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by Jacob Ninan
The Bible speaks about falling away from the faith and falling away from the living God (1Ti.4:1;He.3:12). Both are really the same, because one cannot be connected to God without faith.
However, people do not often realise that when they begin to lose faith they are also losing their connection with God. When a local church is a true functioning part of the body of Christ, falling away from the church is also the same as falling away from Christ. Perhaps if people realised what they are about to lose, they would be more careful.
The word used for falling away implies withdrawing oneself. It is not an accident. It is the result of many small decisions that led them further and further away from God. The more one draws away from God, the more one's spiritual senses become dull, and then one does not even realise that one is falling away from God.
But the initial symptoms may be: a little carelessness towards sins that one had once given up, a preoccupation with earthly honour, position or riches, a lack of interest in praying or reading the Bible, a little coldness towards other believers, unforgiving attitudes, a feeling of indifference, a lack of gratitude to the Lord for what He has done for us, increasing complaints against God and people, etc. At this stage, before one's senses become too dull, one can detect that one is going off in a wrong direction.
Try to imagine how Demas could have fallen away. He used to be a co-worker with Paul himself (2Ti.4:10). Paul was spearheading the greatest spiritual movement of that time on earth. Demas must have been, at one time, a very faithful man himself. Otherwise he could not have been along with the radical and wholehearted Paul. Yet he began to love the world, and soon he fell away. The chances are that he himself never thought that he had fallen away from the living God. Perhaps he felt that he was not so narrow minded like Paul, and that he was following a more balanced way of serving God. Nevertheless, if we understand anything of God's ways, we know that he lost out entirely. Demas did not realise that in moving away from Paul, he was also moving away from the work God was doing.
None of us really wants to fall away. Perhaps most of us also imagine that we are, on the contrary, really wholehearted in wanting to serve God. But it happens that some do fall away, and more will fall away (1Jn.2:18,19;Ac.20:29,30;Mt.24:10-13).
We know the Bible well enough to know that we cannot boast that we will never fall away. But how is it that we who do not want to fall away, and who want to live for God may still fall away?
We underestimate the weakness of the flesh. Those who fall are those who thought they would not fall (1Co.10:12). Otherwise they would have taken heed to themselves, and humbly sought for grace from God. Then they would have been kept from falling (1Ti. 4:16;He.5:7;Jude24). This is true of falling into any particular sin. It is also true of falling away. We don't recognise fully the deceitfulness of sin (He.3:13), the deceitfulness of riches (Mt.13:22), the deceitfulness of the heart (how easily it gets deceived) (Je.17:9), our inherent stupidity in spiritual matters (Je.4:22), the smallness of our knowledge (1Co.13:12), etc. Falling away begins in our thoughts. We begin to think much about what we would wish to have - money, pleasure, greatness in the world or the church, etc. At this time we may not want to go after any of these things, but may be only toying with such thoughts. Soon, these thoughts gain power in our minds (because we have given them importance), and we begin to make one small decision after another in that direction.
We ignore the small pangs of conscience because they are small. But perhaps some spiritually minded persons near us have already begun to notice a change in our life, and some may even warn us. But we think they are prejudiced against us because they seem to be making too much of a small matter. However, soon this feeling turns into an animosity which makes us believe that the others are out to find fault with us. Then, of course, all their sincere warnings and exhortations fall on deaf ears. Then we begin to draw back from people, thinking that nobody understands us, not realising that we are also falling away from God (1Jn.4:20).
There are others who fall away thinking that they have a special calling from God that no one else can understand. It is not that God does not call anybody with a special task. It is also not that others will always be able to understand they way God leads us. The question is what kind of spirit we have.
A proud and boastful spirit thinks no end of itself, and feels that it has nothing to learn from older and more spiritual brothers. But a humble man acknowledges that he knows only in part, and is glad to listen to others who can instruct him (1Co.13:12). Paul knew that it was possible that after he had preached to others he himself could lose out finally (1Co.9:27). Therefore, when he received a calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he checked with more experienced apostles whether he was mistaken in anything (Ga.2:2).
Many fall away from God because of some injustice or wrong that they imagine they have experienced or have actually experienced from others (Mt.24:13). Something that another person has done, said, or not done or said, causes bitterness to rise up in their hearts. In a short time they forget all the mercy they have received from God themselves. Even if these people are fully right in saying that the other person has done them wrong, their unwillingness to forgive disqualifies them from fellowship with God (Mt.18:35). This is one example of how difficult it is for the righteous (the one who is right in the situation) to be saved (1Pe.4:18). It also happens that this root of bitterness defiles many who are curious to find out what happened, and others who foolishly try to 'show their love' to the one who has fallen away (He.12:15).
Some fall away from the faith when they see some imperfection in others, perhaps in an elder brother. It is as if when another person has failed to live up to certain standards, it is a reasonable excuse for us also to fall. We hear people saying, for example, that they do not want to get baptised because certain others who are baptised are bad examples. If another person has done something wrong, why should we let that cause us also to do wrong? But the real reason is that people do not want to obey, and are only looking for an excuse.
We cannot say about all who leave the church that they have fallen away from God. There will always be wholehearted ones who leave a church that is dead, or going in the wrong direction. In fact, we are exhorted to do that (2Co.6:14-18;Re.18:4).
It is also possible that since any local church is only a partial representation of the body of Christ, that some who feel called of God for some other emphasis of church life may leave.
But all who fall away from the church with a wrong spirit also fall away from God. In this category are people who try to serve God and mammon, who want to continue with certain sins in their lives, who seek for leadership or a great name or ministry for themselves, who cannot forgive others or bear with them and accept them as they are, who cannot bear to receive correction, who cannot acknowledge their own sins or mistakes, and who cannot submit to spiritual authority. But it is very common that those who fall away either do not understand exactly why they fell away, or they try to justify themselves before men by attributing their action to some difference of opinion concerning doctrine, or some injustice suffered at the hands of someone in the church.
God, on His part, does not allow any one of His children to fall away without making every attempt on His part to prevent that. He warns, corrects, rebukes and chastises all those He loves. When a person finally falls away, it is only because he has refused to pay any attention to God's voice. Many feel that some particular incident has caused a person to get offended. But they forget the love and longsuffering of the Father who has been bearing patiently with him for a long time, and that it was He who finally allowed that incident to stumble him when He saw that he has turned away in his heart (Ez.3:20).
If we would only acknowledge the possibility that we could fall, and humbly pay heed to the small voice of the Holy Spirit, there is no reason why we should fall away. If we are fortunate enough to be in the midst of mature brothers who love us enough to warn us and correct us, we should be willing to receive such warnings and corrections thankfully. Then we shall endure till the end and be saved.
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