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Have I Fallen From Grace?

bibles

The question found in the title above terrified me in my early Christian years. And I suspect many other Christians agonize over whether or not they can fall from grace.

Sometimes I’d lie awake at night wondering if my recurring struggles with sin would keep me from heaven. I wondered if I had crossed the line to where the Bible says such a person has “fallen from Grace” (Galatians 5:4).

With every slip I’d find myself crushed under a load of fear–not guilt–but mind-numbing, heart-stopping terror that permeated every part of my being.

My biggest hope wasn’t for Jesus to come again, but that He wouldn’t! I didn’t want to see Him when I was so unsure of my relationship with Him.

Since that time I’ve learned better than to live in dread of meeting my Father. I’ve learned that God wants me to be secure in my relationship with Him. I know now that I will always-no matter where I am in my spiritual walk-be weighed by the scales of almighty God and found wanting except for one thing; God’s grace is greater than my sin. I don’t fear Jesus coming anymore; I long for it. But I don’t take comfort in the coming of the Lord because I’ve reached some mystical level of personal holiness transcending my normal Christian life: I take comfort in the secure belief that I am God’s forgiven child.

If you sometimes doubt your salvation and wonder if you have fallen from grace, I invite you to examine a few passages with me that I pray will bring you the same assurance they brought me.

RULED BY GREAT TRANSGRESSION

One of the greatest revivalists of our times lives in the small town of Searcy, Arkansas. God gifted Jimmy Allen to be a powerful preacher and tremendous evangelist. I admit that I hold some envy to the thousands of students who sat in his Bible classes at Harding University-especially those who studied Romans under him. My exposure to Jimmy was mostly as a member of the audience. At least that was my connection of him until, through His graciousness, God made it possible for me to be Jimmy Allen’s friend. Had it not been for the preaching of this man of God I don’t know how I would have found the security God longed for me to have. His preaching and teaching opened my eyes to God’s grace and my secure salvation.

One of the most interesting scriptures Jimmy quotes in his sermons on Christian security comes from the book of Psalms. I don’t think I would have ever seen its significance if Jimmy hadn’t shed light on it.

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” Psalm 19:12-13

The first kind of sin God mentions through David is a hidden fault. The word translated “discern” in that passage comes from a word that means to separate mentally or to distinguish. The word translated “hidden” means secret or covered up. David asks for forgiveness for a sin that the sinner doesn’t understand; a sin that is hidden from the transgressor, himself. David prays that God will forgive him of the sins ignorantly and/or unintentionally committed. He refers to them as concealed or secret and admits he carries no sense of them.

Does that mean that he operated in a DECEIVED spiritual state-recognizing neither legal nor personal guilt? Not at all. While he had no direct knowledge of his wrong (no awareness of specific legal guilt), David did feel an unspecified legal guilt and a measure of personal guilt. He was so sensitive to God that even when he didn’t know exactly what it was that he did, he, being AWARE, knew he had let God down and sought God’s forgiveness.

But it’s the second verse in that passage that applies more directly to our study. Contrasting them to unrealized sins, David prays about his willful sins. The word translated “willful” is the Hebrew word “zed.” It means presumptuous, arrogant, or proud. He asks God to keep his own arrogant, willful sins from ruling him.

We know arrogant, willful sin, don’t we? Even the best of us commit them occasionally. We know better and we do it anyway. David not only sought the forgiveness for those sins, he implored God, “may they not rule over me.” The Hebrew word translated “rule” in the passage means to dominate, govern, reign, or have dominion. David pleads with God to “keep your servant from” arrogant, willful sins and keep those arrogant, willful sins from dominating his life.

I relate to his pleading and I assume you do as well.

But here’s the fascinating part. Completing his request for deliverance from dominion by willful sins, David says, “then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” He says that as long as he isn’t ruled by willful sin, he stands blameless before God. Note carefully his language here. He didn’t say that committing a willful sin made him guilty of great transgression. He, instead, makes it clear that only if he is ruled by willful sin, will he be guilty of great transgression. As long as he isn’t ruled by willful sin, he is innocent.

That was a shocker for me when Jimmy preached it. Somehow I’d been taught or had inferred that one act of willful sin moved a person away from God. As you can imagine, there is constant fear in that understanding. Every Christian I’ve asked admits that he, at least occasionally, commits willful sin-sin that he knew better than to do. David boldly writes that willful sin doesn’t make one guilty of “great transgression.” He tells us that only if willful sin dominates a person is that person guilty.

That’s important to remember. Let’s put that into a chart so we can keep up with it as we continue our study by looking into other verses to see if this same principle is taught other places in the Bible. We’ll continue to fill the chart, looking for a pattern, as we proceed.

Act Result Act Result
Psalm 19:13 Not
ruled by willful sin.
Innocent
of great transgression
Ruled
by willful sin
Guilty
of great transgression

Although this passage is part of the Old Testament, I believe the principle continues into the New Testament. The language in the verses will vary but the concept remains constant.

FULL-GROWN SIN

In the practical book of James there is an admonition against sin that stands strong. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15

The genealogy of sin described here makes a wonderful study but we don’t have space for it here. The important section of this passage for our current consideration is that part describing the consequence of sin. James says full-grown sin gives birth to death. The koine Greek word here translated “full-grown” means “come to completion, be fully formed . . . when it has run its course.”

The word translated “death” is the Greek word “thanatos”. It is used in the Bible to refer to physical death but it is also used to refer to spiritual death, which is separation from God. As used in James it doesn’t refer to physical death as some would argue.

James isn’t saying to his Christian brothers that if they continue in sin until it becomes full-grown God will take their lives and bring them home. Instead, the word death as used in this passage means, “spiritual death, to which everyone is subject unless he has been called to the life of grace . . . This death stands in the closest relationship to sin: Romans 7:13b; James 1:15; 5:20 . . . This meaning cannot always be clearly distinguished from [eternal death] since spiritual death merges into [eternal death.]” Arndt and Gingrich, page 352

The scholars who study such words say that death in this passage refers to separation from God. Now, when does that separation occur? As soon as temptation comes? No. As soon as the sin is committed? No. It comes only when the sin is full-grown.

So, full-grown sin leads to spiritual death (“fallen from grace”). We can infer from that statement that the opposite is also true; that sin not yet full-grown doesn’t lead to spiritual death. In other words, sin not yet full-grown leaves a person in spiritual life. Let’s put that on our chart.

Act Result Act Result
Psalm 19:13 Not
ruled by willful sin.
Innocent
of great transgression
Ruled
by willful sin
Guilty
of great transgression
James
1:15
Sin
not full-grown
Spiritual
life
Sin
full-grown
Spiritual
death

Beginning to see a pattern here?

OVERCOME BY THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORLD

The next passage I ask you to consider with me is found in 2 Peter. Peter refers to false teachers for the first 18 verses of chapter two and then says of them:

“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity-for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” 2 Peter 2:19-21

If I ask a person who believes a Christian cannot fall from grace to explain how a particular person claiming Christianity can backslide into a sinful, unbelieving life, he responds, “That person wasn’t a Christian to begin with. He talked the talk but he didn’t walk the walk.”

Of course, he would have to draw that conclusion since he believes God will call a believer home through death before He would allow him to abandon Him. But this scripture refers to people who were Christians who did abandon God. Look how Peter describes them. He said “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.” They couldn’t have “left” the straight way if they’d never been on it. He also wrote that these people had “escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” That description cannot apply to a nonchristian. The people he’s talking about were definitely in the kingdom of God. Their relationship with Jesus had freed them from the world. Then he says of them that they had “known the way of righteousness” and later turned “their backs on the sacred command.” These people who deteriorated into sinful unbelief weren’t people who had never been Christians. He lets us know they were.

He explains to us that their spiritual dilemma resulted from being entangled by the corruption of the world and overcome. The word in verse 20 translated “overcome” means “be defeated, succumb to (by) a person or thing.” The process starts with the entwining entanglement of worldly sin. If a Christian becomes entangled and for some inexplicable reason doesn’t seek the deliverance of God but follows the “corrupt desires of the sinful nature,” that inexorably leads to the world’s corruption defeating him. What is the result of the defeat? Peter says the person becomes enslaved.

Enslaved?

Yes.

Note that word because it is the center of his teaching here. The point he emphasizes is found in the phrase “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” The word translated in verse 19 as “mastered” is that same Greek word that is translated in verse 20 as “overcome.” He’s describing people who have been defeated, overcome, mastered, and ruled by sin.

If this chapter were on the subtlety of sin, I’d love to spend a few pages describing that process of sinful entanglement-how it works and how to defeat it. But our purpose here is to see if God in His Bible is telling us something about our salvation.

God tells us through Peter that anyone overcome by (mastered by, defeated by) sin is worse off than he was at the beginning, before he knew Jesus. He no longer has righteousness. Frightening as that is, it also lets us know that every Christian who isn’t mastered by sin is righteous; he does know Jesus and is better off than he was before his conversion.

While there is a warning in that passage against allowing the corrupt desires of the sinful nature to take control, there is also a message of hope for us controlled by the Spirit of God.

I’ll summarize the teaching in this passage in our chart.

Act Result Act Result
Psalm 19:13 Not
ruled by willful sin.
Innocent
of great transgression
Ruled
by willful sin
Guilty
of great transgression
James
1:15
Sin
not full-grown
Spiritual
life
Sin
full-grown
Spiritual
death
2
Peter 2:19-21
Not
overcome by sin
Righteous;
better off than before conversion
Overcome
by sin
Not
righteous; worse off than before conversion

I think if you spend a few moments reflecting on this chart, the answer to the question we pursue becomes clear. But there is one more passage I ask you to consider.

HARDENED TO UNBELIEF BY SIN’S DECEITFULNESS

The last passage we’ll arrange on our chart is found in the book of Hebrews. The writer warned Christians to not follow the example of our Jewish “fathers” who followed Moses into the desert. They sought the “rest” to be found in the Promised Land but many of them never reached it. Their rebellious, hardened hearts eventually drove God to action. “That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”

The rest for the Jewish people following Moses would have come with their entry to the Promised Land. He considers a different kind of rest for us. In the first eleven verses of Hebrews four he discusses our rest as coming when we reach the “Sabbath rest” of heaven. Speaking of our heavenly rest he warns, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.”

Fallen short?

He’s warning us, through the example of the unfaithful who fell in the desert, that we should not allow our own unfaithfulness to keep us from heaven. He writes, “It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience”(Hebrews 4:6). Our disobedience can keep us out of our Sabbath rest, heaven, just as theirs kept them from their rest, the Promised Land.

We now quote the passage we’ll put on our chart. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” Hebrews 3:12-14

He calls the people to whom he addresses this admonition “brothers.” He implies that they are “with” God by warning them not to “turn away” from God. He warns them of the hardening effect on their heart that can result from sin’s deceitfulness. The fact that he warns them means their hearts weren’t yet hard. He makes it clear that they “share in Christ” and will continue to do so if they “hold firmly till the end the confidence” they had at first.

He addresses himself to Christians. Christians that God exhorts to continued faithfulness. Christians that He doesn’t want to turn from Him by sin-hardened hearts that lead to unbelief.

The word translated “unbelief” in this passage is also found in other passages in the New Testament. In Matthew 13:58 and Mark 6:6 it refers to those who don’t believe in the deity of Jesus. In Romans 11:20 it refers to the Jews’ lack of belief in God. In 1 Timothy 1:13 Paul uses it to describe his state before he became a Christian. It’s also used in koine Greek writings just after the New Testament was written. In early Christian writings it is “personified as one of the chief sins.” (A & G pg 85)

The word means not believing in Jesus.

God tells the brothers He addresses through the Hebrews writer that they could actually quit believing in Him–lose their faith in Him. That evil end comes to those who allow sin to so deceive them that their hearts harden to Him.

And that’s the point of everything I’ve said so far. Some say that a person who appeared to be a Christian who fades into unbelief never had saving faith to begin with. I say that we cannot know. It may be true that he lied to himself, lied to his God, and lied to his church. I haven’t the ability to look into his heart to know if he ever trusted Jesus or not. But I do know-and the passages I’ve cited give me confidence that I’m correct–that a child of God can lose his faith when that faith is choked from him by his own willful sin defeating him and hardening his heart to God. At least some church members who abandon God were Christians indeed. God didn’t leave them; He kept His promises. They left God.

But here’s the good news in these seemingly negative passages. Christians who have living faith are in the grace of God and can take full comfort in that. Yes, there is a warning about the defeating, controlling power of willful sin. An admonition for Christians to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. But in that warning rests a wonderful assurance. If you are a Christian whose faith hasn’t been conquered by your sin, you are definitely in the grace of our Lord.

Let me show you by making our last entry in our chart.

Act Result Act Result
Psalm 19:13 Not
ruled by willful sin.
Innocent
of great transgression
Ruled
by willful sin
Guilty
of great transgression
James
1:15
Sin
not full-grown
Spiritual
life
Sin
full-grown
Spiritual
death
2
Peter 2:19-21
Not
overcome by sin
Righteous;
better off than before conversion
Overcome
by sin
Not
righteous; worse off than before conversion
Hebrews
3:12-14
Not
sinful, unbelieving heart turned away from God
Share
in Christ
Sinful,
unbelieving heart that turns away from God
Do
not share in Christ.

If you recall my intent stated at the beginning of this section, my purpose is to get you to take comfort in your security-not make you fear being lost. I don’t want you to concentrate on the possibility of apostasy. I want you to concentrate on the joy of your salvation. The chart will help me convince you to do that.

THE JOY OF THE LORD

When a Christian visits me in person or by phone to ask if I think he or she may be lost, it saddens me. Yes, I do want them to have the sensitivity to personal guilt that I’ve described in this book. Sensitivity but not torture. I’m convinced that God doesn’t want us to be DECIEVED or GUILT-CAGED.

If some Christian tries to force you into a GUILT-CAGED state, it’s either because she wants company or he wants to control you. God doesn’t want you there.

You sin. But God’s grace is greater than your sin. We’ve discussed that at length, also. If you fear that your sin has somehow taken you from God’s grace, it’s time to learn better.

Look at the chart again.

See the pattern? Ruled by sin. Full-grown sin. Overcome by sin. Hardened to unbelief by sin. They’re all the same thing. It’s just as Peter says, “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” A person can’t serve two masters and if you choose to serve sin you will of necessity turn from the Master who is God. If sin rules you it will choke out your faith, killing it. You’ll no longer place your trust in the living Lord. You’ll be guilty of great transgression. You’ll be spiritually dead. Worse off than you were before your conversion. No longer sharing in Christ.

But do you see it? That only happens if you lose your faith. It isn’t commission of a sin that takes you away from God; it’s allowing the sin to so rule you that it turns you from God with an evil heart of unbelief.

As I wrote earlier, a person gets into Christ through the door of faith and he can only leave Christ through the door of faith.

That isn’t a message of fear and dread. It’s a message of life and hope. Even if you’re entangled. Even if you’re struggling mightily against self and sin. Why? Because entanglement isn’t the same as being overcome. Entanglement is dangerous; it can lead to spiritual defeat. So if you are entangled cry for spiritual help with all the air in your lungs. Call on God. Call on His people. Don’t treat the disease with indifference, thinking it will go away.

It will kill you if it isn’t HEALED.

But it hasn’t killed you yet.

Entangled people are still alive. They still have faith. They’re still God’s saved children. Just as much as one not entangled in sin at all.

That’s the first thing I think when a Christian calls asking for spiritual reassurance. They describe heartbreaking sin. They cry. They hurt deeply. They beg God’s forgiveness. But none of that means they’re lost; it means they are AWARE of their legal and personal sin. They very fact that they care, that they seek God, appears to prove their faith is yet alive.

Whatever you have done; whatever you now struggle with; you are safe in the arms of Jesus if your faith is alive.

Your faith is alive. You’re caring and crying for Him proves that.

Your sin hurts Him. It also does great spiritual damage to you. I believe it may kill you if you let it increase in strength. Someday you won’t want to follow Jesus anymore. Sin’s deceitfulness may harden your heart that much. So abandon it now; seek God’s healing while you can. But don’t seek it from the hopelessness of one lost; seek it with the confidence of one of His children.

Don’t doubt your salvation or Satanic forces will lead you directly into a GUILT-CAGED spiritual state that may be your last step before becoming one of the DECEIVED.

SIMON THE SORCERER

When I preached a sermon on the security of the believer many years ago in a lovely Southern town near the Mississippi River, a genteel lady of the church invited me to tea the next afternoon. Entering the circular drive of her magnificent antebellum mansion, I was mesmerized by the scene. Fields of cotton bursting white, looking like little clouds preparing to float lazily to join their big brothers standing guard above. Stately trees that whispered disapprovingly and waved me on when I lingered too long on the steps. A porch that stretched forever, making it nearly impossible to decide which rocker would suit me best.

Graciously greeted and cordially invited in, I moved into a sitting room which had kindly but firmly refused to enter our century. The tea sat patiently waiting for its hostess to notice its readiness while I wandered a bit, oohing and ahhing at paintings, trinkets, and treasures. She poured when I sat and then led me through the nicest visit I think I ever had. We discussed Mamas and spouses and children and the declining state of American civilization until the teapot ran dry.

Then, politeness having been properly observed, she lit into me with the fury of a hurricane invading the Mississippi coast.

“What in the world were you thinkin’ when you preached that sermon last evenin’? Everybody knows that a Christian falls from grace the first time he commits a willful sin. Only when he prays for forgiveness does God let him back in. Why are you leadin’ people astray?”

She leaned toward me as she spoke and the tone of her voice and arch of her brow made me fear she might next ask me if I were secretly related to that devil Sherman who’d once burned her ancestors’ fields during the War of Northern Aggression.

“If you think you’re right, you just explain to me about Simon the Saucer,” she demanded. “Who?” I replied somewhat less than brilliantly. In my own defense, I must point out that I was caught somewhat off guard.

“It’s whom,” she chided. “I said explain to me Simon the Saucer.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I don’t think I know this man you’re asking me about.” I responded, the mad thought careening through my head that maybe this Simon guy might be related to Sherman.

“Acts 8, young man. You know the story; Simon the Saucer.”

“Oh!” I finally got it, “you mean Simon the Sorcerer.” “That’s what I said! Now, you can’t be right in what you preached because Simon was lost with just one sin.”

It’s true that Peter strongly rebuked Simon for his sin. Simon had lived as a magician in a town where God sent Peter to work real miracles. When Simon saw the power of the Holy Spirit, he, too, wanted the Spirit so he could work miracles.

So he offered to buy the Holy Spirit of God.

Bad move.

Peter, as my teen daughter says, went ballistic. “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

She interpreted Peter’s words as a condemnation to hell and I must admit that does appear to be what Peter told the man. She said, “See there. He was lost with one willful sin. Just like we are.”

“Ma’am, I don’t want to show disrespect to you in any way. But perhaps you need to look at verse 23 a little more closely. Peter didn’t scold Simon because he committed one willful sin. He told him that he was ‘full of bitterness and captive to sin.’ If you remember my chart, being captive to sin is the same thing as all the other phrases we listed. Ruled by sin. Full-grown sin. Overcome by sin. Turning from God with an evil, unbelieving heart.

“I think that it is true that a new Christian who may have only a flicker of living faith may see that faith falter quicker than a Christian who’s lived a lifetime loving Jesus. That apparently happened to Simon the Saucer . . . er . . . Sorcerer. But his story doesn’t prove that a person steps into God’s wrath with every willful sin. It shows that a Christian may become captive to sin again. It’s being captive to sin-being ruled by sin-that puts us in a spiritual dilemma.”

My answer didn’t satisfy her. I hope it satisfies you. God didn’t have Luke write Simon’s story to scare you and make you think you plop in and out of grace with every willful sin and subsequent prayer for forgiveness. You aren’t a frog, hopping in and out of salvation. You aren’t a beast of burden, being whipped and chided every time your footstep falters. You’re a child of the King. A saved child of the King. A loved and tightly-hugged child of the King. And you’ll stay that way as long as you have living faith.

KEEP FAITH AND KEEP SAVED

Maybe by now you have noticed that there are some basic agreements I have with a person who believes that Christians cannot fall from grace. We both abhor sin and want Christians to avoid it. Yet, we both know that Christians-people who seek Jesus with all their hearts-sometimes still commit sin, anyway. Neither of us wants imperfect Christians to live with a sense of jeopardy or fear. Both of us wish Christians to be secure in their salvation.

And both of us become angry when we see so-called church leaders try to use fear of being lost as a club to beat people into submitting to them. Where we differ is in our view of a church member who walks away from God. The person who believes a Christian can never fall says the departing member was never really a Christian, anyway. I view the departing person as a Christian who let sin become her master, replacing Jesus with it.

Without doubt we have a significant difference in belief. But in practical application we both wind up at the same place. We both tell Christians not to sin. We both predict consequences from God for those who foolishly let sin get full-grown; we both proclaim it results in death-though we disagree on the method of death. Neither of us thinks a current or departing church member may live any lifestyle she wishes and still be saved; we both agree that such a total abandonment of God’s will indicates the person has no relationship with God at all. There is no living faith in that person, no matter what she claims. One of us says she never had it and the other says that she lost it.

But there is that one key point on which we absolutely agree; a Christian living by faith is going to heaven.

Even a struggling Christian.

No doubt about it.

Suggested Reading:

getting_past_guilt

Getting Past Guilt

by Joe Beam

Forgiveness. The word itself fills our hearts with peace. But countless Christians are plagued by haunting feelings of guilt.

Joe unmasks your fears and reveals assurances from God’s Word to fill you with the peace and confidence before the Lord that you crave. BUY NOW

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