Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 13.24


The reality of fruitless responses.

Few people would deny that conservative Baptists were reputed to be among the most successful evangelists and personal soul winners in the English speaking world during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Such men as John R. Rice, Jack Hyles, Lee Roberson, Hyman Appleman, W. A. Criswell, R. G. Lee, Freddie Gage and Oswald J. Smith (who was not a Baptist) were towering figures whose life mission was to reach the lost and to promote personal evangelism, what they termed “soul winning.” One of the most popular resources, endorsed by each of the men I have named, was a workbook containing an 18-year collection of soul winning pointers that was compiled by an evangelist named Buddy Murphrey. It was titled “Drawing The Net.” In the book, Murphrey asks, “Why is it that some soul winners are getting spurious professions? They draw the net and the sinner seemingly accepts Christ as Saviour, but there is no transformation of the life. He will not come to church. He will not be baptized. The fruit of repentance is not evidenced. It is obvious that the person did not really get saved. Why do we get this kind of profession?”[1]

Buddy Murphrey’s book did not break new ground in area of personal evangelism. Rather, his was a compilation of suggestions and practices that were already routinely endorsed by the prominent Christian leaders of his day. Those prominent Christian leaders, some of whom I have named, built upon an evangelistic pattern that was codified by their predecessors, including the well-known R. A. Torrey (d. 1928). In his book, “Personal Work, Part 1 Of How to Work for Christ: A Compendium of Effective Methods,” Torrey devotes the entire eighth chapter to addressing the problem of false hopes.[2] Thus, Murphrey’s recognition of false professions of faith based upon false hopes was not new or innovative in any way. Everyone in Christian ministry realizes that false hopes occur. However, virtually no one from those days to these days speaks much of false hopes, the great dangers associated with false hopes, or how common false hopes are. False hopes is a term associated with the phenomena of fruitless responses, understanding from our Lord’s words on many occasions that no mere appearance of spiritual vitality or well-being substitutes for the absence of fruit. Thus, a fruitless response is in reality no proper response at all, certainly no saving response to the gospel. A fruitless response is based upon a false hope, which is another way of describing someone who builds on a foundation of sand.[3]

Murphrey and others conceded that someone who followed the soul winner in a sinner’s prayer, but who would not set foot in church or display any semblance of service to God was likely someone with a false hope. However, what about the person who follows the soul winner in a sinner’s prayer, comes to the church house the next Sunday, is baptized by immersion and begins to attend church regularly, but is still not saved? Conservative Christians are still for the most part blind to the issue of bearing spiritual fruit, such as the fruit of righteousness, the fruit of repentance, the fruit of love and joy, the fruit of giving, and the fruit of seeing others brought to Christ. It is important that we give thought to this matter of fruitless responses to the gospel, and not only the outward trappings of religious practice. Following is what is to many a surprising list of men and convincing evidence in God’s Word of their fruitless responses:

First, there was Cain. Cain, of course, was the first man born of a woman, the first son of Adam and Eve. He was born after Adam and Eve’s fall, after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and his experiences provided for him knowledge only of life under the condemnation of sin. Cain is only thought of by most people as the first murderer, slaying his brother Abel, even though Eve rejoiced at the time of his birth, saying, “I have gotten a man from the LORD.”[4] Mother’s expectations about her son were not realistic. The murder of his brother suggests that his mother’s understanding of her son’s spiritual condition was incomplete at best. What is typically overlooked about Cain is the strong evidence that some kind of religious decision was made by him before his act of fratricide, based upon his unacceptable sacrifice offered to God, Genesis 4.5: “But unto Cain and to his offering he [God] had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” Imagine. Confronted by Almighty God Himself about his inappropriate offering and Cain’s reaction is not one of awe, or of fear. His reaction is one of anger and its expression. There are three facts that we are told, and one conclusion we can safely draw from what we are told about Cain. First, we read that he sought to worship God by offering a sacrifice. Second, we read that his offering was entirely unacceptable to God. Thirdly, we read that Cain was wroth and his countenance fell. In other words, he was furious at God and his rage showed in the expression on his face. We can safely conclude from the evidence given that after the Fall, Adam and Eve provided some type of spiritual training for their many children that consisted of lessons about God’s nature, His creative acts, His majesty, His holiness, His righteousness, and His grace and mercy in sparing Adam and Eve and clothing them before expelling them from the Garden of Eden. As well, why would Cain and Abel worship God unless they had been trained by their parents to do so? What we are not told about, but which should reasonably be expected to have happened, was some kind of spiritual decision on the part of Cain wherein he decided to worship God, since his offering was an attempt at worshiping God. He thought he had the ground on which to offer an offering to God. That reflects that he had a hope of some kind. God’s unwillingness to respect Cain’s sacrifice produced in Cain a response to God’s unwillingness, fruit of the wrong kind. God then dealt with Cain about his sin, but scripture shows us that the conversation produced no repentance, and eventually Cain murdered his brother. Concerning the fruit that results from a real conversion experience, Cain is the first example in the Bible of a fruitless response. Genesis 4.6-8:

 6      And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

7      If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.

8      And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

 Cain’s sin problem was in some way related to his desire to have his way, rather than God having His way. He was enslaved to his sin, with the implication in verse 7 that his desire ruled over him, but that he ought to rule over his desires. Whatever Cain’s response to God’s grace was, we can be sure that it was different than Abel’s response. What more could be asked for than a direct meeting between Cain and God, and yet Cain’s reaction was still selfish and wicked. Hebrews 11.4 declares, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” Thus, Cain is not only the first child born of woman and the first murderer, but he is also the first example of a fruitless response in scripture. The final mention of Cain in God’s Word is found in Jude 11, where we read the phrase “the way of Cain,” as part of a description of ungodly men who have turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and who deny the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. What is the way of Cain? Jude does not specify the points in which the ungodly he warns of imitated the example of Cain, but it was probably pride, haughtiness, the hatred of Christianity, envy that others were more favored, and a spirit of hatred of the brethren, even after they had heard the message or in some way been exposed to God’s grace in Christ. Such a spirit would likely be manifested in the savage criticism of others and feeling sorry for yourself, as did Cain when he complained to the LORD when he was confronted and his sentence pronounced after murdering his brother, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Notice that Cain had assigned to himself the status of a victim, though it was Abel who was the real victim.

Better known for his fruitless response than Cain is Esau, the son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob. Two passages stand out in evaluating Esau’s spiritual life, and illustrating his fruitless response:

The first passage is Genesis 25.29-34:

 29     And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:

30     And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.

31     And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.

32     And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?

33     And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.

34     Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

 From verses 29 and 30, we read that Esau, the hearty outdoors man and hunter is faint. What does faint mean? Faint translates a Hebrew word that refers to weariness resulting from exertion and hunger.[5]

 Jacob made us (sic) of his brother’s hunger to get him to sell his birthright. The birthright consisted afterwards in a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:17); but with the patriarchs it embraced the chieftainship, the rule over the brethren and the entire family (27:29), and the title to the blessing of the promise (27:4, 27-29), which included the future possession of Canaan and of covenant fellowship with Jehovah (28:4). Jacob knew this, and it led him to anticipate the purposes of God. Esau also knew it, but attached no value to it. . . The only thing of value to him was the sensual enjoyment of the present; the spiritual blessings of the future his carnal mind was unable to estimate.[6]

 The second passage that stands out in the evaluation of Esau’s life is in the New Testament, Hebrews 12.16: “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” Esau is here labeled a profane person, for selling his birthright for one morsel of meat. What is a profane person? Profane translates bebhloV, the word pertaining to something that is totally worldly, devoid of interest in divine blessing.[7] A profane person is not a person without passion. A profane person could very well be devoted to his child, for instance. The difference between a profane person like Esau and someone like Jacob before his conversion, was that Esau had no interest of any kind except in the immediate, in relationship to that which gratified him. Informed of God’s will and God’s promises, he chose rather to fill his belly at a time of crisis instead of occupy a position as the son of Isaac that would have given him a special relationship with God. He did respond, and his wrong response bore no good fruit. To set this in context, consider what we know of the circumstances of Esau’s upbringing. In Acts 7.2, we are told that “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.” Add to that God’s later dealings with Abraham, His revitalization of Sarah so she could bear Isaac in her old age, and the great deliverance of Esau’s own father, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. Knowing of such things growing up, he would still turn his back on God’s mercy and grace.

Third, there is the prophet Balaam. Balaam figured prominently in Israel’s wilderness wanderings in Numbers 22-24 as the Gentile prophet hired by Balak, king of the Moabites (who had joined forces with the Midianites to oppose Israel), to curse the children of Israel. Even after word of the miraculous delivery of Israel from Egyptian slavery, the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna from heaven, and news that the Law was given at Sinai had spread throughout the Middle East, wicked men still thought they could successfully oppose God and His people. It is sometimes surprising to the reader is that this Gentile prophet had the privilege of communicating with God. We he learned of Balak’s intentions, he was told by God to have nothing to do with him.[8] Balaam told Balak’s messengers of God’s instructions, and that they should return home. When yet another entourage from Balak offered him even more prestige and honor to curse the Israelites, he once more said he would not, but that they should wait to see if God had any more instructions for him. In the night God said, “If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do.” However, Balaam did not wait for them to approach him yet again, but went with them the next morning.[9] This angered God, who then dispatched the angel of the LORD to stand in his way (that only Balaam’s ass saw), and this episode is what is most remembered about Balaam. His donkey spoke to him. Balaam confessed his sin in going with the princes of Balak, but the angel of the LORD told him, “Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.”[10] While with Balak, Balaam could not curse Israel, though God did give him a number of truly prophetical utterances. In the end, Balaam showed the Midianites how to lead Israel into sin to evoke God’s displeasure, by means of harlotry with the women of Midian. This led to a plague brought on them by God which resulted in the deaths of twenty four thousand Israelites.[11] God is holy, and not even His own can sin against Him with impunity. In the end, however, God delivered the Israelites, with five Midianite kings and Balaam being among those who were slain with the sword.[12] In the New Testament, we are taught three lessons from the life and conduct of Balaam.

 Ÿ  Second Peter 2.15 speaks of the way of Balaam: “Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” The way of Balaam, taken by those who have forsaken the right way, is that of a hireling who is anxious to make a market of his gift. This is the so-called Christian who always makes money wherever he speaks, and will not make appearances unless there is a guaranteed minimum, or it is the person who always requires personal benefit for his supposed “service” or his “ministry.” King David, on the other hand, would not give to God that which cost him nothing.

Ÿ  Jude 11 makes mention of the error of Balaam: “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.” Please focus on the phrase “the error of Balaam for reward.” Balaam’s error was in supposing that a righteous God must curse sinful people, relying on the natural morality of a lost man and ignoring God’s covenant relationship with His people. The reward in Balaam’s case was wealth and prestige, but with others committing this same sin regarding God’s people it could be popularity, fame, or applause. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, was willing to be a fool for Christ’s sake.

Ÿ  Revelation 2.14, in the glorified Savior’s letter to the church in Pergamos, is where we read of the doctrine of Balaam: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” “The ‘doctrine of Balaam’ was his teaching Balak to corrupt the people who could not be cursed by tempting them to marry women of Moab, defile their separation, and abandon their pilgrim character.”[13] Imagine, people in the church of Jesus Christ who actually teach people to commit sins.

 What astonishing opportunities Balaam had to commune with the one true and living God. Sadly, however, he prostituted himself and bore very bitter fruit before he died at the hands of the Israelites. That the way of Balaam, the error of Balaam, and the doctrine of Balaam is referred to in the New Testament reveals to us that the danger to us of those entertaining false hopes, or who once purported to have a relationship with God, is very real. Though they are in our midst, they have forsaken the right way and gone astray, they run greedily for rewards of various kinds, and they actually teach people how to commit sins with their doctrine of Balaam. Such people’s influence should be rejected by Christians and by the children of Christians, and believers should be very cautious to ensure the Balaams in our midst are not looked up to or fawned over because of their appearance of worldly success. Whether the Balaams that are found in the church are men or women, their wickedness should be spoken against by the parents and the spouses of those naive enough to fall prey to their temptations.

The most famous of those in the Bible who entertained a false hope was Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. There is no doubt that Judas Iscariot was given power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease, Matthew 10.1. Along with the other apostles, he was sent out, the Lord telling him and the others, “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give,” Matthew 10.7-8. So deceptive was Judas Iscariot that when the Lord Jesus Christ announced that one sitting with Him at the table the night He instituted the Lord’s Supper would betray him, none of the other apostles could figure out who it was, and some of them were concerned that it might be them.[14] Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ knew all along that it was Judas Iscariot, because “he knew all men, . . . he knew what was in man.”[15] After He told those sitting with Him at Passover one of them would betray Him, John asked, “Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.”[16] How very sad it is that someone so intimate with the Savior, who had heard Him teach and had seen Him perform all sorts of astonishing and compassionate miracles, and who had heard and seen such gospel sermons and conversions, would remain so hard of heart and so stubborn of will against the meek and lowly Lamb of God. Suicide awaited the man described as the son of perdition, with the only other man described in scripture as the son of perdition being the antichrist.[17] How convincingly this wicked man convinced his colleagues he was truly one of Christ’s own, and how convincingly do those with false hopes convince even themselves they are Christ’s own, until the charade is exposed. Like their father the devil, such are truly masters of deceit. What led him to suicide? Guilt. A sense of desperation. I do not know what Judas Iscariot thought would happen when he betrayed the Savior for money, but when he saw that Jesus was condemned, “repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood,” Matthew 27.3-4. However, he brought his case to the chief priests and elders, and not to the Savior. To the end, he would not come to Christ for the salvation from and the forgiveness of his sins, despite the thousands of gospel sermons he had heard the Savior preach, had heard other apostles preach, and had no doubt preached himself.

The fifth example of fruitless profession is Simon the magician, whose history is recorded by Luke in Acts 8.9-24:

 9      But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

10     To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

11     And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

12     But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

13     Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

14     Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

15     Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

16     (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

17     Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

18     And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

19     Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

20     But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21     Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

22     Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

23     For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

24     Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

 Acts 8.13 shows us how a person with a false hope typically insinuates himself into the Christian community and becomes a church member. He had heard the same gospel story everyone else had heard, of Christ’s death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection and ascension. Upon hearing, Simon believed, was baptized, and continued with Philip. Notice, also, that there was no doubt or skepticism with Simon. The miracles and signs he saw performed caused him to wonder. It was when Simon saw the apostles laying on hands, imparting the Holy Spirit, that he sought to purchase such power with money, verses 18-19. That was when the Apostle Peter discerned that Simon was clinging to a false hope, and said to him,

 20     . . . Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21     Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

22     Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

23     For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

How can we be sure Simon the magician was not truly converted, that he had entertained a false hope of some kind? How do we know that he was one the Apostle Paul referred to in First Corinthians 15.2 as having believed in vain? Notice Peter’s statements to him, each one leading to the conclusion that Simon could not truly be born again:

#1     “Thy money perish with thee,” verse 20. The Greek word translated perish is very strong, translated eight times in New Testament perdition. This is not something the Apostle Peter would say to or about a Christian.

#2     “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter,” verse 21. The apostle informs Simon that he is not a participant in the Christian life and the things of God.

#3     “thy heart is not right in the sight of God,” also in verse 21. This statement would not be uttered to one justified by faith, since it is with the heart that one believes unto righteousness.

#4     “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee,” verse 22. The only place in the New Testament where someone is urged to ask for God’s forgiveness, advice given to a lost man. Let me read A. T. Robertson’s comment on the phrase “if perhaps,” to show you how strong this portion of Peter’s comment actually was: “If perhaps (ei ara). Si forte. This idiom, though with the future indicative and so a condition of the first class (determined as fulfilled), yet minimizes the chance of forgiveness as in Mr 11:13. Peter may have thought that his sin was close to the unpardonable sin (Mt 12:31), but he does not close the door of hope.”[18]

#5     “thou art in the gall of bitterness,” verse 23. Simon’s offer showed a state of mind that was wholly inconsistent with real Christianity. One single sin may expose a lost state. The sin may be so decided, so malignant, so utterly inconsistent with real Christianity, that one’s real character is immediately exposed. The sin of Simon was of this nature. The Apostle Peter here does not appear to have claimed the power of judging the heart; but he judged, as all other men would, by the act.

#6     “thou art . . . in the bond of iniquity.” He here observes that Simon is a slave to iniquity. Once again, this comment would not be made of any Christian.

Simon’s response, in verse 24, shows that he agrees with Peter’s assessment of his true condition: “Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” Still not seeing Jesus to be the only mediator between God and man, Simon pleads with Peter to pray on his behalf. A proper response would be for him to simply come to Christ.



[1] Buddy Murphrey, Drawing The Net, (Corpus Christi, Texas: Buddy Murphrey, 1969), page 43.

[2] R. A. Torrey, Personal Work, Part 1 Of How to Work for Christ: A Compendium of Effective Methods, (Fleming H. Revell Company), pages 90-102.

[3] Matthew 7.21-27

[4] Genesis 4.1

[5] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 746.

[6] C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT, Vol I, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), pages 172-173.

[7] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 173.

[8] Numbers 22.1-12.

[9] Numbers 22.13-21.

[10] Numbers 22.22-35.

[11] Numbers 25.1-18.

[12] Numbers 31.8

[13] See footnote for Revelation 2.14, The New Scofield Reference Bible, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), page 1354.

[14] Mark 14.19

[15] John 2.24-25

[16] John 13.25-27

[17] John 17.12; 2 Thessalonians 2.3

[18] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol III, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1930), page 108.

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