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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why Do People Leave the Faith?

There are a lot of things written about the question of people leaving the faith. Of particular concern are the kids who grow up in a Christian home, seem to be fully involved, and then leave for college and come back without faith. It happens a lot. And lots of people are trying to tell us why. For instance, research tells us that a lack of training in apologetics is a serious problem. Kids simply don't have the arguments to retain their faith. One author suggests that failed fathers is a key factor. Those who leave cite things like disillusionment and a lack of "Christian authenticity". They complain that there is no room for doubt or questions. They don't like what a lot of people don't like, things like the exclusivity of Christianity or the concept of Hell. I think it's clear, though, that the primary reason kids leave the faith is to pursue behaviors that are not compatible with Christian morals.

Suggested solutions are plentiful. Lifeway offers a list from a Fuller Theological Seminary book entitled Sticky Faith that includes things like being raised with an emphasis on relationship with Christ rather than an adherence to rules, an intergenerational faith community, and parents that walk alongside their kids. Others suggest that parents need to be authentic Christians. Clearly we need more apologetics. And let's make our churches more friendly, accepting, open. That sort of thing.

As for me, I have a problem ... with the question. "Why do people leave the faith?" The only answer I can find is "They don't." Why would I say that? It's what I read in my Bible. Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, 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 10:27-29) So if "no one is able to snatch them out of my hands", in what sense can someone -- anyone -- do it? John wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12) and Paul referred multiple times to our "adoption as sons" by God (Rom 8:15; Rom 8:23; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). How do you cease being a child of God, an adopted child? The condition of the saved person is "eternal life" (John 3:16). In what sense is it "eternal" if it comes and goes? Paul told the Philippian believers, "I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil 1:6) On what could Paul base such confidence? Jude praises "Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." (Jude 1:24) Over and over again the Bible speaks of God's hand in our salvation. Sure, we come in faith. Sure, you "work out your salvation" (Phil 2:12). But God's hand in salvation is to keep us (1 Peter 1:5), to sustain us (Psa 37:17), to seal us (Eph 1:13). We have this amazing, unbreakable chain in Romans 8.
We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)
Predestined, called, justified, glorified. In that sequence we have no input. It is God's work. And it offers no deviations. "Predestined ... called ... justified ... oops! Lost."

J.I. Packer said, "Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you." The truth is that those who belong to Christ will remain with Christ (1 John 2:19). Oh, sure, there may be rough patches. Wavering, doubt, a time of sin, even gross sin. But God's Word says that those who are in Christ at all are in Christ forever.

Perhaps this doesn't help ease your mind. You know people who "leave the faith". They seemed to be true believers. They appeared to be followers of Christ. But Jesus describes a group (He says "many") that appears more like believers than I think most of the ones you have in mind. These prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles. And Jesus tells them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matt 7:23) The real point, then, is not appearance. The point is an actual relationship with Christ (Gal 4:8-9). Outward appearance can be faked. But the fact is that those who are His cannot be lost and will not, in the end, go out from us. Perhaps our best efforts would be a focus on relationship and be drenched in prayer and the Word. It's that kind of a battle. It's not one of methods and arguments. They might bolster the spiritual war, but it is a spiritual war. It should, then, provide comfort to if you are concerned about others when you know that He will not lose one.


Neil said...

Great analysis. As I like to say: once really saved, always really saved.

There is no such thing as an ex-Christian.

Stan said...


Just like you avoid using Jer 29:11 because people misuse it all the time, I avoid using the phrase "once saved, always saved" because it is thick with antinomianism. I even avoid "eternal security" because both of them suggest, "What I do from here on out just doesn't matter. I can sin all I want!"

That being said, I still believe that God has plans for His own for their welfare, their future, and for hope (per Rom 8:28) and I still believe that a person who is truly born of God cannot ever be unborn again. No such thing as an ex-Christian.

Anonymous said...

often times one idea cannot be expressed without and immediate jump to the red herring.
for example: when ever someone begins to discuss eternal security, almost immediately the discussion has to be redirected to the issue of obedience. to the degree that subject of internal security becomes subordinated to the redirection. it is as if there is a fear that the subject of eternal security leads directly to anti-nomianism. Post hock ergo proctor hock.
some denominations refuse to discuss this very subject for fear that people will go out and start sinning. so instead lets just keep everyone guessing. once save always saved is a valid statement. it may have been abused, but never the less it is a true statement. once saved people will sin. but they are always saved. Stan how many times have you started the discussion of eternal security, only to be redirected to the issues of performance ?

Stan said...

It seems to go both ways. "I believe that once you're born of God, you cannot be unborn." "Oh, so you believe that those who are born of God can sin with impunity." Or "I oppose the idea of 'once saved, always saved' because it leads to the notion of antinomianism." "Oh, so you believe we have to live obedient lives to keep our salvation." Sigh. Which is why I prefer "the perseverance of the saints" ... which will, of course, lead to another strawman ...

Craig said...

I completely agree with your premise, that once you are truly saved, that's it, and that a proper understanding of that does not include license to sin.

Where I have a problem, is that it is important for Churches and Families to "make' and grow those disciples who are genuine (Great Commission).

Stan said...

Well, Craig, if you read carefully, I don't think I was suggesting that none of those things suggested by others were useless. Or, at least, I didn't mean to. I think there are a lot of good ideas of "things to do". And I have said repeatedly in the past that we are to build disciples, not converts. For parents in particular it is a full-time calling from God. Do it!

I just get concerned when we focus on "strategies" and "behaviors" and "methods" rather than using the power of prayer and the presence of God to engender relationships with God rather than with techniques and tools.

Craig said...

If I gave you that impression I'm sorry it sounded that way, I think we are on the same page. It was a quick comment from my phone. I guess see the merits of the "strategies" and "methods" within the context of a healthy, Biblical, disciple making community based in prayer and the presence of God.

Good point about the family, I realized after I hit submit that I probably should have reversed the order.

Stan said...

And if I gave the impression I was disagreeing with you, I wasn't. I was agreeing with you. Just clarifying (on, apparently, what we already agreed on).