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.)

How Could Jesus Have Been Born “Immaculate”?

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How Could Jesus Have Been Born “Immaculate”?

 James R. Aist

When Adam chose to believe Satan instead of God  and sinned (Genesis 3), two things happened that have affected all subsequent generations of mankind (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3; Romans 5:12; Romans 5:17; and 1 Peter 1:18-19), not through a direct, genetic (biological) inheritance as we know it, but by a mysterious, spiritual inheritance that is associated with biological reproduction. First, we took on a “sin nature” (Colossians 3:9-10), or a predisposition to sin, that has been passed down to all subsequent generations, including ours. We have “inherited”, so to speak, from Adam, a “sin nature”, an inborn desire to reject God’s provision and follow our own path in life. This predisposition to sin is so pervasive as to render us, in our “natural-born” state, in rebellion against, and at enmity with, God. And second, we share in the guilt of the original sin of Adam that has been passed down to all of his descendants, because Adam was the representative of all mankind in his rebellion against God, just as Jesus, the second Adam, is the representative of all of Adam’s descendants who believe and trust in Him for their salvation (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

This sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin that we are all born with present a dilemma that may seem irresolvable at first glance: the Lamb of God (Jesus) had to be “immaculate”; that is, without spot or blemish (1 Peter 1:19), entirely free of sin, the sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin. So, how did Jesus escape inheriting the sin nature and the guilt of Adam’s original sin at His conception? All agree that Jesus did not inherit these from His Father, the Holy Spirit. But, what about Mary?

Let’s begin with the Roman Catholic solution to this dilemma.  According to Roman Catholic doctrine, Mary did not ever have a sin nature or guilt of original sin because of the direct intervention of God; Mary was immaculate as a divine privilege. Of course, there is no clear, unequivocal biblical evidence to confirm this view. It appears to me that the Roman Catholic Church invented this doctrine to resolve the dilemma, because they could not discover, in either the Bible or in Roman Catholic tradition, any other suitable resolution. Apparently, the main Bible verse they use is Genesis 3:15, which says “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” They claim that this verse refers to a battle between Mary and Satan, but a natural reading of the verse indicates that the actual battle will be, instead, between Jesus and Satan. Nonetheless, if God did, in fact, solve this dilemma in this way, then it is not for us to declare otherwise apart from the biblical witness.

Another solution, associated with Protestantism, posits that the sin nature and the guilt of original sin are inherited from Adam, generation to generation, through the fathers only, as seems to be implied by Romans 5:17 and 1 Peter 1:18-19 when taken together: Since Jesus did not have a human father to pass the sin nature and the guilt of original sin on to Him (His father was the Holy Spirit) and the sin nature and the guilt of original sin are inherited through the fathers only, then He could not have inherited either the sin nature or any guilt of Adam’s sin. Once He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, He would automatically be the Lamb of God “without spot or blemish” (1 Peter 1:19). Problem solved. I have addressed this viewpoint more fully elsewhere (click HERE), and it does have its foundation in the biblical witness.

But, there is yet another feasible solution to the dilemma that I believe may be even more strongly and clearly supported by the biblical witness. This explanation requires knowledge and understanding that the Jewish followers of God, such as Abraham (and, for our purposes, Mary)  had an opportunity to go to Heaven based on their looking ahead to the price to be paid by the Messiah for their sins (based on Old Testament messianic prophesies), just as we today have an opportunity to go to heaven by looking back to the price paid by the Messiah, Jesus, for our sins (based on New Testament fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophesies). (For a more complete exposition of this biblical teaching, click HERE).

Now, to fully understand this third explanation, I will have to elaborate a bit, so bear with me if you will. Before Mary conceived, an angel spoke to her concerning who Jesus would be: “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Listen, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God. Mary said, “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be unto me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:30-35, 38).”

The first point I want you to see here is that, in effect, the angel preached “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” to Mary: 1) He will be the promised Savior (The name “JESUS” means “savior” or “God saves.” See also: Matthew 1:21, “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”); 2) The Holy Spirit will be His father; and 3) therefore, He will be the Son of God. The second point is that, when Mary responded with “May it be unto me according to your word,” she was expressing agreement with, not only becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but also with everything the angel had said concerning Jesus. Thus, it seems that Mary may have been the first person in the New Testament to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accept it by faith. The third point is that Mary apparently was saved before Jesus was conceived. This is a critical point, because, if this is true, then, when she was born again through her faith in Jesus, she instantly “became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith”, the righteousness of God in Christ (Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11:7; Romans 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, before Jesus was conceived, Mary may have already believed in Him (Luke 1:38) and, if so, she was already the righteousness of God in Christ and could not have passed on to Jesus either any guilt of Adam’s sin or a sin nature.

The gist of this explanation is that, if Mary was, in fact, saved before she became pregnant with Jesus, then there was no avenue whereby either the sin nature or the guilt of Adam’s original sin could have been passed on to Jesus, because  Mary’s new nature in Christ (2 Peter 1:4 speaks of the  “divine nature” of those who believe in Christ) would have already replaced her original sin nature (Colossians 3:9-10) and her righteousness of God in Christ would have erased her guilt of Adam’s original sin before He was conceived. If this explanation is, indeed, true and valid, then it’s a good thing the angel preached the Gospel to Mary before Jesus was conceived!

The “take home message” of this article is this, that one way or another, God saw to it that when Jesus was conceived, He was free of both the guilt of Adam’s original sin and of the sin nature. Add to that a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) and we have a biblical explanation of how, when Jesus died on the cross, He could bear the sins of others (i.e., us). If He had had sins of His own to bear, then He would have died for His own sins, and our sins would still not be forgiven. In which case, it would not end well for us who believe and trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls!

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

Settling Matters with God

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Settling Matters with God

James R. Aist

When the times are tough and you don’t know why,

So you cry out to God “Please, help me to see”,

Is the silence you get just a heavenly sigh,

Or, is He saying “Dear child, trust fully in me”?

Often we are slammed with trials and tribulations in this life. When that happens, we may be tempted to ask God, “Why did you allow this?” But, when we really know God well enough, all He really needs to say is, “Trust Me, my child.” We must walk in this fallen world by faith, trusting God our heavenly Father to know what’s best for us and that He will do it. To do this, we need to settle some core issues with God “once and for all”, so that we are no longer double-minded, easily tossed to and fro like a leaf in the wind whenever confronted by the trials and tribulations that are inevitable in this life (John 16:33).

Now, what do I mean by “settling matters?” A wise friend of mine once said, “When you find the truth, stop looking for it!” So, when you have searched out and discovered the truth about these matters, it’s time to stop searching for the truth and move on. Just believe the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and make peace with it. Don’t keep asking over and over again the same questions you have already found the answers to. Consider these things to be settled between you and God.

What, then, are some of the most important matters that we, as born-again Christians, must settle with God in order to ride out the storms of life without losing our peace and our joy as God’s chosen people? Here is a short list that I have come up with:

The Bible is God’s word. I can trust the Bible to be the authentic word of God to me. It is God-breathed (or inspired) by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16), not a fanciful invention of mere mortals (2 Peter 1:16). In the Bible, God says what He means and means what He says. This is where I should look first and foremost for answers to the important questions about truth, morality, myself, my future and God (2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12).

God is sovereign. He is the creator of the universe (Colossians 1:16), and He rules and reigns over everything (Exodus 15:18). With God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus claimed to be the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16), and God the Father identified Him as “…my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17). Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6), and no one comes to Jesus unless the Father draw him (John 6:44). Jesus is the Messiah, the promised savior of the world (1 John 4:14). As a born-again Christian, I know that I have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

God loves me. I am created in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) to be in personal relationship and loving fellowship with Him (1 John 1:3). My true destiny (i.e., the reason God created me in the first place) is to honor, praise and worship God and to obey Him in all things. He hears and answers my prayers (Psalm 143:1). I am so important to God that He sent His only begotten Son (Jesus) to die for my sins, making peace with me forever (John 3:16). He loves me with a steadfast, everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

God is on my side. Through His gift of faith in Jesus Christ, God has made peace with me (Romans 5:1); I am no longer subject to the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Jesus calls me “friend” (John 15:15) and “brother/sister” (Mark 3:35), and I am His co-heir (Romans 8:17)! God actually takes pleasure in making me prosper (Psalm 35:27).

God is faithful. God does not change (Malachi 3:6), and He is not a liar (Numbers 23:19). He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). What He has promised me He will do (Isaiah 46:11b; Hebrews 6:13-15).

God owns me. Since I am a born-again Christian, God owns me (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). His claim on my life is His right, and my life is His to do with as He pleases. I am no longer living for myself, but for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15). I am God’s servant. I have made peace with these realities.

God will reward me. He has promised me that, as one of His chosen ones, my eternal destiny is an everlasting life in heaven with Him (John 3:16), a rightful inheritance that is full of glory, full of peace that passes all understanding and full of joy unspeakable (Ephesians 1:18). And, He has given me His Holy Spirit as a guarantee that He will, in fact, fulfill this, the greatest of His promises (2 Corinthians 1:22). The value of this glorious future reward far outweighs any trial or tribulation that God allows me to suffer in this life (Romans 8:18).

So, here is the conclusion of it all. When you have settled these matters in your mind and in your spirit, once and for all trusting God no matter what happens, then, when the storms of life assail you, your “anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:13-20), — i.e., your trust in God — will hold, and, in your spirit, you will be able to live in peace and joy even as you are being buffeted in your soul/mind and body by the storms. Let me illustrate this point with an analogy. Picture a sailing ship anchored close to shore. When a storm arises, the wind will come with a fury and try to break the chain and set the ship loose from its anchor, driving it to a place where it shouldn’t go. You are that ship. Your faith is the chain that keeps the ship connected to the anchor. Your soul/mind naturally does its best to resist and withstand the storm, but it is the anchor that enables you to stay put until the storm passes. Your trust in God is the anchor, and it enables your spirit to remain stationary, calm and at peace while the storm rages. You no longer have a need to ask “Why did this storm come?” You can simply trust that God has a good reason for allowing it, because you have already settled these matters with Him; you know Him.

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

What Is Jesus Waiting For?

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What Is Jesus Waiting For?

 James R. Aist

“Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were since the beginning of the creation.” – 2 Peter 3:4

Jesus promised that, one day, He would return, do away with evil deeds, punish evildoers forever, and establish His righteous and everlasting Kingdom on earth (Revelation 21:1-8). But, it’s been more than 2,000 years since He ascended into heaven, and still, He hasn’t come again as He promised. So, you may ask, as many others have (e.g., 2 Peter 3:3-4), “What in the world is He waiting for?” In this article I will try to shed some light on the answer to that question. As you read further, please bear in mind that the Bible mentions many things that will happen before the Second Coming, but most of these things do not relate directly to the purpose, or the “end game,” of His waiting. So, please bear in mind that here, I am focusing specifically on what it is that God is accomplishing by having Jesus wait.

To do that, I want to begin at the beginning. The evil that we witness or experience today has its origins in the original sin of Adam, which is commonly referred to as The Fall of Man (Genesis 3). As a result of The Fall, mankind has been separated from God, born with a sinful nature and living in a cursed creation ever since. At some level, all of the evil in the present world can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to this entry of sin into the world. This means that mankind, not God, is the root cause of evil in this fallen world, so, let’s be careful to not blame God for it. God will eradicate evil and restore righteousness to the earth some day.

But that begs the question, doesn’t it? Why does God continue to allow evil to continue when He has been planning to end it all along? My response to that question would be that He will end it when the time comes. So now we have arrived at the topic of this article: What is Jesus waiting for, anyway? I believe the Bible provides an answer, and I will try to explain it, but I can’t promise that it will satisfy you.

About the Second Coming, Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In context (2 Peter 1 and 3), “any”, “all” and “us”, refer specifically to born-again believers (2 Peter 1:1), the elect of God (2 Peter 1:10), so that a fuller exposition of the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9 would be, “…He does not want any (of His elect) to perish, but all (of His elect) to come to repentance.” Peter is saying that Jesus will not come again until all of His elect have repented and have been saved.

And Paul struck a similar note when he wrote, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, lest you be wise in your own estimation, for a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:25-26a). The phrase “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” is rendered a little differently in the various English translations, but I believe that the New Living Translation captures most clearly the full intent and meaning of the phrase thusly: …”until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ.” Thus, when the full number of Gentiles has been saved, then the partial hardening of Israel will be lifted, all Israel will be saved and end times events can proceed to completion, including the Second Coming.

Taken together, then, these two verses tell us that what Jesus is waiting for is the salvation of all God’s Gentile elect. And, from God’s perspective, this is, indeed, a very good reason for Jesus to wait, don’t you think?

There are a couple of related and supporting verses that also  should be noted here. One is Matthew 24:14, where Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” How does this relate to the topic at hand? Here’s how: It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world that will result in the salvation of all God’s Gentile elect, so that end times events can proceed to completion, including the Second Coming. The other verse is Romans 8:19-21, where Paul wrote, “The eager expectation of the creation waits for the appearance of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by the will of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The “appearance of the sons of God” will not be completed until the salvation of all God’s elect is accomplished, because these are “the sons of God”. Thus, the creation also is eagerly waiting for the same thing that Jesus is waiting for. Following that, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth”, and “the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption.”

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