A few months ago I was visiting some new believers with a Thai pastor and other church members when I heard something quite disturbing. In the course of his teaching, the pastor explained that some Christians don’t have changed lives because they don’t yield to the Holy Spirit. He went on to say that God has “good manners” and therefore doesn’t force himself on anyone. If a believer yields to the Holy Spirit, then his life will change in accord with God’s will. However, if he does not yield to the Holy Spirit, then his life will not change and he will exhibit little or no evidence of being a Christian other than his profession to be a Christian.
Is this really the best way to explain why professing Christians fail to show any evidence of love for Christ or obedience to his commandments? I have another theory as to why some professing Christians don’t show any evidence of conversion. They were never truly converted to begin with!! Some may say that this sounds judgmental but I believe that there is sufficient Biblical support for such a conclusion.
The Bible has absolutely no category for people who have trusted in Christ as Savior but have not repented (turned) from their sins and made a decision to obey Him as their Lord. In Matthew chapter 3, the Pharisees and Sadducees are coming out to receive baptism from John the Baptist but John rebukes them and tell them to "bear fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matt. 3:8). Profession of allegiance to God must always be
accompanied by repentance. A profession of faith is not genuine if it is not joined together with repentance. The book of James is even clearer. James writes, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17). If someone truly has faith, then that faith will be visible in his life. If there is no evidence of a changed life, then there was never any heart change to begin with. If there is no obedience to God, then there is no love for God. If that sounds harsh, then listen to the words of Jesus. Jesus said rather directly, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). A few verses later, He expresses the same truth in the negative “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24). A person who does not obey God does not love God. And, if a person does not love God, it seems very difficult to make the case that such a person is a true Christian. Jesus himself said that a person’s external words and actions show what is in a person’s heart. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Matt. 12:33). If a professing Christian does not show any fruit, then we must seriously question whether that person has truly understood and embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“But,” you may object, “Some people grow more slowly than others and nobody obeys God perfectly. Everybody still has sin in their life so let’s not be too hasty in saying who is and is not a Christian.” Granted, we can never know another person’s heart perfectly, but Scripture teaches that all believers are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13) and that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). Scripture does not say that SOMETIMES the Holy Spirit produces these qualities in a believers life. Scripture states plainly that the Spirit produces these qualities in a believer’s life, without qualification.. The implication is that ALL these qualities will be present in the life of the believer. Regeneration and renewal of the believer is the work of the Holy Spirit (Titus 2:6) and He will carry out this work in the life of all true believers. If someone lacks the fruit of the Spirit, then that person most likely lacks the Spirit. If someone lacks the Holy Spirit, then that person is not yet a believer for the Spirit indwells all believers (Eph. 1:13).
The apostle Paul wrote letters to churches that had a multitude of besetting sins, compromise with the world, and gross immorality. However, he also had confidence that these believers were being molded by the Holy Spirit and that God would finish his work in the lives of these believers even though they still had sin in their lives. To the Philippian church, Paul wrote “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) Of course, no one will be perfected in holiness this side of heaven, but all Christians should be evidencing these qualities (Gal 5:22) in increasing measure. Very few new Christian believers evidence a radically changed life overnight. Change is a process. When someone becomes a Christian, he should begin to evidence an increasing measure of the fruit of the Spirit. Some people change quickly and some more slowly but over the course of time, there should be measurable change. I was chatting with a member of the Thai church that we work with and he said plainly that since he became a Christian six years ago, his life hasn’t changed any. That statement sent up a red flag in my mind. I don’t want to jump to conclusions and prejudge him because perhaps I misunderstood what he meant. I need to do some follow up to figure out whether he meant what I think he means. I am concerned though because I am aware of some of the serious sins that are still present in his life and often times he seems to regard his sin quite lightly. It concerns me to hear a professing Christian say that nothing has changed in their life since becoming a Christian, especially when he doesn’t seem to be properly disturbed about the continuing presence of serious besetting sin in his life. The Bible takes it as a given that God changes lives, so all Christians should show at least SOME evidence of a changed life.
It deeply concerns me that a fellow Christian, a pastor nonetheless, would be content to explain away the disobedient lives of professing Christians by claiming that God has good manners. It is insulting to God to say that God is powerless to change the life of a person who has professed faith in Him. God always completes the work of salvation that he starts in a person, and sanctification (a progressive growth in holiness) is an integral part of that work (Romans 8:29-30). Regardless of whether someone professes to be a Christian or has prayed a prayer to receive Christ, we need make a realistic assessment of their relationship to God by looking at their lives. If there is a noticeable lack of the fruit of the Spirit, their conversion needs to be called into question. If we fail to make a realistic assessment of where a professing but unrepentant Christian stands in relation to God, then we do a disservice to that person and dishonor God.