Bible Question:

Recently, you asked the question, “Can a Christian stray from the faith and still be a Christian?”

Your answer was “NO.” I agree! But then you write that a person who leaves the faith was never a Christian from the start. But I read that this is not so. For example, Romans 11:17 says that some of God's people, branches, were broken off. Also 1 Timothy 4:1 talks about Christians departing from the faith and 2 Thess. 2:3 says some will fall away. 2 Peter 2:15, 20 says that some have forsaken the right way and Hebrews 6:4-6 says Christians who fall away cannot renew their faith. It is man's free choice to live (grow) in Christ or to turn his back on Him. I know that almost all of the scriptures you gave were warnings to CHRISTIANS that they need to endure (conditional) to remain saved (in Christ). You are really touching the subject of predestination, aren't you? Praise the Lord for varieties in understanding or receiving revelation from His Word. Please let me know if I have overlooked something.

Bible Answer:

The answer to the above questions is found in verses such as the following:

. . . no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father. (NASB) John 6:65

No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (NASB) John 6:4

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. (NASB) John 6:37

Are There Consistencies In Scripture?

Does scripture disagree with itself? Is it possible that Jesus can fail to keep people as Christians until the resurrection at the end of the world? Is it possible that people who once claimed to be Christians and then leave for another “god” were really Christians in the beginning? If so, that would also contradict 1 John 2:19.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us. (NASB) 1 John 2:19

No, scripture does not make mistakes; we just have trouble understanding it sometimes. There are two major points of view about the marks of a true Christian. Some believe that a person can be a Christian and then lose his salvation. Others believe a true Christian will always be a true Christian. So far scripture has shown me the latter is true. Jesus’ parable of the sower of the seed deals with this issue.

And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away . . . And the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (NASB) Luke 8:13, 15

The seed that falls on rocky soil is pictured as starting to grow. They believe for awhile, and then fall away; but seed that falls on good soil grows. Notice that this seed holds fast and bears fruit “with perseverance.” It continues to produce fruit. The Greek tense tells us they are constantly continuing – no break or interruption. They do not stop believing! This is the mark of a true Christian. This is consistent with Jesus’ promise that He will raise “all that the Father gives Him.”

Are There Contradictions in Scripture?

How should we understand Romans 11:17, 2 Thess. 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 6:4-6, and 2 Peter 2:15, 20?

Consider Romans 11:17

The first passage is as follows:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree . . . You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. (NASB) Romans 11:17, 19-20

The Holy Spirit is talking about the nation of Israel. Scripture treats the nation as a group and not as individuals. This nation is a picture of unbelief and rejection of God. It rejected God during the wilderness journey from Egypt to the Promised Land by constant unbelief (Heb. 3:6-19). God says they rejected Him when they asked for a king to rule them in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 8:7). God used the Babylonian empire to deport most of the Jews out of Israel because of their constant unbelief and disobedience (Dan. 9:2-7). The nation’s ultimate rejection of God was the rejection of Jesus as their king (John 19:21). This is why the “branches were broken off” – constant and ultimate unbelief. That is the message of verse 20, “were broken off for their unbelief.” Scripture never pictures Israel as a believing nation. This is about a nation and not about individuals. This is not about salvation, otherwise an entire nations could be ‘saved” by believing. But the nation was never “saved.”

Consider 2 Thessalonians 2:3

The next passage deals with the end times.

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (NASB) 2 Thess. 2:3

This passage applies to the days just before the tribulation period, before the “man of lawlessness” is revealed – the Antichrist. This passage does not apply to all of church history. The Greek word for apostasy is APOSTASIA which means “to turn away” or “rebellion.” In Matthew 24 while Jesus is explaining the end times to His disciples, He makes an interesting statement that is often overlooked.

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (NASB) Matt. 24:24

He mentions that “false Christs” and “false prophets” will arise during the tribulation. These individuals teach false doctrine for the purpose of leading others astray. They will do miracles, signs and wonders. They will mislead many but not the elect! Notice Jesus’ words “if possible even the elect.” The elect – Christians – will not leave the faith. True Christians will continue. 2 Thess. 2:3 is talking about a tremendous increase in doctrinal error. People who claim to be Christians will leave the churches. The elect (Rom. 8:33) will not be deceived!

Consider 1 Timothy 4:1

Another passage that deals with the latter days but not the tribulation period is 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (NASB) 1 Timothy 4:1-3

Again we see the emphasis of the passage is about false doctrine. False teachers teach the doctrines of demons as truth. The passage clearly makes the point that some “will fall away from the faith.” But will the elect be deceived? Will the elect fall away? Jesus said, “No!” Jesus helps our understanding with a parable about the church using “wheat” and “tares.” A tare is a plant that looks like wheat when it is young. In Jesus’ parable, someone sows tares among good wheat. Later He explains the parable.

And He answered and said, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. (NASB) Matt. 13:37-40

Jesus’ point is clear. There are many who claim to be Christians that are not real. They have no real spiritual life, The fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is missing from their lives. They are not growing according to 1 John 2:12-14 or according to Heb. 5:11-14.

Hebrews 6:4-6. Hebrews 6:4-6 is the reason people fall away in 1 Timothy 4:1. Hebrews 5:11-14 makes an obvious statement – true Christians will grow in the faith. If we are not growing, there is reason to doubt we are real (1 John 3:19). That is the message of Hebrews 6:4-6.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame. (NASB) Heb. 6:4-6

Any tare who spends time with Christians is enlightened by truth. He or she will experience the wonders and power of the Holy Spirit by being present (1 Cor. 14:23-24). But if the tare, after experiencing all of this, finally decides to “fall away” (PARAPIPO) in the sense of an unpardonable error, he cannot come back. This Greek word was used to refer to a “mistake,” or “a serious sin” such as bloodshed or unbelief. The tare has made his decision and left the faith.

. . . for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU”; behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION” (NASB) 2 Cor. 6:2

Consider 2 Peter 2:15, 20

The final passage deals with false teachers once more.

. . . forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness . . . For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. (NASB) 2 Peter 2:15, 20-21

Verse 15 talks about false teachers who have gone the wrong way and followed the way of Balaam. These are false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1). They were tares in the church. The knew the truth according to verse 21, but they rejected the commandment. We must ask, “Which commandment?” How about the one found in 1 John 3:23?

And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (NASB) 1 John 3:23

These false teachers were never believers for the following reasons:

For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (NASB) Matt. 24:24

. . .taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God . . . (NASB) 1 Cor. 2:13-1

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. (NASB) 1 John 2:20

Conclusion:

There are two extremes that we must avoid. Some claim that man’s salvation depends on his free will and others claim that God does it all. But scripture clearly teaches both: man chooses and God chooses. We have focused on God’s role. But man must make decisions too! Why encourage us to continue in the faith if God does it all? Why warn us to continue? Why call us to believe? Yet, if we do continue it is because we are real Christians. If we do not continue, scripture teaches that we were never real. If we choose to continue, scripture also says it is because He would not let us go! Both are true! Real Christians respond to Him Who calls. It is the same message that we find in ZPhil. 2:12-13. Wheat and tares exist in every church. It is difficult at times to accept that those who leave the faith or go into error may not really be Christians. The real Christian who sins or turns away for a while will eventually repent and come back. When a person does not repent, he or she were never real to begin with. A person’s warmth, kindness, and service in the church does not necessarily mean he or she really has a heart for Jesus! Yet, the person who is “poor in spirit” and “mourning” over his/her sin will be the one Jesus said shall see the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3-4).

Reference Links:

You Should Be Teachers
Does a man choose salvation, and does God choose a man to be saved?
Temptation of Jesus