For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.1 Corinthians 11:23–26
Knowledge ≠ Salvation
Every now and then, something strikes me as it never has before.
I remember the conversation well. I was maybe 12 years old. Perhaps a bit younger. I sat with my mother in the living room one evening. Now that I was old enough to understand the meaning of communion, she felt it important that we discuss the matter before I actually participated. Many parents in our church allowed their children to take communion at a much younger age, but even with a lackluster theological upbringing, my mother knew that the Lord’s Table was not something to approach flippantly.
The following Sunday I took communion for the very first time, but I shouldn’t have. Intellectually, I knew all the facts about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection—or at least all of the facts that were available to me up to that point. Yet, in spite of this head knowledge, I was not saved.
This was not the fault of my parents. As it turns out, at that time, no one in my family knew anything of true salvation. We claimed to be Christians because we attended church and gave lip service to the truth that Jesus died for our sins. Still, we had no true knowledge of our depravity or our sins against a thrice-holy God. We therefore lacked a genuine understanding of our need for a Savior. Our professions were meaningless.
And so I took communion that weekend as a young, deceived, dead sinner. And I would continue to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner for years to come.
An enemy at the table
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. . . For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.1 Corinthians 11:27, 29
Flashback to another communion Sunday. Much older and now on my own, I attended a very large, well-known, seeker-sensitive megachurch. My life from about noon on Sunday through Saturday looked just like the lives of my unsaved friends and coworkers. “But I am different,” I would rationalize, “because I go to church. And I wouldn’t go to church if I weren’t a Christian…right?” As if sitting in a building that calls itself a “church” was somehow evidence of my faith!
I remember they offered communion that Sunday. The elements weren’t passed; rather, at the end of the service each person could go to one of the communion stations and partake when ready. I lingered that day. I lingered and labored in prayer. I knew my life demonstrated no evidence of salvation, but my self-deception and sin created a wall of ignorance that the truth could not penetrate, at least not until God declared it was time.
Memories of that service remind me how intensely I prayed—not for the salvation I needed—but for assurance of the salvation I convinced myself I possessed. I prayed a works-filled prayer, hoping that if I meditated long enough before partaking, I might be reassured of my salvation in spite of my sinful life of disobedience and rebellion toward God. Saved from what? At that point, I did not know. And no wonder, for I did not belong to Christ.
And so I finally took communion that day as a grown but still deceived and dead sinner. I knew nothing of the unity of the brethren, and understood nothing of the solemnity or seriousness of the ordinance. If I had, I would not have voluntarily taken part. I did not simply participate in an unworthy manner, I invited myself to a table that held no place for me. I was not just an outsider at a family event, I was an intruder, an enemy of God.
I do not know if it ever occurred to me just how often I participated in the Lord’s Table as an unbeliever. Unworthy. Dirty. Exposed. A stranger to the Lord, still uncovered and laid bare without the righteousness of Christ to clothe me. Oh, to be sure, this is not the unforgivable sin, but how dare I? How dare I defile and denigrate the remembrance of our Lord’s loving, gracious, sacrificial death on the cross? And why, Lord? Why would You save me in spite of this? Surely not because I was deserving! Surely it was to display Your goodness, kindness, and forgiveness. Surely it was only because You are a good, kind, and merciful God! May You be praised for daring to forgive such a sinner as I!
A familiar story
The story of my life as a false convert has many chapters and even more subheadings. But it is not a terribly unique tale. The sad reality is that there are countless false converts with similar accounts. In His goodness, God has saved many. Others still wallow in their self-love and self-deception. Will they ever realize the disgrace and dishonor their lying lives bring upon the name of Jesus Christ?
How many in churches around the globe “take and eat” as strangers to the Gospel, as strangers to Christ? The number must be staggering—a reality that truly grieves the heart of this rescued and undeserving former false convert. It is said that our mission field is in our backyard, but might it be in an even more unlikely place? Could it be in our Bible study, our small group, our church? Could it be that the person whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of Scripture is one who is lost in spite of his profession of faith? Could it be that the woman in our Bible study who is a very nice person but who seems ignorant of the faith she professes actually has no comprehension of what it means to repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation?
I daresay it could be true. And if we, dear Christian, do not have hearts of compassion and do not sound an urgent call for repentance to those whose lives contradict their lips, who will? The fate of the self-deceived false convert is terrifying.
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 will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’Matthew 7:21–23
May we do all we can, by God’s grace and power, to snatch these from the flames and offer them a cleansing drink from the fountain of life, Jesus Christ (John 4:10, 14; cf. John 7:37–39).
*This post has been modified since its original publication.