How can I recognize a false conversion?
True conversion is an act of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of a sinner. A false conversion is one in which the Holy Spirit had no part. Scripture tells us how to detect the true Christians from the false converts. To understand the nature of false converts, we need to understand the process by which a true conversion takes place. First, conversion is not a product of our will; it is the supernatural act of the Holy Spirit of God (John 1:12–13). He redeems us by the blood of Christ shed on the cross for our sins (Luke 22:20), He indwells us to guide our spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:16), and He assures us that we are His (Romans 8:16). After that, He seals us and keeps us secure so that true conversions last forever (Ephesians 4:30; Jude 1:24). True Christians who have been born again (John 3:3) are controlled by the Holy Spirit; they are no longer controlled by their sinful nature (Romans 8:9).
The word "conversion" means transformation or renovation. In true conversion, the result is a completely new creation: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). True converts will begin to display the characteristics of genuine Christians through the process of sanctification. No longer will they engage willfully in sinful behavior. True Christians still sin, but they will not repeatedly engage in sinful behavior, understanding that "no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed [nature] abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). Sinful behaviors and desires become less and less in the true convert; the desire for righteousness and holiness becomes the hallmark of a truly converted life. The things of this world have less influence on the truly converted as they mature in Christ (1 John 2:16). The desire to live for ourselves decreases as our desire to live for the One who died for us increases. The Holy Spirit produces in us His fruit and the evidence of that fruit becomes more obvious (Galatians 5:22–23).
This is the key to identifying false conversions. In speaking about false prophets, Christ said, "You will recognize them by their fruits. … A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:16, 18). The fruit of a true conversion is evident, both to the converted person and those around him. Truly converted sinners have trusted Christ alone and are being made more and more Christlike all the time. Those who claim to be Christians should display the characteristics of true Christians: sound doctrine, obedience to God's Word, and love. The things of the world hold less and less attraction for them, while false converts are increasingly attracted to the world and all it offers. A false convert produces little, if any, fruit; and the fruit he does exhibit is self-produced and does not last. Jesus said that we can do nothing apart from Him, and a true convert remains in Him so that His fruit is produced in us. He is the Vine; we are the branches. It is His fruit produced in us that remains as we remain in Him (John 15:1–6).
A true convert is one whose conversion is eternal. He does not fall away because of persecution or trials. In fact, trials increase the faith of the true believer, strengthening him and proving that his faith is real (1 Peter 1:6–7). The parable of the four kinds of soil in Matthew 13 describes the kind of false converts who "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away" (v. 21). False converts are also turned away from the faith by "the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" (v. 22), which choke the Word of God out of their lives and make it unfruitful. The Word always produces fruit in the life of the true believer.
Detecting a false conversion isn't always easy, and the cause for false conversions vary. Sometimes the false convert may not even realize it; other times a person falsely converts in order to intentionally deceive. It should also be noted that it is not a Christian's place to judge the salvation of another person, though we are called to be discerning. While false Christians may sometimes be able to deceive us, they will never deceive God, because "no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). We should continue to seek God's truth and to share it with others.
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