When do you, as a pastor, question someone else’s salvation?

If a member of our church is struggling with sin, when do I as a pastor question their genuine salvation?  This question was asked tonight at our Wednesday bible study.  I thought it would be helpful to type some of the thoughts shared there for interaction or edification here.

First it should be said that there is such a thing as self-deception where someone thinks he’s a follower of Jesus and saved from God’s judgment when he actually is not.  Matthew 7.21 and following quotes Jesus stating this terrifying reality:

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. 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?”  And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

The bible also makes clear that we should examine ourselves and test whether we truly believe in Jesus Christ (see 1 John).  Paul tells us to examine ourselves, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor 13.5).

So when is it ok and wise for us to seriously question and cast doubt on someone’s claim to be a Christian and saved from the judgment of God that all of us deserve?  Jesus gives us the answer in Matthew 18.15-17.  Jesus says,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Treating someone like “a Gentile and a tax collector” in Israel in Jesus’ day was to treat the person like someone who was cut off from God, not considered part of the true people of God.  So let’s ask the question this way, “When is it time to consider and treat a fellow member of your church like a Gentile and a tax collector?”  The answer is clear.  Only when a member of the church rejects the call to repentance and restoration by the whole church and the church excludes him should you consider that professing believer and now former member of your church an unbeliever. That is not to say the person is definitively an unbeliever, but that the church treats and thinks of him as one since his unrepentant heart through the various stages of love and restoration have exposed his commitment to and belief in sin over his commitment to and belief in Jesus.

Jesus goes on to say that this is the church binding and loosing (Matt 18.18).  This is an exercise of the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16.19) that is given to the apostle Peter, the rest of the apostles, and the church as a church.  The pastor or pastors don’t exercise the keys on their own.  I as an individual church member and pastor cannot exclude, loose, and use the keys.  The church as a whole can and does.  And until they do, I don’t treat a fellow member in our church as an unbeliever, but like I treat every member, a sibling in Christ with indwelling sin struggling to trust and obey Christ by the grace of God.


About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
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5 Responses to When do you, as a pastor, question someone else’s salvation?

  1. Matt Mager says:

    Great post PJ! I curious what kinds of questions do you ask someone in the membership interview to reasonably assess that they are a regenerated Christian? Obviously, ‘reasonably’ is a key word. I know that we cannot infallibly know. If we could, there probably wouldn’t be a need for church discipline.

  2. “First it should be said that there is such a thing as self-deception where someone thinks he’s a follower of Jesus and saved from God’s judgment when he actually is not.” I have to remember that one!

  3. pjtibayan says:


    Thanks brother. Your comment provokes three parts in my reply. First, questions I ask to reasonable assess that they are a regenerated Christians:
    – What is the gospel?
    – What is your life story?
    – When did you become a Christian? How did that happen?
    – Did you notice changes in your life that were a result of being united to Jesus Christ?
    – Do you understand church accountability and responsibility for each other as covered in the membership considered discussions (our membership class)? And are you still willing to sign the statement of faith and church covenant?
    – Did you have any questions about the teaching on church discipline?

    Second, I believe in regenerate church membership. But I also believe that you can’t know infallibly and shouldn’t be too tight on the front door of the church. I don’t know if Peter checked out on all 5000 on the day of Pentecost when they baptized that bunch. I think the back door of church membership, which is church discipline, is where we need to be faithful, intentional, and careful to not neglect. If someone professes faith in Christ, understands the gospel, and is willing to be (or has been) baptized, and they understand we’re going to pursue and be responsible for learning to observe ALL that Christ commands (Matt 28.20, which includes church discipline) together, then we’re glad to have them. Vern Poythress, a paedo-baptist helped me think towards this end in this interview: http://www.stannespub.com/audio/Children/MP3%20small/V4N2%20Poythress%202S4.mp3 – Well, the interview seems to be gone, but here’s the article that prompted the interview – http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1997Indifferentism.htm (I haven’t read the article but if it’s the same thing he was saying in the interview then it should be helpful).

    Third, even if we could infallibly know who was truly regenerate, we would still need church discipline since God uses that as one of the means or preserving his saints. There ought to be truly regenerate people in some churches who stubbornly hold on to sin for a season, get excommunicated and handed over to Satan, wake up, repent, and are restored to Christ and the church.

    Any thoughts or push back to any of these thoughts?

  4. Matt Mager says:

    Thanks for the interview questions. I ask most of the same ones, sometimes in a slightly different way, but there were a couple that I think I will add to the interview. I have been surpised that the membership interview has been such a great way to force the issue of a person’s salvation. One of the greatest delights for me has been when someone starts attending church and you know that they weren’t a believer when they started coming and then they begin to inquire about membership. I prepare myself for the hard task of not accepting them as a member, and then I begin asking questions and to my joy and surprise, they’ve been converted! Man, I love that! Sadly, I sometimes don’t believe in the power of the gospel.

    I also agree on the importance of church discipline. I’ve been surprised how often we’ve had to go through all the steps at our small church. We’ve gone to step 4 on three occasions in the past 4 years of our church’s existence. I attended GCC and there were 3 that I can recall in 4 years at a church with several thousand people. We have 44 members at our church. What has your experience been in this regard.

    I guess my thinking on ‘there not being a need for church discipline’ if we could infallibly know who are regenerate is that we couldn’t take it to step 4 ‘treating them as a Gentile or Tax collector” or ‘delivering them over to Satan” because we couldn’t knowingly treat a believer as an unbeliever or deliver one to Satan who we know is the Lord’s.

    Thanks for the head’s up on the Poythress article. I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Joe Bradberry says:

    Thanks for this post it really was an God send! I’d been battling over this issue with another Chirstian about an family member of mine’s salvation. They tried to abuse Luke 6:43-45 and say that they knew when someone was saved or not, and that scripture states their spirit would bare witness about others spirit, which I clearly rebuked as unbiblical. It is my belief that we can never “PLANT THE FLAG OF UNSAVED” on any heart, but there are as Chirst says ways to know their fruit and discern the next approach by leaded down the path of salvation or correction. God Bless

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