Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 13.24


The last illustration I will use to establish the scriptural reality and certainty of fruitless responses and false hopes is found in John 15.1-8, where Jesus taught His disciples the night of His betrayal that He is the true vine:

 1      I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2      Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3      Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4      Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5      I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6      If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7      If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8      Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

 It was not at all uncommon for Jewish people to think of both the Jewish nation and Israelís Messiah as the vine. Just after serving the Passover, with its bread and wine, and almost certainly while they were yet in the upper room, Jesus uttered the words of this passage in which He twice identified Himself as the vine, the true vine. This has proven to be one of the most favored passages in all the Bible, setting forth the intimacy we have with our Savior and our absolute dependence upon Him. Notice, however, that this passage also indicates the presence of both real and false professors as branches of the vine, with those branches that do not abide in Him and those branches that do not bear fruit being purged (verse 2), and being cast forth, cast into the fire, and burned (verse 6). Do we not have in this lesson a perfect illustration of someone who entertains a false hope, one who is a fruitless professor, who seems to have all the outward indications of union with Christ but without the capacity to bear fruit? Therefore, I suggest to you that we express gratitude and delight when someone hears and responds to the gospel of Godís grace in Jesus Christ. At the same time, however, we must exercise the wise discernment of someone who knows that false hopes, fruitless professions, and those who are simply mistaken about the gospel are not at all unusual in our day. In Godís gracious dealings with sinners, we must grant that He may draw people through a variety of experiences to prepare them for a saving encounter with Jesus Christ, sometimes including heart-rending experiences with false hopes.

To this point we have considered numerous parables, brief histories (that are much like parables), and biographical sketches of different lengths, that familiarize us with this issue of false hopes, false professions, fruitless professions, from which we can recognize the necessity of sinners being like bruised reeds and smoking flax to be dealt with by the gentle Savior, humbled and not proud, yielding and not resistant. If seventeen examples in the Old Testament and in the New Testament that expose this matter of false hopes and fruitless professions is not sufficient to show this to be a very serious matter that is too frequently ignored these days, then no proof of the matter is sufficient. Be mindful that even if many ministers ignore the reality of false hopes in our day, the apostles Peter, Paul and John were not guilty of ignoring such matters in their ministries and epistles.

What is the real problem with false hopes and fruitless professions? It is simply a matter of the sinner not truly coming to Christ. When the supposed conversion of a sinner is carefully considered, and the testimony of the false professor is compared with Godís Word, it invariably shows that the sinner with a false hope never really came to Christ, never truly received the Savior, but based his confidence on some thing or someone other than Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God. Tares will always grow with wheat. However, when engaged with someone about his relationship with Jesus Christ, care and caution are always appropriate.

 We now consider the danger and the damage associated with fruitless responses.

 Both danger and damage is associated with mistakes and misunderstandings about this matter of conversion to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins. Never delude yourself into thinking that damage does not occur when someone thinks he has become a Christian but has not truly joined with Christ. There is damage to the church when such things occur. There is also harm done to the lost personís perception of Christianity when he observes and interacts with someone he thinks is a Christian, but who in fact is not. However, at this time we will reflect on the harm that is done to the person with a false hope. With broad brush strokes, what can be said about someone who heard the gospel (or thought he did) and responded to the gospel (or thought he did), but was not really saved (though he thought he was)?

First, there can be apostasy due to disillusionment.

        While I was attending Bible college I worked with a veteran of the United States Air Force whose first name was Paul as a part time security guard. One day Paul came to work and told me of an interesting and troubling incident that occurred while he was out knocking on doors with others in his church. One door was opened to his knock by a young man about his age, who told of having professed Christ in an independent Baptist church and who then went to a well-known Midwestern Bible College, moving his wife and kids to prepare for the ministry. With a full workload at school, a full time job to support his family, and a time consuming commitment to his church ministry, he was on the verge of emotional, physical and financial collapse when he went to the schoolís dean to seek counsel. He was advised by the dean to rent a motel room for a day of fasting and prayer and report back the next day to tell of what God had done in his life. When he reported back and told the dean that he had rented the room (despite having barely enough money to feed the kids) and knelt on the floor to seek God in prayer only to promptly fall asleep and wake the next day just in time to check out of the room, the dean of the Bible college said to him, ďYou make me sick. Get out of my office?Ē That was the young manís last dealings with Christianity. He became so disillusioned that he turned his back on the faith, on Christ, and on God.

        I recently received an e-mail from a pastor here in Southern California whose brother surrendered to the gospel ministry and went to work for him when he graduated from Bible college. At present, however, his brother has long since resigned his position at his older brotherís church, does not presently attend church at all, and has come to the place in his life where he very much doubts that God even exists.

        What about a number of young people who were in our church when I arrived here as pastor twenty six years ago, who had an astonishing zeal for ministry, and who sacrificed in the summer months by forsaking opportunities to earn money at part time jobs by traveling the Western United States to reach young people in other communities with the gospel and encourage them to attend good Baptist churches in their own communities? None of them remain in this church, and I am aware of only two of those dozens of teens who go to church where they now live.

        Then there is the missionary to a foreign country who finally became so disillusioned that he resigned as a missionary, came back to the United States to divorce his wife and abandon his children, and then move back to the foreign country to make a good living teaching English to rich school kids.

What happens in cases such as these is the presumption by the person with a false hope that whatever was to be done to become a Christian was correctly done by him, meaning that whatever is wrong is wrong with Christianity, not him. It is a disillusionment that is brought on by concluding, ďI did what was supposed to be done, so that if things do not work out in the Christian life it is not my fault but the fault lies with Christianity.Ē What each of these people has done is rightly described as apostasy, since apostasy is the total desertion or departure from oneís religion.[1] The apostate has judged Christianity and found it to be wanting.

Next, there can be abandonment due to discouragement. I would not for a moment suggest that those I have already mentioned are not discouraged. However, you will see how their situations and those I am addressing at present are considerably different because they have wrongly and harshly concluded that fault lies with the Christian faith and not them. I label that disillusionment. I now address the dilemma of those who do not hold Christianity accountable for their troubles as people with a false hope or a fruitless profession, but themselves. This is the person who has no doubt that Christianity is real, that Jesus really does save, and that God really is gracious and merciful to those who come to Christ by faith. This personís issue is thought by him to be with himself. That is, he places no blame on Jesus or God for his false hope, but accepts that he and he alone is at fault. Of course, this is true as far as it goes. The problem with this discouraged fellow is that he has given up. There are at least two significant problems with the person who gives up after discovering he had embraced a false hope, and perhaps even more problems that we will not presently address: The first significant problem is his estimation of Jesus Christ. This problem is addressed by our Lord in the parable of the Pearl of Great Price, in Matthew 12.44-46:

 44     Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

45     Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

46     Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

The essence of this parable, of course, is that Jesus is a prize of such worth and value that the right thinking person will do whatever it takes, will pay whatever price, to possess Him. In other words, when Jesus Christ is rightly valued, the sinner will not give up on knowing Him as Savior, but will persist until Christ is gained no matter the cost in terms of time expended or effort involved. No one who comes to Christ regrets the effort involved in becoming a Christian. The second problem with the person who gives up after discovering he had a false hope has to do with Godís sovereignty and Godís goodness. My friend, God knows what He is doing and He does all things well. That being true, and understanding that God is not toying with sinners by dangling a hope in front of them and then snatching that hope away, it must be understood that false hopes and striving to enter in, as well as the providential bruisings of the reed, are all useful to God in preparing the sinnerís heart for Christ. Once Godís dealings is properly appreciated, once the sinner sees Godís goodness in every aspect of His interactions with sinners, discouragement will not then lead to abandoning the faith. Thus, the discouraged sinner who has all but abandoned his hope of ever being saved does not doubt that Christianity it real. He believes God is good and that God is love. He accepts Godís Word as inspired and true. As well, he is right in his estimation that the reason he is not presently a Christian is that he did not actually come to Christ. Where he goes wrong is by not going on. Christ is so precious, so wonderful, so mighty to save, that no sinner has any justification for not pressing into the kingdom. There is no sufficient reason to stop striving to enter in at the strait gate. As well, he fails to appreciate the benefit to him of a false hope that is used to gain wisdom and knowledge, knowing much better now how not to be saved, knowing much better now weak and helpless he is in his lost condition, and such related lessons as that. Revising his estimation of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, and also revising his appraisal of and taking stock of the benefit to him of a false hope and then striving to enter in at the strait gate, there is no doubt in my mind that such a sinner who persists in his pursuit of Christ will be found by Him, saved to the uttermost because he has come to God by His Son, Jesus Christ.

Third and more obviously destructive is when there is acceptance into the church despite disobedience. This is the person whose profession of faith is persuasive enough to be baptized, and who then becomes a church member by believer baptism. Most congregations engage in a purely superficial consideration of a prospective memberís conversion testimony, though even congregations which recognize the importance of vigilance in such matters are troubled by members in their midst who are discovered to embrace false hopes. How does this happen? On the part of the unsaved person with a false hope, it can happen accidentally or intentionally. That is, he may not knowingly seek to deceive the pastor and congregation into letting him become a member, being fully aware that he is not in fact saved. On the other hand, others obviously know that they are not Christians, yet they say or do whatever persuades the pastor or church to receive them as a member. Such a person may not be embracing what to him is a false hope, but we would label whatever justification he uses to make his deception satisfactory to himself to be a false one. To be sure, such an unsaved church member can wreak havoc on a congregation by misrepresenting the Christian faith to both unsaved people who are considering the gospel, as well as saved members who are encouraged to lower the standards they live their lives by from what they observe to be acceptable to the person they do not know to be an unsaved church member. The incident burned into my consciousness has to do with Sandra, single mother of two who was living with Doug when she came to Christ. When she asked me what she should do about her live-in boyfriend, I told her that if she was a real Christian, Doug had to go. When she asked me how long she should give him to move out, I urged her to give him at least an hour. He was out in an hour. Six months later, Doug showed up at church and began faithfully attending. After some months, he persuaded me he was a Christian and I baptized him. Some weeks later, he asked me if I thought it would be okay to ask Sandra out to dinner. I said that I thought it was okay. One thing led to another, he proposed, she sought my counsel before accepting, and I performed their wedding on this platform. As soon as they married, he moved her far enough away to make it impossible for her to ever attend church here again. You will never convince me that Dougís false hope was not at intentional ploy to entice Sandra to marry him. That kind of thing is always on this pastorís mind as I seek to protect the flock I have been charged with ministering to. Others who are here have their own stories to tell of being deceived by those with false hopes, producing an astonishing amount of pain and heartache as they trash their spouses and their children on the way to wrecking their marriages. This why I always keep the pictures that are taken when I baptize someone. Those who go on for God are a constant source of encouragement to me. Those whose false hopes and fruitless professions have later been exposed serve as warnings to me to pray hard and be careful.

This concludes the first main section of this series of messages, bringing to a conclusion our exploration of the problem addressed by striving.

[1] Websterís New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 99.

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