I’m often asked, “What happens if a person who claims to be a believer in Jesus Christ lives a life of disobedience before God?” There are several answers to this significant question.
First, the person may not actually be a believer in Jesus Christ. Just praying a sinner’s prayer doesn’t make a person a believer. Mickey Cohen, the notorious gangster of a bygone era, prayed a prayer and thought he was a believer. However, nothing in his life changed. There was no evidence of any repentance, so the friend who initially shared the gospel with Mickey confronted him. Cohen’s response, “You never told me I’d have to give up my work. You never told me I would have to give up my friends!” By “work,” Cohen meant his gangster work and by “friends,” he meant his gangster friends. Cohen had heard of Christian cowboys, Christian actresses, Christian senators, and he thought he could be a Christian gangster. J Edwin Orr states, “Repentance is the missing note in much of our modern evangelism.” The issue is, has the person truly placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? No work can save us!
Second, the person may be a young or baby Christian and simply doesn’t know any better. 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 speaks of such a believer. When Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian believers, they had been believers for about 3-4 years. Yet, many of them were characterized as “babes in Christ,” “carnal,” and the words used to describe them are “envy,” “strife,” “divisions,” and “acting like mere men.” In other words, if you looked closely at their lives, you wouldn’t see much difference between their lives and the lives of those in Corinth who had no relationship with God. The young or baby Christian needs time to grow through involvement with the Word of God, prayer, discipleship by a more mature Christian, and the like.
Third, the crying need in the Church today is discipleship. Unfortunately, many think that if a believer regularly attends services on Sunday, they are being discipled. That simply is not the case. Listening to sermons doesn’t equate to discipleship. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” And, of course, Jesus modeled this for us as He poured His life into twelve men in His 3 ½ years of personal ministry. Paul and Barnabas personally discipled many men during their lifetimes. Discipleship happens when a more mature believer takes a younger believer under his care and helps him grow up in the things of God. Unfortunately, many believers have never been discipled, so no one is helping them deal with the poor decisions they may be making. Discipleship would help such believers make better choices and provide prayer support to strengthen one’s relationship with God.