Part 3 – Departing/Falling Away from the Faith
It will be hard for some (maybe many) to understand the point of view presented in this part of the series. As a reminder, I am sharing what I have understood from God’s point of view. As much as I have understood it, this is shared from God’s point of view. It is important to realize that over the course of multiple generations deception can progressively and subtly take hold in the church. We have a prime example of this in the Old Testament. Those in Israel progressively went astray over the course of multiple generations. They went so astray that even when God sent prophets to speak to them they could not hear God’s appeal to them. In earlier years of my life, it always seemed strange to me that the people of Old Testament Israel could go so far away from how God had instructed them. In truth, they had become blinded and deafened over time to God’s point of view across multiple generations.
It seems the same is true now. Being forthright, I must admit that from a broader point of view it seems that there is a larger gap between many christians in America and a “true” faith. I know it is not the same throughout the world. God has given me a unique vantage point to consider the condition of believers in America versus believers in another country, Cuba, which is a counterpoint to America in many ways.
It is important to mention that we cannot sit in judgment of our brothers and sisters in Christ regarding this matter. The only one who can measure us properly regarding the status of our faith is God. With this article, I drawing out some of the aspects of “true” versus “false” faith with a spirit of exhortation, not condemnation.
Apostasy in the Church (Continued)
1 Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,1 Timothy 4:1 (LEB)
This verse is one of the key verses in the Bible that addresses “departing” or “falling away” from the faith. The religious term for this is apostasy. In the previous posts, I have covered most of this verse. In this post I am going to focus on what it looks like to “depart” or “fall away” from the faith. I have understood this verse to implicitly communicate that “some will depart/fall away from the true faith”. I believe there is another form of the word “faith” which has a form or appearance of the faith, but it is not the true faith. I believe Paul is talking about believers who depart from the true faith and end up away from the true faith by following after spiritual beings and teachings which are not from the Spirit of God.
In summary, true faith includes a representation of two major things.
- Confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
- Behavior (i.e. works) which reflects our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord
In the book of James, he clarifies that without works our faith is like a body with no spirit to enliven it. I believe this means a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior with nothing else means we have fallen away/departed from the faith.
2:26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.James 2:26 (LEB)
In summary, a “true” faith is active. In addition to a kind of “dead” faith there is another aspect to consider from a biblical perspective when thinking about falling away/departing from the faith. This the idea of a “false” faith.
The New Testament refers to “false” ones. The New Testament identifies false brothers (Gal 2:4, 2 Cor 11:26), false prophets (2 Pet 2:1), false apostles (2 Cor 11:13), false teachers (2 Pet 2:1). The greek word for “false” is pseudes and conveys the idea of something that is against the truth and is deceptive. However, this word also conveys the idea of having the appearance of something, but not being the real thing. It is a counterfeit representation of the real thing.
It is very important to know that a person can be a believer in God through Jesus Christ having received salvation and still be classified as one of these false ones. It is a matter of behavior and action. I am a believer in God through Jesus Christ and yet I can still lie, cheat, steal, etc. I can also be deceived in my understanding of the truths of God. When I put my error forward to others and do so repeatedly I become false. I am still saved, but I am acting falsely. To receive a label of being “false” (false prophet, false teacher, etc) I will have to repeat my error consistently. There is a lot room for mistakes in our christian walk, but it is when we do it repeatedly we can end up being qualified as a false one. Because of my background growing up in a christian sect (some say, cult), I believe I can also share that acting falsely as a believer can be done intentionally OR unintentionally. When it is done unintentionally, it is almost always based on deception which has been integrated by the Enemy of God into our individual lives and into the church as a whole.
Keep this in mind as you consider what I write next. The departing/falling away from the faith does not necessarily mean that these ones are not saved. It means that they are not walking in a healthy way in regards to their faith. To depart or fall away is an action (or lack of action) regarding the faith. It is not saying that there is NO faith, but a departing or falling away from the faith.
To understand what it is to depart/fall away from something you have to know what the true form of something. Many christians today do not have significant experience of true faith. This does not mean they are not saved. This does not mean they are headed for hell. What is being addressed is walking out the true faith, not just claiming mental ascent with concepts or principles. Next, I am going to highlight some key aspects the christian faith that are to be in operation beyond the moment of salvation.
Under the New Covenant, We Have Direct Relationship
31 Look, the days are coming,” declares Yahweh, “and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors on the day of my grasping them by their hand, bringing them out from the land of Egypt, my covenant that they themselves broke, though I myself was a master over them,” declares Yahweh. 33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Yahweh: “I will put my law in their inward parts and on their hearts I will write it, and I will be to them God, and they themselves will be to me people. 34 And they will no longer teach each one his neighbor, or each one his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for all of them will know me, from their smallest and up to their greatest,” declares Yahweh, “for I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will no longer remember.”Jeremiah 31:31–34 (LEB)
- I will put my law in them (not another man, but God himself)
- I will be God to them (not through others, but directly)
- No longer will neighbors or brothers teach you saying, “know the Lord” because everyone will know him directly
The type of “knowing” in the phrase “know the Lord” is intimate and direct. It is not knowledge of God in a conceptual sense, but personal and relational knowledge. There are those who can tell you concepts about God, but then you meet the ones who can say that the know Him because they have walked with Him and experienced Him. These ones with the relational knowledge will also have conceptual knowledge, but they can tell you from their hearts and from their lives (not just based on a mental understanding of scripture) that they “know” the Lord. They also know that they don’t need to tell you to “know the Lord” because they know that you also have direct access to Him.
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and will take up residence with him. 24 The one who does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. 25 These things I have spoken to you while residing with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name—that one will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything that I said to you.John 14:23–26 (LEB)
Again, here we find the relationship is very direct. It is spirit to spirit (the Holy Spirit to your spirit). It is a spiritual communion where God teaches you through direct interaction with the Holy Spirit. This includes reminders of things.
On the one hand, this is very simple. On the other hand, there are many people who don’t feel like they can really hear God or relate to Him personally even though they have heard others speak about this kind of interaction. If you feel you are missing this kind of personal relationship. If it doesn’t feel like you have this direct access, then just take a moment right now and ask God to come into your life and make himself real to you and to be a part of your life. Welcome Him in this very moment and ask Him to build this kind of relationship in your life. Give Him permission to deal with you in whatever manner He needs to for this to be possible and ask Him to be a part of your whole life. You may not feel any immediate change, but God never fails if you give Him the right kind of chance in your life. There is no amount of writing that anyone can do that will help you with building your relationship with Him. I encourage you to find someone else who is walking with God to help you. Ask God to supply someone who can help you on the path of discipleship. Don’t fail to ask Him, but you can also think of those who you already know. I can also recommend the following series of posts, but I do not think it is sufficient to cover what is really needed. We need to be discipled by the Lord and He will put others in our path to help us as brothers and/or sisters in God’s family.
In summary, the true faith is characterized by a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. This relationship will lead you into all truth. It will lead you into obedience and following Jesus Christ. This will lead you into a walk of true faith. A true walk of faith will lead you into works God has prepared in advance for you.
Even though we cannot accurately judge who is walking according to the truth versus those who have fallen away, it does not change the standard of measurement. I may see some aspects of true versus false behavior on the part of others, but we have to have tremendous caution about applying any assessments based on external appearances. I have met true believers in God through Jesus Christ who are walking out their faith in a good way who did not appear to be doing so by my initial observations.
Evidence of Lordship is Required
Faith without works is the evidence that the relationship is missing. The relationship here is one of lordship. It is impossible to walk with “true” faith without learning how to relate to God according to His lordship over our lives. Remember, our confession is belief in Jesus Christ is as both Lord and Savior. To relate to Jesus Christ as Lord means to submit our lives to Him and put Him in the driver’s seat. This is not a one time choice. It is a progressive process of interacting with Jesus Christ as Lord. This may sound negative to some readers, but it is not. If you were being asked to submit and treat a bad master as lord the it would be bad. However, you are being asked to submit to God the Father who is a good and loving father in the same manner that Jesus Christ did. God wants to truly bless you and give you good things. I am not speaking as a materialist here, but He will give you material things too. He will give beyond what you expect if you truly submit to His lordship. At the same time, you will also experience pain and difficulty. Jesus went through a lot of difficulty to please God the Father, but look where Jesus is now. God the Father has set him over everything. Submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord is not negative in the long run. There is difficulty (even sometimes tremendous difficulty) because we are being trained in how to operate in the Kingdom of God/Heaven which is different than the current kingdom of Satan on earth. We are being transformed from a sin-based existence to a new existence which is not only free of sin, but full of the life and experience of God.
To express a truth faith means to personally and directly transfer control of your life to God. God doesn’t force you to do this. It is your choice, but it is necessary in order to walk according to a “true” faith. To the extent that you do not transfer control, but still state with your mouth that you have faith in Jesus Christ you can be living a “false” faith. In truth, we all have some amount of “falseness” in our faith because truly transferring control is something that God works out in us progressively through our lives to the extent that we are willing.
It is amazing to realize as you grow in the Lord through trusting and obeying (i.e. transferring control) the works that are prepared in advance for us flow more naturally into your life. There is still labor involved in performing works, but it is different than what you think before you have experienced a true work that comes as a part of our expression of a true faith. I cannot convey this easily in writing. You must experience it and you will if you take closely to heart what God says in Proverbs.
3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not lean toward your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.Proverbs 3:5-6 (LEB)
So we can observe that faith in words only by the expression of mental agreement without the evidence of works that correlate indicate the faith is false to some extent. In some cases, it is because the person is still being prepared by God for the works He has in mind, so we cannot judge others. The works referred to are the works of God which His faithful servants walk in. This doesn’t have to be anything major. Our works can be as simple as helping other people in small ways that others may not notice. The key is that we do not perform these works of our own will, mind or initiation. We walk in them according to the will and mind of God at His initiation. It can be difficult to perceive works that are of God versus works that are not healthy. In fact, we can’t really judge the works of others.
If we listen to the Lord and follow Him, He will lead us into the works He has prepared in advance for us. These works will fit us based on how God has created and gifted us, but they may not be easy. They may require us to do things that we initially don’t want to do, but if we allow God to work in us He will help us walk in these works. In addition, He will also lead us away from things that are false works which may bear His name, but not be initiated or led by Him. In other cases, God may lead us away from something that just isn’t for us even though it is a work of God happening through someone else. There are true works of God which we can be near, but not be involved in based on the will of God.
To help us find the works He has for each of us we are given guidance from God in the form of two things. They are life and peace. These are gifts from God as a guide to know how to walk according to the principles of true faith.
5 For those who are living according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, but those who are living according to the Spirit are intent on the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peaceRomans 8:5–6 (LEB)
There are many things that can have a Godly appearance or even claim to represent God, but that are actually things “of the flesh” (as mentioned by Paul in Romans 8:5). Our focus has to be to set our mind on things of the Spirit. If you don’t think you know how to do this, keep it simple. Just tell God you want to do this and ask Him to help you. Then presume that you will and as often as you think about God, talk to Him about everything and anything in your life. To this day, I do not know “how” to set my mind on the Spirit but I know I have been doing it for years. I take it at face value. I can focus on God in my life by simply walking and talking with Him where ever I go.
In the greek, the word for life means God’s life. It is a supply of His life in our life for the things that He is leading us to do by His Spirit. It is not human motivation or determination, but a supply of life from God for His works that we are led to do by His voice. (mmmmmmm)
In the greek, the word for peace means the kind of peace that God gives us that surpasses our own ability to understand. It is the same word for peace that is spoken about in Philippians 4:7.
7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:7 (LEB)
When we walk according to other things (concepts, ideas, commitments, vision statements of churches or other groups) we are in danger of walking with a false faith even if the appearance of our walk to others may seem godly. Our faith is in Christ Jesus and it is through our direct interaction with Him alone that we continue to receive these gifts of life and peace which help to guide us on the path of a true faith.
False faith lacks the presence and experience of the Holy Spirit in your life whereas true faith includes some amount of “living and walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) and “being filled in the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Based on what I have heard from many christians these things in Galatians 5:25 and Ephesians 5:18 are foreign to most christians. I feel responsible to be direct with you, the reader, if you have not experienced these things to some degree (smaller or greater). You may not be walking according to a true faith. Again, I am not judging. However, after experiencing these things myself and meeting other christians who have had these experiences and then looking at how many christians I know who haven’t experienced the reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives I am sad to say that there has been a great falling away from the true faith.
To end on a more positive note, I know that it doesn’t matter whether you have walked according to a true faith in your life up to this point. It only matters that you turn to God for yourself and invite Him to lead you into a true faith. With an honest heart, give him permission to work in your life (both the willing and the doing) to bring you to a walk of true faith. You don’t have to figure this out for yourself. You just have to put yourself in His hands for Him to work in your life and to lead you towards the experience of a true faith.