Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FALLACY OF FALSE HOPES FEARS”

Luke 16.16 

This morning’s sermon from God’s Word is a topical message that I have titled “The Fallacy Of False Hopes Fears.”

Over the course of most Christians’ lives we encounter those who had once hoped they were Christians but who presently make no claim of knowing Christ as their personal Savior. Some will insist that they were once Christians but have lost their salvation, while others will admit to thinking for a short while they were Christians and then discovering they were not actually converted to Christ as they had hoped. The saddest cases are those who stubbornly insist they are Christians, while everyone who knows them recognizes that they most certainly are not believers in Jesus Christ. Tragically, that was my beloved mother’s situation.

The primary purpose of this message is to set the record straight regarding what is involved with false hopes and how you can prayerfully encourage someone who had once entertained a false hope to consider the claims of Christ afresh and anew. I am not sure you can do much for the person who stubbornly clings to the notion of being a Christian who most definitely is not a believer. One can always pray.

But first, let me deal with terminology so that we all mean the same things by the words that are used. When I use the word “fallacy” I am referring to deception, a mistaken idea, or an error.[1] Most people who once thought they were Christians and who now know they are not believers are fundamentally mistaken about most things related to their false hope. They were wrong about being saved. They know they were wrong. But they think they are right about being wrong when they are wrong about being wrong. Just because something happened to you does not mean you truly understand what happened.

When I use the phrase “false hopes” I am referring to the fact that there are some who think they are Christians who are not, just as there are some who once thought they were Christians for a time but who now realize that they are not. How such a realization is a “false hope” is related to the fact that Biblical hope has to do with the confident expectation of future blessing based on the promises of God. But where there is no saving faith in Christ there is no such thing as Bible-based hope because there are no promises God has made to those who have not trusted Christ. The Apostle Paul refers to such a thing in Ephesians 2.12: 

“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” 

Fallacy, false hopes, and now fears. It is most usual that those who once entertained the notion that they were Christians, for however brief a time, but who are now settled into the acknowledgment that they are not believers in Jesus Christ, live lives of tragic fear. The fear may be mostly a fear of dying and going to Hell, or perhaps a fear of embarrassment once suffered and never to be risked again, but it is fear just the same. Even if the fear does not normally present itself in a way detectable to others, it is fear that is real and has consequences.

“The Fallacy Of False Hopes Fears.” There is a component of deception or error of some kind, dashed hopes of one’s prospects, and fear in some people’s lives. I do not live in fear and I want to help you minister to those friends and loved ones who do live in fear, who are deceived or ignorant about some important matters, and who are unable to look forward to eternity with confidence and anticipation.

My message is divided into four parts: 

Part One, THE REALITY OF FALSE HOPES 

False hopes is an issue that receives far more serious treatment in God’s Word than is generally acknowledged by even conservative Christians these days, especially those who seem to make the most noise about soul winning. However, truth about the issue can be ferreted out if you know how to find it. One of the most popular soul winning guides of the 20th century can be used as a representative example. Though the phrase “false hopes” is found nowhere in the book, the chapter titled “Why Some Are Plucking Green Fruit” frankly admits that many professions of faith extracted by the so-called soul winner are not real Christians at all.[2] In another part of the same publication the author admits that he has many times had the experience of attempting to provide assurance of salvation to someone discovered to be lost.[3] Excuse me, but that, too, is an admission of a false hope.

Though most these days are blind to such a thing, a false hope is a well-documented reality in Scripture: I read the Savior’s words in Matthew 7.22-23: 

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. 

Here our Lord testifies of those with false hopes who never discovered their false hopes until Judgment Day. A bit too late, don’t you think? Then there is the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25.1-13. Obviously, a parable about the Bridegroom and the Bride of Christ, notice what is said in verses 11-12, once more attesting to the danger of false hopes: 

11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 

Then there was Simon the sorcerer, who thought he could purchase the Holy Spirit for money. He is an obvious example of someone with a false hope, Acts 8.18-23, as was the Corinthian fornicator who had an affair with his stepmother, First Corinthians 5.1-5.

These are but a few examples in God’s Word that show us illustrations or individuals who thought they had a relationship with God, were persuaded they had hope for a future in heaven, but their hope was a false one, not based upon the promises of God or a real relationship with Jesus Christ, but the presumptions of sinners. 

Part Two, THE FEAR OF FALSE HOPES 

The fear associated with false hopes is a real fear, a palpable fear, a visceral fear. Understand, however, that there different kinds of fear. In his wonderful book The Fear Of God, 17th century English Baptist pastor John Bunyan, the author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, teaches some things about fear as it relates to God and the things of God in Scripture.[4]

One kind of fear, the commendable kind of fear that should be cultivated and informed, is the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom.[5] This kind of fear is concerned with the holiness of God, the majesty of God, the righteousness of God, and with seeing Him as worthy to worship and to serve. This kind of fear also prompts an individual to want to reconcile with God and to repent of sin and to trust Christ. Sadly, this is not the kind of fear found in the lives of most with an experience of false hope.

Most who have had a false hope are scared of God, as in terrified of Him and tormented by the prospect of being punished by Him. But such are also typically afraid of embarrassment, afraid of making a terrible mistake, and afraid of experiencing wounded pride. They are fearful of humiliation. And they are usually more concerned about the possibility of experiencing fears in this life than they are of suffering horribly in the next life.

What is imagined by those with fears that are associated with a false hope? What, precisely, are they afraid of? Can they tell you what they are afraid of? Will they tell you? Their fears are usually nightmares run wild and concerns that are not only very unlikely to occur but related to concerns that cause no real harm if they do occur.

Let me illustrate. I was always terrified of embarrassment and would do anything to avoid humiliation and retaliate when I was laughed at or ridiculed. My immediate reaction when such a thing happened was usually to throw a punch at the offender. However, I came to Christ and time marched on. Then came the occasion of a terrible gaff I made while preaching, resulting in the entire congregation laughing out loud at me. It was only then that I realized that what I had for a long time feared was baseless. I had been afraid of what turned out to be mostly nothing. In fact, the mistake I made humanized me to the congregation, making me easier for people to like and identify with. With my obvious personality handicaps, that was the best thing that happened to me and not the worst.

It is much the same way with false hopes. There can be paralyzing fear. It is fear of being embarrassed. It is fear of making a mistake. It is fear of becoming a disappointing Christian. It may even be the fear that someone may taunt you and ridicule you. Consider what happens if you become a Christian and your worst fears are confirmed. Christians can sometimes meet with embarrassment, or ridicule. And I have often disappointed my wife and daughter. But what is that compared to the embarrassment and shame that will be experienced by an unsaved person at the Great White Throne judgment? As well, of what concern should a mistake be to someone whose entire life as a lost person is a series of gigantic mistakes? And how can anyone who is a real Christian possibly be a truly disappointing believer when we are assured 

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”?[6] 

The reality that must be faced by those with false hopes fears is that their issues are basically two: On one hand, there is a terrific pride problem that resists any possibility of humiliation by the person with false hopes fears. Of course, the solution to that problem is humbling oneself, because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.[7] Then, of course, there is the matter of ignorance. Ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Ignorance has to do with simply not knowing. Such as not knowing that sins forgiven is always better than sins not forgiven. Such as knowing Jesus Christ is always better than not knowing the One Who is Life. Such as knowing that the lake of fire is to be avoided at all costs to gain heaven. These are truths to pass on to that one who has experienced a false hope. Am I suggesting the fear experienced by those with false hopes is not real? Not at all. I am suggesting it is the wrong kind of fear and it must be discounted in favor of the fear that will motivate that person to seek Christ at all costs. Escape the wrath to come. 

Part Three, THE BENEFIT OF A FALSE HOPE DISCOVERED 

My assumption is that the Bible is true, that it is reliable, and that it is trustworthy.[8] That being the case, what the Bible reveals about God is wonderful, glorious, and profoundly impressive. He is all-wise.[9] He is good.[10] He is merciful.[11] He is gracious.[12] He is not willing that any should perish.[13] He has a plan.[14]

Do you think your conception in your mother’s womb was an accident? Or was it an outworking of God’s plan for your life? Do you think your past Gospel encounters were accidents? Or was each an outworking of God’s plan for your life?

Do you think God’s distribution of faith to father Abraham was accidental? Or do you reckon that the initial measure of faith given to him in Ur of the Chaldees to get him from there to the Promised Land, described in Hebrews 11.8, though not saving faith, was intentional and was planned by our all-wise God?

Do you think the circumstances of his nephew Lot’s kidnapping from Sodom that led to Abraham’s rescue of Lot was an accident? And then the fear Abraham experienced following Lot’s rescue, that prompted him to consider his situation, that led to his conversion in Genesis 15.6. Was that all coincidence? Or was our gracious God taking Abraham through experiences God wanted him to go through on the way to his genuine conversion some ten years after his first encounter with God?

I rehearse that to make a point. I could just as easily have reviewed Jacob’s life experiences that ultimately led to his conversion. But the point that I seek to make is that there is benefit to you hearing the Gospel and responding. So what if you discover you were not converted back when? Do you think God makes mistakes? Or is it possible that through your false hope God can teach you something? Isn’t it a great thing to discover a false hope before you die than to be rudely awakened to the fact when it is too late?

People who have had a false hope can sometimes be so afraid of deciding for Christ and ending up still lost. So what, so long as you find out before you die and go to Hell that you are not really saved, so you can consider the claims of Christ afresh and anew? Is there nothing to learn from the experience of a false hope? There are many things to learn from experiencing false hopes, such as the sinfulness of your own nature, your capacity for self-deception, and a greater realization that salvation is by faith, real faith, genuine trust in Christ. Such things are sometimes only learned by trial and error.

As well, when you are talking to someone disappointed by a false hope, that person is typically overcome by a sense of failure. This is understandable. However, such a sense of disappointment highlights their misunderstanding of God’s dealings with people. If salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not of works, in what way does a false hope mean a personal failure has taken place, any more than any decision or conduct as a lost person is a personal failure? Our whole lives are personal failures until God graciously imparts saving faith and draws the sinner to Christ.[15]

While you cannot provide hope for the unsaved person who is disappointed by a false hope and is perhaps discouraged from considering the claims of Christ afresh and anew, you would do well to point out to your friend or loved one that there is no risk. That person is already lost, already doomed, already damned. Doing nothing only guarantees that Hellfire awaits. Thus, 

Part Four, THE URGENCY OF PRESSING INTO THE KINGDOM 

There are so many people who wrongly conclude that God’s plan for unsaved people is to do nothing, passively waiting for God to save them. Mike and I are both thinking of such a fellow right now. As well, there are many who experienced a false hope who never believed it best to be passive and do nothing, but who seem paralyzed into inaction following the discovery of their false hope. This final portion of my message is my attempt to prove such inaction to be completely opposite what God wants an unsaved person to do.

Please turn in your Bible to Luke 16.16, where we read of our Lord’s response to the Pharisees who opposed Him. He said, 

“The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” 

See that word “presseth”? Used only one other time in the New Testament, in Matthew 11.12 where the word is translated “suffereth violence,” the Greek word biάzoo refers to entering forcibly.[16] Obviously, no one gets into heaven by force, but the Savior is here pointing out the determination of those who recognize what is at stake with respect to their eternal destiny. They are not passive.

Are you still in doubt about whether God’s plan is for someone who feels he or she has been once burned by a false profession to then proceed slowly, cautiously, doing whatever is required to avoid any possibility of pain, embarrassment, and disappointment, even it means doing nothing? Then turn to Luke 13.24, where our Lord spoke in a region where John the Baptist, the apostles, and even He had preached before, but seemingly without lasting results. The implication might very well be numbers of people who had entertained false hopes and had given up. The Lord said, 

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” 

This word “strive” translates the Greek word ἀgonizomai, that our English word agonize comes from.

It is clearly seen that doing nothing is not what the Savior wants from lost people, even those who have experienced a false hope. How is it that something must be done, even though salvation is not by works of righteousness, but has to do with salvation which is by grace through faith? It is truly a mystery, but perhaps one of the giants of the Christian faith can provide some pastoral direction.

Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century New England pastor and theologian, once published a somewhat lengthy sermon from Luke 16.16 that he titled “Pressing Into The Kingdom of God.” The sermon is a very challenging one for the modern reader to get through, so allow me to list some of the recommendations godly and insightful Edwards makes to the lost in his sermon: As to the sinner’s attitude, Edwards estimates that the Lord Jesus Christ in this verse refers by “pressing into the kingdom of God” a necessary strength of desire, a firmness of resolution, a recognition of the importance of the endeavor, the earnestness of one’s focus, and the willingness to overcome opposition and difficulties in coming to Christ. In short, get serious. Explaining why the kingdom of God should be sought in this manner, Edwards suggests the Savior is communicating the extreme necessity of gaining entrance to the kingdom, the uncertainty of one’s opportunity to gain entrance, the difficulty of getting into the kingdom, as well as the possibility of getting into and the excellency of getting into the kingdom. Meaning? It is worth it. Edwards then offers his own advice to the sinner reading his sermon. First, sacrifice everything for your soul’s welfare. Is your eternal and undying soul worth it? Second, forget the past for your soul’s welfare. If Paul’s approach was forgetting those things which are behind as a Christian, how much more should the sinner do the same?[17] Third, do what it takes to get your heart into it for your soul’s welfare. Knock off the video games. Turn the television off. Cancel your trip to Las Vegas. Break it off with your unsaved boyfriend. Open your Bible and read it and keep on reading it. And pray, pleading with God for saving mercy. All the while it should be remembered that salvation is of the LORD.[18] 

Salvation is both simple and impossible. The impossibility has to do with the fact that the miracle of the new birth is required when the sinner really does trust Jesus Christ to the saving of his eternal and undying soul. And no one tells God when to work the miracle of the new birth. He chooses to do so in connection with the sinner trusting Christ. The simplicity has to do with the sinner’s responsibility to place his faith in Jesus Christ, to trust Him, to believe in Him, to believe on Him. Thus, whenever there is a false hope, the problem is only and always a single issue; the sinner did not really and truly trust Christ.

Allow me to explain it another way: In Matthew 11.28 the Lord issued this directive: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is that simple. Whenever anyone discovers himself or herself to not really be a believer in Jesus Christ it is always and only because he or she did not really and truly come to Christ, because He saves anyone and everyone who simply comes to Him.

This matter is clarified by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53, when he predicted what sinners would do rather than simply come to Christ as instructed. In Isaiah 53.3 he writes, “we hid as it were our faces from him.” And in verse 6 he writes, “we have turned every one to his own way.”

Upon deep reflection and introspection, if the false conversion occurred recently, it will be inevitably discovered that the sinner did something other than come to Christ, something other than trust Christ, something other than believing in or believing on Christ.

What is done instead that produces a false hope? Hiding one’s face rather than looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith or turning away from Jesus Christ instead of coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. Some sinners unwittingly place their confidence in themselves and their abilities. Others have been discovered believing in the historical facts about the Lord Jesus Christ rather than believing in Him. Whatever is done to end up still lost, the sinner did not actually come to Christ.

Recognize that about your unsaved friend who had a false hope. Prayerfully encourage that friend or loved one that God is not finished dealing with him or her, and so long as there is heartbeat and respiration there is opportunity to receive Christ to the saving of one’s eternal and undying soul.

__________

[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 660.

[2] Buddy Murphrey, Drawing The Net: The Soul Winner’s Workbook, (Corpus Christi, TX: Buddy Murphrey, 1969), page 43. In D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Revised 1977) there is a nod to those with false hopes on page 115 (“A spiritually stillborn person has no life to live to develop.”) and on page 138 (“If you have a number of persons making professions of faith who are stilling trusting in their own works....”), without explicitly referring to a false hope.

[3] Ibid., page 38.

[4] John Bunyan, The Fear of God, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999)

[5] Job 28.28; Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 1.7; 9.10; 15.33; Isaiah 11.2

[6] Romans 8.1

[7] James 5.6; 1 Peter 5.5

[8] John 17.17

[9] Jude 25

[10] Psalm 25.8; 34.8; 86.5; 100.5; 106.1; 107.1; 118.1, 29; 119.68; 135.3; 136.1; Jeremiah 33.11; Nahum 1.7; Matthew 19.17; Mark 10.18; Luke 18.19; James 1.17

[11] Psalm 18.25; 37.26; 103.8; 116.5; 117.2

[12] Exodus 22.27; 33.19; 34.6; Psalm 77.9; 86.15; 103.8; 111.4; 112.4; 116.5; 145.8

[13] 2 Peter 3.9

[14] Ephesians 1.9; Revelation 13.8; 17.8

[15] Romans 10.17; 2 Corinthians 4.13; John 6.44

[16] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), pages 32-33 and 189.

[17] Philippians 3.13

[18] Jonah 2.9

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