True and False Conversion:
Wheelbarrow Christians, Bitter Backsliders, and Inoculated Infidels
One of my biggest concerns when speaking to youth, whether in large settings like this, Sunday school or small groups, or even in one on one conversations, is the importance of owning your own faith. There will come a time when you move out of your parents’ house, go to college, or strike out on your own, and you may be separated from whatever it is that kept you going strong in the church. If you have a really cool pastor, and you love going to church where he is, what will happen to your faith when he moves on to a different ministry? Will your faith crumble? Or let’s say your dad is the deacon at the church and every time the church doors are open, you and the rest of the family are there. What happens when you go off to college and your dad isn’t there to make sure you go? Or maybe you go to church because you like the other people who go to church. What happens when they drop out? Will you drop out too? If you have a genuine faith of your own, you will not need to rely on others to keep you going.
“People who need people to walk with God, don’t walk with God. They walk with people.” Emeal Zwayne.
Today we are going to talk about two things: 1) Wheelbarrow Christians; and 2) True and False Conversion.
If you have your Bibles turn to 2nd Chronicles 24. I’m going to read three verses in 2nd Kings 11 as well but the majority of the text will be in Chronicles. This passage is long and can be confusing because of all of the weird names. Let’s do a quick intro in this section introducing the key players involved.
-Joash: Joash is the king. When he was 1, his father died and his power hungry grandmother killed all of his relatives to secure her position as queen. Fortunately, Joash’s nurse hid him and he was raised in the temple by the high preist. When he was 7 years old, he was revealed to be alive, and his grandmother was forcefully removed from the throne and killed.
Athaliah: Joash’s ruthless grandmother.
Jehoiada: High priest and spiritual mentor to the king. He raised Joash from when he was 1 year old, and was basically like a father to him.
Zechariah: A prophet and the son of Jehoiada. He would have been raised like a brother to Joash.
2nd Kings 11:1-3
Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family. 2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the king's sons who were being put to death, and she put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Thus they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not put to death. 3 And he remained with her six years, hidden in the house of the Lord, while Athaliah reigned over the land.
[There was a coup; Joash was revealed to be alive and the rightful heir to the throne, Athaliah was killed]
2nd Chron 24:1-22
Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Zibiah of Beersheba. 2 And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest. 3 Jehoiada got for him two wives, and he had sons and daughters.4 After this Joash decided to restore the house of the Lord. 5 And he gathered the priests and the Levites and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you act quickly.” But the Levites did not act quickly. 6 So the king summoned Jehoiada the chief and said to him, “Why have you not required the Levites to bring in from Judah and Jerusalem the tax levied by Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the congregation of Israel for the tent of testimony?” 7 For the sons of Athaliah, that wicked woman, had broken into the house of God, and had also used all the dedicated things of the house of the Lord for the Baals.8 So the king commanded, and they made a chest and set it outside the gate of the house of the Lord. 9 And proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to bring in for the Lord the tax that Moses the servant of God laid on Israel in the wilderness. 10 And all the princes and all the people rejoiced and brought their tax and dropped it into the chest until they had finished. 11 And whenever the chest was brought to the king's officers by the Levites, when they saw that there was much money in it, the king's secretary and the officer of the chief priest would come and empty the chest and take it and return it to its place. Thus they did day after day, and collected money in abundance. 12 And the king and Jehoiada gave it to those who had charge of the work of the house of the Lord, and they hired masons and carpenters to restore the house of the Lord, and also workers in iron and bronze to repair the house of the Lord. 13 So those who were engaged in the work labored, and the repairing went forward in their hands, and they restored the house of God to its proper condition and strengthened it. 14 And when they had finished, they brought the rest of the money before the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made utensils for the house of the Lord, both for the service and for the burnt offerings, and dishes for incense and vessels of gold and silver. And they offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord regularly all the days of Jehoiada.15 But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died. He was 130 years old at his death. 16 And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the princes of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them. 18 And they abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. 19 Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention.20 Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” 21 But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah's father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”
Questions: Let’s break this passage down.
1) What’s the deal with the taxes and the temple being rebuilt? Why is this important?
-Today we might judge the success of a president by asking, “Did he keep the country safe? What was the unemployment rate? What was the general well-being of the people he governed?” At that time a king was judged by protection from foreign countries, the upkeep of the temple, and the continuing of religious services.
-The previous kings, in their disinterest in God, had let the temple fall into disrepair, even taking the gold out of it for their own purposes. The temple was the one place where God said he would dwell. A king could show his piety and devotion to God by how he took care of the temple. In the beginning of this passage, Joash is very zealous about taking care of the temple, even reprimanding those who were taking money to fix the temple but weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.
Here we have a textbook example of a “Wheelbarrow Christian.” A Wheelbarrow Christian is a person who claims to be a Christian, but in all reality, they aren’t going anywhere unless someone comes along, picks them up, and takes them there. I’m not talking about a temporary lack of transportation. As a youth pastor, I have done my fair share of picking people up for church and other events. I’m talking about someone who does not have a genuine faith. They do not own their own faith. They are more than happy tagging along as long as they want to, but have no motivation, will, or desire to do anything on their own.
Joash’s spiritual life was going along really well with Jehoiada as his spiritual mentor, running around, picking him up, and toting him places, until the unthinkable happens in verse 15. Jehoiada had the audacity to die at the youthful age of 130. (I wonder if Jehoiada ever got tired of hauling not only his own spiritual burdens, but picking up Joash and carrying him everywhere too.)
A wheelbarrow will stay in pretty good shape as long as it gets moved every once in a while. Unfortunately, when the only person picking up Joash and moving him around died, it was like he was left out in the rain and got all rusted out. Because Joash didn’t own his own faith, when Jehoiada died, so did his interest in God. Verse 18 says he abandoned the temple, he had so zealously worked to repair, and began leading the country into worshiping idols. Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah in a manner fitting of a prophet says in verse 20, “Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.”
Joash, in the depths of his depravity, rather than humbly admitting his guilt and repenting of his sins, he chose to kill the son of his spiritual mentor, someone who was raised like a brother to him.
Which leads us to our second topic:
True and False Conversion:
The term “Wheelbarrow Christian” is really a misnomer. Who can tell me what a misnomer is? It’s a wrong description of something, or the wrong name. In this case, I would have a hard time calling a wheelbarrow Christian a Christian at all. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a cheeseburger.
A Christian is someone who has had a life changing experience with Jesus Christ, repented (or turned away) from their sins, and have trusted Jesus for their salvation like they would trust a parachute before jumping out of an airplane. In short, they own their own faith. They have a meaningful relationship with God and there is nothing they won’t do for Him.
A wheelbarrow is just the opposite. They are totally reliant on another person to assist them. Their get up and go has got up and left. If they don’t get picked up, they aren’t going anywhere. They are what I call a False Convert.
False converts come in a variety of different types, but usually stem from either a misunderstanding of the gospel, or a watered down version of the gospel. Many times people will present the gospel as a way to solve all of your problems, and then you can lead a rich and fulfilling life. This is what I call:
Your Best Life Now False Convert
The problem is that it is simply not true. Imagine a man getting on an airplane. When they reach cruising altitude the stewardess walks up to him, hands him a parachute, and whispers in his ear, “Put this on. It will help you enjoy the flight.” The man doesn’t understand how it would help him enjoy the flight but he does it anyways. After putting it on he realizes that it is bulky, heavy, and he can’t even sit back comfortably in his chair. A few minutes into the flight he notices that not only is he the only one wearing a parachute, but the other passengers are pointing and laughing at him. The parachute only gets heavier as time goes on. A few more minutes pass by and the stewardess comes around and spills hot coffee on his lap. The man jumps up, clearly agitated, takes off the parachute and throws it in the aisle. He screams at the stewardess and swears he’ll never put on another parachute again, and probably won’t.
Now imagine the same scenario. A man gets on an airplane and finds his seat. As they reach cruising altitude the stewardess hands him a parachute, and whispers in his ear, “Put this on. The second engine just blew. In a few minutes we’ll be jumping from 20,000 feet.” The man quickly puts it on. He realizes it is bulky but doesn’t mind the weight. He doesn’t care that he can’t sit up straight. He sees that the other passengers are making fun of him but it doesn’t bother him. When the coffee gets spilled in his lap, it makes him uncomfortable, but all he is thinking about is at any moment he may have to jump out of that airplane. Would he ever take off the parachute and throw it on the ground? No, never. Why? Because it’s not about being comfortable. It’s about being saved when the airplane inevitably fails.
A second type of false convert is the:
Easy Believism is a watered down version of the gospel and can be spotted when someone uses phrases like “all you have to do is: (repeat after me), or (say this prayer).”
I used to run a lot of Track and Cross Country. Both sports are very simple. Ridiculously simple: “Start here. Run to there. First one there wins.” Simple, yes. Easy, no.
The gospel is simple. Anyone can understand it. But it is not easy.
Dangers of False Conversion:
There are tremendous dangers in a false conversion. First and foremost is the danger of hell. Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” To me, this is the scariest passage in the entire Bible because this means there will be people who think they’re going to heaven when they die, but are actually going to hell. All because they never had a true conversion.
The second danger is the false converts become bitter and inoculated. What does inoculated mean? When you get vaccinated, the doctor actually injects a weak or dead form of the disease that they are actually trying to prevent inside of you. You may feel the effects of the vaccine for a short time, but your chances of ever getting the disease are extremely low. Remember the first passenger that put on the parachute? He was promised that it would make his flight more enjoyable. When the parachute did not live up to his expectations, he threw it off, became bitter, and swore he’d never put it on again. Some people are told that becoming a Christian will make their lives more enjoyable. When it fails to live up to that promise, they cast their faith away, become bitter, and swear never to try anything like that again. Which makes it that much harder for someone to share the gospel with them again.
So what must we do to make sure that we have a true conversion, and go to heaven when we die?
The Bible actually says there are two ways to get to heaven.
1) Keep the Ten Commandments perfectly from the time you were born until the time that you die. It’s hard for us to understand just how perfect, holy, and just God is, but one failing, misstep, or sin in our entire lives would keep us from heaven. Imagine you have a five gallon bucket of your favorite ice cream in the world. Now imagine another five gallon bucket filled with human waste. You can scoop all the ice cream you want into that second bucket and it wouldn’t change what it is, but if you take one spec of poop and put it in the ice cream, it’s ruined. Our sin is the spec of poop in God’s ice cream.
So let’s look at some of the Ten Commandments and see if we’re putting any poop in God’s ice cream.
1. Have you ever told a lie? What do you call someone who has told a lie? How many lies do you have to tell to be a liar? That’s the 9th commandment. Now imagine how many lies you have told in the course of your life. Probably a lot. The Bible says that “All liars shall have their part in the lake of fire.” (Revelation 21:8)
2. Have you ever stolen anything regardless of value? Downloaded music illegally? Watched a movie online? Cut in front of someone in line? That’s stealing someone’s time. What do you call someone that steals? That’s the 8th commandment.
3. Have you ever used God’s name in vain? That’s called blasphemy. Instead of using a cuss word to express anger you used God’s name. A Muslim would never do that. That’s the third commandment and it’s very serious.
4. Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You should not commit adultery’ but I tell you whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery in his heart.” Have you ever look at someone and had sexual thoughts about him or her? That’s the 7th commandment. When Jesus preached this in the Sermon on the Mount, he was letting His listeners know that not only their actions, but their thoughts would one day be judged by God. The God who created your brain has access to your thoughts. Imagine if we put a microchip in your brain that recorded every thought you had for one week. After that week, we took the chip out, and broadcast it on the screen for everyone to see. How would you all do? Would you be proud or humiliated? What would your friends think of you? Your parents? Boyfriend or girlfriend? Would you ever show up in public again?
5. Jesus also said that if you are angry with someone without cause you are guilty of murder. Have you ever been really angry with someone? That’s the sixth commandment.
So, how did we do? Just looking at five of the Ten Commandments we’ve discovered we’re lying, thieving, blasphemous, aldulterers, and murderers at heart. That’s a lot of poop in God’s ice cream. Fortunately, the gospel means Good News for a reason. If the story stopped there we all would be going to hell. Who can tell me what Jesus did 2,000 years ago so we wouldn’t have to go to hell?
2.) Jesus died on the cross, taking all of the punishment we deserved on Himself, so we could go free. This was a free gift from God. All we have to do to accept it is repent of our sins (or turn our backs on our sins), and trust in Jesus for our salvation as we would trust in a parachute before jumping out of an airplane.