We had a lively discussion on here some months ago on this subject. I think it is worth raising again, in order to offer a couple of extra thoughts. It is not our job as believers to decide if someone else is truly saved or not. But we mustn’t be naïve, either. The New Testament frequently speaks of the mixed congregations in the local churches of that time, sometimes with quite sinister elements at work from within the flock. Pastorally we must be alert.
Many are satisfied with an external set of indicators. Has the person made some sort of public confession of Christ? Are they faithful in church attendance? Do they act like upright citizens of society and church? Do they say, or act as if, they are Christians? Well, then, who are we to judge?
But what about some more “internal” indicators: Does the person have a growing array of the fruit of the Spirit? Does the person love other believers? Does the person seem to have a deep awareness of their own sin? Does the person delight in Christ? Well, now we are on risky ground!
After all, there are folks all over the church scene that seem to show no delight in Christ (by any measure, allowing for temperaments, etc.), and no evidence of love for others, and consistently self-justify, and rarely accidentally manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Whether we are evaluating, or not, we will still notice folks like this.
I often think of 1Cor.16:22 as a neglected verse, “If any man does not love Christ, he is accursed.” That’s really there!
So what to do? Well I don’t go around deciding who’s saved and who’s not. Yet I can’t help but notice when these “affective indicators” are flashing up warning lights. Do I tell the person? Of course not. For one thing, given this information the person may write a new list of behaviours to replace the “faithful attendance, grumpy demeanor” checklist that has satisfied others in the past. Behavioural change is not the point, heart transformation is.
1. In personal encounters I seldom assume a self-professed believer is soundly saved. So I want to love them, to share the gospel in a natural way, to seek to win them. It is possible to share the gospel with anyone in your church, why not?
2. In preaching I want to prompt believers without turning them into navel-gazing “selfists.” Talk of the love of God and responsive love for God will get under the skin of some, perhaps because it simply doesn’t fit. The challenge is that if I focus too much on our love for Him, then it will be the sensitive that grow distressed (my love is so puny!), and the hardened that will affirm heartily (amen! If only more people here were as diligent in faithful attendance as me! Note, did I say anything about attendance? No, but they’ll hear that!)
3. In church life I certainly want to avoid putting such a person in a position of leadership. How often this happens! People who tick the behavior boxes, and the long-standing member criteria, and the respected in the business (i.e.ruthless) world, etc., these get put in positions of leadership. But what if there is no delight in Christ? What if there is little love for neighbor? What if they self-justify as a habit? What if the fruit of the Spirit are sparse? To put such a one in a leadership position is dangerous. Period.
It may be politically incorrect to be fruit inspectors, but surely we need a pastoral sensitivity with those around us in the church. To neglect this matter has significant temporal consequences for the church, and eternal consequences for some!