On Tithes, Offerings and Psalm 50

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On Tithes, Offerings and Psalm 50

James R. Aist

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Old Testament practice of “tithing” applies to the New Testament church, that is, to you and me. I used to believe that it does, and, in the past, I have referenced Malachi 3:8-10 in support of that viewpoint while soliciting, as a Pastor, “tithes” and offerings during church services.

Later on, I began to question this practice and conducted my own research into the matter, starting with the Old Testament. Here are the most pertinent points from that investigation: 1) the “tithe” in the Old testament was God’s way of providing for the priests, who had no land inheritance from which to make their own living; 2) this “tithe” was one-tenth of the increase from the harvest; and 3) the “tithe” was not optional, but compulsory, both in the amount and the timing. In fact, it was so compulsory that God said that if one did not pay the full amount at the designated intervals, one was robbing God (Malachi 3:8-10)! That is a most serious and solemn indictment, and it was a non-negotiable requirement of the system of tithing before Jesus came on the scene.

Then I moved on to the New Testament, where I came to realize the following: 1) the “tithe” is mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23), but as a requirement for Jews, not Christians; 2) instead, we are told to give according to our means, whatever amount we purpose in our own hearts, and to do so cheerfully and without compulsion (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:10-12 and 9:7). Moreover, we are instructed, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay in store, as God has prospered him, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Here again, we see instruction to give according to our means, but also to set aside our “increase” so that it will actually be available to give freely when the time comes, without having to be asked for it! That is good stewardship of our finances.

These instructions for “giving” bear little resemblance to the Old Testament system of the “tithe.” In my opinion, if “tithing” was to be a carry-over from the Old Testament, then the New Testament would have made reference to it concerning Christians, especially gentile Christians. But, it does not. When Jesus came, He ushered in a new and a better system of giving, one based not on compulsion, but on willing, “thankful hearts” (cf. Psalm 50:14-15). Where hearts have been changed by Jesus, giving is not a duty, but a blessing (Acts 20:35) and a privilege, and a sign of faith in God’s provision (Philippians 4:19)! In my opinion, it is inappropriate to invoke the Old Testament tithing system to coerce, as it were, giving by Christians. That amounts to giving with, not without, compulsion. That said, giving one-tenth of your increase to the Lord is the only mathematical formula in the Bible as a target amount for giving, and that seems to me to be a reasonable, minimal target for the New Testament church.

While I’m on the topic, there are several other issues I have concerning how “tithes” and offerings may be wrongly solicited. First, it has become an occasional practice, in some Christian circles, to declare that “God doesn’t need your money”, just before asking you to give Him your money! That makes no sense at all to me, zero. Then, Psalm 50:7-13 may be cited to lend biblical support to the idea that God doesn’t need your money. The problem here is that there is not one word in these verses concerning the giving of “tithes and offerings”; it is only about “ritual sacrifices and burnt offerings”, which is a whole different matter. So, does God need your money? The answer to this question is both “No” and “Yes.” For God to exist and function as God, it is true that He does not need our money, as Psalm 50:9-13 clearly implies. But, for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to be accomplished, He does need our money, by His own design; enlisting us to get it done requires money, and lots of it. The second issue I have in this context has to do with trying to purchase the blessings of God with an offering. If you are admonished to “not come to the altar ’empty handed’ if you expect to receive a blessing from God”, then you may want to just keep your money and leave. God already wants to prosper us (Psalm 35:27), and He is not in the extortion business! And third, I believe it is a mistake to pronounce a “pass” on giving to those who are barely able to make ends meet just to break even at the end of the month. Why? Because God has promised to reward everyone who gives with more than they have given (Luke 6:38). So, when you excuse the poor from giving – even a small coin that they really can do without – you are getting in the way of a blessing of increase that God wants to provide for them also. After all, they are the very ones who need such an increase the most, are they not?

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

The God of “New Things”

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The God of “New Things”

James R. Aist

“Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. See, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not be aware of it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a)

The more I study the Bible, the more I am impressed with the value and importance of gaining a greater perspective on the nature and ways of God. Isaiah wrote, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). My belief is also that God’s ways are higher than our thoughts. Throughout the history of mankind, from the Garden of Eden until now, God has been at work doing things that He has never done before, things that mankind has never heard of before, things that mankind could not have even imagined He might do. These “new things” always surprise us, but God has His entire plan in His mind already, for He declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-11). The purpose of my writing this article is to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is, in fact, the God of “new things”, that He has already done many “new things”, that He is doing “new things” now, that He will continue to do “new things”, and that we need not be afraid to embrace and participate in these “new things.” In fact, God characteristically invites us to join Him in some of the “new things” He is doing today. Now, let’s take a brief look at some of these “new things”, in order to gain a clearer perspective on this important characteristic of our God.

First, let’s consider a few of the “new things” that God has already done, beginning with the Old Testament:

  • God creates Eve from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-22);
  • God sends “bread” from heaven (Exodus 16:11-35);
  • God makes water gush from a rock (Numbers 20:11);
  • A burning bush is not consumed (Exodus 3:1-4);
  • A donkey speaks (Numbers 22:28);
  • A snake on a stick is used to heal snake bites (Numbers 21:8-9);
  • City walls suddenly tumble down under their own weight (Joshua 6:5).

Next, let’s have a look at some more of God’s “new things”, as recorded in the New Testament:

  • Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit, rather than by a man (Luke 1:35);
  • Two men walk on water (Matthew 14:25-26);
  • God the Father raises Jesus from the dead, without human involvement (Galatians 1:1);
  • The Holy Spirit begins to indwell believers as they are saved (Ezekiel 26:27, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 1 John 4:13-15);
  • The Holy Spirit is, henceforth, poured out on all people, not just a few Prophets (Acts 2:17);
  • Items of Paul’s clothing bring healing and deliverance, from a distance (Acts 19:12);
  • A coin from a fish’s mouth is used to pay the tax (Matthew 17:27); and,
  • Mud made from spit and dust is used to restore a man’s sight (John 9:5-7).

Finally, here are some of the “new things” that God will do in the future:

  • Jesus will come again, in the air, to gather the saints to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17);
  • Evildoers will be cut off and banished to the Lake of Fire forever (Psalm 7:9; Revelation 19:19-21; Revelation 20:10, 14-15);
  • God will create a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-5); and,
  • God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Do not fear, Only Believe

As you can see, the God of the Bible is, manifestly, the God of new things. In fact, everything God has ever done regarding mankind was a “new thing” at some point in history! So, when you encounter a supernatural manifestation, remember that it may really be of God, no matter how strange or bizarre or unnecessary it may seem to be. His ways are higher than our thoughts, and its just like God to do something that is new to us. By all means, test it to see if it is of God (click HERE), and if it is, then don’t be afraid to embrace it. After all, that’s what Jesus would do (John 5:19)!

After Words

Please don’t misunderstand, and assume that I am saying that God will do only “new things” going forward; I am not. Of course He will continue to do many of the things that He has done in the past. For example, God will always be faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), the Father still draws sinners to Jesus (John 6:44), God still works in the saints to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and Jesus still baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). God Himself does not change (Malachi 3:6), and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). But, He is not confined to doing in the future only those things that He has done in the past. To believe otherwise is to put God in a box, and such a god is not the God of the Bible.

(To read more of my Bible-themed articles, click HERE.)

Prophecy in the New Testament Church

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Prophecy in the New Testament Church

James R. Aist

In the last days it shall be,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even on My menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

Introduction

It is not my intention here to attempt a comprehensive treatise on prophecy. Others more qualified and authoritative than I am have already done that. Mine is more of an introductory level treatment encompassing personal research and commentary that I have been motivated to explore, assemble and record here, for what it’s worth. Nor will I get deep into the ongoing controversy concerning whether or not prophecy is for today. Suffice it to say that the Scripture verses quoted above say that prophecy is for the Last Days, in which we live. Moreover, a great many born-again Christians, including myself, bear witness to the operation of prophecy in the Christian church today, so my interest lies mostly in understanding it and practicing it, insofar as God gives it to me and to my contemporaries of like faith.

Before Pentecost, God spoke to His chosen people, Israel, through a select, few individuals called “prophets” (Hebrews 1:1), who spoke to the people for God through the working of the Holy Spirit. The punishment for giving a false prophecy was, at that time, extremely severe, even death. But, at Pentecost, God did a “new thing”: He began to pour out His Spirit on all believers, not just a few, chosen prophets, such that all became eligible to prophesy. The old order of communication through a chosen few was replaced by a new order of communication through, potentially, all who would put their faith and trust in Jesus. Apparently, false prophecies were no longer to be punished by the death of the one prophesying; rather, the hearers were to judge the prophecies as to whether or not they were of God, and to firmly hold onto what is good. But, this does not mean that God is no longer offended by false prophecies. Pentecostal theology teaches that there is now sufficient grace to cover false prophecies, but if God were not still offended by them, why would grace be required in the first place? After all, false prophecies, being not really from God, are lies perpetrated about God, are they not, regardless of the good intentions of the prophet?

This “new thing” that God did ushered in a major prophecy makeover that is still in effect today. So, then, what is prophecy in the modern Christian church, and how can we judge whether or not the prophecies are of God?

A Pentecostal Definition of “Prophecy”

Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. has defined prophecy as “A spontaneous manifestation of God’s grace, received by revelation, (sometimes as a vision, at other times as impressions or thoughts) and spoken by the Spirit through a Christian who has been given a gift of prophecy in the language of those who hear the prophetic word spoken.” Such definitions apply specifically to prophecy in a meeting of a church body. In the New Testament, preaching and prophecy are two separate and distinct operations, although preaching can, and often does, incorporate prophetic messages.

From this definition, we can see that there are three things that must happen in order for the prophetic process to be complete: First, the Holy Spirit must give the gift of prophecy to a Christian of His choosing; second, the Holy Spirit must give to that person a revelation from God; and third, the revelation must then be spoken to those whom God wants to hear it. Thus, true prophecy is initiated by the Holy Spirit and manifests first as a revelation given by the Holy Spirit. The one prophesying then turns the revelation into a prophecy by speaking it to those who hear. In other words, the Holy Spirit operates the prophecy, while the human being merely co-operates with the Holy Spirit in the process.

Regarding the aspect of spontaneity in prophecy, let me first point out that spontaneity is commonly present as an element of true prophecy in the definitions of most Pentecostal and charismatic writers. As you will see in the Bible passages below, with true prophecy, the spontaneity is in the giving of the revelation to the human being, which is according to the will of the Holy Spirit, not the will of the human being. However, there appears to be flexibility in when the revelation is to be shared with those who are to hear it: if the revelation comes during the meeting, then it is to be given as soon as possible during the meeting. But if the revelation comes before the meeting, then one is to wait until the meeting has begun and then give it at an appropriate time.

Bible Passages on “Prophecy” in the Christian Church (with my personal commentaries in italics):

Acts 2:17-18 ‘In the last days it shall be,’ says God, ‘that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

All true believers are eligible to prophesy, because God has poured out His Spirit on all flesh. But, 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that they can only do so if/when the Holy Spirit chooses to use them in this way.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.  Examine all things. Firmly hold onto what is good. Abstain from all appearances of evil.

Examine all prophecies to see if they are from God. Accept those that pass the tests, and reject those that do not. The tests are the written word of God and the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits. Note that there is no explicit judgment of the prophet and no punishment specified for delivering a false prophecy…only grace, instead, according to Pentecostal Theology. But remember, that does not mean that we should celebrate false prophecies and take even more risks in prophesying, any more than we should “…continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2).

2 Peter 1:20-21 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of the Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy at any time was produced by the will of man, but holy men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

True prophecy does not proceed from the will or the imagination of human beings. Instead, people are moved by the Holy Spirit to relay a message from God. The Holy Spirit, not a human being, initiates and operates the process.

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Do not just believe that everything a prophet says is from God, really is from God; there are many false prophecies being floated around. Rather, test every prophecy and decide for yourself if it is from God. This rule applies to even the most famous and esteemed of “prophets.” The tests are the written word of God and the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits.

1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.

Paul is about to teach the Corinthians all they (and we) need to know about prophecy in the Christian church body. [If he were to leave out any essential information, then the Corinthians (and we) would still be ignorant after learning all that Paul teaches here.]

1 Corinthians 12:6 There are various operations, but it is the same God who operates all of them in all people.

It is the Holy Spirit, not the human being, who operates the gift of prophecy. We just co-operate with the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:10 …to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.

Note that “discerning of spirits” follows immediately after “prophecy” in this list. Perhaps this order of mention was meant to imply that to effectively “test the spirits to see if they are from God,” one needs to exercise the gift of “discerning of spirits.” The test of the written word of God should always be applied also. The gift of prophecy is not given to all Christians as a result of their conversion; rather, it is distributed only to some, according to the will of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:10 But that one and very same Spirit works all these, dividing to each one individually as He will.

It is the Holy Spirit, not a human being, who distributes the gift of prophecy (cf. Hebrews 2:4) as He wills, and then He works them Himself. Prophecy doesn’t “just happen”; the Holy Spirit, not a human being, initiates the process by giving someone with the gift of prophecy a revelation from God.

1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after love and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

Of all of the spiritual gifts, prophecy is the one most to be desired. (One may wonder, then, if maybe some of the time and energy we Pentecostals have been focusing on the gift of tongues might have been better spent on the gift of prophecy. I’m just sayin’.)

1 Corinthians 14:3 But he who prophesies speaks to men for their edification and exhortation and comfort.

Apparently, these are the three main purposes that God has in mind for giving us prophecy revelation in and for the church body.

1 Corinthians 14:5 I desire that you all speak in tongues, but even more that you prophesy. For greater is he who prophesies than he who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edification.

Not only is prophecy greater than tongues, but the prophet is greater than the tongues speaker, unless there is an interpretation. A message in tongues with interpretation in a church meeting is a revelation from God to edify those present; it is man-ward directed, whereas tongues spoken privately is God-ward directed to give praise and glory to God.

1 Corinthians 14:12 So, seeing that you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church. (cf. Young’s Literal Translation: “So also ye, since ye are earnestly desirous of spiritual gifts, for the building up of the assembly seek that ye may abound.”)

I see in this verse something that goes beyond just “…earnestly desire to prophesy.” What I see here is a call to action, an instruction for us to make every effort to get better at discerning the voice of God, so that our prophecies are true. Thus, teaching about prophecy that is aimed at improving our ability to discern the voice of God may be both biblical and encouraged. (Caution: In my opinion, prophecy practice sessions are suspect at best, because they are based on the false teaching that it is a human being, not the Holy Spirit, who initiates the process of prophecy. See 2 Peter 1:20-21, above.)

1 Corinthians 14:24-25 But if all prophesy and there comes in one who does not believe or one unlearned, he is convinced by all and judged by all. Thus the secrets of his heart are revealed. And so falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

Pentecostal Theology holds that “…the secrets of his heart…” refers to hidden sins. According to this view, prophecies in the church body can convict a hearer of sin.

1 Corinthians 14:26 When you come together, every one of you has a psalm, a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, and an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

Tongues, with interpretation, is for the edification of the whole church, just like prophecy is.

1 Corinthians 14:29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.

All present at the meeting are to listen to the prophecy, and judge what is said (to decide if it is from God). There is no mention of judgment of, or punishment for, the prophet if the prophecy is found to be false. Instead, according to Pentecostal Theology, there is grace to cover these human failures. But, that does not mean that we should celebrate false prophecies and take even more risks in prophesying, any more than we should “…continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1-2). The two main tools that we have to judge prophecies are the written word of God and the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits.

1 Corinthians 14:30 If anything is revealed to another that sits by, let the first keep silent.

Some prophecy revelations are received during the meeting, and these are to be given priority in the order of presentation at the meeting.

1 Corinthians 14:31 For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

Prophecies are to be given one after another, not while others are being given, so that all of the prophecies may be heard and judged by all, and all may be encouraged.

1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that what I am writing you is a command of the Lord.

Paul has received these instructions directly from Jesus, so his teaching here about prophecy in the church body is, itself, a true prophecy. It is not subject to challenge.

General Commentary: Notice that all of these verses pertain specifically to the use of the gift of prophecy in the assembly of the saints for the edification of all assembled. Nothing is said here of either revelations about individuals, or whether or not we are to share such personal revelations with anybody. I am presently of the opinion that revelations from God about individuals are just words of knowledge to be kept to oneself, unless God instructs you to share the revelation with the individual or a group, in which case it then becomes a prophecy, by definition. I have yet to find in the Bible any instruction or permission to share God-given personal information about an individual to any group of people (e.g., a small group or class within a church body, an entire church body, a conference or convention of “prophets, a TV audience, a book audience, the internet, etc.). Pentecostal Theology commonly refers to revelations from God about and for individuals as one example of “Rhema.” (For a sound, biblical teaching by Watchman Nee on the Rhema word, see text pages 51-59 at this link: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/bfa-media/ebooks/TGC-eng.pdf)

Now I am going to tread briefly into an area of the current practice of prophecy (what I call the “modern prophecy movement”) with which I am, perhaps, less familiar. The New Testament clearly presented to the New Testament church the acceptable parameters and practices for true prophecy at that time. But, is God limited today by what He prescribed for the New Testament church regarding prophecy, or is He free to do another “new thing” now, if He wants to? The Bible says that God is in heaven and does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). So, I am currently of the opinion that God may be doing some new, “new things” regarding prophecy in His church, but only insofar as they do not contradict or violate what is written in the New Testament. God does not contradict Himself. So, our challenge and our charge today is to not quench the Holy Spirit as we test the spirits of prophecy and prophets to see if they are of God. And, I believe God would not require this of us if He would not enable us to do it. That said, I strongly recommend that we proceed with very careful scrutiny and great caution in evaluating where the new things in contemporary prophecy are coming from. Just because something is supernatural doesn’t necessarily mean it is of God; it could be of Satan, instead. Unfortunately, for many who are engaged in the modern prophecy movement, “prophecy” has become not only God speaking to man, but includes man speaking to objects and situations (e.g., word of faith, positive confession, fleshly predictions, guesses, name it and claim it, etc.). In this view, any believer can, of his own volition, declare things that are not as though they are, an attribute that the Bible applies only to God (Isaiah 46:11; Romans 4:17). Such a practice is clearly outside of any biblical definition of “prophecy”, was not what Peter had in mind in quoting the prophet Joel in Acts 2:17-18, and trivializes and grossly misrepresents the true meaning of “prophecy.” If it didn’t originate with God, then it is not prophecy, by definition; call it something else, please.

How to Recognize False Teachers and False Prophets

Unfortunately, there are many false teachers and false prophets in the present day Christian church, as Jesus warned us there would be (Matthew 24:11). To help us be prepared to recognize them as we encounter them, I have compiled the following list of Bible verses, with my personal commentaries:

  1. There will be many others like them (Matthew 24:11 and 1 John 4:1)
  2. By their own will they will produce prophecies (2 Peter 1:21)
  3. They will appear to be Christians; ie., they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15)
  4. They will bear evil fruit (e.g., false prophecies) (Matthew 7:16-20)
  5. They will not endure (i.e., abide in) sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3)
  6. They will gather to themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires (e.g., Prophecy Conventions?) (2 Timothy 4:3)
  7. They will teach what men, having “itching ears”, are eager to hear (2 Timothy 4:3)
  8. They will turn from the truth to myths (2 Timothy 4:4)
  9. They will be out of control (2 Timothy 4:5)
  10. They will manifest signs and wonders to deceive even the elect (Matthew 24:24)
  11. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1; Jeremiah 23:14)
  12. Many will follow their ways (2 Peter 2:2)
  13. They will blaspheme the way of truth (2 Peter 2:2)
  14. They will be presumptuous and arrogant (2 Peter 2:10)
  15. They will revel in their own deception (2 Peter 2:13)
  16. They will forsake the right way (2 Peter 2:15)
  17. They will speak arrogant words of vanity (2 Peter 2:18)
  18. They will promise “freedom” (2 Peter 2:19)
  19. They will speak lies in hypocrisy (1 Timothy 4:2)
  20. They will put their own words into God’s mouth (Jeremiah 23:16)

After Words

No one will find it enjoyable to label a prominent personality in Christendom a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but the many warnings in the New Testament about false teachers, false prophets and false doctrines in the end times are there for a reason and demand our careful attention and appropriate action. We are instructed in the New Testament to test all of these teachings and prophecies to see if they are from God…or not. God’s written word, or logos, is a test that should always be applied. The spiritual gift of discerning of spirits is also available to us and can be used to determine what is and is not from God. If you are not prepared, or willing, to make such determinations, as the Bible instructs us to do (Ephesians 4:11-16), then I challenge you to prepare yourself and muster the courage of your convictions to speak out so that others will not be fooled by the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” that you encounter. In my opinion, there is no better way than this for us to “defend the faith.”

Further Reading: If you are interested in further exploring the topic of prophecy in contemporary Christianity, I highly recommend “What does the New Testament really say about the gift of prophecy?” by Eddie Hyatt (click HERE).

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

 

 

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.

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