They Went Out From Us
Joshua Harris is a 44-year-old “superstar” Christian. Author of the bestselling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, in which he argued for parent-involved courtship of young adults. Harris went on to pastor a suburban Maryland “megachurch” before dropping out to go to seminary. Recently, Harris wrote on Instagram. “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ and the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
Marty Sampson is a writer of several popular contemporary Christian worship songs and worship leader at Hillsong Church in Australia. On August 10, 2019, he publicly stated that he was "losing his faith" in an Instagram post. Sampson initially clarified that he had not "renounced" his faith but was "struggling with many parts of the [Christian] belief system," then, subsequently, on August 23, 2019, Sampson wrote that he no longer identified as a Christian."
Paul Maxwell, the author of "Desiring God," is the latest high-profile Christian personality to renounce his faith. Maxwell said on his Instagram feed: "What I really miss is connection with people. What I've discovered is that I'm ready to connect again. And I'm kind of ready not to be angry anymore. I love you guys, and I love all the friendships and support I've built here. And I think it's important to say that I'm just not a Christian anymore…."
Did Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson, Paul Maxwell, and countless others abandon their salvation? So were they once Christians, but now, as Paul Maxwell states, "I'm just not a Christian anymore…."
The Bible directly addresses this falling-away concept in 1 John 19 "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out so that it would be manifested that they all are not of us."
As opposed to "true Christians losing or abandoning their salvation," is this examples of "false Christians being exposed?"
Perseverance of the Saints
One of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is known as "Perseverance of the Saints." Commonly known as "once truly saved, always saved."
This is not some obscure doctrine, as you can find over a hundred Old and New Testament verses that state our salvation is secure.
For example, John 10:28 "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Ephesians 1:13-14 "In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory." Psalm 31:23 "Love the Lord, all you His saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride."
The Bible is clear, those who are true believers are preserved; and cannot lose or abdicate their salvation.
How Many Are True Believers
As much as God and we would like to see everyone saved, the reality is that many are not saved.
Jesus recognized this in Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven...many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord in Your name did we not prophesy, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"
In Matthew 13, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, Christ talks about a sower's seed which falls beside the road, on the rocky places, among the thorns, and upon the good soil. Then, in verse 19, he explains that the seed is the "word" and that the four locations represent how men respond to the gospel call.
- Beside the road - they hear the word but do not understand it as the evil one snatches it away.
- On rocky places - they hear and receive the word with joy, but it has no roots, and they immediately fall away when affliction or persecution arises.
- Among the thorns - they hear, but the world's worry and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and they become unfruitful.
- On the good soil - they hear the word, understand it, and bear fruit.
We must recognize that rocky places and thorns seed recipients may look like Christians - at least for a while. These are often called "rocky road" or false Christians. With all the seeds falling beside the road, on rocky places, and among the thorns, only the seeds falling on good soil results in true believers.
This parable supports the idea of Matthew 7:21-23, where "many" claim to be believers. It also gives credibility to Matthew 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." Finally, it even addresses Matthew 7:16 "You will know them by their fruits."
The truth is that Christian churches will have unbelievers who claim to be saved. True Christians are recognized by their fruits, not their associations or genealogy. True Christians are also recognized by their perseverance.
What Does "Fall Away" mean?
But, we do read about "falling away" in Hebrews 3:12-13, which warns, "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day...that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
So, is this "falling away" true believers who have lost their salvation? No!
The phrase "unbelieving heart" should give this away; these are unbelieving false Christians. The falling away or loss of faith describes the continual hardening of their heart despite the gospel exhortations of repentance and faith. Additionally, if you continue with Hebrews 3:19, it confirms that those falling away are falling due to their unbelief; "So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief."
This warning gets even more intense further in Hebrews 6:4-6, where it states, "For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God..."
This speaks directly to those who have "tasted the goodness of the word" (heard the gospel) and "have fallen away" (rejected it). Therefore, God has nothing more to offer than a crucified Christ.
Who are these people? They are those who grew up in Christian families, led Christian worship, wrote a Christian book, or maybe even pastored a Christian church but rejected Christ and His offer of salvation while outwardly acting like a Christian. They have tasted the truth and perhaps performed like a Christian but have not truly believed; they are unbelievers.
Salvation is a divine work and choice of God the Father, and it is He who initiates and secures our election. Salvation is not granted because one is born into a Christian family or through membership or participation in a Christian church. It is not by osmosis. Christ informed Nicodemus in John 3:3, "Truly, truly, I say to you unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
How Then Should Christians Live?
1 Peter 2:2 instructs us, "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation..." This growth is further commanded in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality..." Romans 6:6 instructs, "We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." Finally, 1 Peter 1:2 addresses this "According to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ...
1 Corinthians 3:2-3 and Hebrews 5:12 both call out Christians who should be more mature. Those who "need again for someone to teach [them] the elementary principles of the oracles of God, [for they] have come to need milk and not solid food."
This person is different. This is not the unbeliever who has "fallen away,"; this is the back-sliding Christian who refuses to mature or sins and wants to live like an unbeliever.
So how does God handle a true believer who refuses to grow up? The same way you would your children. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, "For those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He flogs every son whom He receives."
Hebrews 12:8 continues, "But if you are without discipline...then you are illegitimate children and not sons." God distinguished between true and false believers.
True believers will be disciplined when they fall into sin and refuse to mature, while false believers are illegitimate and are not disciplined.
The "falling away" of all these self-avowed Christians who grew up in Christian families, led Christian ministries, and taught in Christian churches should not take us by surprise. The Bible warns us of them - they are false believers.
No Christian has ever lost or given up their salvation; however, some unbelievers who act like believers, in time, are exposed as non-believers.
The security of a true believer's salvation is iron clad and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
We should recognize that the road to salvation is narrow—more claim to be Christians than are true Christians.
We are to continue to exhort everyone to faith and repentance in the hope of their salvation.
God promises to hold on to us, but as true believers, we are both to test ourselves to ensure that we are indeed saved and continue to grow in our sanctification through obedience to God's word.
God pledges to discipline His children who refuse to grow as true believers.Back to top of page