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WHAT IS “FALSE CONVERSION”?
Could It Even Affect You?
What is “False Conversion”? Various ideas circulate on this subject. For Herbert W. Armstrong, who founded the Worldwide Church of God in 1933, false conversion referred to those who professed belief in the Christ yet did not keep God's law – especially not “honoring the sabbath”! (Odd really when you consider the thousands of words written by the apostle Paul in the New Testament covering both doctrine and Christian living without referring to the sabbath even once!)
Some Calvinists consider that certain Arminians are the victims of false conversion, especially those who “came to the Lord” during Finneyite camp meetings and gospel campaigns and were never taught the importance of repentance. Did they experience genuine repentance?...or were they the victims of emotional manipulation? We could go on with examples of this sort but there is little point. Does the Word of God itself provide us with any help in our quest to discover what “false conversion” really is? Yes, it does!
The topic of false conversion is covered in some detail in the Parable of the Sower!
The Parable of the Sower can be found in Mark 4:3-8, 13-20 (Also Matthew 13). Please first of all open your own Bible and read these verses in Mark.
Now before we
proceed with this I want to briefly explain something about the
biblical concept of “calling”. The New
Testament uses the topic and concept of 'the called' and
'calling' in two different ways, and it is essential that
we understand this before we continue in order to avoid
Firstly, there is a sense in which everybody who has ever heard the name of Christ, or the message of the Gospel has received a 'call' – this is in the most general, or loose sense of 'calling' – Matthew 22:14 uses this loose sense of calling when it says, 'Many are called but few are chosen'.
But, secondly, there are times when 'calling' is used in the sense of the Elect of God who alone receive a call. See John 6:44,65 and John 10:14-16, 27-29. This point will become clearer as we proceed.
In the Parable of
the Sower, the Seed is the Word of God. The sower is the
preacher, or evangelist who takes the Word of God to those
who do not know God. The seed, or Word of God, has real life
within it beyond that which is obvious just by looking at it! You
look at a seed and it looks dried up and useless but you plant
that seed and (in the right conditions) a crop is eventually
produced whether it be of corn, fruit, vegetables or beautiful
flowers! But you look at the seed before you sow it and it looks
very unpromising. Interesting then that some scoffers have called
the Holy Bible just a dried up and ancient Book – what a
surprise they will eventually have when they see the harvest
which this ancient Book will eventually produce!!
Now let us consider the four groups in Mark 4 and how they react to this more general sense of being called:
GROUP ONE: UNRESPONSIVE. (Mark 4. Verses 14-15 - I am using the NIV throughout):
describes these first seeds as falling on the path where birds
soon pounce for it. Now when some people hear the Gospel, God
allows Satan to grab it away from them. But why (it might
be reasonably asked) does God allow that? Because it is simply
not God's will that these people respond in faith to the gospel
at the present moment! The sovereign God is in charge of these
things and those people – for whatever reason – are
currently shut off from responding to the Gospel. It is simply
not God's will that they should respond and become part of the
Body of Christ during this age of the Church. Maybe they will
find mercy much later on, on the Day of Judgment, but maybe they
are simply not of God's Elect and will never come to Christ. In
these cases God simply hands those people over to Satan. It's a
bit like the man who attends a funeral and hears the Gospel fully
outlined, yet he goes home and forgets all about it. He is
unresponsive to the Gospel at the present time. He
remains part of this ungodly society and don't forget that
Paul calls Satan the 'god of this world' (2 Corinthians
4:4) so the man is effectively handed back to Satan. There is a
sense in which this man received a 'call' (when he heard the
Gospel expounded) but only in the more loose sense of calling
– this man does not (at least at the present time) belong
to Christ, that is, He is not being 'called' (that is, in the
more particular John 10 'the shepherd knows His own
sheep' sense of that expression).
Some find this a very hard teaching but I am bound to uphold what the Scriptures clearly teach. I do not say (unlike some) that these people are simply doomed to Hell, or 'prepared for destruction' – simply that during this church age they are apparently not being called. A few sincere people might find it easier to say that these people simply reject Christ – it is just their decision, but I am bound to say that the Scriptures do not teach this. The Scriptures teach that many such people are currently 'closed off' from the message of grace (Matthew 13:10-16; Ephesians 1:3-14). It is going beyond the Scriptures to say that these people are simply fashioned for Hell (as hyper-Calvinism said), all that seems to be clear is that these people do not respond during the age of the Church. A 'hard saying' or not, we simply have to accept that God allows certain people, upon hearing the gospel, to be snatched away by Satan. If we say that God tries His hardest to prevent this happening but that Satan somehow succeeds anyway, we make Satan stronger than God.
GROUP TWO: ALL SHOW BUT NO ROOTS: FALSE CONVERSION. (Mark 4. Verses 16-17):
This seed lands among rocks and stones – in poor quality soil. There is no depth of quality soil here. I have been a keen gardener during my life and this has sometimes happened to me. I have sowed seed and most fell in good soil but some fell among too many stones. That seed indeed often quickly sprang up but it was ultimately useless. Mark talks about these people as receiving the word 'with joy' but since the ground is too stony, successful roots cannot be put down. As Mark says:
'....When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fell away.' (Verse 17).
You see, these seeds had
sprang up far too quickly. I have seen that in a few who appear
to respond to the Christian Faith: huge initial enthusiasm! You
almost have to hold them back a little!! But it does not last. It
is all 'top growth' - all show - but no willingness or ability to
put down roots. Some people suddenly think it is a good thing to
become a Christian, but they are disinterested in the Bible
– that is always a dangerous sign! We put down
spiritual roots by our desire to learn more of God's inspired
revelation to men and women. But some say, 'Oh I don't need to
worry too much about the Bible because the Spirit will guide
me.' Wrong!! We all need a firm foundation to anchor
us in good times and in bad. We all need a firm
foundation to protect us from heretical teachings, and we
all need a firm foundation to know the mind of God –
how God has reacted and responded in numerous past
situations as recorded in the Bible – that just comes from
knowing our Bibles! These people experienced a false
conversion (as we are going to see, two of the groups in this
parable actually experience a false conversion). Of course it is
not just Bible knowledge, there are other ways in which we should
put down firm roots – through prayer, through cultivating
long-term Christian friendships and so on. But when one tells
some new believers that the Bible prescribes this or prescribes
that they are sometimes rebellious to it; they want 'Jesus' (or
they think that they do) but they have no depth of understanding
and their minds are just not working in a converted, humble
It is worth taking the time to check out what Luke says about those who say, 'Lord, Lord' but do not want to obey Him, unwisely building without a proper foundation and eventually swept away in a flood: Luke 6:46-49. These people might be 'in love' with the idea of becoming a Christian but it is shallow and it does not last. When they encounter opposition or persecution they 'throw the towel in'.
GROUP THREE: THOSE WHO CANNOT GIVE UP THIS WORLD: FALSE CONVERSION. (Mark 4. Verses 18-19):
This is the second group who are affected by false conversion. This group do not even appear to have that initial (and sadly misleading) 'bubbly enthusiasm' for God. You see, the second group were not that bothered about this world with its evil and deceptive glamour and glitz, they just did not see the need to build on what they had been given, so they built no character and trials were their undoing, but this third group have an appetite for the world and its allures and it just continues to be too important to them. The '...Deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things...' (verse 19) are their undoing. So the word becomes unfruitful for them. Perhaps this third group (unlike the second) are prepared to put down foundations and roots, that is not their undoing – their love for this society is their undoing: this is their fatal flaw. In 2 Timothy 4:10 the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy about somebody like that, a man called Demas,
'For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica...'
This same Demas is
apparently also mentioned elsewhere by Paul (Colossians 4:14;
Philemon 23), so he had been a companion of Paul and Paul must
have held him in high regard. Yet this man (unless he later
repented, which is possible), apparently walked away from the
Faith because he could not resist this world. I also worry about
certain ministers and pastors in our own day who appear to
gradually become less and less interested in the Gospel and
increasingly passionate about getting involved in social affairs
and in politics! Is that not another example of loving this world
more than Christ?? I do not judge them, I simply ask the
Again, I know of a Church of England (Episcopalian) minister who certainly appears to have left his first love and now writes books and articles on the occult. He gets invited on talk shows too but I have never heard this man expound the Gospel even once – not even indirectly. But James says,
'You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit (the human spirit God gave to all, not the Holy Spirit – my insert) he caused to live in us envies intensely?' (James 4:4-5).
The mega church which my wife and I attended for a few years had a very broad and populist view of evangelicalism; we accepted this for a while because of our opposition to Legalism but it is possible to go too far in the other direction! One day it simply dawned on me that probably a majority within that congregation thought that this world with its glamour and goods and enticements and money and success was a very nice place! It hit me that the New Testament view that Christians should stand separate and avoid 'worldliness' at all costs was completely absent from our place of worship!
GROUP FOUR: THOSE WHO PRODUCE FRUIT: TRUE CONVERSION! (Mark 4. Verse 20):
This seed falls on good soil and a crop is produced with fruit being borne. Listen! I was a gardener during much of the 1980s: let me tell you that the best quality soil is soil which somebody has specially prepared for the seed! Who prepared this ground?
'You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last....' (John 15:16)
'If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world...' (John 15:19).
Again, this is uncomfortable teaching for some but may I encourage everybody who will read this to set aside doctrinal presuppositions and prejudices and simply read what these Scriptures so plainly say! I would ask some of my very sincere friends who come from an Arminian background to simply consider that the people in this fourth group were chosen before the foundation of the world to be in Christ (yet human decision remains completely meaningful). Please read this Scripture with utmost care:
'For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding' (Ephesians 1:4-8)
'In him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession – to the praise of his glory' (Ephesians 1:11-14).
There is great hope in this Scripture, since those called during this age of the Church are called the 'First to hope in Christ' – this suggests that others will be saved through Christ later! But I think these very clear Scriptures speak for themselves of the sovereignty, planning, jurisdiction and election of God! If we hold a picture of God waiting on us and waiting on our decision and being dependent on that before He acts, I would respectfully suggest that that is not a biblically accurate portrayal of Holy Scripture.
So these are the fruit bearers and we know that we all bear differing fruits and differing amounts of fruit, yet only the saved bear genuine fruit.
So this marvellous parable makes it clear that 'false conversion' is a sad and tragic reality. It also makes it clear that we can make 'our calling and election sure' by avoiding these two major pitfalls:
Not digging sufficiently deep foundations in the Word of God and in an active walk with Jesus Christ.
Clinging too close to this world and its numerous false and God-denying attractions.
Lets keep the Faith!
'Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fail, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.' (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Robin A. Brace, 2005.
(This was a sermon given several times by Mr Brace to various congregations in South Wales, UK, around 2001).