Spiritual Experiences of the Unsaved?


Spiritual Experiences of the Unsaved?

QUESTION: “How do we explain the spiritual experiences in those who profess salvation?”

“How can professing Christian people have spiritual experiences when they haven’t been truly born again?  


This question is a very difficult one to answer.  It is one that has been discussed and debated since the time of Christ.  Many instances of it are found on the pages of Scripture.

In Acts 15:1 we read of certain zealous Judaizing “Christians” who came from Judea to Antioch and insisted that one must be circumcised to be saved.  These same people, described as “some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed,” also taught that Christians must “observe the Law of Moses” (v. 5).  Surely these people thought they were saved, assumed they were saved, and supposed that they were really obeying the will of God.  Yet they must not have been saved because of their false teaching.

Paul mentions people like this in Galatians 5.  The apostle says that those who insist on circumcision are “severed from Christ” (v. 4).  He says of these Judaizers, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (v. 2).  The one who sought to promote this Law-keeping and circumcising (for ritualistic and salvation purposes) will bear his judgment (v. 10).  The point we would make here is that these people certainly claimed to be saved and thought that they were saved, and even thought that they were Christians, but Paul said otherwise.

In the book of Colossians, Paul dealt with certain ones who were influencing the Colossian believers.  These self-professing “spiritual people” delighted in self-abasement, worshiped angels, claimed to see visions, observed careful rules, and caused severe treatment to their body for religious purposes (Colossians 2:18-23).  Many Bible scholars believe that these men were part of a movement that eventually became the false Gnostic sect of the second and third centuries.  Paul says that they didn’t hold fast to Jesus Christ (v. 19).  Claiming to be Christians and saved—but Paul would say that they had no real relationship with Christ!

In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul makes reference to certain people, presumably professing Christians, who tried to be law-keeping and spiritual.  They went so far as to forbid marriage in their zeal for spiritual attainment. They also advocated abstaining from certain foods (v. 3).  Were they really Christians, saved, and born again?  Paul says that they had accepted and taught “doctrines of demons” and were “seared in their own conscience” (vv. 1-2).

Probably the words of Christ Jesus are clearer than any other.  Our Lord said:

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).

Surely these people were devoted, they were zealous, and they were in the ministry.  They claimed to prophesy.  They claimed to cast out demons.  They claimed to perform many miracles.  They must have assumed that they were spiritual, zealous, and devoted followers of Jesus.  Yet Jesus said that they didn’t do the will of God the Father; rather, they were lawless.  He never knew them!  Therefore, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Not everyone is saved who professes to be a Christian and thinks that he has had marvelous spiritual experiences!

Today, there are over one billion (and some estimates reach as high as two billion!) persons on hearth who may be identified as professing Christians.  Definitely, most of these are not truly saved.  Most are still in their sins.  Consider with me:

  • One sect in the United States and the world professes to speak in tongues and perform miracles—yet they deny that Jesus is the Son of God (they only say that he is God).  Are these people saved?
  • One sect of a billion people in the United States and the world serves and worships a woman whom they exalt as the “Queen of Heaven,” the mediator between man and Christ, one whom they pray to and imagine that she listens to hundreds of millions of prayers from the faithful, and who is the means of salvation to anyone who will be saved.  She virtually has become a “goddess” in nature.  Can these people be saved?
  • One sect says that if a person is faithful, he will be rich and have material abundance.  They give ultimate allegiance to popular televangelists who are false prophets and refuse to objectively consider the Scriptures that would deny this.  For many, the word of their “prophet” is more important that the words of the true apostles of Christ.  Can these people be saved?
  • Many in the religious world deny the Biblical account of creation, deny that Adam and Eve were real persons, deny the virginal conception and birth of Jesus Christ, deny the sinlessness of Christ, deny the atoning death of Christ, deny the bodily resurrection of Christ, and deny the coming Judgment of sinners.  Millions of Protestants fall into this category of people.  Can these people be saved?

The point we want to make here is that the vast majority of people who claim to be saved are not truly saved!  The great majority of those who say they are children of God have not even been born of God spiritually, through water and the Spirit.  The majority of professing Christians in the world deny one or more basic truths of Scripture that are necessary for salvation. 

The question that was raised at the beginning is important: “How can professing Christian people have spiritual experiences when they haven’t been truly born again?  Probably most of the people above, who are not saved but think they are, think that they have had certain spiritual experiences.  Maybe they think that God has spoken to them—either audibly or in their soul.  Maybe they think that an angel has appeared to them or maybe God told them something in a dream.  Others think that they have had prayers answered.  They think that their prayers are heard by God or Christ, or even by an angel or by Mary.  The question is: If they are not truly saved and are not truly children of God, how do we account for their claim that they have had spiritual experiences?

First, perhaps God has allowed them to have certain “spiritual” feelings and sensations by reading His Word.  If they do have a sensitive heart and really want to know God’s will, we think that God would allow them to have some spiritual perception and experience, however they may wrongly interpret this as being a confirmation of their salvation.  God intends these feelings and experiences to lead them to the genuine experience of the new spiritual birth and regeneration.

Second, probably a majority of the spiritual thoughts and experiences that these people profess actually come from their imagination.  People imagine that they have seen the virgin Mary, that they have heard God in prayer, or that they have been “led” by the Spirit to do certain things, although they don’t even have the Holy Spirit—who is given to those to believe (Galatians 3:2, 5) and obey (Acts 5:32).  We must constantly guard against being deceived in our heart and soul.  “He who trust in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26).

Third, besides legitimate spiritual inclinations and besides deceitful imaginations, we must also remember that Satin is very much involved in convincing an unsaved person that he is saved.  We must not be “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  We must not allow Satan to deceive us (Revelation 12:9).  Some go so far as to believe that one of Satan’s demons may impersonate Christ or Mary in vision form!  Whether this is true or not, we can safely say that Satan must delight in deceiving people into thinking that they have a saving relationship with God, when they actually have never been saved according to what Jesus Christ and the apostles have revealed.

Let’s always examine God’s word carefully so that we might know whether we are saved.  Paul writes, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Test yourselves and test others to determine the truth of your salvation!

Richard Hollerman


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