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The Worry of False Conversion

March 7, 2007

One of the biggest heroes of evangelism in our history came at the hands of our Saviour through His servant Asahel Nettleton in the early 19th century.   But Nettleton’s biggest barriers in his ministry came at the hands of the one who came up with the “anxious seat” and that was a man named Charles Finney.   The reason I call it a barrier is because of the love that Nettleton had for the lost where it seemed as though Finney only cared about conversion numbers.   We can see this noted in a quote by the evangelist:

“I used to say to ministers whenever they contended with me about my manner of preaching, and desired me to adopt their ideas and preach as they did, that I dared not make the change they desired. I said: ‘Show me a more excellent way. Show me the fruits of your ministry; and if the fruits of your ministry so far exceed mine as to give me evidence that you have found out a more excellent way than I have, I will adopt your views. But do you expect me to abandon my own views and practices and adopt yours, when you yourselves cannot deny that, whatever errors I may have fallen into, or whatever imperfections there may be in my preaching style, and in everything else, – yet the results unspeakably surpass the results of yours?'”

Nettleton on the other hand cared for the sheep’s true conversion and wanted to make sure that all who believed in Christ, truly believed.   Some say that Nettleton’s “conversions” were 95% pure, although I don’t know how we can measure this until we get to heaven.  But, on the other hand, it is noted that Finney admitted that his methods produced far too many false converts. 

The reason for this opening comes about in my belief of a faith that works, not a dead faith.  There are some who claim that once the “prayer” is said then all is good and live life how you will.   I don’t know what “prayer” they are speaking because I believe that Peter is in heaven yet probably didn’t follow the “4 Spiritual Laws” to get there.  Are we called to repent, confess and believe?  Of course.  But so many use this prayer approach to win the lost that it becomes almost like fire insurance for the unbeliever.  There has to be more.  I believe wholeheartedly in Sola Gratia, Sola Fide and Solus Christus but I believe that since it is a faith given to us by our Father in heaven (Phil 1:29) then this is a faith that will produce good works.  If it does not, then you are not saved.  Simple as that.  Most call this Lordship Salvation and I would adhere to this belief.   Look at the reference by Paul:

because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth;
Colossians 1:5,6

Notice this.  The people that Paul is speaking to have a hope in heaven, so these are believers as we know that those without Christ have no hope (Eph 2:12) and notice that there was something that caused them to have this hope in the past, they heard the word of truth.  As Paul continues, the way that Paul proves that the word of truth is just that: true, he does so by pointing to the fruit of the gospel.  Notice that Paul states this: just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing. 

Here comes the key for us who have a hope laid up for us in heaven; Paul points to the saved Colossians so that they can test the gospel through the testing and proof in their own lives.  He does this by pointing to the fruit in their lives.  Paul states this: even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth.  Paul “proves” the gospel and reminds the power of the gospel by pointing to the fruit and the increasing of that fruit by the Colossians.  When did the Colossians start producing fruit?  The day they heard and understood, or better yet, from a heavenly perspective, the day they were converted by the regeneration of the Spirit. 

 So we have to look at the opposite as well.  What if the Colossians had “prayed a prayer” yet never had fruit?  How can Paul comfort these Colossians who were being so barraged with heresy?  What would Paul have said?  Would he have said, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even though when you heard and understood your life never changed and you kept going on with your same routine. 

No, of course not.  Paul uses the fruit as a comfort to the Colossians, but notice that Paul thanks God for their faith not the Colossians themselves in verse 3.  The reason?  Because God is the one who gave the faith to the Colossians so that they could bear fruit and increase in fruit.  This faith produces fruit and is not a dead faith.  

 Why do I follow in the worry as Nettleton did?  Because I do not want to see people that I know, love and shepherd to ever hear the words, “away from Me for I never knew you.”  My care is not for a “Lordship agenda” but for the true conversion of sinners to the glory of God.

 The problem is the teaching of “say this prayer and your good” does just that.  It encourages results regardless instead of the quality of those results.   I truly believe in faith alone for salvation but I believe that this faith produces fruit in our lives that exalt our Saviour.   Faith without works is a dead faith and a worthless faith not from God. 

 I want to be a Nettleton and not a Phinney.  I want to care more about the lives of those converted instead of the numbers themselves.  The interesting thing is that even though Nettleton never cared for the numbers someone added them up and showed that, even though Nettleton was in a scarcely populated area in New England, over 25,000 converts came from his ministry by the hand of God. 

May we bear fruit and may that fruit increase. 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 25, 2007 12:05 pm

    Dead on!

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