They Profess to Know God: Do They Know Him? (Part 1)

Reposted from Rooted Thinking.

The Disciple-Maker’s Challenge

Everyone who seeks to make disciples in obedience to Jesus Christ faces the same difficulty:

We all try to discern whether or not those we lead to profess Jesus Christ have genuinely believed.

None of us wants to give an unbeliever false hope of salvation if they have not yet repented and placed their faith in Jesus. And so, we all face frustration.

Christians try to deal with this problem different ways. Some decide to take every profession of faith at face value. This is especially true if the new believer knows how to answer basic Gospel content questions. Those who deal with the problem this way usually baptize those that profess Jesus as Savior right away. If you question them, they will point to the book of Acts and respond, “We just trust the Lord with the true results.”

Others, genuinely concerned about false professions, seek to be more careful and discerning. They do not give new believers in Christ assurance of salvation until after they have studied the Bible for a while, come to church, have completed a certain number of lessons, or a certain length of time has passed.

In the end, however, every local church still deals with doubts concerning new disciples. We want to “know for sure” that those we have led to Jesus have true faith. I would like to suggest that, while we must do all we can to present the Gospel clearly and seek to discern the sincerity of a person’s profession of faith, we will never be able to be sure. Ultimately, we simply cannot avoid the possibility of accepting false converts. Only God can see the heart.

I would like to help each of us better understand what our responsibilities are and are not when striving to make disciples. We must try to discern genuine saving faith among those who profess Jesus Christ in our ministries. But how can we know? What responsibility does the church have in ensuring genuine faith? Some of us are discouraged by seeing struggling believers. Some of us carry unnecessary guilt and need encouragement in the work of Christ. Understanding brings with it both sober responsibility and freedom.

This is the first of three articles exploring these truths:

  • Those who endure to the end are true believers.
  • Church discipline reveals true saving faith.
  • Levels of growth vary between believers.
  • Life “Baggage” and hindrances can make change difficult.

Let’s consider the first of these truths together:

Those Who Endure to the End are True Believers.

The book of Revelation has numerous descriptions of genuine believers in Jesus Christ, both in the age in which we live, as well as of those who will be alive during the Tribulation:

Those who “conquer”; those who “hold fast”, those who “keep my (Jesus’) works until the end”; those who “endure” (Rev 2:7, 10-11, 18, 25-26; 3:5, 10-12, 21; 13:10; 14:12).

What are the clear implications of these many verses?

  • Those who endure to the end, who “conquer” in faith, who maintain their faith to death—these are those who are truly God’s people.
  • Some will seem to believe, be tested, and fall away. Some will not endure to the end, will not conquer, and will not maintain their faith.

We do all that we can to teach the word of God and pray for those who profess Christ, but whether or not these endure to the end is not our burden to bear.

In our ministry in Cambodia, we have done all we can to preach Christ clearly and give time to see whether new believers are genuine or not before baptizing them. We know the Khmer language fluently. We are students of the Cambodian culture. We know there are questions and truths that are hard for them to grasp. We know how to read people fairly well. We have lots of experience preaching the Gospel there. And still, even after twenty years of ministry there, we see some fall away whom we were certain knew Christ.

Some will fall away

(Names changed throughout the articles.)

We had a young family with small children make professions of faith. They studied Creation to Christ with us twice a week for several months. They wanted to be baptized and wanted to evangelize. They were baptized, and we hoped to see a church planted in their village. We began to see that the wife, Sara, was losing interest. Then the husband, Ron, said to us, “We don’t want to study anymore. My wife does not want to keep believing, so we are done.” You can imagine how we felt after spending so much time and energy and love on those people! They returned to Buddhism and spirit worship.

One teenage girl, Talitha, was very faithful and memorized much Scripture. We were excited for her. Then she got caught up in all of the excitement of a new opportunity to go work in South Korea. We urged her not to go, but she and her mother were mesmerized by the love of money and the potential that they could become wealthy. We knew that the lifestyle of these migrant factory workers in Korea was horrible—lots of sexual immorality, drugs, alcohol, etc. Talitha was just a girl! She went. She got involved with a young man that said he would become a Christian if she married him. They got married, and he stopped all attempts to look like a believer. He even openly worshiped spirits, drank alcohol heavily, and went to night clubs. Talitha never returned to church. Many years have passed, and she has not come back, but she still says, “I believe in Jesus.”

Talitha’s family not only lost all of the money made in Korea, but they also ended up $60,000USD in debt. They lost everything. It tore their extended family apart, which included other believers in the church as well. It was hard to watch. This is the hard part of Gospel ministry—watching people turn away from God to their own destruction.

We must not feel guilt or personal failure when someone falls away, if we have done what we could to teach, counsel, and pray in love.

The rest is between them and God.

Some will endure

Yes, we will see some, maybe even many, fall away, especially in places new to the Gospel message. But some will hold fast! Some will endure!

Mome has weathered many serious trials. She has not always obeyed Christ when put to the test, but when she has failed, she has confessed her sin and stayed the course.

Saul has, too. He was a marble idol carver. He came to Christ and gave up idol carving and stood for Christ. His wife has not yet become a stable Christian. He endures much pain and shame because of his extended family’s foolishness, but he has held to the works of Jesus. Saul has been a trophy of grace.

Gospel ministry includes grief and sorrow over those who fall away. This cannot be avoided anymore than a farmer can avoid losing crops to bad weather or to animals at times. Yet the Gospel ministry also includes a harvest, with its joy over those who respond to the Gospel in faith. We labor for those who will believe in truth, those who endure.

Forrest McPhail Bio

Forrest has served as a missionary in Buddhist Cambodia in Southeast Asia since 2000. He presently serves as the Asia/Australia/Oceania regional director for Gospel Fellowship Association missions. He enjoys writing and teaching on missions and the Buddhist worldview. He and his wife, Jennifer, have 4 children.

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