By Roland W. Keith
What does it mean to fall away from God? To fall from grace? Many in Christendom believe that such a thing cannot happen, that once one is saved, they are always saved. After all, it was Jesus Himself Who said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37-40). However, to understand what Jesus is saying here we must focus on a key word used twice in this text— that word is should. As used, it is an auxiliary function to express the futurity of an outcome that is probable or expected. It is not an absolute or foregone conclusion.
Jesus would go on to say, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:28-29). Here we focus on another word: will. Although it is not always used in absolute terms, here it is used to express the inevitability of what is being said. No one has the power to “snatch” a child of God from the grasp of his Savior. So how do we reconcile these two statements of Jesus’ concerning salvation? It is God’s will that all men should be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4), but clearly that is not the case. Many will reject God outright. But, what about those who have come to Christ and accepted Him as Savior? Are they not protected? The answer is yes— as long as they are obedient. All men— saved or unsaved— maintain their free will. No outside force can pull us away from God. If we lose our salvation subsequent to being saved it will be an inside job. It will be because we voluntarily forfeit what God has given us. You see, falling away is synonymous with turning away from or turning our backs on our Savior after all He has done for us. We should be saved after accepting Christ as Lord and obeying the gospel, but ultimately the choice is ours (Philippians 2:12).
In his letter to the Hebrews Paul wrote, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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?” (Hebrews 10:26-29). In similar fashion, Peter wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (II Peter 2:20). It is a notable, and sobering warning, that Peter said of such people, “For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (v. 21).
It is clear that neither Paul nor Peter are addressing the unsaved about their spiritual condition, but are speaking to those already sanctified, and issuing a warning as to the consequences of turning back to the world after having received the gift of salvation. The New Testament is full of examples of those who had jeopardized their eternal standing. Simon the sorcerer was warned to repent and pray for the possibility of forgiveness (Acts 8:9-24). Paul turned Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan with the hope that they would learn not to blaspheme (I Timothy 1:18-20). Demas deserted Paul (and the Lord) because he turned back to his love for the world; and, there is no indication that he ever returned to the church (Titus 3:10). In his letter to Titus, Paul instructed him to have nothing more to do with those within the church who stir up division after one or two warnings, writing that “such a person is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
God did not spare the angels of heaven when they sinned, nor will He spare us if we leave our position in the church (II Peter 2:4-9; Jude 1:6). Certainly, He knows how to, and is willing to rescue us from our trials, but when they are self-inflicted, we must repent. The prodigal son was received by his father with great joy, but only after he came to himself and returned to his father’s house (Luke 15:11-32). On the other hand, Judas Iscariot was a legitimate disciple of Jesus, casting out demons, anointing and healing the sick, and testifying for the Lord with the other apostles (Mark 6:11-13), yet he ultimately turned his back on the Lord and betrayed Him (Mark 6:11-13; 14:10; Luke 6:16; 22:3; Matthew 26:14-16). Of him, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21).
Judas is not alone in the Bible as one who turned from God, forfeiting the promise given to him. An entire generation died in the wilderness because of their failure to trust in God and obey Him. Speaking of them Paul wrote, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:11-12). With regard to those of us under the new covenant Paul additionally wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared” (I Timothy 4:1-2). These can be numbered among those who have escaped the defilements of the world, only to become entangled in them again (II Peter 2:20-22).
So, how or why do some who have salvation in their grasp give it up? Many believe there is a God, and that Jesus is His Son, but they do not trust God to deliver His promises, much as the Israelites in the desert suffered from this form of unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19). Others will be misled by men who twist the truth to draw them away (Acts 20:29-30). Still others will fall under the weight of tribulation or persecution (Matthew 13:20-21). However, the greatest number perhaps will suffer condemnation in a manner wholly self-inflicted— because of their own selfish desires. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4). John also seemed to recognize the continual draw of the world among many in the church warning, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:15-17).
Those who continue to be tempted by the world must find a way to submit their will to that of God. Moreover, while God does not shield us from the world, He does have our back, as Paul noted, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). For our part we must remain diligent, trusting in the Lord. Not only does He provide an escape, He provides the tools we need to overcome (II Peter 1:3-10; Ephesians 6:12-18). We also must have a determined, disciplined approach to how we live as Christians (I Corinthians 9:27). God has given us the play book, but we are the one’s responsible for properly executing it, so we must study the book and execute its commands appropriately. For those who are successful Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (John 8:51; Acts 10:32).
When we fail, and we will fail, we do not fall back; instead we repent, and move forward, knowing that God will forgive the penitent heart (I John 1:9; Revelation 2:5). The sincere Christian takes his own salvation and his responsibility to others seriously. He seeks wisdom and strength through the word, via prayer, in fellowship, and in action. There is no better way to become good at something than by practicing it. We have all heard the old saying “practice what you preach.” Well, for the Christian that should be a way of life. We should be doing the Lord’s work, stirring one another up to do more, worshiping and fellow-shipping together (Hebrews 10:24-25; I Corinthians 10:16).
Those who succeed in their Christian walk seek to instill the qualities of Christ in themselves, such as those mentioned by Peter (II Peter 1:5-10). He learns to let love abound toward all men (Hebrews 13:1-6). The Christian learns to deny himself for the sake of Christ (Matthew 16:24-25), sacrificing himself for others. He becomes a diligent watchman, confident in the strength he has gained in Christ (I Corinthians 16:13). And, he is sober-minded, willing to suffer for what he believes in (II Timothy 4:4-8), certain of victory.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.