Salvation 2.0: Part 8.4: Summarizing How to Fall Away

grace5To summarize, church discipline is appropriate in either of two general cases:

1. When a person threatens the safety of the flock — either physical safety or spiritual safety.

2. When a person is guilty of sin that could lead to that person’s own damnation.

The first case might involve a thief or sexual predator, or a false teacher who teaches doctrine that jeopardizes the souls of the members.

What sorts of teachings might jeopardize the congregation’s souls? And what sins might lead to an individual’s damnation? Well, anything that contradicts the necessary elements of faith. Hence —

1. Belief. Denial that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus is Lord (YHWH), or that Jesus has been resurrected (Matt 16:16; Rom 10:9).

2. Faithfulness. Antinomianism, that is, any teaching that excuses violating the known will of God (Heb 10:26 ff). This might be taught in principle, or the teaching may apply to a particular sin — such as encouraging people to sin against their consciences or encouraging people who know better to divide the church or to rebel against church leaders.

In this category fit the several lists of sins that damn, such as —

(1Co 6:9-10 ESV)  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

(Gal 5:19-21 ESV) 9 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

(Rev 22:15 ESV) 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

The interpretive problem presented by these sorts of passages is that (a) they aren’t all the same and (b) they could be read as creating a class of “mortal” sins that damn, whereas other sins do not. I think a far more sensible reading is that these are sins that all in the church being written to know to be sinful (often thanks to earlier apostolic instruction) and so there is no way the church members could pretend that they didn’t know that these are sins.

Hence, if a Christian in that church wallows in these sins — not a momentary lapse but a decision to participate even though known to be contrary to God’s will — then a Heb 10:26 sort of sin has happened — deliberate continuing to sin.

Of course, the other interpretive problem is that some of these sins are actually encouraged by preachers in  our denomination. I mean, “rivalries, dissensions, divisions” sounds just like the Churches of Christ in the county where I grew up  — and the ringleaders were often the preachers.

That hardly excuses these sins, but it should also caution us against being too quick to judge. After all, what is obviously a sin to me might seem innocent, even commendable, to you. That doesn’t make it right, but it does impact whether God’s grace will cover your (or my) error.

All sin is sin and to be avoided and repented of. But the sins that damn are the ones we know to be sin and indulge in anyway in rebellion against God.

I need to include here these passages —

(1Jo 4:6 ESV)  6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

(1Co 14:37-38 ESV) If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.  38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

The saved honor apostolic instruction. They may disagree as to what the apostles meant by what they said, but they agree to submit to apostolic instruction.

Still today we can recognize God’s Word because God’s people listen to it, just as we can recognize God’s people because they listen to God’s Word. Those who do not listen to apostolic teaching, but prefer to absorb the teaching of the world, not only pass judgment on themselves but thereby also on the message to which they do give attention.

John R. W. Stott, The Letter of John: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 19; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), n.p.

But this doesn’t mean that disagreeing about the meaning of this or that passage damns someone. The principle is one of listening — hearing in order to obey, even though neither the hearing nor the obedience will be perfect.

Thus, you and I may disagree about who is qualified to be a deacon, but if we are both attempting to seriously and prayerfully honor God’s word, we “listen” to the word and so remain saved. On the other hand, those among us who consider themselves smarter than the Bible and so who issue doctrinal proclamations that they know contradict the Bible are in serious jeopardy of losing their souls.

3. Trust. Reliance on works for salvation. This is the plain condemnation of Gal 5:2-7 and Peter’s condemnation referenced in Gal 2:11 — not because of what he believed but because of what he taught by his refusal to associate with uncircumcised Gentile believers.

Or teaching that the resurrection has already occurred, thereby denying the promises given by God of a future inheritance for the saved.

Now, that is likely not absolutely exact. For example, I’m sure there are other false teachings that we ought to consider as threatening the belief element in “faith.” For example, obviously, denying God would also result in denying Jesus and hence damnation.

On the other hand, I’m reluctant to go outside those teachings and examples I can find in scripture. Does denial of the Holy Spirit’s present work in the Christian damn? I think it’s plainly error, and it denies important promises made by God. But I don’t see it rising to the level of damning. After all, we are saved by faith in Jesus, not faith in the Spirit.

But we are told that dissensions and divisions damn (Gal 5:20), and so what should we make of brothers in Christ who damn even the other Churches of Christ in town? Inevitably, their condemnation is based on the other church’s failure to impose one rule or another as a condition of salvation in addition to faith — which would seem to plainly violate Gal 5:2-7, which teaches that conditioning salvation on anything other than “faith working through love” damns. Hence, they violate both Gal 5:2-7 and 5:20. It’s a deadly, dangerous place to find oneself.

We need to learn to distinguish sins that lead to death from those that do not —

(1Jo 5:16-17 ESV) 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.  17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 

And so, we find three and only three categories of “false teacher.” A false teacher may be so dangerous and so bent on pushing his agenda that he must be asked to leave the congregation to protect the flock — not just because he is in error (We all err some of the time.), but because his error is the sort that damns.

On the other hand, often the person teaching such a serious error has a penitent, obedient heart and can be corrected by the leaders of the church — and so no longer be a danger to the church. In some cases, penitence only comes when the person is removed from the church — out of love and concern for his soul. And sometimes you have to remove him so he doesn’t bring others down with him — but that doesn’t mean you give up on him.

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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10 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 8.4: Summarizing How to Fall Away

  1. George Guild says:

    “I mean, “rivalries, dissensions, divisions” sounds just like the Churches of Christ in the county where I grew up — and the ringleaders were often the preachers.” Jay. I see this as sooo ironic in the fact that the Restoration movement started by promoting UNITY. It has become a movement of division.

  2. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    It’s very interesting, Jay, that in all these lists that you mention (and in other judgment passages such as Mt 19:16-19 and Mt 25:31-46) the emphasis is overwhelmingly on personal relationships and personal conduct, not how we conduct corporate worship. I’m not suggesting that corporate worship is not important; it certainly is. But the emphasis on Jesus and the Apostles is on other matters…loving God, loving our fellow man, and loving ourselves as Temples, not on HOW we sing, HOW we partake of the LS, HOW we congregate, HOW we support widows and orphans, HOW we eat meals at the building, HOW we conduct Bible Study, and a host of other “‘HOWs” that COCs (and other denominations) have chosen to split over.

  3. Robert Harry says:

    Thank you Jay.

  4. Monty says:

    Jay said,

    “Hence, if a Christian in that church wallows in these sins — not a momentary lapse but a decision to participate even though known to be contrary to God’s will — then a Heb 10:26 sort of sin has happened — deliberate continuing to sin.”

    Jay, how does this fit in with the parable of the Prodigal Son? He certainly was wallowing in sin. And yet, the father was thrilled to see him return. We all know the Christian who left the church for the world only to return even years later. Of course the risk of that is dying before you come to your senses.

  5. laymond says:

    Since all sins come down to disobedience against god, are all sins equivalent? Is no sin worse than any other sin? If one sin is worse than another sin does that imply that one act can be more disobedient than another act? Is sin and/or disobedience absolute or does it have degree?

    I believe it was James that said, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

    Jay said , “Hence, if a Christian in that church wallows in these sins — not a momentary lapse but a decision to participate even though known to be contrary to God’s will — then a Heb 10:26 sort of sin has happened — deliberate continuing to sin.”

    Jay said, In this category fit the several lists of sins that damn, such as —

    That list you named don’t leave much room for grace does it? Not even faith, seems that leaves only works to save. And no Jay I don’t believe good works alone saves, but I do believe works of faith save. The sacrifice of Issaic would not necessarly have been “good works” but it was considered a work of faith, and god Judged Abraham righteous becaus of his actions.

    I really don’t think we should be judging who is saved by the grace of God. me , you, or Paul.
    I dont know that we need to judge just how long it takes to sin enough to be damned.Whether we have to wallow in it or if once is enough. would one murder be enough, how many adultrus affairs = one murder ?

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Kevin wrote,

    in all these lists that you mention (and in other judgment passages such as Mt 19:16-19 and Mt 25:31-46) the emphasis is overwhelmingly on personal relationships and personal conduct, not how we conduct corporate worship

    Exactly right. The NT’s teachings on how to live as a follower of Jesus rarely deal with the assembly or even church organization. The emphasis is on other things — largely relational. We are trying to find a constitution in a document written to tell us that our constitution is named Jesus.

    The old blueprint analogy for the NT completely misses the point. Again, the blueprint is Jesus — meaning it’s far more about learning to follow the example of Jesus than reading the rules inferred from the silences.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    I hate to keep saying this, but we just have to get to the post on Heb 6:4-6. Remind me to address the parable when we get there.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    Let’s begin with —

    (1 Jn. 5:16-17 ESV) 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life — to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

    So not all sin is the same. For someone seeking salvation through the Law all sin would be the same, since all sin would damn — there being no grace. But for Christians, we are under grace. Most sins do not damn. But some do.

    Read 1 John from the back (doesn’t take long) and make a list of the damning sins — the sins that lead to death. They are things like failing to believe in Jesus, denying that Jesus came in the flesh, not listening to the apostles, but also not loving others, not being obedient, walking in darkness rather than the light.

    (1 Jn. 4:6 ESV) 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    In John’s writing style, these are all treated as describing the same people. That is, those who listen to the apostles are saved; those who do not are lost. Those who love as Jesus loved are saved; those who do not are lost. But the ones who listen to the apostles and the ones who believe in Jesus and the ones who obey and the ones who love are the very same people. And those who don’t are the very same people.

    After all, it’s all about faith in Jesus — and faith (in the Greek) requires all these things. So 1 John is remarkably black and white while also remarkably filled with grace — while making huge demands on believers. It’s a lot like Jesus in that respect.

    (1 Jn. 5:13 ESV) 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

    So John says that if you believe in the name of the Son of God you have eternal life. But he also says that if you don’t love, you’re lost.

    (1 Jn. 4:8 ESV) 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    \

    But what if I have faith and don’t have love? John would say that I really have neither. I can’t have faith in Jesus and not follow him as Lord — and I can’t follow him as Lord and not love.

    And if I don’t have faith, I’m lost.

  9. laymond says:

    Jay, I understood your post was talking about baptized Christians, not non-believers.
    t think non-believers can’t become lost, because they were never saved.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    Of course non-believers are lost and so can’t become lost. But believers are saved unless they fall away. They fall away by surrendering their faith/faithfulness/trust in God. And so some sins are “unto death,” being any sin that causes one to lose his faith/faithfulness/trust. You exit by the same path by which you entered.

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