In the local churches today are many who have made
a "profession of faith," yet seem to be lacking in consistency and
dedication to the things of God. They appear to have had a change
in their life and may even be improving to some degree. Yet they
lack maturity to the point where we may be forced to question what is wrong
in their lives. It is not that we are trying to judge them.
Rather we are simply trying to determine why they cannot ever seem to grow
to a point where it is obvious that they have the Spirit of God working
There are others in the church who do all the right things, and have apparently matured to where they are accepted as leaders and pillars of the church, yet if one had the discernment to see the motives behind their behavior, it would prove to be but a shell of empty activity. Tragically, many of them will never come to a realization of this and those who do will be a long time in coming to that conclusion.
What is it in the lives of these folk that is the cause of this? I can speak from experience for at least some of them and point to the exact problem. It is that they have reformed but have not been regenerated by the divine operation of the Holy Spirit of God. It is my intention and desire to show, in the following pages, what the difference is, how one may be misled, how to discern in your own life which you have, and finally, to show what can be done to get truly regenerated unto salvation.
What is reformation? The dictionary defines
it as "the act of reforming or the state of being reformed; correction
or amendment of life, manners, or of anything vicious or corrupt..."
So we find, then, that it is not a bad thing in and of itself, indeed,
it is good to a great extent. The problem lies in the fact that it
is produced from external rather than internal motivation as in forced
reformation, or from polluted motivation rather than pure motivation if
it is internal. "Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that
are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience
is defiled." - Titus 1:15. Though they have polluted motivation,
I do not intend to imply that the individual is aware of this, and in fact,
may believe they have the most honorable motivation in the world.
Indeed, if the individual has repeated a prayer, claimed a verse, or done
something which was intended to produce salvation, but which fell short
of genuine salvation, they will be deceived into believing they have been
reconciled to God. "In whom the god of this world hath blinded
the minds of them which believe not... - II Corinthians 4:4, and "The
heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know
it?" - Jeremiah 17:9.
Take as an example a drunkard. He may reform out of fear of losing his family, or his life. He may reform out of fear of losing his job and his income, or of going to jail. These concerns may lead to a forced reformation, yet he is still desiring drink. His reformation will be forced in that he has changed his external actions, but there is still a conflict with his internal desires. He must force the change and struggle to maintain it.
Likewise, an individual who has made a profession of faith, through whatever motivation, but has merely experienced a forced reformation will constantly struggle with their desires which remain unchanged. If this individual has only assumed that they were saved when they were not, they will always wonder why they constantly have such struggles.
The previously mentioned drunkard may reform out of a real concern for his family. He may abuse them when drunk and desire to be different. He may see the hardship he places on his employer due to his lack of dependability and desire to change. He may have had a strong moral upbringing which sharpens his conscience. (Conscience will be dealt with in the following section). Moral responsibility, or obedience to morals, has produced many fine individuals who make no claim of Christianity. These motivations may even lead him to hate alcohol to the degree that he loses the taste for it. Yet this may all be with no regard for the fact that it was a result of his sinful condition that he was a drunkard. God may not even have been considered in his desire to change, or if a profession of faith which is not real is involved, he may mistake this change to be a result of salvation due to his change in attitude and desires. Yet it would be that they were simply a result of becoming subject to his conscience and morals. This individual is doing what is right where he had been doing wrong. Who could fault him for his desire and change? None but God. Yet it is God who counts and to whom we will give account.
Note that a reformed individual looks good to those around him or her. Since we cannot see the heart it would be unlikely that any but the most spiritually discerning eye could ever spot a problem. We would likely be glad to associate with them and call them "brother," and it is likely we are doing so even now to many of these individuals. And to these individuals, their lives appear so right to themselves in so many ways, and there is so much that is enjoyable, it is nearly impossible for them to even think something could be wrong.
It is possible that a person who has a forced reformation would have no problem seeing their condition, as they likely would be obeying only to avoid judgement and/or punishment. In the depths of their heart they still desire to be doing what they did in times past. The things of God do not excite them and probably seem as drudgery and work to them. They find no joy in the service of Christ nor in the church. Their hindrance will be in getting honest before God. But those who have reformed out of moral responsibility, or who have been misled by Satan into thinking they have right motivation and who really do enjoy the things of God, it may be very difficult to see the truth. So it was in my case. I will cover this in more detail later.
Let me state at this point that there are many who would argue that the person who has only reformed will soon quit the service of God and will thus be gone in a short time. They further would assert that those who are in the church for years and labor zealously must be genuine. While it may be true that one who has a forced reformation will find it impossible to resist the desire to return to the old way of life, it is not the case with those who are deceived by Satan and who find the life they now live better than the old. For example, a person who has reformed yet still loves alcohol, sex, stealing, lying, and such will find it impossible to stay in church long. However, a reformed person who sees the dark side of their former life and sees the happier home they now have, the clarity of mind they enjoy, and the blessing of being around people of good character, and such will have to look long and hard to see their true spiritual condition. These individuals will often be deceived by the apparent satisfaction they enjoy. Even Alcoholics Anonymous would boast many of their members go for years and years without "falling off the wagon" and are leading a much more enjoyable life as a result of this.
It is also a fact that the longer you are around the things of God and away from the things of the world, the less the attraction to go back becomes. Also if you are never where the worldly things are you will not be as tempted by them. If you stay out of the bars the alcohol will not be as tempting as if you hang out there. Those who are in church long enough lose much of the memory of the world unless they stop to think about it.
Then there are those who have reformed at a young age and have not developed a taste for much of what is in the world and they will have an easier time remaining in the church. This is especially true if they have a genuine attraction to the things of God.
Finally, the things of God may appeal to the flesh of an individual without them realizing that this is their motive for serving. Jesus had many disciples as long as He fed and healed them. It was the same crowd crying "Crucify Him!" that had spread palm branches in His way a few days earlier. Not only do many in our churches look for what the church can do for them, but churches cater to, and even encourage, such attitudes by advertising what they have to offer as if merchandising the church! A person who does not have the Holy Spirit to tell him differently will be deceived into thinking his motives are pure due to the deceit of Satan (II Corinthians 4:4) and the deceit of his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Look at those in Matthew 8:21-23 who were deceived into believing they were saved, yet Jesus said He never knew them. Some would argue that they trusted in their works which may be so, but the point is that they were reformed (they did good things) and they were deceived. If they were hypocrites who knew they were hypocrites, they would not have even tried to convince Christ of their goodness.
So we see that reformation is good, but not sufficient to save, and that one can be reformed and believe they have been regenerated.
The individual who has been reformed goes through some similar experiences as the person who has truly been regenerated or saved, yet is lacking in others. We shall examine what takes place in the lives of each to see what causes this.
The first thing that must happen for a person to
change their manner of life, whether through reformation or genuine salvation
which produces a totally 'new creature,' is to have their conscience
awakened to the fact that they are deficient in their present state.
The Word of God speaks in I Timothy 4:2 of those who have had their conscience
'seared with a hot iron.' The implication is that these are
not only unsaved now, but never can be saved. They have been seduced
and misled to such a degree as to be unchangeable. In Romans chapter
1 it is the condition of the reprobate. This was also the state of
mankind in Noah's day and Lot's day, which led God to destroy them.
It is increasingly the condition of our world today which will ultimately
lead to the same fate for multitudes. We are not dealing with those
folk in this work. Suffice it to say that one must have a conscience
that is in working order for God to do a work in them of ANY kind.
The word conscience is used thirty times in the New Testament and is primarily used in connection with the believer, but as we saw in Titus 1:15 earlier, the unbeliever has a conscience also even though in God's sight it is defiled and will be thus until brought under subjection to the Truth in Christ. Further, Romans 2:15 speaks of the conscience of the Gentiles outside of faith, and Paul speaks in II Corinthians 4:2 of 'every man's conscience..' This implies more than just believers as he is dealing with preaching to the lost in this chapter.
So then conscience is the first thing God works on in leading us to salvation. However, this is only to get man's attention. The lost man is dead spiritually and without strength. God cannot use the faculties which an individual doesn't have yet to work in that person. Since one who reforms and one who believes unto salvation start at the same point, there is no difference in God's first dealings with either one. It is this conscience which produces the first noticeable effect on an individual and that is either sorrow or rebellion. The rebellious individual fights his conscience and often will win even unto the damnation of his own soul. No person will ever reform OR be saved until sorrow is produced. Yet even sorrow is not salvation, but is necessary to produce any kind of change in an individual.
Two types of Sorrow
As we have stated, sorrow is not sufficient in and
of itself to lead one to be saved. This is because there are at least
two types of sorrow as seen in II Corinthians 7:10. One is 'Godly
sorrow,' which produces repentance, and the other is 'the sorrow
of the world,' which produces death. The death spoken of here
is not physical death even as Adam and Eve did not die physically as soon
as they ate the fruit in the garden, but is spiritual death. Nor
is the work that worldly sorrow produces something that is started at the
time of sorrowing. It is a continuation of a work that is already
going on in the life of the lost individual as seen in John 3:18, "..he
that believeth not is condemned already.." In other words, we
could say, "..the sorrow of the world continues to work death."
The inference in II Corinthians is that the sorrow of the world is vain
because it does not alter the present course of the individual, not that
it sets him on a wrong course. In fact, worldly sorrow may indeed
manifest itself in a change of appearance externally, or that is, to others
brought on by a change of lifestyle. This we have seen previously.
It is merely that the changes brought about as a result of anything short
of Godly sorrow are not sufficient in the sight of God to save one, and
do not change the spiritual direction that individual is traveling.
We have all heard the quote, "We're all going to the same place, but
may be on different roads." The truth is, there are only two
roads or ways, the broad and the narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). The broad
road does have many lanes, and the express lane may get you to damnation
quicker, but simply changing lanes will not change the final destination.
One must experience regeneration through faith in Christ and be placed
on the narrow road if their destination is to be heaven.
Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is evidenced by the fact that it produces repentance as a by-product. It is a by-product in that it is not a direct result of sorrow, but is worked in an individual by a supernatural act of God through the Holy Spirit. There must first be conviction in the life of the individual before they can repent. One who has had their conscience bring them to sorrow may not even be thinking about God or sin as God sees sin. We spoke earlier of one who was sorry for what they had done to their family, themselves, etc. They also may be sorry only because they have been confronted or caught. They may have regret for the things they have done or for the way they are, but all of their changes, if there are any, will be a result of human strength and determination. Their decisions will be based on human logic and understanding. One who experiences Godly sorrow must be brought under condemnation of sin by the Holy Spirit of God. This is conviction as we referred to above. But it is a certain kind of conviction as we will bring out shortly. The Pharisees had conviction of conscience in John 8:9 when they wanted to stone the woman taken in adultery, but they were not convicted of sin by the Spirit of God unto repentance and salvation. We will deal with conviction in more detail in the next section.
When one is attempting to determine whether sorrow is of a worldly sort or of a Godly sort, the key is whether the Spirit of God is dealing with that person. This is especially important to understand when dealing with folk at the altar as we may lead them to make an attempt to get right with God when they are not even being dealt with by God. Oh, they may be evidencing sorrow and be under terrible burden, but is it God or conscience at work? (And to continue along these lines for a bit, even IF IT IS God working, are they at a point where Godly sorrow has come to fruition and is it ready to produce repentance in that person. We had best be certain that it is or we ought to leave them alone if we aren't willing or able to find out!!) The person who is sorrowing must also examine themselves to see what God is doing in them if anything. One cannot work up Godly sorrow, it is produced by the Holy Spirit of God working on that person.
So, then, Godly sorrow is produced by God as a result of conviction, but what is conviction that leads to salvation?
Conviction is a legal term which means 'to pronounce
guilty.' Jesus said in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit would reprove
the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. This word carries
the same connotation as convict. It means also 'to tell a fault;
to expose; to bring to the light.'
Conviction produced by the Holy Spirit of God differs from the conviction of conscience evidenced by the Pharisees in John chapter 8 in that it pronounces us guilty before God of being responsible for the crucifixion of His Son. He passes judgement on us and we are forced to agree with Him that the sentence is just and right. It forces us to be as the thief on the cross who stated in Luke 23:41, "And we indeed [are condemned -JMG] justly.." He saw his sinful nature as being responsible for Jesus' death. There was no hope for the other thief as long as he saw Jesus as he did and himself as he did. The second thief may have regretted the life he had lived and the grief he had caused, and even sorrowed as a result. He may have been in agony of conscience before they nailed him to the cross producing sorrow for what he had done, or been sorry that he had been caught, even to the point of tears, but it would have been in vain as it produced no conviction or repentance and thus there was no faith produced unto salvation. It would have been worldly sorrow that worketh death. While this is admittedly speculation, as we don't see him until he casts insults in the face of Christ, it is certainly possible. The point is, by the time we see him, his confrontation with his condition and circumstances had led him to become bitter, angry, and selfish. If he did have any sorrow or regrets they were not of the proper sort as they did not lead to eternal life. The same sun that melts wax, hardens clay.
When a person sees himself as condemned before God the Holy Spirit must then show him his utter inability to make up for his shortcoming in the sight of God. This will likely cause him to fear greatly as the appointed sentence is hell, the place of everlasting torment. Even this is not sufficient to atone for the lost individual's sins, it is merely his appointed fate. But the grace of God will also reveal the love God has for that individual and allow him to see Christ as his substitute and that the very death that he is responsible for is the thing that may allow him to go free. But this is still not salvation.
This conviction causes a person to see themselves as condemned before God for the sinful state they are in and which leads them to commit the sins they commit. In order for regeneration or true salvation to take place, the next thing that must take place is repentance on the part of the guilty sinner.
The New Testament word for repent means literally 'to perceive afterwards, and implies 'a change of mind.' It carries more than just the idea of a passive change however. It means to change one's mind to the extent that one heartily amends their actions for the better, with an abhorrence of one's past sins. This can only be done when the Holy Spirit works in one's life as seen in II Timothy 2:25 where Paul says, "In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." One cannot repent on their own as we are 'without strength,' according to Romans 5:6. Once one has repented of their sin, they must next be given faith in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ, also through the work of the Holy Spirit of God as seen in Ephesians 2:8 where Paul writes, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..." When this takes place a Divine operation occurs which is regeneration or the new birth or salvation.
By regeneration we mean the supernatural work of
God wrought by the Holy Spirit in an individual's life which allows them
to appropriate saving faith in the previously mentioned work of Jesus Christ.
Simply put, this means being saved or born again. This is the end of the
process that God works in that individual to reconcile them to Himself.
As Paul puts it in II Corinthians 5:17, they become 'new creatures,'
and everything in their life is changed. Not just the external actions,
but the very heart and soul of the individual is changed to be in harmony
and unity with God. He may appear the same as the reformed individual
and vice versa, but there is a vast difference in the two of them.
Regeneration can only take place after an individual's conscience has been stirred by preaching of God's Word as seen in Romans 10:17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Note the words hearing, and word. Hearing implies speaking and the Greek for word is one which means that which is uttered or spoken). Also I Corinthians 1:21 says, "..it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Any change wrought in a person's life apart from this can only be reformation! And even when one is stirred by preaching, reformation may be all that is produced in their life.
Then there must follow Godly sorrow. Not merely regret, but sorrow which is produced by God's Holy Spirit working on the individual's heart and convicting or reproving them of their sinful state. Such sorrow will result from their seeing sin as God sees sin and will cause them to see that it is their sin that caused Christ to die on Calvary. They will have a change of mind which will cause them to take God's side against themselves and repent.
We should point out here that while the individual who is convicted and repents may or may not understand the full significance of conviction and repentance, they MUST be significantly aware of the fact that it is more than merely feeling something that causes them to be sorry for their sin. They must also realize that more than a change in lifestyle is necessary for genuine salvation to have taken place.
A person may have a real experience that changes their life for the better and NOT be saved! This is evidenced by the blind man in Mark 8:22-26. He was actually touched by Jesus and saw somewhat, but was not complete. Look also at the man at the well in John 5:1-15, and the man born blind in John 9:1-38. Both of these men were touched and healed but saved later. Notice the phrase in John 5:14, "afterward Jesus findeth him..," and in John 9:35, "...and when [Jesus] had found him..." Notice that Jesus had to actively follow up on both these men to give them what they needed. It will take a work of God to show those who have missed real salvation the truth and allow them to get the real thing. We could also point to the phrase in Mark 8:25, "[Jesus] made him look up...," to show that it cannot be seen unless God does the work!
There is a danger in professions among very young persons, or those who have no church background. It is a failure to understand clearly the potential of mistaking conscience for conviction and reformation for repentance even when there has been a genuine change produced as a result of a real experience.
Once an individual has evidenced genuine conviction and true repentance, they may then be given faith to appropriate Christ's sacrifice for their sin as the atonement which will reconcile them to God. This appropriation or claiming of faith will result in a miraculous operation that will bring them into a covenant relationship with Almighty God unto the saving of their soul. Their life will be changed instantly and permanently as they are made the children of God. It must be clarified here, that the giving of faith is an operation of God and not of the individual as seen in Ephesians 2:8. We are saved 'by faith, which faith is 'not of yourselves.' While the appropri-ation or accepting of the faith is an act of the individual, the giving is an act of God.
In closing, I would like to give a brief testimony
of my own circumstances which I pray will allow some to see how easy it
is to be deceived and how hard it is to come to the truth. Time and
space will not allow me to give my full testimony here, but for those who
are interested I have printed it in another booklet which may be obtained
if desired. Let me give a brief highlight of some facets of my life
that apply to the preceding thoughts.
Since I had made a profession of faith at an early age, I had not been exposed to the world to a great degree. Therefore, after I made a profession of faith in Christ and became involved in church, I knew little of worldly things. I enjoyed the things of God because they are good things. God's people are the best people to be around. (Though the worst folk in church may act worse than the best among the worldly crowd, it is because they are likely not saved. But the best in church are better than the best in the world. And for sure the best in church are MUCH better than the worst in the worldly crowd.) The songs that uplift Christ and edify the saints are much better than songs that glorify drinking, and cheating on your spouse and rebelling against authority. I could go on, but this should suffice to prove my point. By being around these things, my life was pretty enjoyable.
The Bible says you reap what you sow, but if you don't sow wild seed, you don't reap much chastisement. There was little reason to suspect that my life was a reformed life and not a regenerated life. I did get out of church for a while and experienced what I thought was the chastisement of God and considered myself to be 'backslidden.' But most of what I experienced was a result of the natural outcome of irresponsible living. For example I got into financial trouble due to spending more than I made. I had a period where I could not find and keep a good job. This was due to the way I looked and dressed and my attitude towards work more than anything else. I could give more examples but these should be sufficient to demonstrate what I am talking about. Reaping versus sowing is not just a truth that applies to Christians, although it is more pronounced in them due to the chastisement of God along with the application of natural laws.
Then, too, my profession of faith was the result of a real sense of sorrow for my failure to meet God's requirements. I had no reason to examine my sorrow to see what kind it was as I didn't know there was more than one kind. I only knew that the experience I had was real, and that it changed my life.
Also, there was a failure on the part of those who dealt with me to adequately discern what was taking place in my heart at the time I went to the altar. I say this not to criticize them, as I don't know why this was. It may be that I did not adequately convey to them my condition or what was taking place in my heart. It may be that they were lacking due to how they had been taught. I certainly don't believe they meant any harm. The point is that I missed real salvation somehow and very nearly missed discovering this.
I continued in this condition for many years before someone finally had the discernment to see my condition and had enough concern for my soul to be honest and tell me what they thought. I must admit though, that I could have found out the truth if I had the knowledge that I have tried to bring out in this booklet, and if I had been willing to examine myself in light of that knowledge. (Actually I did have most of the facts I have presented here, but was unable to put them together due to my lost condition and I had not been challenged to examine my life in the specific area addressed here as I am challenging the readers to do).
God had to send someone to tell me straight out that I was in the condition of those I have written about because I was so far along in religious activity that there was no other way to get light on the fact. I had been blinded by Satan even as the Pharisees had been. Thank God when I was confronted I did not rebel as they did, but set about to find the truth. I did not take that individual at his word, but allowed God to show me the truth and that is what I ask you, the reader, to do. I am not intimating that all people in the church are deceived by any means, but I do believe there are sufficient numbers in the pews of our Baptist churches to make this booklet a necessity. When one considers the number of folk who claim salvation and don't even attend a local church, the need becomes even more evident!
It is my hope that all who read this book will prayerfully consider what has been presented and examine their lives to see where they stand in the sight of God. A true believer will never be harmed by examination of their lives, in fact it is commanded by the Word of God that we do so. Paul said in II Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith..."
I have not sought to confuse anyone, nor can this book produce Holy Spirit conviction. If the reader has concern regarding their own salvation, take it to God who can assure those who are His own and aid those who sincerely seek His help. Hebrews 11:6 says, "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
If you seek further help, or if you desire other booklets which this author has printed, do not hesitate to contact me. Also, if this booklet has helped you please pass it on to others. If you would like to comment on the booklet please do so. The address and number on the rear cover may be used in corresponding.
May the Lord bless you for reading this and may we rejoice together in heaven for the true salvation that God has given through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. - J. M. Grapp
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