Falling away generally is referred to as backsliding. It is defined as one who once believed but now has departed from the faith. The are some who believe that a ‘real’ Christian could never depart from the faith. ‘Genuine’ believers could never fall away. However, does the Bible actually teach that?
Justification is the act whereby God declares a condemned sinner not guilty. It happens at the moment a person understands and believes the gospel. (John 1:12, 5:24; Acts 2:41; Acts 8:30-38; Gal. 2:16; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:13; Phil 3:9) The new believer immediately receives everlasting life and the perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to the new convert. He/she is born again never to be “unborn”. It is a one-time act of hearing (understanding the gospel) and believing it, which causes an irreversible change in your final destiny.
Examples in the Bible of Believers who Departed from the Faith
Justification does not guarantee a believer will remain faithful to the end of his or her life. There are many examples in the Bible that indicate believers who were justified by faith, did depart for a period of time or had the potential to depart from the faith. And since the Scriptures show that a believer cannot lose salvation, it is possible for someone to depart and still end up in heaven. For example:
- Peter said he would never deny the Lord, but denied the Lord three times. (Matt. 26:35; John 19:27)
- Hymenaeus and Philetus strayed from the truth and overthrew the faith of some. (II Tim. 2:18) It is possible to have your faith overthrown and remain saved.
- Paul wrote to Timothy, “If we [Timothy or Paul] are faithless, He [God] remains faithful. (II Tim. 2:13)
- Some widows in the church had already turned aside after Satan. [In the context it implies they had married unbelievers]. (I Tim 5:15)
- Demas, a disciple, forsook Paul, “having loved this present world”. (Col. 4:16; II Tim. 4:10) [He became unfruitful, not unsaved. Luke 8:14]
- The Hebrew believers were cautioned about drifting away and departing from the living God, failing to enter His rest. (Heb. 2:1-3, 3:12)
- The Israelites passed through the Red Sea by faith, but failed to enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. (Heb. 3:19, 11:29)
- When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods. (I Kgs. 11:4)
- King Saul sought the advice of a medium and died for his unfaithfulness. (I Chr. 10:13-14)
We need not be too self-righteous to think that it can’t happen to you or me. Only believers can depart from the faith. Unbelievers cannot depart from the faith, because they were never of the faith. You cannot depart from a place that you have never been.
Our default position is to give up when things get difficult. Sometimes living on a mountain seems appealing to me. Living faithfully is not the easiest road to take. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. (II Tim, 3:12) Even many of the rulers that believed in Christ did not confess Him openly for fear of being put out of the synagogue. (John 12:42) That’s why God’s word encourages us to endure, to press on, to be faithful.
Consequences for Falling Away
Departing from the faith is not a good thing to do. It brings no glory to God and results in a wasted life. God may discipline you. (Heb. 12:5-11) His discipline can be severe, if necessary, even giving you an early entrance to heaven. (I Cor. 11:30; James 5:19, 20) But it doesn’t cause a person justified by faith to lose their eternal destination. That’s how amazing God’s grace is. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14, 15) Just as it took one look of faith to be delivered from the serpents bite [they didn’t have to keep on looking], it only takes one look of faith to the Savior and you are saved forever. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15)
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