False Converts and True Disciples

Joshua West

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV) 

For as long as I have been studying the Scripture I have been troubled by something. As I read the teachings of Jesus, it appears to me that much of his message is not taught in most churches in our nation. I’m referring to messages about repentance, final judgement, false converts, and being prepared for his coming, all of which are the subject of much of Jesus’ parables and teachings.

It’s rare to hear a message based on those subjects from the pulpit of a megachurch, or from the lips of a so-called celebrity preacher. There are a few who preach love and repentance, but not the majority. Most want to broadly discuss the love of God in a way that doesn’t convict or inconvenience anyone. 

This was not Jesus’s way at all. When you talk about these passages, which make up a majority of Christ’s teachings, Christians often minimize their implications because it doesn’t line up with the version of Christianity they, and much of the West, are attempting to market. 

Have you ever considered what it means to follow Jesus? What if you did this: reconsider all the perceptions you grew up believing, all the traditional understanding you have, your denomination’s position, what your parents believed, what your pastor (or anyone else for that matter) taught you. What if you reexamined everything you believed about being a Christian from Scripture alone? 

If you have never attempted this exercise, you should, because this is the standard by which you will be judged. Until we have a true encounter with Christ in which we repent for our past, surrender our future, and let the Holy Spirit take up residence in our lives, we will never be able to perceive spiritual truths. 

A True Disciple
Being born again is denying your old life to the point of death and being born into a spiritual life in Christ. We must make sure that what we say and preach about salvation through Christ, and about who the person of Jesus truly is, lines up with Scripture. If we do not, we’re not only deceiving ourselves, but we may be deceiving others as well. 

Several years ago, I started feeling a burden in my spirit, and conviction in my heart, for the complacency that God began to show me in my life. Not a complacency about how much I was giving or my level of dedication to ministry, but the degree to which I let popular church culture dictate what was right and wrong, what was acceptable and what was not, instead of the Scriptures. 

Many of these things are subtle and creep in over time, but I began to see that I had an overly Americanized view of the gospel about what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus. When we take the Scriptures and the words of Jesus at face value, and don’t use Americanized “logic” and our culture of ease and comfort to explain away the hard sayings of Jesus and the true cost of discipleship, we are left with something much different than the gospel of accommodation we hear from many pulpits today. 

Seeing Through a Biblical Lens
I began trying to divorce the Scripture from my own cultural bias, the bias I had gained by living my entire life in America. I also began to try to sort through “church sayings.” These are the things you hear people say in church that sound spiritual and almost biblical but are not actually in the Bible. I cast those aside. Everything must be reconciled to the words of Scripture. 

So much of what we believe as Americans is built around a view of convenience and comfort rather than self-denial and laying everything down at the foot of the cross. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your parents, or your pastor, or your denomination are wrong, or that you shouldn’t listen to them. What I am saying is that, ultimately, we are responsible for what we believe, and we are responsible to study the Bible for ourselves. The Scripture should have the final word on everything. 

Do you think most people are going to be saved? What in the Scripture leads you to think that? The sort of casual association with Jesus most people who claim Christ in America have doesn’t reconcile with the dramatic, life-changing encounters of the disciples in the Scripture and true saints throughout church history. 
The disciples walked away from everything they knew to follow Jesus. Matthew left his tax collector’s booth. Peter, Andrew, James, and John left behind the security of their family’s fishing businesses. Paul left behind his life as Saul the Pharisee. 

Throughout the history of the church, people have been forsaking worldly riches and security to follow Jesus. Even to this day Christians throughout Asia, Africa, and the Arab world choose to follow Jesus despite the great personal cost that they may incur for being a Christian. 

This is about becoming a disciple of Jesus, a follower, a servant, not saying a prayer that you don’t even understand in the back of a church. Doesn’t it bother us at all that the framework many churches use to lead people to Christ is void of repentance, surrender, and the gospel as presented in the Scripture?  

Preach the True Gospel
The teachings of Jesus say something different than what much of the American church says. The mainstream and the status quo won’t offer the security of true salvation. We are obsessed with talking ourselves into believing that our lost loved ones and friends are somehow saved because they attend church, or are good people by society’s standards, or because they grew up in a so-called Christian home—even though it’s obvious their lives are not bearing fruit. 

I’m not saying this to be cruel. I’m saying this so that we feel the needed sense of urgency to pray for the lost and preach the gospel to them instead of living in denial about the state of their souls. The Scripture says broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it, but small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:14).

When we look into the crowds of the megachurch do we assume that most of the people sitting in the seats are all right with God? Is there even such a thing as being all right with God? Is there such a thing as lukewarm Christians? Or casual Christians? Or are most of them walking down a broad road that is paved with easy answers, comfort, compromise, and headed straight to hell? 

False Converts
It is interesting that rarely do we hear sermons about false converts when so many of the parables of Jesus address that very topic. But not just in parables; Jesus is straightforward with this message in Matthew 7. Here he addresses false converts directly—people who feel they are all right with God, people who will be surprised on the day of judgement when what they thought it meant to be saved was weighed, yet found wanting. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and, in your name, perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”  Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV) 

It’s striking that Jesus doesn’t say that you are exempt from this message if you repeated a salvation mantra in church. In fact, the way most people attempt to present the gospel is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Inviting Jesus to come into your life without the willingness to follow him and lay down everything is not salvation, it is self-deception. 

So much of what Jesus says to us through the Scriptures were words of warning. Why do we preach about salvation as though it is about the words we say, rather than a choice to give up an old corrupt nature and life, and take on an entirely new nature and life? 

Where is the urgency? Do we really believe all things outside of Christ are subject to judgement? Do we think that people who have repeated a mantra or a halfhearted prayer in church are going to be saved from the wrath that is to come? 

The Fear of the Lord
Why do we think that God will suffer a people who do not fear him, respect him, or have a casual association with his Son who bled and died for us? We know by the thief on the cross that it's not about a life well lived. Obviously, he didn’t have time or opportunity to even bear fruit as far as works go, but he did bear the fruit of repentance due to a moment of wisdom that came from fearing the Lord. Let’s examine the components of His conversion. 

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 (NASB) 

The fear of the Lord and repentance of sin seems to be what motivated the thief who Christ said would be with him in paradise. He was aware of his sin and his need for a savior. If the salvation offered by Christ is one given on the basis of faith, what might have caused the thief who was repentant to have faith in Christ? 

I believe it was in response to the words of Jesus when he prayed for the very people who were insulting him and abusing him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). 

This must have brought conviction to this man’s heart knowing that Jesus was being crucified the same way he was, although he had done nothing wrong. Instead of being angry or resentful, Jesus cried out for God to forgive them. 

We should have the same reaction when confronted with the fact that a Holy God would die on our behalf, especially when we deserve the wrath of God, not the mercy of God. 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (NIV) 

One of the reasons the church is full of false converts is because somewhere along the way we removed repentance from the gospel and we no longer preach the fear the Lord. Salvation occurs when a sinner becomes aware of God and his perfect law of justice, and then feels conviction for their sins. It’s the conviction of our sin that leads us to repentance. 

This is where faith comes in. If we believe like the thief on the cross that Jesus’s death took our place and took our rightful punishment then we can accept the free gift of salvation. Before you truly can accept forgiveness, you must first acknowledge your sin; you must acknowledge your need for forgiveness. 

If we were not truly desperate sinners deserving of judgment and on our way to hell, then why do we say that we are saved? If there is no hell and no judgement, then why do we need to be saved? If we were not sinners deserving of wrath, then Jesus died for nothing. 

Another reason so many false converts think they are saved when they are not, is because we offer something the person wants and tell them that they will receive it if they follow Jesus. But here’s what you actually get when you follow Jesus: You get Jesus. If that statement isn’t enough for you, you are probably not truly one of his. 

“…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 (NKJV) 

True Converts
What does it mean to follow Jesus according to the Scripture? I can tell you this, it has little to do with reciting a salvation mantra that you don’t believe. The so-called salvation prayer isn’t magic. Confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart doesn't mean that if you conjure up the courage to recite a prayer and that some magic in that prayer will save you. 

If you believe that God raised Christ from the dead of course you will confess it. You will preach the gospel everywhere you go, because that's what true converts do. 

The term Christian in our culture doesn’t mean much anymore. That's why I use terms like, “servant of Christ,” “Christ follower,” and “disciple.” These present a clearer statement than “Christian.” Most people in the West call themselves Christians, but they don’t follow Christ like a true disciple or servant. 

In Christ,

Pastor Joshua 

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.