The real question we must face is this: What do we do with a host of our converts that are living like the Devil after they were 'saved' by going through our system? There are not too many choices and most of them are cures that are worse than the disease. Let me mention two errors that arise when we refuse to admit that something may be wrong with our system of giving assurance of salvation.
First of all, we can adopt the old view that these people were saved and then lost. Granted there are some texts that seem to teach that this is possible, but a careful examination of those texts plus an exegesis of many other texts will always lead us to conclude that no one will ever be truly saved and then lost.
The second error is of more recent origin and has deeply penetrated the church in our generation. It was invented by people who were unwilling to either examine their system or give up their doctrine of eternal security. I am referring to the Carnal Christian doctrine. I want to remind you of several things.
(1) This doctrine was a deliberate invention to protect the converts of an easy-believism gospel that had departed from the biblical gospel. Leaders could not blame their own system nor could they accept that a Christian could be saved and lost. Believing those two things forced them to find another answer to the problem and the Carnal Christian doctrine was the result. This doctrine enabled the proponents to protect (a) their easy-believism gospel, (b) the altar call and giving assurance to all who came, (c) the doctrine of eternal security of all who had been assured, and (d) the 'sure salvation' of their converts who did not live like real converts. Everybody and everything won except the truth of the gospel. The truth of the gospel was dragged through the streets.
(2) The Carnal Christian doctrine is less than 200 years old and was preceded by, and consciously brought about by, the people who rejected the preaching of both repentance and the lordship of Christ in evangelism. This doctrine was designed and promoted purely as a means of justifying the lack of true godliness among the converts of easy-believism.
(3) No Christian is totally carnal and likewise no Christian is totally spiritual. There are not two categories. A carnal Christian, meaning a person totally controlled by carnality even though truly saved, is a contradiction in terms. All Christians have carnal aspects in their life and likewise all Christians have spiritual aspects in their life.
A Fair and Honest Question
"But Mr. Reisinger, are you saying that we should never label people? Do you mean we should never tell anyone, 'You are saved' "?
That is exactly what I am saying. If you are honest, you will have to admit that since you cannot see a person's heart you cannot give him assurance that he has truly believed. Someone may say, "But I always make sure they are sincere." And how my friend, do you do that without looking into their heart? If you reply that you "always ask them if they are truly sincere," I will not bother to answer that silly statement.
Whether we like it or not, we are not in a position to say with perfect certainty that any one individual is either saved or lost! The most we can say of any person in an absolute sense is that they either do or do not make a profession of being a Christian. There are many people that appear to be truly lost and others that appear to be truly saved, but in both cases we cannot see the heart.
In my first pastorate there was a deacon who used to say, "Time and the Devil will tell." If someone got married and I said, "Ray, I believe that will be a good marriage," he would say, "Time and the Devil will tell." When someone made a confession of faith and I said, "I believe that is genuine," I would get the same "Devil will tell" routine. And do you know what happened in every case? Time and the Devil would show that sometimes we were right in our expectations, but other times we would see how very wrong we were. Let me give you a few biblical examples of this fact.
If we would have heard Peter curse and swear by the fire when he openly denied Christ, we would have concluded he was not a truly saved man, but at that moment Peter was a true believer.
If we would have heard Thomas utter his words of unbelief, we would have been sure he had no faith, but he did have saving faith.
We would have called David an adulterous and murdering hypocrite, but at that very moment he had the grace of God in his heart. (By the way, people often say, "David's sin of adultery and murder prove the doctrine of eternal security." That is nonsense. David's awful sin only proved that he was a sinner. The sincere repentance expressed in Psalm 51 is what proved the grace of God was in his heart.)
Likewise, if someone would have suggested that Judas was a phony and had his hand in the till, we would have protested and said, "He is a godly believer. You are misjudging him."
In all of these cases we would have been as wrong as can be.
I honestly believe the average fundamental church in our generation would have labeled Judas a "carnal Christian" who was eternally secure. They would have never let that rich young ruler get away. They would have "decisioned" him and made him a deacon within six months as well as chairman of the building committee.
- John Reisinger