Amazing Grace: When Does a Christian Fall Away?

From a reader —

Well we are studying your book (Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace) in our Sunday a.m. class. Most are really enjoying it. One is, to say the least, struggling with some of your thoughts on when is a person lost. Make that two people, I am struggling as well. But we are still in the mix, studying it.

The point brought up by this Christian in my class, she says, “I believe a person is lost who is living in sin.” She uses herself as an example and says, “In my life there was a time when I knew the Lord was trying to get me to turn around, but the two times when He did this, I said, “Not now Lord”.”  She said, I know, and I teach, that if I died then, I would have been lost.

Well, my question to her was, what about the prodigal son? Was he lost while away from the Father? Wasn’t he welcomed back, forgiven, and had not lost his standing as a son?

I may have been using the wrong example and maybe I don’t get it. I know I don’t hold to the position that some hold that we are in and out of salvation numberless times during our lifetime. Each time we have to pray, confess to ‘get back in’. Obviously we forget or are not aware of the many things we do that are sin, even things ‘continued in’. When is a person lost? Well, I’m not the Judge for sure.

Grace is wonderful, it is as big as His love. There is at aleast as much grace and forgiveness for those in Christ as for those coming into Christ and having all their past forgiven.

Where am I going wrong?

I think you’ve nailed it. One of the most difficult doctrines dealing with falling away is how very difficult and how very easy it is to fall away. It’s easy because sin deceives and hardens the heart, making it harder to return to Jesus. It’s difficult because God is astonishly patient with us.

I think the doctrine is most plainly taught in Hebrews.

It helps, I think, to remember that this is a personal relationship, not the United States Code of statutes. It’s not a criminal law system. Rather, it’s like parenting.

How badly would your own child have to sin for you to disown your daughter? How much rebellion? If your child ran away from home, would you welcome her back? Or would you tell her to her face that you have no daughter and leave her on the street? While she was away, would you still of her as your daughter? Or as disowned?

I know parents who’ve disowned a child, but it took years of rebellion by the child. The parents tried everything they could think of, because the pain of losing a child is nearly unbearable. You see, disowning a child is as traumatic as the death of a child. It’s rare, but it happens.

We are not fallen away until we have so rebelled that God disowns us, gives up on us, and the relationship is entirely ended. This is when we’ve quenched the Spirit.

Here’s a post from several months back dealing with the passage in Revelation dealing with the church in Thyatira. The astonishing thing isn’t that God threatens the church with damnation, but that he hasn’t yet damned them despite some truly dark sins.

Our God is a merciful, patient God. But if we rely on God’s patience, we risk being deceived by sin and hardened so much that we turn away and never repent. God is patient, but we are often too rebellious to take advantage of the mercy available to us.

I love the painting I’ve inserted at the top of the page. But it’s not the picture I was looking for. I wanted a picture of the father on the road, heartsick, staring at the horizon in hopes that his son — whom he still loves desperately because he is still his son — will return. The point of the story, you see, is not whether the father will forgive. It’s whether the son will repent.

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 Amazing Grace: When Does a Christian Fall Away?

  1. Randall says:

    The lyrics are worth reading and even mediatating on the meaning of the words.

    Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
    That saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost but now am found,
    Was blind, but now I see.

    T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
    And Grace, my fears relieved.
    How precious did that Grace appear
    The hour I first believed.

    Through many dangers, toils and snares
    I have already come;
    'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
    and Grace will lead me home.

    The Lord has promised good to me.
    His word my hope secures.
    He will my shield and portion be,
    As long as life endures.

    Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
    And mortal life shall cease,
    I shall possess within the veil,
    A life of joy and peace.

    When we've been here ten thousand years
    Bright shining as the sun.
    We've no less days to sing God's praise
    Than when we've first begun.

  2. Royce says:

    When you are good enough God keeps you? And when you are bad enough he doesn't? Why did Jesus die "for us"? Which sins did he pay for? Evidently not all of them.

    No one will admit (with few exceptions) that they believe sinners are saved by faith + works. But plenty of people believe we are kept based upon our performance, rather than because of what Christ has already done.

    The glaring error of this view is that we forget that God does not classify sin as we humans do. If my salvation depends on me, one tiny infraction makes me a tiny bit less than fit to have a relationship with God. The law principal applies, break one and you I am guilty of the whole.

    At the point of our justification God doesn't "make" us righteous and then expect us to stay that way, we will not. Instead, he "declares" us righteous based on the righteousness of Jesus. In a few days I commit some sin, I am not in the least less joined to Christ or in danger because my righteousness is not my own it is Christ's. Paul said it had to be this way (by faith) so that it could be by grace.

    I know this is an unpopular view but it is true. Those who persist in a sinful lifestyle are not saved and I can't imagine why, according to scripture, we would assume they have been.


  3. Gary says:

    Re: When does a Christian fall away?

    -"You are SEALED by the Holy Spirit."1 Cor
    -"the Holy Spirit is the earnest(GUARANTEE) of our inheritance…I Cor

    HEB 13.5-6
    " I will NEVER,EVER leave you or forsake you…so that we may BOLDLY say, 'the LORD is my helper who shall I FEAR?"
    we can boldly say that because our wonderful salvation is secure…how could we if it were not secure?

    also almost the same verse in Eph
    Eph 1 The Spirit is the earnest[GUARANTEE] OF our inheritance
    Eph 4.30 SEALED ,GUARANTEEING the inheritance

    -"whosoever BELIEVES in me shall have EVERLASTING (ETERNAL) life" if you can lose it we were given 'temporary' life not ETERNAL life-Jn 3.16

    -'nothing (in the greek that literally means uh hem…nothing) can separate us from the love of God…Rom 8
    -You are saved by grace through faith ,not of works,so that no man can brag..Eph 3.5-6

    -I am persuaded that HE is able to KEEP that which I have committed until that day"…I am not even the keeper of my salvation …HE is! Praise God …1 Tim

    -Not by works of Righteousness which I have done but according to HIS mercy he saved me…Titus 3.5-6
    [note …there is an 'ed' suffix on the word save meaning it is aorist tense in greek,meaning that the saving is done…its a done deal…even greater than 'past' tense this brings the idea that the saving is perfected that there is no going back to 'lostness'
    -He who began a good work WiLL COMPLETE IT…Phil 1.13….HE completes it NOT me!!!!
    –If any man be in Christ he is a NEW creation ,behold ALL things become new…I Cor 5

    -'You must be born again.Can I enter into my mothers again? NO! and you cannot enter into the Spiritual womb again either"John 3
    -I am crucified with Christ and I NO LONGER live but
    Christ lives in me ,the life I live in the body i live by THE FAITH of the Son of God ." wow even the faith that saves me emanates not from me but from Jesus,,,it is literally HIS faith that he gives me to believe in/on him…wow –Galatians 2:20
    -I give them ETERNAL life [again not temporal/conditional]..and they will NEVER perish. NO ONE can snatch them out of my hand …NO ONE can snatch them from the FATHERS hand for he is more powerful than all[including demons,satan and even my sabotaging sin living in me…both Father and
    Son are more powerful…John 10.27

    The grace that saves us [and keeps us saved] is scandalous. So much so that we bring our human ,conditional nature to the interpreting table when me read God's word…Our boss fired us wrongly,Mom died by being hit by a drunk driver,the husband walked out on me,my older brother was more favored than me…so because these things happened I bring my conditional ,earthy paradigms to God's Glorious UNCONDITIONAL Gospel and they dont work…This gospel is scandalous…and it draws sinners …like me

    NOTE…it was NOT the willingness of the Prodigal to repent that caused him to come home…NO NO !
    Romans says it is the goodness OF GOD that leads us to repentance…the prodigal was motivated by remembrance of his FATHERS GOODNESS…
    for NO MAN can come to the Father unless the
    FATHER DRAW him…
    salvation from FIRST to LAST is of God not of me…

    THIS KIND OF grace and doctrine of salvation [some say Calvinistic but I say biblical] makes peple nervouss…why? because we want things reasonable…but Jesus was friends to the sinner…he came for sinners [like me!]

    A Christian may sin and be disciplined ,sometimes severely ,but they will never PERISH.

  4. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Hey guys,
    Thanks for the responses. Thank you Jay for your help in this. Our studies in your book have been, and continue to be challenging and helpful. Actually I should have said that everyone is enjoying the studies. Just sometimes a little clarifacation helps, (as well as, reading the rest of the book).
    So if I understand it correctly, the principle being taught in Hebrews and (thank you Gary) in so many other passages, is that grace is even bigger than I ever dreamt. When a person gives his life to Jesus, and then does something like the one in I Corinthians 5, that he is still in a saved condition,(hard to immagine till I look in the mirror), JUST IN DANGER OF LOOSING HIS SALVATION.
    This is amazing, because it shows how much God loves us. The idea of withdrawal of fellowship has always had a harshness tied to it with me. But it is really a last call of a loving Father, to come home. How long it takes for him to come home is not said. (Amazing again). Paul told these people in Corinth, to turn him over to satan, for the destruction of the flesh… to turn him from the direction he was going…. a total loss of his salvation. If he had refused to come back, it would have demonstrated a hard heart, and lost forever condition. But he didn't do this. He turned like the prodical son and came home. So if I understand it correctly, he was still in a saved, but not very safe situation.
    Suppose he had died before he returned? Well, I guess thats why it is better not to be judges, except in saying, "you have no fellowship with us, till you repent". ANOTHER SHOW OF GOD'S GRACE. Like the song, "Lamb of God" says, "I was so lost I should have died…." The Lord then is still calling this son home, and though he is playing in the pig pen, and eatting what pigs eat, only one whose heart is not hard, can and will come home some day.
    This is why it is important to use "withdrawal of fellowship" in a timely and proper manner when a Christian is in danger of loosing his/her salvation, instead of ignoring it because we are afraid of offending someone.
    WOW, I am undone, and amazed at His grace. I know two things, John Newton said near the end of his life… "I am a great sinner, and God is a great Savior." I think it will take a while for me to sleep tonight just thinking about this.

    Thanks again…. This has helped me and will help my class.

    Jack Exum Jr.
    If anyone else wants to reply, please do. I am amazed at how little I really understood about His great grace.

  5. Gary says:

    Wow a great subject …thanks for letting me play!!

    I Cor 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. I Cor 5
    Luke 22.21
    31And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32But I have prayed for thee,Luke 22.21-
    John 17:12
    While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and NONE of them is lost,except the son of perdition (this man ,judas,was never saved therefore not kept…called a ‘devil’ by Jesus) Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? John 6.70

    RE: the 1 Cor 5 affair with Fathers wife.
    The matter here is very easy for me…God has given the carnal (‘saved sinner’),over to satan for the destruction of flesh NOT his spirit…satan who is dead spiritually cannot touch my LIVE spirit…But he can and sometimes does touch my untransformed,oftentimes rebellious soul.

    I find it interesting that Paul continues to call the 1 Cor church “saints” (literally ‘sanctified called out ones’) throughout the Book of 1 Cor. Why is this important? Well if he would have called been calling the Philadelphia church (Rev 3) saints ,we could accept that because they were a ‘good’ group of people.
    But Paul calls the 1 Cor church,argueably the most carnal group of people in the New Testament,”Saints” .
    I find that interesting. We know it is not because of their works…don’t we? Sure we do.
    This bunch of lustful,sinning people were missing the boat of Earthly consecration to the Lord…but not one time does Paul intimate that these people are lost,not once.
    But he does exhort them to remember who they are.

    1 Corinthians 6:10-12 (King James Version)
    10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such WERE some of you: but ye ARE washed, but ye ARE sanctified, but ye ARE justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 12All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. .
    Paul is exhorting them to remember who (and whose!) they are. He says that you WERE (past tense) “thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners”
    Even though they were practicing these things Paul appeals to their true identity of WASHED,SANCTIFIED AND JUSTIFIED selves….
    He says that “you ARE washed”;”You ARE sanctified”; “You ARE Justified”
    Is this a Jedi trick that Paul is administering? No this is the powerful word of the Lord. “let God be true and every man a liar (Rom 3.4)
    1 John 5:16
    If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
    I Cor 11:30 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

    Both of these passages are interesting because they further show us (in my humble view) that there is a place of ultimate discipline for the child of God BUT! BUT! BUT! It is not ETERNAL damnation with the unsaved.
    There is a place where God simply tells a rebellious kid of his,”well, since you aren’t getting it…time to come home”
    The 1 JN passage show us that a BROTHER can sin a sin unto death . And the 1 Cor passage uses the NT word ‘sleep’.
    No where in the NT does it use the word ‘sleep’ for the damned. So this is telling us of God’s discipline on an unrepentant ,rebellious kid….sometimes even SEVERE (SEE HEB 12)
    I went to school with Rick Stanley ,step brother to Elvis. Rick,now a preacher is convinced that Elvis loved the Lord and is in Heaven. As a matter of fact if any of us heard the way Elvis sang those hymns who could doubt that this man did not know the Lord? But Elvis struggled with a lot of things I have heard. Money,Sex,drugs,fame,…and it played a toll on his soul. His life is a tragedy in many ways as a man not ‘surrendered’ to God. And some believe that Elvis went to “sleep” or was disciplined because of his sins…I don’t know. I have enough trouble with Gary…anyway it is interesting… Jesus told Disciples to let the wheat and tares grow together because we could not tell the difference.
    6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
    “SCOURGETH?”…anybody on this board ever been scourged by Father God ? I have…ooh not a pleasant experience.
    But the redemptive end is that I will return NOT to RELATIONSHIP, (for he tells us in this passage that “he is scourging SONS!!) No the redemptive end is that I will return to FELLOWSHIP.
    If next Thanksgiving I show up and choose to eat my dinner in the utility closet and ONLY come out to fill my plate with more fruit salad (yummy..cant wait) ,I am NOT having fellowship…I am just feeding my face. I am still a member of the family with the family surname (RELATIONSHIP) but I am not enjoying FELLOWHIP… matter of fact I am grieving the rest of the family….
    Arent there many rebellious children of the Lord today…Have I spent too many fortnights in the enemies camp myself? Oh how patient God is.
    But either Heb 13:5 is true or it is a lie but it cannot be both. A)Either God ‘will NEVER leave us or forsake us’or
    B)there are some ‘stipulations’ that could cause him to reneg on this promise and indeed leave us AND forsake us.
    I must say if the Father is waiting on my performance to be up to par with him I don’t have a chance…Ill just call in my damnation from here…But thanks be to God my salvation is not up to me but on HIM who FINISHES all things.
    One last thing. Many confuse the breaking of fellowship with the breaking of RELATIONSHIP. My fellowship with the Father may by hindered by my disobedience but NOT my RELATIONSHIP. Now many theologians overdo this teaching too as if Father is waiting on me to jump through the RIGHT repentant hoops (usually these hoops are really the theologians own biases) …Oh how God is looking for just one smidgen (is that a word) ,just one milli-meter of a hint at our repentance and he ,like the Prodigal Father ,comes running all undignified at us ,kissing us,carrying on,calling for parties…etc…does this sound like a Father ready to give up on RELATIONSHIP? I trow not.
    When we were attacked on 9-11 one brilliant theological question was did those people commit suicide that ‘jumped’ from the buildings? We are so funny in an Unfunny way. One precious sister in the Lord stated that even if the last word spoken by one of these was “JESUS” in faith that God, our precious ,merciful, beneficent Father/Daddy/Abba would declare that one Righteous even before impact.
    “Everyone that calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus) shall BE savED.”(aorist)
    That is my Daddy.

  6. Randall says:

    Jack Exum Jr,
    As you well know, once we understand the grace of God we never cease to be amazed at the grace of God. Surprising that we sang about it all our lives, but rarely heard it really taught at church. I wonder how few have contemplated what Newton says to us in the lyrics to Amazing Grace. And here's another one that used to be sung regularly in the CofC that has lyrics that went over our heads

    How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
    is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
    What more can he say than to you he hath said,
    to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?

    "Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
    For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
    I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
    upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

    "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
    the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
    for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
    and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

    "When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
    my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
    the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
    thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

    "The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
    I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
    that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
    I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake."

  7. Jack Exum Jr says:

    Hey guys,
    Just a few thoughts on this subject. First thank you for all the comments. I read them with eagerness, because I am so excited about the Grace of God.
    I was also noting that of course the father in the parable of the prodical son, that there were two sons. One never left…. (but perhaps wanted to). Certainly is attitude was not right. He stayed. He said to his father, (Lk. 15:29f) " "Look! These many years I have worked like a slave for you, and I never disobeyed your commands. Yet you never gave me even a goat so I could celebrate with my friends! But when this son of yours came back , who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!"
    Totally amazing response, but not too uncommon.
    How far does grace go? No verse says. But from this son's words we understand, the other son really went off the deep end. If this younger son had died while away, he would be in the hands of a Judge who knows much more than we. Knowing the heart of the boy, I think he would still be considers as "a son". The other brother… well it seems he needed as much grace as the one who took off.
    Christians sin, sometimes as obvious as the son who took everything that was coming to him and left. Some Christians 'stay' but instead of thinking in terms of "salvation by grace" they think in terms of how well they keep a list of 'laws' which are for the most part traditions to determine their 'faithfulness'. Point being, both are in need of grace. It took the one who left, to be awakened by his circumstances to "come to his sences" and go back…. I am not sure if the other brother ever came to his sences.
    I believe there is a time when a child of God, can loose his salvation. God knows when the heart is so hard that there is no way to regain it. But the whole point (in my opinion) of 'withdrawal of fellowship' is to protect the congregation from the influence of the "leaven" of sin, and cause the Christian who is on the way to loosing his salvation, to "come to his sences" and return.
    The comments re: how the life we receive when we are redeemed is eternal, not temporal, is good. I understand also that one can loose this life when one rejects the Savior that saved him. It is not a one sided thing, where one will be saved no matter what one does. Even though our walk in Christ is not a 'walk of law/works' but rather a walk in a relationship with Jesus. It is a life of bearing fruit. Galatians 5. A fruit tree doesn't have to work at bearing fruit, it's natural.
    I appreciate the reminder that Gary gave me about the "sin unto death" – not to pray for this. It is a bit unclear to me as to what the Apostle John was referring to. Have to do more study on this. Maybe more comments will come in about this.
    All in all, I appreciate the reponses.

  8. Zach Price says:

    We can rebel for years and God will still love us and waits for us with open arms. There is nothing we can do that God will stop loving us. This is why your book was so great. The only reason it can be possible to fall is not because God "gives up on us", we can only give up on ourselves. If it is possible to fall from grace, it is only because we choose for it to be so. That is not what God wants. The prodigal son story may be one of the hardest to grasp–it can only go so far in trying to describe infinite love and grace.

  9. Jay Guin says:


    In the post, I linked to an earlier article showing how Hebrews teaches that we can fall away. /2008/01/26/classes-on-grac…. How does one reconcile those passages with the perseverance of the saints?

  10. Jay,

    I agree with your point that sin hardens our hearts. By continually repeating the same sin after we repent, it makes it more and more difficult to turn back to God. But as you say, He is patient, and he will never fully disown us. Forgiveness is a gift to all who will receive it.

    Stay Blessed!

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