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.)

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Perfect Aim…Not!

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Perfect Aim…Not!

James R. Aist

I was about 17 years old and living in Elm Springs, Arkansas. My daddy was the Pastor of the local Methodist Church. It so happened that the Majorette of the local high School marching band attended that church too. She was very attractive, to say the least, and very popular. I wanted nothing more than to get to know her better. But, how could I manage to even appear on her dating radar?

Well, one day her 14-year-old brother, Danny, having found out that the men in my family like to hunt, asked me if I would take him rabbit hunting. Thinking that this might just be the break I was looking for to get me on his big sister’s dating radar (yes, I was that naïve back then), I eagerly agreed to introduce him to the sport. So, a few days later, we set out with our shotguns and my beagle dogs to hunt an old, abandoned farm place nearby that I knew was almost sure to provide rabbits for us to “harvest.” But wait, I told that story in an earlier post (click HERE). This is the sequel.

Danny asked me to take him hunting again, and after failing to make his big sister’s dating radar following the first hunting excursion – even though I had slain a running rabbit without firing a shot on the first trip – I eagerly agreed to give it another “shot” (pun intended). But, this time, Danny wanted to vary it up a bit by leaving the dogs at home and hunting for squirrels instead of rabbits. That was fine with me; I knew just the place.

When we arrived at the large, squirrel-infested patch of woods, we exited our vehicle, this time with rifles in hand. I was thinking “What better way to impress Danny’s big sister than to exhibit my superior marksmanship by plinking a stationary squirrel out of a tall oak tree with a single bullet from my trusty Mossberg 22-caliber, semi-automatic rifle?” I had done it before and was confident that nothing could possibly go wrong.

So, we split up to cover more ground and began sneaking stealthily through the woods, Danny on one ridge and me on the one next to it (about 40 yards from Danny), so we would not lose sight of each other. As we walked along, we scoured the tree tops for squirrel nests and suspicious, furry “knots” on the tree limbs. We were about 10 minutes into the hunt, having seen neither “hide nor hair” of a squirrel, when suddenly Danny inadvertently “flushed” a rabbit from a small brush pile. The frightened rabbit loped lazily along the side of the ridge next to me, presenting himself for an open shot each time he passed between trees. Now please understand that, normally, one would have a much better likelihood of “harvesting” a rabbit on the run by firing a shotgun at him, especially at 40 yards. On the other hand, to harvest said running rabbit with a single shot from a rifle would make a much bigger impression on Danny, and consequently on his big sister (or, so I hoped), than would merely plinking a stationary squirrel on the side of a tree with one shot. So, with nothing to lose, really, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. Taking aim and timing my shot for when the rabbit was between trees and about to execute his next leap, I pulled the trigger.

And wouldn’t you know it? My aim was “dead on”, so to speak; the rabbit was mortally wounded and rolled immediately to a stop, his limp carcass lying lifeless on the ground! Well now, Danny had witnessed the entire episode and was duly dumbfounded, trust me. At that point, to complete the ruse, I had only to pretend that such masterful marksmanship was merely routine for me. So I nonchalantly walked over to the rabbit, picked it up by the “behind feet” and lifted it, matter-of-factly, skyward to show it off to Danny. He was speechless, and I was surely “in” with his big sister!

Well, we continued hunting for squirrels and spotted several, but for some mysterious reason, neither of us was able to hit any of them; the unfortunate rabbit turned out to be our only trophy that day. Danny was disappointed, but I was proud of my hunting trophy and hopeful that I had made a good enough impression on Danny that a date with his big sister would be my next “trophy.”

However, for some mysterious reason, the date never materialized. The story gets worse, though. A few days later, still puzzled as to why I was unable to harvest any squirrels that day – especially after having bagged a rabbit on the run at 40 yards with a 22 rifle – I decided to test the rifle with a paper, bull’s-eye target to see if it was properly “sighted in.” Alas and alack, the rifle was off about a foot to the upper left, meaning that even my “miraculous” shot that felled the fleeing rabbit was, unarguably, nothing more than pure, dumb luck!

With spirit crushed, I decided, right then and there, to cut my losses and stop hunting with Danny. And, of course, I never told Danny that the rifle was way off. After all, what he didn’t know couldn’t hurt me.

(To read more of my True Tales, click HERE)

The Mass Deposit

English: The Louvre museum as seen from the ri...The Mass Deposit

 James R. Aist

 This cute little story took place in June of 1972. I had just completed a postdoctoral research study in Zurich and had the unique opportunity to travel around Europe for about three months before starting my new job as an Assistant Professor at Cornell University. My wife and I had an eleven-month-old daughter, Beverly, who was our first-born and our pride and joy. After a brief stay in the Swiss Alps, we headed for Paris to begin our tour of Europe. Being the faithful Roman Catholics that we were, we were determined to attend Mass on the coming Sunday morning. Since we also planned to take a guided tour of the prestigious Louvre Museum after lunch, we found a church just across the river Seine from the Louvre and attended Mass there. This was a very old, smallish, rather ornate Catholic church that, from the outside, gave the impression of a mini-cathedral. Everything about that Mass was done in the high-church tradition, if you know what I mean. The Sanctuary was only about one-third full, and most of the worshipers seemed to be very devout, and very serious, little old ladies. Both the Sanctuary and the proceedings were quite formal and dignified, and we stood out as obviously being American tourists. Or so it seemed to us, anyway. We were determined to be just as formal and dignified as the others, so as not to draw attention to ourselves and distract from the very somber and serious tone of the Mass. We knew that would be a tall order, what with our baby daughter and all, but we were hoping that her generous breakfast of mother’s milk would keep her satisfied, at least until the Mass had ended. But we were definitely not prepared for what happened next.

Everything was fine until about mid-way through the Mass. Beverly began to get fidgety, as one might expect of a young baby, and we had no other way of keeping her from “crying out loud” (literally) than to let her down to the floor so that she could crawl around a bit. We were reluctant to put her down, however, because that floor was visibly dusty and dirty as one might expect in such an ancient church with limited finances for upkeep. We were afraid that she would get dirty crawling around on the floor, and we didn’t want to have to take her through the Louvre looking like that. Besides, what would those dear little old ladies think of us if Beverly would happen to get away from us for even a moment and begin to crawl up the center aisle, creating a spectacle? But we had no choice really, so down she went. I was sitting next to the center aisle, so it fell to me to keep her corralled. Everything seemed to be going just fine at first, so I began to pay more attention to the Priest than to Beverly. Next time I checked on her, she wasn’t there! So I wheeled around in the pew, and there she was in the middle aisle on her hands and knees about half-way back to the front door of the church. When she saw me looking at her, she turned around and began crawling back to me. So, as inconspicuously as possible (relevant factoid: I’m six feet-five inches tall and weigh well over 200 pounds!) I crouched down,  got slowly out of the pew, quietly made my way back to her and picked her up. And that’s when I saw it. There was a trail on the floor behind her consisting of five or six little brown balls that had bailed out of her diaper while she was crawling back to me! Needless to say, I had a mixed reaction to this development. On the one hand, the scenario – all things considered – was hilarious beyond belief. But on the other hand, I didn’t dare even crack a smile, much less laugh out loud, for fear of creating a scene that would seriously compromise the solemnity and dignity of the Mass. So, as quickly and as quietly as possible, I returned the little darling to her mother, secured a couple of facial tissues from the “baby bag”, and retraced my steps to the scene of the “crime” and retrieved the “mass deposit” that Beverly had innocently left in the center aisle for all to see. Little did I know that it would be Beverly who would make the floor “dirty” and not the other way around!  And, I could see from the looks on the faces of all those devout  little old ladies that it was all they could do to keep from bursting into laughter themselves.

I have to admit that we were eager for the Mass to end, so that we could get out of there and give vent to our pent-up laughter; it really was a hoot! And God still laughs to this day every time I tell this story. If you listen carefully, you can hear Him now. He’s the one with the deep-pitched, booming laughter.

(For more articles on TRUE TALES, click HERE)