisition of a ‘passport’ that would come in handy at the right time. Their decision to accept Christ never involved renouncing their sinful lifestyles. Neither did they hear that ‘giving their lives to Christ’ involved making an immediate choice between obedience and disobedience to God’s word. So, they eagerly subscribed to what I call ‘easy Christianity’. This group lives happily in the delusion that church membership and rigorous involvement in religious activities is all the assurance they need of their true Christianity. Becoming a disciple of Christ, which is at the very heart of one’s conversion to Christ, was never on their agenda and never will be if they can help it. They view discipleship as nothing more than an option, as something over and above the call to being a Christian. They were never truly born again in the first place; even though they could probably name the day, place, and the very minute, they were ‘converted’. Therefore, it is not surprising that they continually defend their sinful lifestyles, twisting God’s word as they see fit to suit their lustful habits. Continual self-examination and confession of sin – the distinguishing characteristic of the regenerated person - are an unwarranted inconvenience to them. To use a worldly analogy, they are like those who rush to scoop up a good shopping bargain when they see one. It is as though they saw a sign saying ‘this way to heaven – in one easy installment’ and they rushed headlong towards it for fear of missing out. They were enticed by ‘easy believism’. They will die to satisfy their needs. In stark contrast, the true Christian is called to a different type of dying – one of self-denial! In fact, we cannot come to Christ without a willingness to die to self. As the saying goes, ’fools rush in where angels fear to tread’. What is heartrending about this group is that they came through deceptive ‘come to Christ’ invitations! The invitation to accept salvation in Christ was stripped of all the ‘hard sayings’. They were presented with an easy and comfortable Christianity and a different Jesus to the Jesus of the bible. The invitation they received was to come ‘just as they are’ (which is scripturally true). But that they did not come through a conviction of sin and true repentance is evident from their resolute decision to live in sin. There is no doubt that there was some sort of blanket repentance - a formula - a standard ‘sinner’s prayer’ that was involved in the call to Christianity. However, it was a mere formality. It was not a point of decision, a point of making hard choices! Yet biblical repentance involves a mental affirmation and heart acknowledgment of sin, together with a deliberate choosing to turn around, with God’s help! Who would refuse the offer of such an ‘easy gospel’? Therefore, they clamber eagerly onto the Jesus bandwagon. Once on it they devote themselves to attracting the most attention. They get involved up to the hilt in church activities, in leadership, and on church boards and committees, in seminars and conferences, on television shows and the like. Many build impressive portfolios and public profiles. Nevertheless, they are still deceived and lost, the blind leading the blind! For all that frenzied activity ‘in the name of Jesus’, they might very well hear from his lips on that day,” Depart from me. I never knew you”. So these hapless ‘converts’, rushing madly through what Jesus described as the ‘broad gate’ (what I call ‘the easy Christianity gate’) add to the swelling throng of deceived churchgoers. Jesus said quite clearly that this ‘broad’ gate leads to destruction and that many would enter through it! In contrast, only a few would find the narrow gate, which is the only means of entry into the kingdom! Now, that is something to think about seriously.
My allegation that the church is full of unsaved people raises three important questions. Firstly, is it true? Secondly, does it call for self-examination of our personal position? Thirdly, what, if anything, can we do about the situation? Let me answer each briefly.
The first question: Is it true? - The fact of such an admixture of saved and unsaved, or if you like of believers and professors, is abundantly recognized in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the OT for example, when the Israelites left Egypt, a group of non- Israelites mixed with them and were the source of recurring complaints and trouble. The reader can follow this in Exodus and Numbers. It is impossible in this brief writing, to refer to all the passages in scripture that discriminate true believers from the mass of mere formalists, hypocrites and legalists. However, a few examples from the NT would serve to make the point. We know from Matthews’ gospel that Jesus laid down very stringent requirements for entry into the kingdom of heaven, giving examples of who may enter into it. He spoke about the sower and the seed, clearly depicting four different responses to the preaching of the gospel. In this illustration, there was nothing wrong with the sower or with the seed, but with the ground on which it fell. In another parable, he likened the kingdom of heaven to a dragnet, which pulls in every type of person, both good and wicked. Jesus said that no separation of the two takes place until the end of the age when the angels will separate out the wicked for destruction. Likewise, this mixture in the church will prevail to the very end, at which time the angels will separate the true believers from the rest. In his parable about the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus portrays the latter as having a form of godliness, but really lacking in substance. They had the lamps, but the lamps were not filled with oil and therefore useless. To put it another way, they had an outward show of salvation, but it was never really in their hearts. The ‘Churchiness’ that is prevalent today describes this condition accurately. Note what Jesus said to the foolish virgins:” Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you”. That is strong language and he used it often. We have only to search the scriptures diligently to discover that Jesus never gave even the slightest hint that entry into the kingdom would be easy. In fact, he quite deliberately and repeatedly asserted that it would be difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven. He also made no bones about discipleship, declaring, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”. Have we seriously considered the implications of this? Bear in mind that this requirement has nothing whatsoever to do with legalism, but everything to do with wholehearted obedience!
The apostle Paul also recognized the mixture of believers and unbelievers in the one institution. In chapter 10 of Romans, speaking about the Jews, Paul says:” Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God”. Paul clearly portrays Israel’s rejection of the Messiah (in keeping with OT prophecies). Yet to this day Jews continue to believe they are saved. Of course, we know that God has not entirely cast away his people ‘whom he foreknew’ (see Rom 11:2). He has reserved for himself a remnant out of the great multitude who parade themselves as ‘true Israelites’. Nevertheless, the point is that we see a mixture of saved and unsaved people belonging to the congregation of Israel. In other words, within ‘Israel’ are many that are not the true Israel. The same principle applies to the church. Speaking to the gentiles in Corinth, Paul makes this clear about certain men in the church. He says, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Writing to the Galatians, he says: “This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves” (Gal 2:4). Notice he calls them ‘brothers’ because that is what these pretenders purported to be. The apostle Peter warns “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them- bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute” (2Pe. 2: 1, 2). Therefore, not all who are in the church belong to the true church - that is, are truly born-again.
The second question: Does it call for self-examination of our personal positions? - Every single person falls into one of only two categories, either ‘saved’ or ‘not saved’. There is no intermediate position. There is no such thing as a third category of ‘fence sitters’ who have the option of deciding either way. The choice could not be simpler or clearer. Either you are in or out; it is black or white, this side or the other side, heaven or hell. Therefore, if you console yourself that you are OK whilst considering which choice to make, let me assure you that you are, without doubt, unsaved right now! On the other hand, you might be sincere but deceived, like those in the two groups of unsaved people in the church whom I referred to at the beginning. If so, reading this article may well be your god given opportunity to come into the truth and receive salvation. Do not put it off. Your eternity rests on it. Perhaps you have friends or family from either or both these groups and you are anxious for them. The apostle Paul too agonized over his brother Israelites. Is there anything you can do? Yes! Introduce them to the true gospel message of salvation, encapsulated beautifully in the catch cry of the Reformers - By Christ alone; By Faith alone; By Scripture alone!
The third question: What can we do about the situation? - Those that preach and teach have a great responsibility. They will be judged more sternly than others will, because they purportedly declare God’s word. Therefore, they must not contaminate the invitation to ‘come as you are’ by the implication ‘no change is required’. To do so is to pervert the truth of the gospel message and make a mockery of the death of God’s Son. Those who seek to swell the numbers of their congregations would do well to establish as their priority the salvation of souls, not the filling of pews or the raising of revenues for their ministries. This means genuine conversions. It is nothing short of blasphemy to encourage a prospective believer to feel comfortable about sin instead of uncomfortable. Let us not forget that what Jesus had to say about those who would lead children into sin applies also to those who are babes in the faith. What does Christ have in common with Belial? Fear the Lord, because we will all give account. Woe to those who preach a watered down gospel!
© Preach The word-with Pastor Joseph Rodrigues – www.kerysso.org