July 14, 2006
Sometimes I get the feeling that people think there’s something wrong with questioning the reality of a profession of faith. It’s legalistic, or judging, or holier than thou. Or something.
But if evangelists want to see lost sinners saved, and if evangelists know that we sinners can deceive ourselves, then it’s not surprising that we want to try to make sure (with all appropriate qualifications about our limitedness) that conversions professed are conversions possessed.
Or is it just sour-faced theologians who think about such things? Are preachers who think about such things unevangelistic? Here’s what one preacher said, reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the sower and the soils. “There are so many stony ground hearers, who receive the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits. I cannot believe they are converts until I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul any harm.”
Does such a determination seem uncharitable or unevangelistic? What preacher would say such a thing? That was George Whitefield (as cited by Carey Hardy, “Just as I am” in John MacArthur, ed., Fool’s Gold, , pp. 136-137). I don’t think George Whitefield was unevangelistic for wanting to know a tree by its fruit, and neither are we today. In fact, I think such a concern would actually help our churches to do more real evangelism.
And besides, as Whitefield says, such caution "will never do a sincere soul any harm."
What should we do? Encourage the new believer in all things good. Remind them of the gospel. After some appropriate time (which would vary much from case to case) they should be baptized and join a church. They should regularly hear the preaching of the Word, commune, fellowship, pray and obey the Word. They should be building relationships in order to do that. And they should be told to hope in Christ alone for their salvation. Our desire is to find every professor getting safely home to heaven.
And then what about counting converts? The final tally will be made by God in due time. And that’s the only tally that matters.