Sunday, September 5, 2010

Falling Away

It has been a while since I have posted anything. Actually, I have been spending quite a bit of time commenting on other blogs authored by fellow believers. I particularly enjoy a blog entitled, “If I became an atheist”. The blog’s author, who goes by the name “feeno” has a mild mannered and non-threatening way of engaging and challenging atheists, and he seems to draw them like a magnet. One post in particular started quite a heated discussion, exceeding 100 comments. I must confess to being just a little envious at the amount of attention and commentary he draws, but then again, given the vitriolic nature of the commentary, maybe it is just as well that they not come my way. Anyone is welcome to comment here as long as the discussion is civil and polite. Otherwise, I would have to exercise my author’s prerogative and dispatch their comments to that great recycle bin in cyberspace.

It seems that the most acerbic and forceful comments come from atheists who are former believers. I have often wondered why and have suspected that they more than anyone else feel compelled to convince others and perhaps themselves of the correctness of their position, maybe for fear that they are mistaken. When I suggested this to an atheist commenter who goes by the name of “bob”, he responded somewhat indignantly that I would presume to guess at his motivations without asking. Fair enough, so I asked.



Bob said that he had been a Christian for about 25 years or about half his lifetime, and at some point fell away. He went on to explain:

It didn't work for me and I didn't witness it working for any of my fellow believers. In short, me and my fellow believers did not display any attributes that I felt were significantly different (better) than the non believers I occasionally came across. So, my faith gradually evaporated due to the complete lack of God showing up in my life and in the lives of all the Christians I knew.

Stories like bob’s have a very sobering effect on me. First of all, taking his reasoning at face value, it scares me to think that self professing Christians would not display any discernible attributes that would indicate that their faith is actually making a difference in their lives. His testimony may well be a legitimate indictment of Christianity as practiced at least amidst his circle of friends and acquaintances. It makes me examine myself and ask again, “Do people have reason to believe that I am a Christian other than my saying so?”

On the other hand, I can’t take bob’s story at face value, if for no other reason than its brevity. There is simply too much that I don’t know. But what I can take at face value is the fact that some people who at least profess to be Christians may lose their faith and fall away, and this is what I find most sobering.

Based on my understanding of Scripture, I believe in the doctrine known as “perseverance of the saints”. In short, it means that those who put their faith in Jesus can be assured that He will keep them in the faith by the power of His Spirit. There are many Scriptures that give believers assurance and confidence that they will never fall away, because after all, their salvation was not so much their decision but God’s:

  • John 15:16 -- You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.
  • John 10:28 -- I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.
  • Philippians 1:6 -- being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
  • I Corinthians 1:8-9 -- He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

These verses provide assurance for self doubting souls like me, who are all too aware of the sin that still remains in their heart despite their best efforts. Yet these verses should not provide any false assurance to those with a superficial profession of faith, who might have knowledge of Jesus and the Gospel but perhaps have not put their faith in Him; or those who are just going along for the ride, or who are attracted to the Gospel by its perceived benefits but who have not counted the cost of being a Christian; or to those who are cultural Christians and are familiar with the Gospel but have never actually embraced it, perhaps believing that salvation is either a birthright or something that can be earned.

For the latter group, the Bible has plenty of sobering warnings, such as:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:5 -- Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?
  • Matthew 24:13 -- but he who stands firm to the end will be saved (implying that you might not stand firm.)

Most sobering of all is Hebrews 6:4-6, (along with similar verses in Hebrews 10:26-31 and 2 Peter 2:20-21):

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, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

This is one reason why I suspect that many “former Christians” are among the most vocal and vociferous atheists. They probably know their Bibles well enough to understand the serious and eternal consequences of turning their backs on Jesus, and because they believe that there is no going back again, they seek to convince and assure themselves that they have made a correct decision.

Yet I don’t think they understand their Bibles quite well enough, because nowhere does it say that they cannot return. The seeming contradiction between assurance that God will keep us in the faith on the one hand, and warnings against falling away on the other hand, is not a contradiction at all. When we see a professing Christian fall away, it means one of two things:

1. Either they had never come to genuine faith in the first place; or

2. They are genuine Christians who, for whatever reason, have turned their backs for a season. But God’s calling and election are sure and will not be frustrated. His Holy Spirit will give them no peace until they return.

In either case, the solution is the same. Repent and embrace the Gospel. Recognize that in and of yourself you are a hopeless sinner with nothing to recommend you to God, but Jesus the perfect God-man lived a sinless life that you could never live and died the death that you deserve to die. Entrust your life to Him and have faith that he will work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure, and He will keep you until the end, never leaving or forsaking you.

[All Scripture references are from the New International Version]

4 comments:

Tetamay said...

Makes up for my not going to church today. thanks, Leo!

feeno said...

Thanks for the nice words Crusty. I got a few goose bumps reading this. The reason I wrote my first blog was because of these people who have "de-converted". I wish they had the peace and hope we share. I too have doubted and struggled with many things of God and his word. faith is a funny thing. But I'm glad for His word, the ability to talk with Him. But sometime it is His people that encourage me and keep me in the race. Thanks for being one of those guys.

I'll ask the Pate family about Sette, Briscola and Scopa this week. We play a local game around here called "Pitch". And lately we've been playing a lot of Poker.

Tetamay, Agree, that will preach.

later, feeno

Steve Schuler said...

Hey There Crusty!

I just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I have visited your blog otherwise you would not know that I had!

I am pretty much a Mellow Fellow with an agnostic perspective on matters metaphysical. For most/all practical purposes though I am effectively atheist with regards to the God of Abraham, be He portrayed in a Judaic, Christian, or Islamic context. I try to be one to not squabble without sufficient cause, whatever that might be, and so try not hassle people about their religious identities and affiliations. I have told my younger brother, who is a devout Catholic, that I will not insist that he abandon his faith until I come up with something I know to be indisputably true and infinitely better than what he now has, which is not likely to happen.

I do not think that your assessment of the motivating factors behind the passion for "Atheism" displayed by some former Christians who have experienced the errosion of their faith is accurate. But my perspective is not religiously oriented, so no big surprise there.

Anyhow, why quibble when we can laugh instead?

Keep Laughin'!

SteveO

bob said...

Hi TMC, just a few quick points.

"His testimony may well be a legitimate indictment of Christianity as practiced at least amidst his circle of friends and acquaintances."

I have lived in MD, VA, NC, SD, LA CA. When I was a bible believer I attended Independent Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and United Pentecostal churches. Since I left the faith I have only attended a non denominational church on occasion.

Please be sure to understand - I am not saying that the Christians I have, and continue to encounter are bad, or in any way have character traits that are worse than any other religious or non religious people I come across. I am saying that they are no different. I am saying that, as a group, for the most part, Christians do not display any character traits that make them stand out in the crowd. That is not good or bad, just "normal".

"There are many Scriptures that give believers assurance and confidence that they will never fall away,.."

When I was a believer, I was of the "once saved, always saved" persuasion. I felt that if one could "lose their salvation", then we were all one sin away from hell, and we could never have assurance.

"They probably know their Bibles well enough to understand the serious and eternal consequences of turning their backs on Jesus, and because they believe that there is no going back again, they seek to convince and assure themselves that they have made a correct decision."

While this is not a factor for me, it may be for some former believers.
I have absolutely no lingering suspicions that what I once believed so ardently, but no longer believe, may indeed be true.
I sleep well at night.

But you then turn your suspicion as to our possible motives, into a fact - "Yet I don’t think they understand their Bibles quite well enough, because nowhere does it say that they cannot return."

Do you see it? You suspect we may think we can't return, so we may as well go out with a bang, and you then offer an answer to our dilemma, without even finding out if we have a dilemma in the first place...but that's ok.

You then end with an evangelical paragraph. That's fine. But please remind your self that many or us have read the same verses you have, over, and over, and over, and over again. We have sat in church every Sunday morning, and some every Sunday evening, and still more every Wednesday evening for years and years and years, listening to the same stories that you have heard.
So, any biblical cure you have to offer, we have probably offered it to others, ourselves, at some time during our days as a believer.