Christian leaders have made headlines recently for public departures from the Christian faith. Such news can be jarring and send questions rattling through the hearts of the faithful: ‘How could someone who once taught the gospel to others, now deny it? And if it could happen to them, could we be in danger of a similar departure?’
If we consider the ministries of Christ and his apostles, these departures from the true gospel, while very sad, are nothing new.
One of the Apostle Paul’s goals for his ministry seems to have been to ‘keep the faith.’ He used the phrase in many of his letters. Paul told Timothy that he had ‘kept the faith’ (2 Tim. 4:6-8) and twice called him to ‘keep the faith’ himself (1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). Paul also exhorted Titus to correct those who were forsaking the truth of the gospel. (Titus 1:13-14).
It was Paul who planted the church in Corinth and within several years had to correct some who were denying the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-18). The Christians living in Galatia enjoyed similar privilege, learning the gospel from Paul himself. Yet before long, many in Galatia were denying the doctrine of justification by faith alone and making particular works a requirement for salvation. Paul used strong language to summarize their departure from the true gospel, “Who has bewitched you!?” (Gal. 3:1).
The warning to not ‘fall away’ is actually a consistent theme running throughout the New Testament. Paul warned about savage wolves who would enter the church and teach twisted things to draw disciples away (Acts 20:29-30). He warned Timothy that people would get tired of sound doctrine and turn to teachers who would suit their own passions (2 Tim. 4:3).
Peter also warned against the teaching of false teachers and that many would follow them (2 Peter 2:1). In Revelation, Jesus himself warns Christians against being drawn away from the truth by false teachers (2:14) and commends those who had tested false teachers and found them to be false (2:2).
So, we shouldn’t be surprised today when those who once called themselves Christians reject Christian truth and turn to false teaching. Sadly, this has been happening since Christ’s own earthly ministry. If people could walk away from the pure gospel taught by Christ and his apostles, it shouldn’t shock us when they walk away today. It’s no less heartbreaking, of course, but it should not catch us off guard.
Sometimes these biblical warnings spark concern that we ourselves might one day depart from the faith. If you’re wrestling with similar doubts, there are a few things you should do:
1. Abide in Christ
The first and best advice whenever we experience doubts about our salvation is to look away from ourselves and look to Jesus Christ. If we consider our faith, our struggles, our successes, and our sins, we will find lots of reasons to doubt. Our lives make a very weak foundation for salvation and assurance. But as we remember that Christ came to seek and save lost sinners like us (Luke 19:10), and that he promises to never turn away those who come to him (John 6:37), we place our faith on a firm foundation. Every day, we must confess our tendency to trust in ourselves for salvation, and intentionally redirect our trust to Christ alone.
One great way to look to Christ is to prayerfully ask him to do what he has promised in God’s Word. Here are several verses that can help us rest in the finished work of Christ. Meditate on them and turn them into your own prayer:
- “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
- “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13)
- “I believe; Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
- “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
- “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Rom. 10:13)
- “[Jesus] said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” (Matt. 16:15-17)
- “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
2. Meditate on God’s Word
In moments of doubt, we must make sure we are regularly hearing, believing, and receiving the truth of God’s Word. As we learn to hold the Bible as our ultimate authority, we will begin to see those influences in our lives which draw us away from the true gospel. The Bible shines light on errors which can only thrive in darkness.
Humility is an important key to letting the God’s Word do its work in our hearts. It’s not always easy to let the God’s Word correct our assumptions, but it is very important. It’s when we think we are safe in our own understanding, that we are most vulnerable to error. Remember Peter was in the most danger when he was most convinced that he could never fall away (Matt. 26:33), even as Paul warned, “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
If we would keep the faith, we must learn to humbly submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word. Regularly giving the Bible the opportunity to correct is a strong protection against turning from biblical truth.
3. Fellowship with Faithful Christians
Lastly, when we are concerned that we may not ‘keep the faith,’ it can be a great help to spend time with other believers in the context of the local church. God often uses the faith and spiritual gifts of other Christians to strengthen our own faith. It is a gift to have other Christians who are willing and able to share our burdens, offer encouragement from God’s Word, and pray for us. Oh, how much stronger Christ’s church would be if every Christian we all had two or three such friends!
The Bible does include warnings to those who are too careless about the Christian faith. Such warnings call every person to take God’s Word seriously, to quickly turn from sin, and watch against those who teach deception and error.
But the Bible also teaches that those who place their faith firmly in Jesus Christ have a Savior who is mighty to save; a Bible that is trustworthy and true; and brothers and sisters to encourage us along the way, all so that we may have full assurance that as we strive to ‘keep the faith,’ we can trust him to keep us safe until the end.