Sunday, March 30, 2014

Can A True Follower of Jesus Fall Away From Him?

People falling away from the faith is a deeply emotional topic, one that has caused a lot of hurt in the lives of the families of followers of Jesus.  Let's look at a few links relating to the topic:  

Danielle D'Souza talks about why young people tend to fall away, and Swoopes gives the typical Bible's-full-of-contradictions, Bible-was-used-to-justify-bad-things, There-are-a-lot-of-christian-hypocrites reasons for falling away.  This young African American man, in parts 1 and 2, admits that his conversion from Christianity to Atheism had nothing to do with logic, reason, or science, and had everything to do with emotional and psychological influences.  Daniel Fincke really blasts and rails on Christians in talking about his deconversion experience, accusing them of psychological manipulation; Fincke even goes as far as to blast and rail on Jesus' ethical teachings.          

Now that you have an idea about what some deconversion/falling away testimonies look like, let's look at what the Bible has to say about people who fall away.

Falling Away In The Old Testament:

The Old Testament is full of examples of people who fell away from the faith.  In Exodus 32, we have the story of the Israelites creating a golden calf to worship.

In Judges, we read about how as soon as Joshua and his generation passed away, the people of Israel began to fall away lickety split:

Judges 2:10-15:  "After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.  They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.  In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.  Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress."  (NIV)

The falling away from God in Israel got so bad that Postmodernism reared it's ugly head:

Judges 17: 5-6:  "And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest.  In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes."  (KJV)

Judges 21: 25:  "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."  (KJV)

The following passage has a number of points to be made in it:

1 Kings 16: 29-33:  "In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years.  Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him.  He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.  Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him."  (NIV)

At this point in the book of 1 Kings, there has been a long succession of kings that have sinned against God by doing the things described in Judges 2: 10-15, and Ahab was worse than any of his predecessors.  On top of the poor example he set, Ahab worsened it by marrying a Canaanite woman named Jezebel who practiced all these same sins.  We can see the same problem in Nehemiah 13:

Nehemiah 13:23-27:  "Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab.  Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah.  I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves.  Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.  Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”  (NIV)

In the Old Testament, God told his people exactly what would happen if they maintained this pattern of sin:

2 Kings 21: 10-15:  "The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 'Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols.  Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.  I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.  I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.'”  (NIV)

Of course, the Israelites did not repent of their sin and put their faith in God; they instead persisted in sinning against God.  In 2 Kings 25, we read about how the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Jerusalem, and took the Israelites into captivity.  God gave them over to their enemies, just like he said he would. 

Falling Away In The New Testament:

The New Testament has plenty to say about people who fall away from the faith.

In Paul's first letter to Timothy, which was written in 64 AD (roughly 31-34 years after Jesus), we can see that people were already falling away from the faith:

1 Timothy 1:18-20:  "Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.  Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme."  (NIV)

In reference to false teachers, Peter was very blunt, and quoted King Solomon:

2 Peter 2: 20-22:  "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.  Of them the proverbs are true: 'A dog returns to its vomit,' and, 'A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.'”  (NIV)

Even Jesus had to deal with people who fell away in the gospel of John:

John 6: 25-70:  "When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, 'Rabbi, when did you get here?'

Jesus answered, 'Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.'

Then they asked him, 'What must we do to do the works God requires?'

Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'

So they asked him, 'What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: "He gave them bread from heaven to eat."'

Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'

'Sir,' they said, 'always give us this bread.'

Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.'

At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, 'I am the bread that came down from heaven.'  They said, 'Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I came down from heaven"?'

'Stop grumbling among yourselves,' Jesus answered.  'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.  It is written in the Prophets: "They will all be taught by God."  Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.  No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.  Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.  I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.  But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.'

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'

Jesus said to them, 'Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.'  He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, 'Does this offend you?  Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!  The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.  Yet there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.  He went on to say, 'This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.'

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

'You do not want to leave too, do you?' Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.'

Then Jesus replied, 'Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!'  (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)"  (NIV)

What is unmistakably clear in this story is that the only reason that these people were following Jesus because they wanted to see him perform miracles; they didn't care about his teachings at all.  They demonstrated this by falling away when Jesus started to teach them truth.  

Jesus talked about a severe falling away that takes place in the end times; a falling away that follows persecution:

Matthew 24:9-14:  "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."  (NIV)

The New Testament lists several reasons why people fall away; the first is that people are influenced by deceiving spirits:

1 Timothy 4:1-5:  "The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.  They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."  (NIV)

People also fall away because of false teachers:

Acts 20:25-31:  "Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.  Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you.  For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."  (NIV)

Within the above passage, Paul refers to two different passages from Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 3:16-19:  "At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.  When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.  But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.'"  (NIV)

Ezekiel 34:1-6:  "The word of the Lord came to me: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."'"  (NIV)

Jesus said the following to the church in Pergamum:

Revelation 2:14-16:  "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.  Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth."  (NIV)

As Paul pointed out to Timothy, some people fall away because of their own evil desires:

2 Timothy 4:1-5:  "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."  (NIV)

Some people fall away because they love the world more than they love God:

1 John 2: 15-17:  "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever."  (NIV)

As Stephen pointed out to the Sanhedrin, some people fall away because their hearts are hard:

Acts 7:51-53:  "You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!  Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered himyou who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”  (NIV)

As Jesus shows in his explanation of the parable of the sower, some people fall away in a time of testing:

Luke 8:13: "Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away."  (NIV)

God will judge those who fall away:

Hebrews 10:26-31:  "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  (NIV)

According to God's word, it is impossible for those who fall away to renew to repentance:

Hebrews 6:4-8:  "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned."  (NIV)

How To Avoid Falling Away:

One way to avoid falling away is to heed the warnings found in the New Testament.  In reference to the Day of The Lord, the apostle Peter had this to say:

2 Peter 3:14-18:  "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."  (NIV)

Hebrews has this to say:

Hebrews 3:12-15: "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  As has just been said:

'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'"  (NIV)

According to Paul in talking about the history of Israel, another way to avoid falling away is to depend on God:

1 Corinthians 10:11-13:  "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,on whom the culmination of the ages has come.  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."  (NIV)

Another way to avoid falling away is to remain steadfast in the faith:

Jude 20-21:  "But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life."  (NIV)

Hebrews 6: 9-12:  "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.  We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised."  (NIV)

Yet another way to avoid falling away is to continue reading God's word, the scriptures:

2 Timothy 3:14-17:  "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."  (NIV)

Growing in Christian character will help keep you from falling away:

2 Peter 1:5-11:  "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."  (NIV)

Associating with other believers will also help you keep from falling away:

Hebrews 10:19-25:  "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  (NIV)


I know from personal experience how tough it is to see someone fall away from the faith; the person who used to be my best Christian friend told me in the summer of 2013 that they had fallen away from the faith about a year to a year and a half before, clearly implying that they had been pretending to be followers of Jesus during that time, and they were finally starting to come out about it.

When that friend had told me about how they had fallen away, two things Jesus said came to mind:

John 10: 14-15:  "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep."   (NIV)

John 10:27-30:  "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”  (NIV)

Jesus is clearly saying that his true followers have a personal relationship with him, and that nobody can take his true followers away from him; the only way I know how to interpret the second passage is that Jesus is saying that true followers of Christ cannot fall away from him.  What logically follows is that a follower of Jesus who falls away was never really a true follower of Jesus, and they never knew him personally.  

If you know someone who feels like they may be falling away, encourage them to stay in the faith in the way that the Bible tells us to.  If they end up falling away anyways, we still need to pray for them and treat them as lovingly and respectfully as possible while warning them of the danger of rejecting God.  Let Matthew 9:9-13 serve as our guide:

Matthew 9:9-13:  "As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me,' he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'

On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'”  (NIV)