“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” – 1 John 2:19
Can Believers Voluntarily Abandon Their Faith?
Joshua Harris is a 44-year-old “Superstar Christian” and author of the bestselling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, in which he argues for parent-involved courtship of young adults. Harris went on to pastor a suburban Maryland “megachurch” before dropping out to go to seminary. Recently, Harris wrote on Instagram. “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ and the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
Marty Sampson is a writer of several popular contemporary Christian worship songs and a worship leader at Hillsong Church in Australia. On August 10, 2019, he publicly stated that he was “losing his faith” in an Instagram post. Sampson initially clarified that he had not “renounced” his faith but was “struggling with many parts of the [Christian] belief system.” Then, subsequently, on August 23, 2019, Sampson wrote that he no longer identified as a Christian.”
Paul Maxwell, the author of “Desiring God,” is yet another high-profile Christian personality to renounce his faith. Maxwell said on his Instagram feed: “What I really miss is connection with people. What I’ve discovered is that I’m ready to connect again. And I’m kind of ready not to be angry anymore. I love you guys, and I love all the friendships and support I’ve built here. And I think it’s important to say that I’m just not a Christian anymore….”
Did Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson, Paul Maxwell, and countless others voluntarily renounce their salvation? Were they once Christians, but now, as Paul Maxwell states, [he’s] “just not a Christian anymore“?
The Doctrine of The Perseverance of the Saints
One of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is known as the “Perseverance of the Saints.” Commonly known as “once truly saved, always saved.”
Security is not some obscure doctrine, as there are numerous scriptural verses that state our salvation is sure.
For example, John 10:28 claims, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:13-14 “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.” Psalm 31:23 “Love the Lord, all you His saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.”
The Bible is clear: true believers are preserved and cannot lose their salvation.
The question then is, if a believer cannot involuntarily lose their faith, can they voluntarily abandon it?
False Christians Who Were Not Really Of Us
The Bible directly addresses this falling-away concept in 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they were of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out so that it would be manifested that they all are not of us.”
In Matthew 13:3-9, the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, Christ talks about a farmer’s seed that falls beside the road, on rocky places, among the thorns, and upon the good soil. In Matthew 13:19-23, He explains that the seed is the “word” and that the four locations represent men’s response to the gospel call.
- Beside the road – they hear the word but do not understand it as the evil one snatches it away.
- On rocky places – they hear and receive the word with joy, but it has no roots, and they immediately fall away when affliction or persecution arises.
- Among the thorns – they hear, but the world’s worry and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and they become unfruitful.
- On the good soil – they hear the word, understand it, and bear fruit.
We must recognize that those who temporarily receive the word in rocky places and among the thorns may look like Christians, but they eventually realize they are not believers and leave the church. These are often called “rocky road” or false Christians. With all the seeds falling beside the road, on rocky places, and among the thorns, only the seed falling on good soil results in true believers.
What Then Does “Falling Away” Mean?
But, we read about “falling away” in Hebrews 3:12-13, which warns, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Who are these that are “falling away”?
The phrase “unbelieving heart” should give this away; these are unbelieving false Christians. The falling away or loss of faith describes the continual hardening of their heart despite the gospel exhortations of repentance and faith. Additionally, if you continue with Hebrews 3:19, it confirms that those falling away are departing due to their unbelief; “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
This warning gets even more intense further on in Hebrews 6:4-6, where it states, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God….”
This speaks directly to those who have “tasted the goodness of the word” (heard the gospel) and “have fallen away” (rejected it). Therefore, God has nothing more to offer beyond a crucified Christ.
Who are these people? They may have grown up in church families, conducted worship services, written a religious book, been a member of any number or types of churches, or maybe even pastored a congregation but rejected Christ and His offer of salvation. They have tasted the truth and acted like Christians, but have not truly repented and believed; they are unbelievers.
God promises to hold on to us, but as true believers, we are both to test ourselves to ensure that we are indeed saved (2 Peter 1:10 “…be all the more diligent to make your calling and choosing sure; for in doing these things, you will never stumble”) and continue to grow in our sanctification through obedience to God’s word (1 Peter 2:2 “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation”).
God also pledges to discipline His children who refuse to grow. Hebrews 12:6 reminds us, “For those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He flogs every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:8 continues, “But if you are without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” God distinguishes between true and false believers.
True believers can never lose their salvation, either involuntarily or voluntarily. The reason is simple: salvation is the gift of a sovereign God, and He promises to preserve it. Those who discover they are “just not a Christian anymore” fail to recognize that “they never were a Christian.”
Next week, we’ll discuss The Great Deception: Shedding Light on Those Who Think They Are True Believers (but Aren’t).