Salvation 2.0: Part 7.4: How to fall away

grace5So if that’s how we’re saved — by faith — then how might we fall away? Well, let’s not make this unnecessarily complicated. If faith is the path in, then losing one’s faith is the path out. We leave by going back on how we came in.

Now, “faith” as we’ve covered has these three elements:

1. Belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus is Lord. God resurrected Jesus.

2. Faithfulness to Jesus.

3. Trust in Jesus to keep his promises.

So reversing any of these three will damn. 

Belief

Logically, to continue to be saved, we need to at least continue to believe what we had to believe to be saved in the first place.

Hence, positively —

(Mat 16:16 ESV)  16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

(Rom 10:9-11 ESV)  9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 

Hence, we’re not surprised to find those who deny this confession to be damned —

(1Jo 4:2-3 ESV)  2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,  3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

(2Jo 1:7-8 ESV)  7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.  8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.

Faithfulness

Several passages refer to the necessity that we continue to be faithful/penitent/obedient. The passage that explains it most clearly to me is —

(Heb 10:26-31 ESV) For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,  27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.  28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.  29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?  30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

Note v. 26 especially. We all continue to sin. We all sometimes sin deliberately. But when we deliberately continue in sin — live in rebellion against the known will of God — then we fall away.

This is in fact a recurring theme throughout Hebrews —

(Heb 3:7-12 ESV) Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice,  8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness,  9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.  10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’  11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”  12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

The author compares our salvation to the Exodus. God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and promised to take them to the Promised Land. But nearly all died in the desert because they rebelled against the will of God.

Plainly, there was no perseverance of the saints in the OT. The Israelites died in the desert. The Northern Kingdom was carried into Assyrian captivity. Judah was carried into Babylonian Captivity. Many of the Israelites who’d been redeemed from slavery were returned to slavery.

God was unspeakably patient with their sinfulness and idolatry. But his patience gave out. There came a time for consequences. And all Israel paid a high price for their sin. They did not persevere.

And when God went so far as to return to them in the flesh and walk among them and teach his will, even dying on a Roman cross for them, most rejected him and did not persevere.

And the Hebrews writer warns us not to be like them.

Trust

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the Churches of Christ is trusting God’s promises. We just can’t make ourselves accept salvation by faith in Jesus. We desperately want to earn our own way. But Paul writes,

(Gal 5:2-4 ESV) Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Paul could not be more plain. We have a choice. One choice is to be justified by obedience to law. If we do that, we are obligated to keep the whole law. We must live perfectly. And if we take on that burden, then Jesus’ death is no longer available to us — and because we’ll fail, we’ll be damned.

(Gal 5:5-6 ESV)  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 

Our hope of righteousness — to be deemed righteous like Abraham — is “by faith.” If we reject works as our path to salvation, then the other option is to be “in Christ Jesus.” But in Christ Jesus, the only thing that counts (KJV: avails, meaning accomplishes its intended purposes) is “faith working through love.”

Paul isn’t saying it’s either faith or it’s works. He’s saying that only faith can save. Anything else fails. Therefore, because works aren’t faith, they fail.

The question, therefore, isn’t whether X or Y is works or faith. The question is whether X or Y is faith. If it’s not faith, it cannot avail. It cannot save. Even if X or Y is not works. Only faith can save because God’s covenant with Abraham was to treat faith as righteousness. Only faith.

The question that presents itself to the modern Churches of Christ, therefore, is whether we trust God’s promises? Are we willing to believe — accept as true — the numerous promises to save everyone who has faith?

Or will we persist in insisting that only those with faith — who also worship a cappella, worship on Sunday, have five and only five “acts of worship” in the Sunday assembly, are scripturally organized with a plurality of elders, don’t have deacons unless they have elders, have only male deacons, have only male elders …

I’m not sure how many commands there are that we must add to faith to be saved. I think it’s 613.

Oops. Sorry. That was the Law of Moses. I think the Churches of Christ have passed 1,000. After all, once you declare silences to be commands, well, there’s no limit on how many topics the Bible might be silent.

Al Maxey delights in asking his opponents to make a list of the essential commands that must be obeyed to be saved — in addition to faith in Jesus. No one will do it. No one will deny that there is such a list.

What a horrible, fearful,  scary, terrifying way to live — believing that you must obey a long list of commands to be saved and being unable to even write down what you believe is on the list — much less agree with your fellow church goers on the list. And then believing you can’t be forgiven of an error unless you discover it, repent of it, and no longer do it. And believing that you’ll be damned for having the wrong list. This is, of course, an impossible way to live.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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7 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 7.4: How to fall away

  1. Price says:

    I’ll be honest…. never being able to measure up to the goodness that was required not to be damned to hell was what caused a decade or longer pause in my walk with the Lord. Nobody can measure up to the demands of perfection and when you see that even the Elders and Preachers falling from grace while they continue to demand perfection.. well, it’s something that smells to high heavens… What I found out was that God isn’t as they claimed. He sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved.. He loved us. He loved me: warts and all. Everybody talks about the look on the Father’s face as he saw his prodigal son coming back home and the jealousy of the brother….but I can tell you that when the son saw his father welcoming him instead of getting out the whip… that son rushed to his father and wept… Yeah, faith is all that matters…because real faith will get you out of the pig sty and bring you home. It motivates when nothing else does or can. Mustard seed sized faith overwhelms 85% perfection.. at least IMO.

  2. Johnny says:

    I have a friend who was told he was going to hell due to a sin in his life. Based on the condemnation and words he received from leadership he saw no hope for redemption. He spent the next 10 years living a life of depravaty stating if he was going to hell anyway what did it matter. It took a minister who loved him to tell him about grace and share that God is willing to forgive and take a child back. I shudder to think of God’s feelings toward those leaders who told him there was no hope for him. I am convince you can fall away but it is not as easy as many teach. They believe God will reject you for less than they will permit a couple to divorce. Think on that you are permitted to divorce for only adultery but God will reject you for a screw up on a point of doctrine. Really????

  3. Chris says:

    Having been raised in a Pentecostal church, (thank God I was delivered) I’m familiar with their standards. I have heard of many heart breaking tales of rejecting babes in Christ based on some self righteous person’s desire to be judge.

    Depending on what particular spectrum of Pentecostalism a person is involved with -one’s faith may be judged on anything from level of prosperity, health or a particular gift (or lack there of). Of course, on top of all that – there is always some false prophet who is just waiting to expose someone’s “secret sin” to impress the congregation.

    Not much fun to witness people falsley judged on so many levels.

  4. Mark says:

    Johnny, I too wondered why I should be miserable on this planet trying to be good if I were already condemned to hell.

    That said, too many blanket condemnations to hell were issued from pulpits for petty reasons and for not thinking that someone else would go to hell for the petty reason. I have been condemned to hell for the sins of others. Also, Jesus said to forgive and that sins would be remembered no more. If that were the case, why were the response cards that people filled out after walking down the aisle during the invitation retained by the elders in a file cabinet?

  5. Dwight says:

    The problem with people is they are people and people will be people, but people also want to play God, but are limited in that they are people and yet they still persist in their playing even though they are people. They don’t know when to stop playing.
    We will hold someone under water and tell them this is the best thing for them.
    God is more patient and kind than we are on all levels.

  6. Charles Millson says:

    I think Paul makes a satirical statement saying those who keep the law are themselves “severed”–literally become foreskins–if they insist on their works-based theology.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Charles M,

    At first I thought you might be thinking of —

    (Gal. 5:4 ESV) 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    NRS Galatians 5:4 You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

    But the NIV and Holman have “alienated,” which is quite different. So I’ve been looking at the commentaries. The lexicons don’t really support “cut off” or “severed.” But the ESV, NRSV, and others go that way. Hmm …

    First two commentaries reference the Theological Dictionary of the NT, which says,

    Trans. in the sense of “to render inactive,” “to condemn to inactivity” (χέρα, Eur. Phoen., 753), “to put out of use” (Corp. Herm., XIII, 7: κατάργησον τοῦ σώματος τάς → αἰσθήσεις). In the LXX it occurs only at 2 Εσδρ. (4 times) with the meaning “to destroy.”
    In the NT it is used with the secular meanings a. “to condemn to inactivity” (Lk. 13:7); b. “to destroy” (1 C. 13:11); and c. “to remove from the sphere of activity” (R. 7:2).

    Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 1964–, 1, 452.

    So the wordplay is much stronger in the English than the Greek. Then again, I found —

    Paul begins a play on words in vs. 4, saying that the persons wishing to be justified by or in the Law have cut themselves off from Christ, and fallen from grace. The sentence has an interesting structure. Being cut off from Christ is at the beginning, and having fallen from grace at the end.

    Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 368–369.

    But I also found —

    (The NRSV rendering of v. 4, “cut yourselves off from Christ,” conveys the right idea but suggests a pun on “cutting” the flesh that is not present in the Greek text; the NIV is preferable.)

    Richard B. Hays, “The Letter to the Galatians,” in 2 Corinthians-Philemon (vol. 11 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 313.

    So Hays and Witherington disagree, but it seems that most lexicon authors and commentaries see no pun, and if you look at the other uses of the same word elsewhere in the NT, it’s hard to find “cut off” as the conventional meaning, although I’m no expert (and it would be very much like Paul to use a play on words in this context).

    There is a verse in Gal where the wordplay is clearly present in the Greek —

    (Gal. 5:12 ESV) 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

    Here the Greek for “emasculate” refers primarily to the removal of body parts — and so that is the point. The KJV has “were cut off,” which sounds like the Jewish term for excommunicate, which is just not right. All the modern translations have something much stronger, such as “castrate” or “mutilate.” Not the stuff of Sunday morning sermons!

    The interpretation of “cut off” to mean “emasculate” goes back to Chrysostom and Ambrosiaster, but somehow got skipped in my high school Bible class.

    PS — I home fighting a nasty cold. Nothing on TV. Bored. So what else to do besides pour through Greek resources on the meaning of obscure Greek words?

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