Recently, it happened again. Eating a meal with a fellow pastor, I mentioned my belief that the most important theological issue facing the Church today is that of false conversion.
The pastor’s reaction was classic. He just looked at me with a blank stare as if to say, “Are you kidding?” I could tell that he had never considered that before and the concept held no weight. His look spoke volumes. He no doubt could think of many more important issues facing the Church today.
But I am firm in my belief that false conversion is one of the most important spiritual issues leaders must address in the Church today. For the simple fact remains, there are many people in our churches trying to live the Christian life and failing miserably at it, who mistakenly believe that they have been converted, and who clearly have not. I am not talking about the true Christian who loves God and is struggling in some areas of sanctification. The truth is, even those truly converted struggle when it comes to living the Christian life. But they give clear evidence they have been born again by the overall fruit of their life.
But there are massive numbers of people in churches today who were told all that was needed to enter the kingdom was to repeat a prayer and they are in. Some of these were seduced by a false gospel, which played up the great life that awaited them once they prayed the prayer—cessation of problems, peace of mind, financial blessings, etc. These would-be converts responded, being drawn in the belief that God was more interested in their happiness than their holiness. After all (they were told), “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, which worked out fine since it appealed to the innate selfishness of sinners. So they began what they think is the Christian life, never suspecting that they are deceived into thinking they are truly regenerated.
There are several reasons for this epidemic of false conversion, but I will further discuss one I previously alluded to: our superficial, initiation practices when it comes to instructing people how to enter the kingdom. In the name of keeping it simple, we have reduced our biblical response to repeating a prayer, commonly known as the Sinner’s Prayer. This is supposedly Scriptural since it simply instructs a person to “confess with their mouth the Lord Jesus”, which fulfills the biblical command (Romans 10:9). A person is calling on the Lord and also “receiving Jesus” (see John 1:12), another example of over-simplifying what Scripture says.
Leonard Ravenhill once quipped that it (the Sinner’s Prayer) has sent more people to hell than all of the bars across this country combined. That is because the person in the bar can still come to the realization of his or her need for God but the one who thinks he already has God but does not, is living in an unspeakable darkness. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, warned against the danger of thinking the darkness is light: