Many sincere religious people have been mistakenly led to believe that it is utterly impossible for a child of God to fall from the grace of God. The Swiss reformer, John Calvin, popularized this notion, and it has found its way into numerous theological creeds of today’s world. The Bible, however, does not teach this dangerous doctrine; in fact, Holy Scripture contradicts it repeatedly.
Both Old and New Testaments speak of potential and actual apostasy among the people of God. To the northern kingdom of Israel, Hosea, on behalf of Jehovah, exclaimed:
“And my people are bent on backsliding from me: though they call them to him that is on high, none at all will exalt him” (Hos. 11:7).
Moses had warned Israel of the possibility of their forgetting the Lord and the wonderful signs He had performed in the wilderness (Dt. 8:11-14; 4:9).
The noble prophet Ezekiel declared:
“When the righteous man turns away from this righteousness, and commits iniquity, and dies therein; in his iniquity that he has done shall he die” (18:26).
The Old Testament record is literally filled with examples of apostasy on the part of God’s covenant people. In First Corinthians 10, Paul catalogs a number of these instances.
The New Testament also contains an abundance of evidence on the possibility of apostasy. Observe the following.
It is possible to fall
Jesus taught that some, in time of temptation, would fall away (Lk. 8:13). He announced that some branches — disciples — would be pruned from Him — as the vine — and burned (Jn. 15:1-6).
Some did fall
Judas certainly did fall (Acts 1:25) and he was lost (Jn. 17:12). Many other disciples abandoned the Lord as well (Jn. 6:66). Hymenaeus and Philetus erred concerning the truth, and by their error, overthrew the faith of others (2 Tim. 2:16-18). Some forsook Christianity, reverted to Judaism, and in so doing “fell away” (Heb. 6:4-6).
The church in Ephesus, which had been saved by grace through their faith (Eph. 2:8-9; cf. Acts 19:1-7), left its first love, and so fell, and was thus in danger of being wholly disowned by Christ (Rev. 2:4-5; 1:20). It was prophesied, in fact, that before the return of Christ to judge the world, a great apostasy from the faith would occur (2 Thes. 2:1-12; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff).
It is possible to prevent falling
We must be aware that we can fall (i.e.: “take heed” — 1 Cor. 10:12; Heb. 3:12; Col. 2:8), and we must apply the divine remedy to keep ourselves in the most holy faith and from apostasy. Note Peter’s admonition regarding the adding of the Christian graces and his conclusions: “for if you do these things, you shall never stumble” (2 Pet. 1:5-11); so also Jude’s warning in Jude 20-21. Spiritual security is conditional.
One can be restored from apostasy
When Simon committed the sin of attempting to buy the gift of God with money, and was in danger of perishing, Peter urged him to repent and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:20-22). James speaks to this point: “My brethren, if any among you err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he who converts a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20).
Why Saints Depart from the Faith
Every serious student of the Bible knows, therefore, that a Christian can apostatize. He knows it because of what the scriptures teach; he knows it because he has seen children of God fall. In the balance of this article, we will explore a few of the reasons why some saints depart from the faith.
Some fall because of persecution
In the parable of the sower, Christ spoke of the rocky soil. This was a thin layer of earth with a bedrock underneath. When the seed [the word of God] was sown in such soil, it sprang up quickly, but because it had no depth, when the sun came out, the seed soon died.
The Lord, in explaining the story, revealed that the shallow soil represents the one who “endures for a while; and when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, straightway he stumbles” (Mt. 13:21).
Unfortunately, when some people obey the gospel they have an improper view of what Christianity involves. Perhaps they see only its more pleasant elements. Maybe they have not been taught to count the cost (Lk. 14:28). They have not realistically recognized that “all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). And so, when the hardships of the Christian life come, they do not endure.
For some, persecutions provide the testing by which character is made (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-7); in others, tribulations seek out a weakness which becomes the downfall of that person.
Some fall when they become heir to natural disaster
We live in a world that has been cursed by the evil effects of sin (Gen. 3:16ff; Rom. 5:12; 8:20ff). Earthquakes, violent storms, and floods frequently occur. The ravages of cancer, heart disease, etc., invade our homes. Death steals our parents, spouses and children. The Christian is no less a victim of these misfortunes than anyone else.
Yet, occasionally one encounters a child of God who feels that if the Lord were really caring of his interests, such disasters would never come. This, of course, reveals a very inadequate and unbalanced view of life. One of the great lessons of the book of Job is that Jehovah does not necessarily shield us from life’s calamities. In fact, Paul was not exempt from natural disaster (cf. Acts 27; 2 Cor. 11:25-27).
And so, natural hardships will occur; we are not in heaven yet! One must never allow such difficulties to turn him from the faith; rather, he must use all trials to fortify his heavenward journey.
Many apostatize out of neglect
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we simply cannot escape the wrath of God if we neglect the great salvation that has been so richly provided for us (Heb. 2:3). Some apparently enter the church under the delusion that they have a ticket to heaven which can never be canceled. They do not realize that they are but babes in Christ and thus in need of much growth and maturity (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).
To assist such people, the following principles must be taught constantly:
Church services must be faithfully attended in order that warm encouragement and competent instruction be regularly received (Heb. 10:24-25).
Harmful entanglements with the world must be severed (1 Cor. 15:33; Eph. 5:11; 2 Tim. 2:4).
Personal habits of study, meditation, and worship must be cultivated (2 Tim. 2:15; Psa. 1:2; 1 Thes. 5:17).
Active involvement in the salvation of others is imperative (Jn. 15:1ff; Rom. 7:4).
Many who would never neglect their physical health (i.e., they diet, jog, etc.), or the welfare of their families (i.e., house, food, medical treatment, insurance) are, nonetheless, woefully neglectful of their salvation, and so frequently they drift away from the faith completely. How very tragic!
Cares, riches, and pleasure are the downfall of others
Again, in His “Sower” parable, the Lord spoke of those who were fruitless because their productivity was choked out by the thorns of the “care of the world,” the “deceitfulness of riches,” and the “pleasures of this life” (Mt. 13:22; Lk. 8:14). The care of the world is the inordinate anxiety that Christians sometimes have concerning the daily needs of human existence.
Even poverty can be a temptation (cf. Prov. 30:8). If one’s possessions are extremely meager, he still must trust God and never allow worry about material things to draw him away from Christ (see Mt. 6:25-34).
On the other hand, some, who have plenty already, are ever greedy for more. Bigger barns must be built (Lk. 12:16-21). A love of money leads many from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10). The destruction of others is a lust for the world.
Some members of the church are never weaned from the defilement of an evil society; their minds are never transformed (Rom. 12:2). Accordingly, the lure of “the wild side of life” entices them away from the Lord and back into the filth of a degrading existence (2 Pet. 2:20-22). Demas is a classic example of one who abandoned the noble life in exchange for this world (cf. Philm. 24; Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:10).
Some are seduced from the faith by false teaching
Paul foretold that in the latter times some would fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits (i.e., false teachers — 1 Jn. 4:1); they would turn away from the truth unto fables (1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim. 4:1ff).
Why do men become involved in the propagation of religious error? Honest people are sometimes ignorantly caught up in it; that is why Christians must take heed how they hear (Lk 8:18) and compare what they hear with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). The Lord charged that the errors of the Sadducees were attributed to their ignorance of the word of God (Mt. 22:29).
Others adopt false doctrines for baser reasons; perhaps they are anxious for a following (Acts 20:30), maybe they feel that godliness is a way of gain (1 Tim. 6:5; cf. 2 Pet. 2:1ff). Some preachers are declaring that the church of the Lord is not distinctive and unique — that it is but another denomination among many. They no longer proclaim the biblical truth of the one body (Eph. 4:4), the church (Col. 1:18).
As a consequence of such pulpit perversion, numerous deceived souls are being led into the entrapments of sectarianism. Faithful Christians must attempt to inoculate against this great evil.
Some have an unrealistic view of conversion
When one obeys the Gospel of God (1 Pet. 4:17), he enters the Christian life as a spiritual newborn —an infant in the Lord (1 Pet. 2:2). He must endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3:18), and thus progress towards maturity (cf. Eph. 4:13ff).
Occasionally, however, one encounters new Christians who have mistakenly adopted the notion that conversion virtually eliminates the capacity to further make mistakes. Accordingly, when they again make some bad mistakes, they are deeply crushed. They may be unable to cope with the situation, hence throw up their hands in despair and abandon the faith altogether.
Such souls must be taught a realistic view of the Christian life! They must learn that even great Bible characters sometimes made serious errors (cf. Mt. 26:70; Rom. 7:15ff; Gal. 2:11-14); yet through repentance and learning, great growth can be achieved.
Some fall due to the lack of Christian association
Conversion to the Son of God frequently extracts a high price in terms of human friendships. Jesus said that it would be so (Mt. 10:34ff; Phil. 5:7-8). Since it is true that the Christian must have no fellowship with the evil works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), and as it is further the case that intimate companionships with the unspiritual can be a detriment to the Lord’s servant (1 Cor. 15:33), many times friendship with the ungodly will be broken at the point of conversion.
Now here is a blunt question: are Christians careful to speedily replace, with warm fellowship, those worldly associations that have been severed? Sometimes we are seriously neglectful of this responsibility. We bring the lost to Christ and then freeze them to death! Undoubtedly this is one of the major reasons for the high mortality rate among new converts.
Some apostatize due to harsh treatment at the hands of crude brethren
No one, who is remotely acquainted with New Testament doctrine, would deny for a moment that false teaching, together with rebellious, hypocritical brethren, ought to be vigorously opposed (Rom. 16:17; Tit. 3:10; 2 Tim. 4:1ff; etc.). The Lord’s treatment of His brethren (the Jewish leaders) in Matthew 23 was blistering — the situation demanded it. This certainly does not indicate, however, that all spiritual weakness is to be dealt with in such a manner.
Some brethren have apparently concluded, though, (compare Diotrephes, 3 Jn. 9-10) that they have been deputized by the Lord to billy-club all immature children of God into perfection! A new Christian may, through ignorance or weakness commit a tragic sin, and yet before they can be lovingly and patiently restored (Gal. 6:1), they are bludgeoned into spiritual death by some insensitive zealot. They did not anticipate this type of “brotherly” treatment and hence cannot survive it. Child abuse is not just a physical phenomenon!
Some never learn to receive considerate correction
As was pointed out above, all children of God are bound to make mistakes. We will need, therefore, loving correction along the way. There is that type of person, however, who simply cannot abide rebuke, no matter how compassionately it may be offered. Doubtless pride is a chief weakness in such an individual.
Solomon noted that “a rebuke enters deeper into one that hath understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool” (Prov. 17:10). Correction is a natural expression of love (Prov. 3:11-12), and when it is well received, it produces peaceable fruit (Heb. 12:11).
Some never learn to deal with church difficulties
When some enter the church, they labor under the delusion that they are in heaven already! It is a tremendous shock when these tender saints learn that not everyone in the Lord’s church is honest and good. They are not prepared for the reality that, as one preacher put it, some of the people in our fellowship ought to be in the penitentiary!
When they observe conflict in the church — or if they are treated in an unbecoming way by brethren — rather than attempting to assist the situation for the sake of righteousness, occasionally a sense of smugness sets in. An aura of self-righteousness may develop.
It is sometimes the case that church members, such as these described, will withdraw from the church in general and establish their own little antiseptic fellowships—usually a so-called “house church”—wherein they can from afar crucify the church for her shortcomings, or imagine that they are the last faithful people on earth.
But our Lord knew that there would be difficulties in the kingdom. Consider the parable of the tares (Matthew 13). Paul had his enemies, even within the church (2 Cor. 11:26), yet he did not “sour” on the entire brotherhood.
Faithful children of God will look for ways to help their brethren in times of confusion; they will not bury their heads. The old proverb about lighting a candle instead of merely cursing the darkness still contains a lot of truth.
Some fall because of misplaced confidence
A proverb says: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (Prov. 25:19). It is never easy when we are disappointed by those we love and in whom we have great confidence.
Perhaps some are so cynical that they will not allow themselves to trust anyone. An opposite inclination, equally extreme, is to see everyone, especially those in the church, as virtually angelic.
Often Christians will make a superhero of some prominent leader, elder, or preacher. They will idealize that person to the point of near perfection. If, therefore, the hero falls, it can destroy the faith of the one who so admired him. This writer knows of any number of situations in which weak brethren have fallen from the faith because a favorite preacher was discovered in adultery, or perhaps a respected elder was exposed as a crooked businessman.
It certainly is not sinful to have a great respect and confidence in good brethren, but in the final analysis, one’s trust must be in God Almighty and in His Son, Jesus Christ! They will never do wrong. They will never disappoint us (Heb. 13:5).
Surely it is to the advantage of all of us to learn those areas of weakness which can precipitate apostasy. None of us is beyond the possibility of falling (1 Cor. 10:12). We must be diligent to fortify our souls against failing the grace of God. And we must learn to reciprocate in assisting each other on the road to heaven. God strengthen us to this end.