Several days ago, many American Christians reeled with the news that a prominent pastor and author announced that he no longer considers himself a Christian.
Speculation and commentary abounds concerning what led to this declaration. Some have traced his history and pointed out problems with the movements he has been associated with. But no one really knows his heart.
When a person becomes a Christian, he is “born again” (John 3:3-21, I John 3:4-10). That’s one of many reasons that a Christian can’t lose his salvation. He can’t become unborn spiritually.
Christians can sometimes fall away from what they’ve been taught to varying degrees. That may be influenced by listening to false teaching, failing to grow in the Lord, neglecting His Word, bitterness, or any number of things.
But that’s a different thing from repudiating their profession of faith alltogether. When that happens, all we can conclude is that they were never genuine believers in the first place.
I hold out hope, as do others, that the man I mentioned has not truly walked away from God and his core beliefs but is instead just confused and out of fellowship. Hopefully with prayer, contemplation, and counsel, he can get things straightened out.
But I shared all of that to say this:
Whenever this kind of thing occurs, I can’t help but ask myself, “How did that happen?”
Jesus said one day people will stand before Him who called Him Lord, prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in His name, and yet He’ll have to tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21-23).
I can’t imagine a more tragic or frightening prospect. For years I feared every time I heard or read this passage. How did I know I won’t end up like these poor people?
When I asked this of a former pastor, he said that these folks all pointed to what they did. None of them said, “I came to Christ confessing my sin, repenting of it, and asking Him to be my Savior and Lord.”
That helped me a lot. But, since then, I have known people who made professions of having done this, yet fell away in later years. How does that happen?
I think perhaps for people who have grown up in a Christian culture, it’s easy to just go with the flow. They’ve heard it all their lives. It’s part of their thinking. Isobel Kuhn was like this. She says in her autobiography, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith, that when she went off to a secular college, she could have held a debate with anybody defending doctrines of the faith. But all it took was one professor saying, “Oh, you just believe that because your parents told you it was so” for her to realize he was right. She went off to gleefully live for herself, free from the restrictions she had grown up with. But God, in His mercy and grace, brought her to Himself.
Perhaps others did not grow up in a Christian culture, but weren’t adequately taught. Some I know responded to “positive peer pressure”–when all their friends were making professions, they figured they needed to get in on it, too. Or the person witnessing to them was so aggressive, they felt they dare not refuse to pray with the person. I’ve heard of many people who raised their hands in a church service, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, yet did not consider themselves truly saved until later in life. Perhaps they weren’t taught well; perhaps they placed their trust in those acts rather than in Christ. But however it happened, they realized some time later that they were not believers and needed to be. Some had been professing Christians for years and were even pastors or pastor’s wives.
The Bible tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The last thing I want to do is disturb the peace of genuine Christians. I lived nearly half my life unsure of my salvation, and that’s a miserable way to live. Just about the time I thought I had it settled, some new angle of doubt would creep in. I told more about that situation here.
But I’d dearly love to spare even one person from being told by Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from me.”
For more information on how to become a Christian, see How to Know God.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 5:12
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:16-18
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
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Amen – many years ago at a Christian Conference Ground John McArthur was the speaker. The entire week was a continual challenge – are you sure you are saved? I remember every night the great interaction my husband and I had as we walked up the hill to our cabin and our kids ran ahead of us. Makes me think I want to go see if I can find those notes. I have seen too many people walk away from the Lord. Thanks for this challenge.
Thanks so much, Wanda! It’s the biggest question, and thankfully God has the answer.
One of my very favourite Christian songs goes: prone to wander Lord I feel it…This is why I like to pray Psalm 51 every morning: Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me…restore to me the joy of your salvation…
Yes–that verse of that hymns resonates with me so much as well. And I love that part of Psalm 51, too.
I was thinking about Isobel Kuhn just yesterday. Funny you should mention here TODAY! (I love it when that happens.) And the kurfuffel over Joshua Harris has this issue of falling away on everyone’s mind, I’m afraid, but the good that will come of it is, perhaps, that we will redouble our efforts to persevere in faithfulness, making “our calling and election sure,” as we trust God to hold us close.
I love the Isobel Kuhn intersection! I love when that happens, too. Trusting God to work this whole JH thing together for good, maybe helping some to settle the matter with God.
With our salvation being the most important decision that we will ever make then it is also very important that we can free ourselves from the doubt that the enemy tries to plant into our heart and mind. The enemy uses so many avenues to get people to stray away and my heart goes out to those that are deceived into picking up the world’s views about God instead of the truth that is in His word. #inspirememonday
True, April. He tries to keep people from becoming Christians, and if he fails there, he tries to keep them weak and ineffectual. But thank God He has given us His truth, if only people will read and heed it.
Yes, I’m always curious too to know “how did that happen”. I want to learn from other’s mistakes instead of having to repeat them all for myself. Matthew 7:21-23 would be the hardest words to ever hear.
Me too, Lisa.
Really good thoughts here, Barbara! Especially when I was younger, I so worried that I was ‘doing Christianity wrong” and that I’d learn that at my death 😦 I like the point your pastor made about all those people mentioning things they had done rather than what Jesus had done for them … I’d never thought of that passage with that emphasis, and it does help. I pray often that if I’m on the wrong path in some way, that Jesus would do what it takes to get me on the right one. I agree that often it’s easy to go along with what we’ve “always heard” rather than what the Bible specifically says (which can at times seem to contradict some of commonly-held “Christian” beliefs).
When I was struggling with assurance, that was something I’d often pray–that if I was missing something somehow, God would show me what it was.
One of my favorite missionary authors was Isobel Kuhn. Several of her books are on my shelves; haven’t heard her being mentioned in quite some time. It’s encouraging to realize that there are others who value her writings. I do not know anyone, personally, other than my family members, who know about Isobel Kuhn. Thinking of her takes me back to another era of foreign missionary experience….so different from the expectations of missionaries in this modern age.
So good to hear, Gail! One church we were in during early married days introduced me to Isobel, and she was well-loved there. But I haven’t heard of or met many people since who knew of her. I loved her transparency as well as her firm faith in God.
Barbara. I believe this is a question which plagues many Christians today, this issue of doubt and wondering, ‘am I saved?’. I love the verse about making one’s calling and election sure. It’s so important for each one of us to know God for ourselves instead of hanging on to someone else’s coat tails hoping to make it to heaven.
I’m happy to meet you here today. What an interesting discussion you’ve started!
Blessings to you,
Marva | SunSparkleShine
Barbara, Thank you for tackling a difficult question, and one many of us ponder with. Am I saved? I too hold out hope this particular pastor will come back. You have reminded me to pray not only for him but family members who have fallen away. Thank you for your wisdom and sharing with Grace & Truth. Maree
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