On “Falling Away”

Jesus Rescues Sheep

On “Falling Away”

James R. Aist

“I never knew you.” – Jesus (Matthew 7:23)

“Falling away” (and its variants) is a term found several times in the New Testament to denote the abandoning of one’s Christian faith and/or practice. It is routinely used as biblical evidence that a Christian may abandon his faith and forfeit his salvation. But, is the mention of falling away really evidence of such a spiritual disaster, or could it be an indication of something far less devastating or even a blessing?

To “rightly divide the word of God” on this matter, I believe that we must first understand that the apparent make-up of the “church” includes both those who are truly born again and those who only appear (to us) to be born again. This was true of the New Testament church as well: Jesus used the Parable of the Sower to teach that some who heard and received the Gospel would later “fall away” when persecution came (Matthew 13:21 and Mark 4:17). With this in mind, we can begin to understand why so many “churchgoers” today seem to be born again and on their way to heaven, only to, later on, deny Christ and forfeit their salvation? I believe that the Bible provides us the answer to this question, if we are willing and able to accept it.

Jesus said, “I know My sheep…” (John 10:27) and also “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil’” (Matthew 7:22-23). In other words, these churchgoers were not among His “sheep” (i.e., those whom the Father had given to Him), and so, He never knew them (i.e., they were not really born again). John declared a similar condition of the “antichrists” that left their fellowship when he wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us. But they went out, revealing that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19). The writer of Hebrews also expresses this same understanding of the two categories of “churchgoers”: “Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39).” He is speaking here of those among the churchgoers who have saving faith and persevere as opposed to those who do not have saving faith and draw back (i.e., fall away). Only those who are born again have saving faith and endure to the end. Finally, in His parable about the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus is talking about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. In that parable, the King cast out of the wedding hall the “many” that came, but did not have on the proper wedding attire. Everyone, “both bad and good”, had been invited and brought to the wedding banquet, but these had not been “chosen.” Only the “few” who had been chosen were properly attired and allowed to stay and participate in the festivities. Once again, we see two categories of people – those who had been chosen (born again) and those who had not – all attending the same “church gathering.” Taken together, these passages all point to the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., the churchgoers) as being comprised of both truly saved, born-again believers and unsaved, non-believers who are not born again though they may appear to be. We cannot know, with certainty, the one from the other unless they “fall away.” Then we can know for sure that they were not truly one of us and that they were not really born again, because, if they had been, then they would not have left us (1 John 2:19). Thus, those who only appear to be born again will seem to fall away and, thereby, they will appear to have forfeited their salvation. However, people cannot forfeit what they never really had, can they?

There is another scenario in which one may appear to have “fallen away” when, in fact they may not have. (This is an important distinction that merits our serious consideration.) This scenario is what we usually refer to these days as “backsliding.” When a truly born-again Christian stops attending church and begins to live as though he is not a believer, we may say that he has “backslidden”, because of the blatant disobedience to God that has become evident in his life style. And we would be accurate in saying that. But a backslidden person has not necessarily also denied Christ in his heart and thus revoked his salvation. Perhaps he has become, just for a season, a “carnal Christian,” and will soon begin living like a believer once again, having never denied Christ in his heart. Such a person would be like the one sheep who went astray out of 100 in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-6); this one sheep still belonged to the man, even while he was astray for a while. Furthermore, we must not forget that even born-again believers still sin, and God has given us the remedy: confession with repentance (1 John 1:8-10).

Finally, there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away”, and many people have taken them to imply that a born-again believer may, in fact, reject and abandon his saving faith and lose his salvation. At first glance, there may seem to be no other way to explain why such warnings appear in the New Testament.  But, in my view, those who reach such a conclusion are asking the wrong question. I doubt that anyone denies that the one who perseveres in the faith to “the end” will be saved.  The telling question, however, is “Who keeps him in the faith to the end, the saved person or the God who saved him? When one takes into account what the Bible teaches about how God draws unbelievers to Jesus to save them in the first place (John 6:44), a more biblically consistent and entirely plausible explanation then comes to light. As we know, God uses the preaching and teaching of the Gospel (including both the “bad news” about the wages of sin being an eternity of torment in hell and the “good news” about forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ) to bring unbelievers to saving faith (Romans 10:14-15). That being so, why, then, would He not use similar preaching and teaching as helps to preserve their saving faith “to the end”? I submit that it should, therefore, come as no surprise that there are several Scriptures that warn against “falling away.” In fact, I would be surprised if the New Testament did not include such warnings.

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE.)

Keeping the Sabbath

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Keeping the Sabbath

James R. Aist

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Jesus

There seems to be some confusion within the modern Christian community concerning the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We cannot just ignore this commandment, since it is the Fourth of the Ten Commandments, but do we have to follow it, like the Old Testament Jews did? Let’s see if the New Testament provides clear instructions concerning this question.

Jesus’ Teachings

In Matthew 12:8, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” The clear implication here is that whatever Jesus said about the Sabbath is true and allowable for all, regardless of prevailing Jewish tradition. Jesus also said that “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12).” It would seem to follow, then, that “doing good” would include enjoying the blessings and favor of God on the Sabbath and giving Him praise and glory for them. And, in Mark 2:27, Jesus declared that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, the Sabbath was given to benefit man, not to rule over him. Thus, healing the sick, tending livestock, and harvesting grain (to use some of the examples used against Jesus to charge him with breaking the Law), as well as doing any “good” thing, such as teaching in the synagogue (Luke 13:10 and Acts 18:4), are allowed on the Sabbath.

Paul’s Teachings

In Colossians 2:14-21, Paul wrote: “He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us and contrary to us, and He took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed authorities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore let no one judge you regarding food, or drink, or in respect of a holy day or new moon or Sabbath days. These are shadows of things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone cheat you of your reward by delighting in false humility and the worship of angels, dwelling on those things which he has not seen, vainly arrogant due to his unspiritual mind,  and not supporting the head, from which the entire body, nourished and knit together by joints and sinews, grows as God gives the increase. Therefore, if you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you subject yourself to legalistic rules?  “Do not touch! Do not taste! Do not handle!” These all are to perish with use and are aligned with the commandments and doctrines of men (Italics mine).” Read carefully and you will see three key and telling points made here: 1) Jesus nailed to the cross the traditional, Jewish requirements re. the Sabbath; 2) the traditional, Jewish requirements re. the Sabbath were mere shadows of things to come, so they perished after they had served their purpose among the Old Testament Jews (i.e., when Jesus, who is the substance of these requirements, appeared); and 3) the Sabbath requirements are no longer in effect for those who are in Christ Jesus, including both Jews and Gentiles; they have expired.

Conclusions

So, are we required to follow the practices of the Old Testament Jews concerning the Sabbath? The biblical answer is, emphatically, “No!” [For the record, this is why the New Testament church felt free to change the “worship day” of the Christian church from Saturday to Sunday (Acts 20:7)]. But, does this mean that we should ignore the Sabbath entirely? I don’t think so. God established the seventh day as a day of rest for mankind (Exodus 20:9-10 and 23:12), and as such, a weekly Sabbath would certainly serve us well, in accord with Mark 2:27, and it would be exercising wisdom. Moreover, the Judaic and Christian practice of gathering for worship on the day of rest is a way of obeying Hebrews 10:25 which says, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching.” So, let us remember the Sabbath by observing a weekly day of much-needed rest and by assembling together regularly to give God all the glory that is due Him. As Christians, these two practices should be our custom.

(To read more of my biblically based articles, click HERE.)

Why Did God Create Us?

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Why Did God Create Us?

James R. Aist

 “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” – The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647)

Jesus is the perfect image and likeness of God the Father, reflecting His glory back to Him perfectly (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Jesus, however, was not created, having been with the Father, and one with the Father, for all eternity past (John 1: 1-2). God’s creative acts began with the angels, who shouted for joy when the earth was created (Job 38:4-7). Angels, like God, are spirit beings, and they surround the throne of God, constantly worshipping Him and proclaiming His glory (Revelation 5:11-2 and 7:11-12). Next, God created the heavens and the earth and everything in it (Genesis 1-2). This was the first ever creation of material, physical objects, including living, biological beings, with mankind being uniquely created in the image and likeness of God.

From this biblical, historical background, we can now consider the important question of why God created mankind. After all, He already had Jesus and the angels reflecting His glory back to Him. The rest of His physical, material creation was already reflecting His glory (Psalm 19:1). Wasn’t that enough, or is The Westminster Shorter Catechism correct in saying that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever”?

The Genesis account of the creation of mankind only tells us that God decided to create mankind; it doesn’t tell us why. What was God’s motive in creating mankind? In other words, what was His end game? To answer that question, we have to search the Scriptures more thoroughly. The first thing that comes to mind is that, until God created mankind, there was none in all of the created, physical universe capable of knowing God and reflecting His glory intentionally. This fact suggests that, perhaps, God created mankind because He wanted a created, physical being who would reflect His glory like no other can: not the angels, because they are spiritual, not physical, beings; and not the rest of creation, because these inanimate objects and living things are not capable of knowing God and reflecting His glory intentionally. Can it be that God created mankind to reflect His glory back to Him in such a new and unique way? Let’s open the Bible and find out:

Created for His glory

Isaiah 43:7 — “…even everyone who is called by My name…I have created him for My glory

Ephesians 1:12 – “…that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, should live for the praise of His glory.”

Ephesians 3:21 – “…to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”

Declare His Glory

Isaiah 43:21 – “This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare My praise.”

1 Chronicles 16:24 –Declare His glory among the nations”

Psalm 29:2 – “Give to the Lord the glory of His name

Psalm 96:3 – “Proclaim His glory among the nations”

Philippians 2:11 – “…every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Exhibit His glory

Ecclesiastes 12:13 – “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Micah 6:8 – “what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?”

As you can see from these Scriptures, we can conclude that God did, in fact, create mankind to declare with our mouths and exhibit with our actions, His glory. And, in doing so, we reflect His glory back to Him in a unique way that pleases Him.

Having this understanding of why God created mankind, we can now contemplate a very important implication of this understanding: namely, that our universal and supreme purpose for existing – our God given destiny — is to glorify God as only we can. The Bible says, “…whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “…that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11). All of our good works – e.g., praise, worship, obedience, generosity, compassion, mercy, praying, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, making disciples – have one thing in common: they all ultimately reflect and magnify God’s glory. The Bible says that God has prepared – in advance – work for each one of us to do, and that, in doing these things, we are fulfilling the purpose for which God created us (Ephesians 2:10). And, it is within the work that God has prepared for each of us that we can find God’s specific calling to serve and glorify Him in particular ways while we are in the world, such as apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healings, helps, governments, and various tongues (1 Corinthians 12:28).

But, what about the unbelievers; does God have a supreme purpose for their existence too? It is my assumption that it was God’s original purpose in creating mankind that He would receive praise and glory from all of them, not just His elect. But, because sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience, only the chosen ones, those whom He saves, actually give Him praise and glory. The others give praise and glory to anyone or anything except God. And, in doing so, they have, sadly, missed their supreme purpose for existing. Paul even went so far as to strongly imply that God’s purpose for creating unbelievers is to make known the riches of His glory in the abundant mercy extended to those He will save, His elect (Romans 9:22-23).

Finally, when Jesus comes again to renew all things, only His elect will remain on the earth to rule and reign with Him there for eternity. And so, God will accomplish His original purpose, His end game, in creating mankind, as all of His elect will joyfully give to God all the praise and glory due him, forever. “God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (Psalm 115:3).

(To read other biblical teachings on my website, click HERE.)

God and Liesel

God and Liesel

James R. Aist

I will give thanks to You, O Lord, with my whole heart;
I will declare all Your marvelous works.
(Psalm 9:1)

The purpose of my writing this article is to give glory to God for “great things He has done” (1 Chronicles 17:19). It is an article about how God was at work in the life of my younger daughter, Liesel, as I know it. It is incomplete, of course, because I can only relate what I know of it first-hand. If you take the time to read it through, you will find that God was at work and revealed Himself in amazing ways to save her, and, in the end, to welcome her home to be with Him forever. I believe that you will find a blessing or two in it for yourself.

Liesel was a beautiful, musically talented, athletic, sweet and endearing little girl with a special sense of humor. I called her my “Lee-Lee Bell.” She had already professed her faith in Jesus at an early age, before she was 10 years old: in a Sunday School class, she told the teacher that she had accepted Jesus. Then, when Liesel was 10 years old, I had the precious opportunity to lead her in a prayer to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Here’s what happened. Near the end of a sermon at church on a Sunday morning, Liesel leaned over and asked me, “When did you make your decision for Jesus?” I replied “When I was 8 years old.” “Is it too late for me to do it?” she asked. I replied, “No, you can do it any time before you die. Do you want to do it now?” After further discussion, we agreed that I would help her do it at home, after church. So, after we had lunch, I asked her if now was a good time, and she said it was. So, that’s when we prayed, and Liesel confirmed, by her profession of faith in Jesus, what God had been doing! And she said, “This is the biggest day of my life!” Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, as Liesel passed through her teens, she became unsure of her faith in Jesus. But, like the one sheep that had gone astray (Luke 15:3-6), Liesel belonged to Jesus, and God was not done with her.

The following encounter that I had with God is not only pertinent, but essential, to the rest of the story. I was attending the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International Men’s Advance at Lake George in upstate New York. One day when they were immersion baptizing in the lake, I stepped forward to be immersed by Pastor Don Yarborough. We had never met, and he knew nothing about me. As I approached him in the water, he just stared at me straight in the eye with a blank look, and kept staring. I thought to myself, “That’s strange; he doesn’t seem to even see me coming.” Finally, as I drew near to him, he reached out his hand to me, we shook hands and I introduced myself. Then he said that something very unusual had just happened; it had happened only once before in his ~20 years of baptizing people. He said that as I was approaching him in the water, he received a prophecy for me, in the form of several Bible passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. They all had to do with the head of the household being saved and all of his family with him. He then proceeded to share with me all five of those Bible verses. When he had finished with that, he gave me the interpretation of the message: God wants me to stand on and hold fast to these promises, which he is confirming to me and my children. Wow! Through this prophecy, God had just told me that all of my children will be saved! Needless to say, I was a “happy camper” the rest of that afternoon. But, I didn’t say anything to any of my children about this glorious promise at the time.

In August of 1996, Liesel had just turned 19, and it was time for her annual visit with me in Ithaca, NY, from her home in Norman, OK. As was my custom, I brought up the matter of her current position regarding her faith in Jesus, and we talked about that for a while. It was clear that she had a good understanding of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ was all about, but she said that she didn’t want to profess faith in Jesus again unless she was absolutely sure of it. I was OK with that. Now, I had not yet said anything to Liesel about God’s promise to save all of my children. Nevertheless, she looked at me and somehow knew to ask this amazing question: “Daddy, have you ever received any indication from God as to whether or not I will someday become a Christian?” Well, this question blew my mind. I was so overwhelmed by it that, for a few seconds, I was unable to respond. How did she even know to ask me such a thing at that time? I had to conclude that God must have given her that question, and so I haltingly, but eagerly, proceeded to tell her about God’s promise to save all of my children. When I finished, Liesel was visibly pleased and very encouraged by this good news. God had revealed in miraculous ways that He was going to finish the good work that He had begun in Liesel when she was a young child! That was one of the most amazing days of my life.

So, Liesel returned to Norman, and several months went by with just the usual “visits” by phone and e-mail; she did not reveal to me whether or not she had accepted Jesus (again). The only evidence I had at that point that God would save Liesel was His promise that He would save all of my children. Liesel was now 20 years old, and it was late April of 1997. That’s when I got a phone call from the hospital in Norman with the shocking news that Liesel had been struck by a car while walking across an intersection. She was in critical condition with little hope of surviving severe head injuries. She was in a coma, and we were told to get to the hospital as soon as possible. So, we flew to Norman fearing for her life and not having any tangible evidence that Liesel was, in fact, saved. That was the first day of what I refer to as the “week from hell.”

I will spare you the details of her death, but that week I lost my “Lee-Lee Bell.” However, I do want to share with you a spiritual experience I had in the hospital as she was dying. The first three days when we arrived at the hospital, we would go immediately into her room and pray for either her full recovery or no recovery; I could not even imagine how we could cope with her living year after year as, in effect, a vegetable. But the fourth day, something happened to me that I had not experienced before and have not experienced since: we entered her room as usual, and I immediately tried to pray for her as before, but I could not. I kept trying to pray, but something prevented me from even beginning to pray. So, I asked my wife, Janet, to come in and pray for me to be released from whatever was hindering me from praying, to no avail; I still was unable to pray this time. At first, I was confused and perplexed by this strange experience, but before long it dawned on me that, perhaps, the Holy Spirit would not let me pray for Liesel’s recovery this time because her spirit had departed her body since I last prayed. Her mother, Sheila, remarked that she also sensed that Liesel’s spirit was no longer present. That’s when I knew that I had received God’s answer to my prayers for recovery, a very final and heartbreaking “No.”

Next, I will share with you three independent testimonies that week that assured me that God did, indeed, save Liesel. The first of these three testimonies was shared with me in the hospital by her Christian co-worker, Rocky, who used to talk with her privately during work breaks and witnessed to her frequently about Jesus. Rocky told us that, not more than a couple of days before her accident, Liesel had confided in him that she does believe in Jesus. That was a very encouraging testimony, indeed! But, God did not leave it at that. At God’s direction, I testified at the funeral of Liesel’s faith in Jesus, based in part on Rocky’s account. Then, as we were driving to the cemetery after the funeral service, Liesel’s boy friend, Joe, who was riding in the seat behind me, spoke up and told me that, after hearing about Rocky’s testimony, he wanted to tell me that a friend of his (not Rocky) had told him 2-3 weeks earlier that Liesel said she believes in Jesus. Moreover, Joe had just found a letter that Liesel had recently written to Jesus asking Him to help her with a problem. (She would not pray for help to a God that she did not believe in!) Upon hearing that, I was ecstatic and knew full well that when Liesel died, she was believing in Jesus; I now had three independent and credible witnesses to that effect! God not only kept His promise to save Liesel, but He also provided me tangible evidences of it. To God be the glory for demonstrating that He was at work making good on His promise to save my children, by saving Liesel!

But, hang on, there are two glorious and powerful sequels to this story. The first sequel occurred during the first week after our return to Ithaca after burying my daughter. I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of the “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God said to me, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” I was astonished. On the one hand, I was pleased that God had brought me far enough with Him that I didn’t really need to know why. But on the other hand, I still wanted to know. I had a sense that God might reveal this to me as time went on, but so far, I have not heard a clear word from God about it. I can only rejoice in the knowledge that God called Liesel home when she was professing her faith in Jesus. And, that’s good enough for me!

And now, here’s the second sequel. Roughly two months after the “week from hell”, I received a letter from the mother of one of Liesel’s friends in Norman. She had been praying for the salvation of Liesel and her circle of friends for some years and was delighted to hear of Liesel’s salvation during my testimony at the funeral. But, she wanted me to know what happened as a result of my testimony about Liesel’s faith in Christ. Several of Liesel’s circle of friends had also gotten saved. Another repented and returned to church, becoming a Sunday School teacher. And, in his class, a separated married couple was reconciled. And that’s all in just a few months. Wow! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear of this good news. It gave me a sense that at least Liesel’s sudden and tragic death had led to everlasting blessings for a number of her friends. Now, brace yourself for what came next. As I was basking in this truly amazing good news, God asked me a simple question: “If you had known that Liesel’s death would lead to the salvation of some of her friends, would you have been willing to give her up, so that the others would be saved?” Well, this question caught me up short. Lying about it was not an option, but the truth was painfully convicting: “No, I would not have been willing to give Liesel up for the others!” I replied sadly. Then God said, “Well, that’s exactly what I did for you, isn’t it?” (Please pause and let that sink in.) I have never felt more grateful to Jesus for paying the price for my sins than I did at that moment.

With time, I began to focus less on the loss of my daughter and more on the unspeakable blessing it was that she was with me for 20 years. And I am comforted to know for sure that when the time comes for me to go home to be with Jesus, I will find Liesel there to greet me (Matthew 10:32). That will be a glorious reunion, a time of celebration with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:7-9).

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)