Published March 8, 2016

Paul's Epistle
"Christian In Name Only?"

Based on the responses I've been receiving from my recent columns about those who "pretend" to be Christians (see this and this and this), we are facing an enormous problem in many of today's churches.

Pastor Jim Link wrote, "This is a very true situation in our world today, and prominent in the church... I have met many who have repeated some prayer they were asked to repeat, but only did so to get the others off their back. They have never confessed with their mouth the belief in their heart that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and He is their personal Savior. They attend a church service if there is nothing else to do, but are expressionless, and never mention the name of Jesus. Some have admitted their reason for attending church services is to make business contacts. We, indeed, are a needy people looking for peace [apparently] without looking to Jesus Christ."

Pastor Jim touches on a significant part of the problem – those who "go through the motions" of becoming a Christian simply to please friends, family, their pastor or others in their church. And they do this without making a genuine, sincere personal profession of faith.

"What is most frightening," another pastor, Gary Gillispie, wrote, "are the people that are convinced that they are saved, but have never brought forth any fruit, never really have been born again... What happened to bring them to the conclusion that they are saved? Was it us telling them that they were saved? Based on what evidence? Just because they came to an altar and made a profession? But they show no fruit, no change of heart, no change of direction!"

Pastors, Sunday School teachers – indeed concerned Christians at all levels – must be exceptionally careful in this matter. Telling someone reassuringly that they are saved, when in fact they are not, simply makes it even more difficult for that "someone" to then publicly become a Christian when they finally understand the truth. (I mentioned the "shame factor" in last week's column.) False reassurance is certainly is not doing them any kindness.

This is why I recently passed along the testimonies of singers Josh Feemster and Riley Harrison Clark, both of whom had appeared for all the world to be Christians and had, in fact, been long involved in ministry – but finally came to realize they were not truly saved. Now they are. But making such a public confession took great boldness.

Reader Paul Mullen provided another story exemplifying this. At the church his family attended, "The pastor's son was at various times a choir member, a musician, the musical director and choir leader – and eventually assistant pastor. I will never forget one service. After many years of serving under his father's ministry ... I peeked and saw Brother Tim come off stage and head for the altar. I thought nothing of this at first. I thought that he just had a burden for someone and wanted to pray at the altar. After the invitation, a very emotional Tim confessed to the audience that he had just accepted Jesus as his personal savior. That he [had] thought he understood. Since he was a preacher's kid and never knew anything else that he was automatically a child of the King. Tim became a Christian that day. I will never forget the impact that had on my life. I was astonished!"

"Brother Tim" finally understood – and got it right.

Pastor Gary provides this helpful checklist to help evaluate salvation:

Have you given Christ ownership of your life? Do you let Him control your actions and even your thoughts? That is, after all, the definition of His title – Lord. Is He truly Lord of your life?

While these columns have dealt primarily with those who pretend to be Christians but really aren't, reader responses have brought to light a related problem – those who are Christians but are afflicted by doubts about their salvation. I hope to have more about that in next week's column.

- Paul

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