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What does the Bible say about Christians in the last days "falling" from their faith and going back into the world?
Thank you for the excellent question. I apologize for such a long answer, but this is a very large and important subject. Here is what I believe:
THE LAST DAYS:
I believe that Godís word teaches that, contrary to popular opinion, the Church will grow worse and worse in the end times, and that the last Church on earth is the Laodicean Church of Rev 3:14-22 which is so worldly that it makes Jesus sick at his stomach. The word Laodicea literally means "human rights" and the Church of today seems to be more concerned with peoples "rights" than with the truths of Godís Word.
Jesusí parable of the leaven in Matt 13:33 indicates that sin (leaven is always sin and error in the Bible) will grow worse and worse, until it permeates the whole church.
In the parable of the mustard seed in Matt 13:31 and 32, the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds, but a mustard tree has more branches than other trees. I believe this teaches that the church starts as the smallest of all "religions" and then continually branches and branches, and the "birds" come and take up lodging in its branches. Notice in this context that Jesus' use of "birds" and "fowls" (Greek word petiena) is referring to "the wicked one" and his emissaries in verse 19.
When we look up "last days" to see what Godís word says about conditions as the church age progresses, we find 1 Tim chapter 4, 2 Tim chapter 3, 2 Pet chapter 3, 1 John 2:18-23, and Jude 18. These passages teach that evil men shall wax worse and worse, that deceivers and false teachers will have a false form of godliness and have deceptive ways of denying who Jesus Christ really is, and will be deceiving many Christians.
CHRISTIANS WHO "FALL AWAY" FROM THE FAITH:
In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus described the future kingdom of heaven using parables. The "parable of the sower" in Matt 13:3-9 is explained by Jesus in verses 18-23, and I believe that it teaches that there will be six types of people in the world:
1. Type 1, Matt 13:3&4, the sower went forth to sow seeds, and some of the seeds fell by the wayside and did not "germinate", or "spring up", but the birds came and ate them up. In Matt 13:19, Jesus explains that this is a person hearing Godís Word and rejecting it. I believe this is the perishing man who will not respond to Godís Word, is not born again and perishes in his sins.
2. Type 2, Matt 13:5&6, some of the seeds fell in "stony places", and "sprung up" (germinated), but because the ground was not rich, the sun came up and scorched them because they did not have a good root system. Jesus explains in verses 20 and 21 that the ones that received the seed into stony places, are the ones that hear the word, and with joy receive it; but because they do not have good roots in themselves, they endure for a while: but when troubles or persecution arise because of the word, by and by they are offended. I believe that these are Godís people who do not get rooted in the Word, and so, as a result, they cannot stand up under the troubles of life, and they tend to easily get away from God and His truth.
NOTE: In 1 Cor 1:18, the gospel (good news of the Cross) is FOOLISHNESS to the perishing man, and in1 Cor 2:14 the natural man (not born again) cannot receive anything from the Spirit of God, it is foolishness to them. But the seeds that fell into "stony places" "sprung up", received life from God and Jesus explained that the person "received the Word with JOY". This is why we must take Jesusí illustration of the "stony places" as a born again child of God that has very little strength.
3. Type 3, In Matt 13:7 and 22, And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them and Jesus explained that the ones that "received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." This is the child of God who gets easily diverted by the cares of this world and is weak in the faith.
4. Type 4,5, and 6, In Matt 13:8 and 23, Jesus describes the last three groups, children of God who are rooted in the rich ground of Godís Word, and are very productive, some 30 fold, some 60 fold, and some 100 fold. These are Godís people who stay close to God and are filled with the richness of Godís Word, and allow God to work through them in mighty ways.
I believe the parable of the sower describes the RESPONSE of mankind to the WORD OF GOD.
Those who reject it completely perish without Christ. Those who receive it, but do not stay in rich Bible study easily get out of fellowship (fall away). Those who do stay in the rich teaching of God's Word have the strength to endure all that life has to throw at them, and God does the majority of His work on earth through them.
I am the son of a retired pastor, and in the 56 years of my lifetime, I have observed every type of person that Jesus described in the parable of the sower. I know that ultimately, only God himself knows about the salvation of each individual person, but there is no doubt in my mind that some born again children of God, just like the above parable, have a glorious new birth experience and wind up going back into the world, saying that they are trusting Jesus as their Savior, but living like an unbeliever.
DO NOT PLACE NEW WINE IN OLD BOTTLES
In Matt 9:14-17 Jesus was asked why he did not require his disciples to "fast" often like the Pharisees. His answer "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse."
Verse 17 "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles (leather wine skins): else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved."
A patch made of new cloth in an old garment will shrink when washed and make the tear worse than the original.
An old dried wineskin cannot take the rapid expansion of new wine, it will split.
Jesus is talking about rapidly placing too many demands on new Christians.
The modern Church is guilty of doing exactly what Jesus is talking about here. Quite often, we take a new believer and baptize them before they even know what baptism means, and then quickly try to get them into Church work, while browbeating them about attending Church every time the doors are open. We expect too much of them and they "split" just like the wineskins and the cloth patches in Jesusí example. They may or may not come back to the "organized Church". Love and support the new Christian and let them grow at their own rate! Jesus said in Matt 11:28 "COME UNTO ME all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST"! And in Matt 11:29&30 "Take my yoke upon you, and LEARN of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find REST for your souls. For my yoke is EASY, and my BURDEN is LIGHT!"
OUR CONCERN FOR GOD'S CHILDREN WHO ARE CAUGHT UP IN SIN:
Do not take part in their sin, 1 Cor 5:7-11, and 2 Thess 3:6.
Ye who are spiritual, seek to restore them, Gal 6:1 & James 5:19 & 20.
Pray for them, unless you are impressed otherwise by God. God will not allow His children to CONTINUALLY sin. God is in control of how far out of fellowship He will let His children go. 1 John 5:16-18 states that in cases of severe divine discipline, you may lose the "burden" to pray for a fellow Christian. God is in charge, and it is futile to pray against God's will. When we are maintaining our own fellowship, we should know exactly how to pray for others.
THE CHILD OF GOD IS ETERNALLY SECURE:
God's born again children cannot stop being His children, any more than I can stop being a child of my earthly father. God knew ALL about our whole life BEFORE He chose us to be His eternal children:
Eph 2:8 Tells us that even the faith that saves us is not from us, but is a gift from God.
2 Tim 2:12&13 Teaches that even if we stop believing on Jesus, He may deny us "things", or "blessings" or "rewards" but He remains faithful to us, (we are permanently sealed "in Him") and He cannot deny "himself".
1 Jn 3:14 Our sins forgiven once and for all. Greek perfect tense.
1 Jn 5:11 We are given ETERNAL (EVERLASTING) life. ("Everlasting" life never ends!)
Heb 12:23 & Rev 21:27, Our name is indelibly written in the Book of Life. Greek perfect tense.
Col 2:10 We are made to be PERMANENTLY COMPLETE "IN CHRIST". Greek perfect tense.
1 Cor 5:1-5 The boy in the church at Corinth who was committing incest. Paul said to turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, but that his spirit would be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
I'm sure you are familiar with the parable of the "prodigal son" in Luke 15:10-32, notice in this parable of Jesus that the SON of the FATHER, got out of fellowship and into great sin, and when he hit bottom and returned to his father, honestly admitting his sins, the prodigal son was instantly forgiven and restored to FULL FELLOWSHIP! The "son" of the "father" never stopped being the father's "son".
When a child of God sins, it breaks our FELLOWSHIP with the Father, and we come under divine discipline according to Hebrews Chapter 12, but sin can NEVER break our RELATIONSHIP with our loving heavenly Father. The relationship of the child of God with the Father, through Jesus Christ, is described in the New Testament as permanent.
THE SERIOUSNESS OF CHRISTIAN SIN:
Remember, the whole New Testament is written to God's children. No one else has the "ears to hear".
Heb 12:4-11- God disciplines ALL His children! Godís discipline comes from His LOVE! His discipline, no matter how severe, is for our benefit.
1 John 5:16 - States the fact of a "condition of sinning" (not "a sin") which can result in the physical death of the Child of God who insists on remaining out of fellowship. There is no individual "sin" stated in Scripture that a child of God can commit that is "unforgivable" or will bring about physical death, but a "CONDITION OF SINNING".
(NOTE: The so called "unforgivable sin" of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" comes from Matt 12:32, where the Pharisees were saying that Jesus was working miracles by the power of Beelzebub, the dung god. Jesus told them that type of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven mankind (Greek word anthropas) in the present Age (Jewish Age) or in the coming Age (Church Age). This was spoken to the unsaved Pharisees, whom Jesus called "vipers", and "whitewashed tombstones full of dead men's bones", and in John 10:41-47 said their father was the devil and they could not hear Jesus because they were not of God.
The Born again child of God is "in Christ", and our life is "hid with Christ in God", Col 3:3, and all our sins were permanently forgiven on the Cross. As a child of God, we not only cannot commit an "unforgivable sin", but all the sins we will ever commit ARE ALREADY FORGIVEN, Col 2:10-14! As we commit the sins that were forgiven on the Cross, our "relationship" as a child of God doesn't change, but our "fellowship" with God is broken, God disciplines us, and we must confess our sins to the Father according to 1 John 1:9. See main page 4 for further explanation of sin and fellowship and the Christian walk).
1 Cor 11:30,31 - Three stages of divine discipline are described to the Church at Corinth. They were even getting drunk at the Lordís Supper! For partaking of the Lordís Supper out of fellowship, "many are weak (stage one), sickly (stage two), and many sleep (physical death)."
Rom 6:16 - Serve God and live, serve sin and it results in death.
Rom 6:23 - The wages of sin is death. This is written to Christians, not the unsaved!
Rom 8:6 - To be continually carnally minded results in death.
Rom 8:13 - If you continually live after the flesh you shall die.
James 1:13-15 - Lust when it is conceived brings sin and sin when it is finished brings death.
James 5:19&20 - Help turn a sinner around, save a soul from death.
John 15:1-6 - Abide in Jesus (stay in fellowship), He is the vine, and you will be producing fruit. You know what men do with unfruitful branches, they cut them off and destroy them.
1 Cor 5:1-5 - The boy in the church at Corinth who was committing incest. Paul said to turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Matt 5:13 & 29-30 - We are salt, if salt loses its savor (primary usefulness) it is trodden under the feet of men (secondary use).
Acts 5:1-10 - Ananias & Sapphira could have told the truth about property they sold, but they wanted the praise of men and said they were giving all the proceeds to the church. God took their life on the spot, as an extreme example for the early church.
1 John 5:18 - We know that whosoever is born of God CANNOT KEEP ON SINNING! (Greek present tenses) If they will not turn around and get back into fellowship, God will take them out. Caught up in continual sin, they are not doing themselves or God any good, and God will take them home early.
Col 3:25 - We shall be RECEIVING for the things we are DOING IN THE BODY. (present tenses).
THE TERMS CHRISTIANS USE:
I know of six commonly used terms for a Christian becoming "worldly", and only one of them fits the New Testament Church. They are: "FALLING AWAY", "APOSTASY", "FALLING FROM GRACE", "BACKSLIDING", "REVERSIONISM", and "OUT OF FELLOWSHIP".
1. "FALLING AWAY" is not a good Biblical term for becoming worldly. We find these English words in the New Testament only in 2 Thess 2:3 and Heb 6:6.
a. 2 Thess 2:3 is the exact opposite of "falling away" from Godís truth. This is in a context of the "Rapture of the Church", the "day" when Jesus will return, in the air, below the highest mountain top, and catch the Church (all the born again Christians in the world) up into the air, and take them to the third heaven. Paul had already taught the Thessalonian Church about the Catching Away of the Church in 1 Thess 4:13-18.
Now in Pauls second letter to the Thessalonian Church, in 2 Thess 2:2, we find that someone had written a letter to the Thessalonian Church saying that the Rapture was past, in other words, they had missed it, and now they were in the "Day of the Lord", or seven year Tribulation.
In 2 Thess 2:3, Paul proves that they have not missed the Rapture, that the Rapture is still future. He says "Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day ( the "day" of the coming of the Lord Jesus, and our gathering together unto Him" in 2 Thess 2:1) shall not come, except there come a "falling away" first, and "that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition."
In the above verse, Paul tells them that two things have to happen before the "day of the Lord" arrives, a "falling away" first, and "that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition". The English phrase "falling away" is the Greek word "apostasia", and it means to "depart" or "remove". This Greek word "apostasia" also has the Greek article "the" in front of it in the Greek text, which makes it not a general departure, but "The Departure", a special EVENT, the Rapture of the Church!. So, Paul proves to the Church at Thessalonica that they are not in the "Tribulation", as someone had written them, because the "Rapture" of the Church must occur first, and the "man of sin", the "Antichrist" is revealed at the beginning of the Tribulation.
If Paul had been referring to a "general falling away from the truth", it would have proved nothing, because there have been and will continue to be great periods of falling away from the truth throughout the Church Age.
In 2 Thess 2:5, Paul says donít you remember when I was with you I taught you about these things?
b. Heb 6:6 also has the English phrase "fall away" in it. This passage is frequently used by some churches to teach that a child of God CAN lose their "salvation". But, there is only ONE SIN mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrew Christians, that is the sin of returning to the Old Testament animal sacrifice system and depending on the blood of animals instead of the blood of Christ.
Heb 6:4-6 is saying that "as long as" (Greek present tenses) they continue to depend on the animal sacrifice system, it is impossible to renew them to repentance. (A change of mind)
The whole book of Hebrews is to teach that Christ is the complete fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and sacrifice system, that the whole law is fulfilled in Him.
2. "APOSTACY", comes from 2 Thess 2:3 as described above, and is the Greek word "apostasia", meaning "departure", and translated in the KJV as "falling away". "Apostasia" here has the Greek article "the" in front of it in the Greek text, which makes it not a general departure, but "The Departure", the TITLE of a special EVENT that Paul expects the reader to already know about, the Rapture of the Church!
3. "FALLEN FROM GRACE" comes from Gal 5:4, where Paul says to the Church at Galatia: "Christ is become of no effect to you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace". The whole subject of the book of Galatians concerns the Galatian Church returning to the Old Testament law for justification and salvation, instead of depending on Jesus finished work on the Cross, and the awesome grace of God. The child of God is the permanent object of Godís grace. We can only forget to live by it and depend on it and by doing so, miss rewards and blessings.
4. "BACKSLIDING". This term comes from the Old Testament, and literally means to "turn away". This phrase is used 16 times concerning the whole nation of Israel turning away from God to worship pagan gods.
Jer 3:12 and Hos 4:16 are good examples. "Backsliding" is a very ugly and self righteous term that some Christians use against their Christian brothers and sisters that arenít as "good" as they are, or donít come to church as often as they do. "Backsliding" also implies "motion" and "inertia" away from God that requires a tremendous effort on our part to overcome in order to "get right with God". We cannot "get right with God" in our own energy. Just thinking one bad thought takes us out of fellowship with God. But, whether it is a bad thought, or a "horrible sin", God's grace method of returning to full fellowship on the basis of Jesus' work on the Cross, is 1 John 1:9 honest confession of all known sin. There is nothing we can "do" to get back in fellowship with God, no way to "make it up to God" - The sin was forgiven on the Cross! (Note: Fellowship between US and other PEOPLE is a different subject)
5. "REVERSIONISM" is not a Biblical term, but some Bible teachers use it to refer to the child of God "reverting" back to the control of the old sin nature and acting like they did before they were "saved". This is a better term, but I donít think itís the best.
6. "OUT OF FELLOWSHIP". To me, this is by far the best term for the New Testament Christian getting away from God. This is the subject of 1 John chapter 1 and 2 and the number one issue in the Christian life. Every moment of our Christian life, we are either "quenching the Spirit of God" (sin of omission), "grieving the Spirit of God" (knowingly disobeying Godís Word), or "fellowshipping with God through His Spirit". Fellowship means to share the very life of Christ and be led by Godís Spirit. "In fellowship" we are under the control of the Spirit of God, and walking in the Word. The first sin we commit, even a bad thought, takes us out of fellowship. From there we either use 1 Jn1:9 and confess that sin, and get back "in fellowship", or we continue to add sin onto sin, and come under divine discipline.
GODíS GRACE RECOVERY SYSTEM:
I believe that the best Biblical term to use when a Christian gets caught up in sin is "out of fellowship". Every sin in the Christian life starts us on that downward path "out of fellowship" and away from God. This is the subject of 1 John chapter 1 & 2. God has given us a Grace recovery method through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, 1 Jn 1:9 confession of sin to our loving Heavenly Father. 1 Jn 2:1 states that when we sin we have an ADVOCATE, which means a lawyer, defender or intercessor. Jesus never turns against us, he has ALREADY PAID for ALL our sins.
JUDE verses 24 & 25:
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present [you] faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen".
Written in Christian Love, Bob Jones