Many who retain the external habits of a Christian actually believe themselves to be one. I can think of fewer harsher statements for someone to read, and fewer still that hold a quality of truth when contemplating the subject of false personal religious doctrines. The individual who extolls an exterior spiritual, or perhaps religious, ideology to nearly all that they meet, yet has no true personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is perhaps one of the most difficult persons to discern correctly, for they are very good at what they do and have usually been doing it for quite some time, unknowingly even to themselves.
These are not only the layperson within the congregation, but also some of those in the hierarchy of some churches, there are many, it is sad to say, that lead the fellowship who are not truly part of it. To recognize them is nearly impossible, but in this letter to you we will seek within the Word of God for the clues, the signs that will enable us to not only see through the veil of deceit, but to approach them in brotherly love, helping them to see that our Lord still has a place for them in His heart. These individuals show an exterior of piety, but inside are dead men’s bones, (Matt. 23:27) they not only believe that they are walking on the path, but in many cases see themselves as leaders of the blind, when in fact they themselves are blind. (Matt. 15:14) They see themselves as in the light, but it is not the light of the Savior that they follow, the true light of the world, (John 8:12) but the worlds light, and pride arrogance and presumption of the truth are their traveling companions.
To the world, the lost, they are seen as closer to God, religious but never overbearing, never pushy in their faith towards any. Others will seek them out not for spiritual discernment, not for guidance in the Word of God for direction in their spiritual life, but for comfort, for assurance that everything will work out if they just have faith. These are the church attenders, not the Christ followers, the ones who are almost always willing to help, not for the sake of Christ though, these profess a moderate religion, one that is inclusive of all, not one of obedience to the commandments of Christ. To recognize these individuals can be very difficult, they have practiced their craft for a long time and have been deceived within themselves for so long of a period of time that they themselves cannot even see it anymore.
Nearly all in the congregation see them as good people, as fine leaders, their words are flowing and sweet, and to approach them in any heartfelt correction and reproof is to bring the rebukes of many in the fellowship. Do they not come from fine families that have done much for the community, have they not been upstanding members of the church for many decades, serving in many and various positions within it, are not their prayers seemingly righteous and devout, uplifting to all and giving hope for the future of all that will but listen. They serve in the community, they serve in the church, but they do not serve the Lord of Glory, they have the external habits of a Christian, but their hearts are far from Christ. (Matt. 15:8)
We must do three things here if we are going to follow the will of our Lord, first we must pray diligently, we must seek the will of God in this matter, next we must listen to them, we must have ears to hear, and lastly, when we have made very sure that we have set any personal ideologies aside, we must confront them, in love, but with firm truth. These are Satan’s favorite “Christians,” their words are flowing and sound sweet, pious, holy, but there is no substance to them, they are lifted up by the congregation, not by Christ, which has been our adversaries plan since the day that our Lord walked out of the tomb, have them look at anything, or anyone, as long as it is not at the Lord Jesus Christ, do not let their eyes be fixed upon Him.
These people are deceived, don’t you be, in love we must approach them with the truths of the Word of God, for we must always remember that these that are in this lifestyle truly believe that they are one of Gods children, yet they are blinded by Satan. (2nd Cor. 4:4) They are the forefront of his most unwitting servants, to make them believe that they are saved individuals, to blind their eyes to the truth while making them think that they are righteous in the sight of our Lord is the pinnacle of his craft. We must always remember that Satan does not want to see us dead, he wants to see us deceived, if not deceived, then discouraged, and if not discouraged, then left in a life of despair. Spiritual pride is one of his greatest vices, for in itself it will lead others away from our one true purpose, to glorify God.
And herein lies the beginning of the path of recognizing these individuals and in love attempting to assist them in seeing the errors of their ways. Notice first the pride that was mentioned, pride always needs to be noticed, it must be fed at every opportunity, is this person relishing the attention, or perhaps he does not actually seek it, but does not shy away from it when it is given, are his accomplices vanity and ambition, for if he is a man, or woman, of humility and true service to Christ, he will seek none of his own. (John 5:30) This is a true first test, if you will, of the born-again believer, the dying of self and the glorification of Christ alone.
Their actions will also give us a clue as to their true nature, and help us to see the truth of the matter, does the Word of God for Gods glory rest upon their lips long after the sermon is over, are they seeking to expound on His truths, or do you hear the self-centered attributes that they have of themselves, a sense of “pious self-security” in their beliefs that they are in good standing with the Lord, that His wisdom has been imparted to them and they are more than willing to share this “secret” knowledge to all who will ask, even with those who don’t. A false sense of humility can be very difficult to spot my friends.
Rarely will you hear from them of the convictions towards sin that the believer is to have, true sin is a concept that is unknown to them, and to speak of any ongoing sin, or the conviction of sinful acts in any form, would be unheard of for them. “That’s between you and God” would be as close as they might come to the subject, for to these, “sin” is a relative concept, it is what we believe it to be for each individual, and is not a real deterrence to fellowship with Christ. They may, if pushed, tell you that you can be forgiven, but will rarely expound on the Scriptures that would assist you, much less offer to help you to carry the burden. (Gal. 6:2) “Just pray about it” is the standard answer.
Repentance is a foreign word to these lost souls also, for were they not forgiven “once for all.” (1st Peter 3:18) “Just remember that God loves you no matter what” is an often repeated phrase, their platitudes in the areas of repentance and forgiveness know no end. 1st John 1:9 is not in their vocabulary, “God is love and He will never stop loving you, no matter what” and it is this statement that is the bare thread that they themselves are grasping onto, it is in fact their only hope.
One of the last items we must pay heed to is in the area of conviction, the conviction of the heart to be willing and obedient servants to Christ’s word, specifically, at least for these individuals, in the area of correction and reproof, to be the faithful friend that administers the wound when necessary, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Prov. 27:6) The one thing above all that these lost ones will not do is point out sin in the life of another, it simply will not happen. The possibility of offending puts a seal upon their lips, and they would see themselves as pharisaic, as judgmental. Whether it be a layperson, an elder or other in a position of authority within the church, or even the one who stands behind the podium each weekend, to point out an area of sin in another to them would be in their mind to put themselves in the place of God. At most you will hear an offer of prayers, or perhaps that you yourself should seek the face of God in the matter at hand, but they will in no way sit with you, search out the root cause of the problem, and then in love assist you with it, becoming an intercessory for you in asking the Lord for His assistance for you. This is one of the main ways that you can tell my friends, do they offer to stand in the gap for you, (Ezek. 22:30) are they willing to go into Gods presence for you, to lift you up to His mercy, to seek His grace for you, right then and there.
It is sad to say, but there are many today that are calling themselves Christians who lead nothing more than an exterior life, they are neither hot nor cold, (Rev. 3:15) their lives show no real fruit of the Spirit, (Gal. 5:22-23) these are not weaker brothers and sisters, they are not saved. They are deceived and blinded, and are in need of the forgiveness of Christ, in true repentance, submission and obedience they must approach His throne of grace and mercy. Be patient with them when you meet them but remain firm in your resolve to give them the truths of the Word of God, these are not your brothers and sisters in Christ, yet, but they could be.
It is up to those who are mature in the faith, that knowingly have been called to such a purpose when the time arises, those who in love desperately want to help these see the error of their ways, and to lead them to the loving arms that await them.