He looks like a Christian and talks like a Christian…..
Is it possible for people to claim they are Christians, look like Christians, give a very believable profession of faith in the church and actually not be Christians? The thought appalls us. Not possible we exclaim. Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X titled “Of Effectual Calling,” Paragraph IV, offers a warning. It begins, “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ…”
I am particularly interested in the thought unbelievers “may have some common operations of the Spirit.” The Westminster divines referred to three Bible texts to substantiate this clause. The first is Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.” It seems men and women may make a confession of Christ as Lord, they may even preach and teach for Christ, yet these same people may not have a saving knowledge of Christ (Matthew 7:22).
The second text is Matthew 13:20-21, “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.” Individuals may indeed receive the seed of God’s Word with joy. Yet the Word does not take root in their lives. These people really look like Christians and talk like Christians. Yet they are not born again people.
Finally, the Westminster divines point to Hebrews 6:4. I quote verses 4-6, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Here are people who actually experience the world to come and receive light from the Holy Spirit.
We can put it this way. Individuals sitting under the preaching of the Word of God within the church may get a taste of the powers of the age to come. This ought to be the case in all our worship. These persons, may hear the indictments of God against sin. They may also hear the good news of the death of Christ on behalf of sinners. As these men and women sit in the midst of God’s people, the temple of the Holy Spirit in the world, they may receive light from that self same Spirit. They receive the word they hear with joy. They subsequently say of Christ that He is Lord. All this can take place, and the Confession says these people may be the subjects of certain “common operations of the Spirit” and “never truly come to Christ.”
We may have one of two reactions. We stand in awe of such a concept. We are humbled. We seek His face more diligently. We find greater peace and comfort in Christ alone. On the other hand, anger may rise in our hearts. The position enunciated cannot be. We are incensed. We know our stand before Christ. We insist we are born again.
How what we depict can be the case we will explore next time. For now, I offer this question. Could our ignorance of the possibilities just described be at the root of the often lukewarm condition of our lives and churches?