“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.” –Jesus, John 16:1
The Gospels are filled with the teachings of Jesus. The Apostle John tells us that if all the things that Jesus said and did were recorded, the books written would fill the world and then some. Jesus tells us in this text that He has taught us all of these things to keep us from falling away. Is falling away, then, a real possibility for a Christian?
Can those who have met and believed in Jesus fall away from Him? Jesus Himself taught, “No one will snatch [My sheep] out of My hand” (John 10:28-30). Yet, on the other hand, Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.”
In recent years there have been well known “evangelical” pastors who have, by their own admission, fallen away from belief in Jesus. One of the most media-utilized New Testament scholars today, Bart Ehrman, grew up in an evangelical family and originally professed Christ as his Savior, yet he now claims to be an agnostic and believes that much of the Gospels and New Testament are not valid. I do not doubt that many of you Christians who are reading this know of at least one person in your wider circles who once professed faith but has now fallen away.
So what do we do with this? We have apparent examples of those who have fallen away, and yet we also know that the Bible teaches the “assurance of faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 John 5:12-13, Hebrews 7:25). The biblical doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints teaches that once a believer is born again by the Spirit of God, he will persevere in that salvation by the work of God completing His saving work in him (Philippians 1:6).
If you are one who claims to be a real disciple of Jesus Christ, you can have authentic assurance of faith and be reminded of such assurance by staying in His Word. Isn’t this just what Jesus is saying to you in this text? Pay attention faithfully to His Word and teachings. Jesus taught, “Those who love Me will keep My word” (John 14:23). However, it is important to know also that ignoring His Word puts you in danger of falling away.
If one who once professed to be a Christian does fall away, you must conclude that he or she never was born again by the Spirit of God. The warning of falling away is a genuine concern if you neglect your salvation. If you are intent on being one in whom God is at work completing your salvation as He promises, then be about the work and passion of personally staying in your love for God, knowing He keeps you in that love.
You can assure yourself of faith by always refreshing yourself in His love. Falling away is a doubt Satan can put in your mind, but that thought is quickly vanquished by renewing your love of Him who loved you with an everlasting love from the beginning.
“Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know; Spirit breathing from above, Thou hast taught me it is so. Oh, this full and perfect peace! Oh, this transport all divine! In a love which cannot cease, I am His, and He is mine.”
(First verse of Wade Robinson’s hymn, “Loved with Everlasting Love,” 1890)