I want to make clear that I’m not primarily talking about partying when I speak about how college tests the faith of graduated high schoolers. That is one way in which your faith can be tested, but really, I would say that is the lesser concern on my mind. My concerns are the doctrines and wayward teaching of the world that are spoken in college by other students and mainly professors.
When a child grows up in a Christian home environment with two parents who truly believe in Christ and the parents share the Gospel with their child, what would please mom and dad more for the child to say “yes” to a relationship with Jesus? And the child realizes that the very reason the parents are asking that question is to get a positive response. I mean are they going to say “no,” as if they fully comprehend the depth of what is at stake in saying yes or no? Now before I continue, I want to make perfectly clear that I’m not attempting to negate all the believers who legitimately believed from a young age and continued in their faith until now, but I am saying that children are programmed by God to please their parents so that their parents find them acceptable (ever thought about why a child cries when they fall, even it is clear they weren’t hurt? Attention-getting is a form of obtaining acceptance from the people that matter most to them, their parents). Telling your young children the Gospel and expecting a “yes” out of them should not lead you to automatically believe they are saved. We are saved not by uttering a prayer, but by faith alone, by believing from the heart of our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He died and rose from the grave for sinners. But that’s another topic for another day.
So let’s say this child grows up in the church, goes through elementary school still affirming all the things spoken by their believing teachers in the church. They get to middle school, and there are some pressures that begin the stranglehold the Satan desires. At this point, as in my case, rebellion can begin to occur from family turmoil, peer pressures, and the student attempts to find their identity in anything else other than God, because if God cared for them, “Why is God making my life so hard?” they ask. However, in a lot of cases where kids grow up in the church, simply from my observance in student ministries for a number of years, they don’t go wayward at this point. There are some that do, but many don’t. Then high school comes, the student obtains more freedom with a car, staying out later, more independence, etc. The pressures step up as well because of the freedom, mainly because they have access to venues that weren’t available before (drinking party’s, drug parties, rave’s, empty houses where parents who are present don’t care what occurs, empty houses where boyfriends and girlfriends have the chance to do things they inevitably regret). Students in general, not all, can stay out later and hang out with friends their parents may not even know about. So some kids start to rebel against God, against their parents, against authority of any kind and get into a lot of trouble. Their true colors as a totally depraved sinner begin to show in actions. But even then, many students in high school still have parents watching over them and telling them what to do and what not to do. Essentially, their hearts are restrained from doing the wicked things they desire to do most. Is that not why we have laws?
However, at this point, there are still many many kids who affirm all the things they have been taught from the beginning. And so they continue on affirming these things throughout their high school career (particularly the Gospel, hear me there, they affirm the Gospel with their words). And then college comes. They leave home and have freedom they have never experienced before. The ability to come and go when they want. The ability to do things that no one else will know about, temptations many are not even remotely ready for. They go through a year of college at, let’s say, theologically liberal TCU (not the same as politically liberal I might add), and hear tons of evidence against Christianity concerning miracles, divine atonement and propitiation through the cross, the resurrection, as well as all the things that make Christianity unique; but instead they hear all of these arguments in favor of science, evolution, reason, and most of all, how all truth (especially moral truth) is relative (the predominant worldly doctrine of our age in the West). They begin taking in a strong, potent dose of secularism. The student who may have affirmed the Gospel with words growing up begins to question their faith as having no basis upon which to stand. In addition, there are pressures around them in the culture calling out to reject their faith. So basically there are two fronts attacking the confessed Christian; 1) a doctrinal front (from the professors who attack Christianity through “reason,” science, and facts) and 2) social teaching (the peers who buy into all of it and call out for other peers to do the same, while rejecting those who take a stand on absolute truth, particularly Christians).
And unfortunately, as I have seen happen, the student who once affirmed the Gospel with their mouths, succumbing to the pressures of the world and the doctrines of the Devil, begins to reject Christianity and the essential message of Christianity, the Gospel. It saddens my heart to speak of this, because I know people personally who have walked away from Christ in this manner, who as Paul said, “are enemies of the cross of Christ.” (Philippians 3:18-19) The deceptiveness of the devil and the works of men who want others to reject Christianity begin to affect the professed believers’ conviction. And finally, after having been coerced through gobs of secularist indoctrination, the professed believer rejects the Gospel as nonsense and accepts the worlds’ message of false humility and religious tolerance (that is, all religions basically say the same thing and are true for each individual confessing them, but should not be imposed on others). They reject the message of the Gospel as utter foolishness! “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) What are we to make of this? That is, what are we to make of a person who professed faith in Christ but rejects it later on? Scripture is clear as to what has occurred. Jesus Himself is clear. And we must pay careful attention to what is said.
Now, I want to make clear that in no way am I saying that a true believer can lose their salvation. That is heresy and to speak of such a doctrine would mean that not all has been accomplished in our salvation, but we must “keep it up” through our own moral working and toiling (which is legalism). Romans 8 makes it clear that the promises of God stand. “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) There is no moving on God’s part concerning these things. In addition, the scriptures say, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) So a true believer CANNOT lose their salvation. It’s really even an oxymoron to say that. What kind of salvation is a salvation that can be lost after having had it? Those who Christ has chosen to save, are saved, absolutely. The Shepherd does not lose His sheep whom He has purposed in eternity to save. I believe that with all my heart and it is preciously to me as a promise from God.
But if a person who professed Christ rejects Him as the only one who makes them right before God through His death and resurrection, what are we to say? Again, we must consult Scripture. And the book of Hebrews is chock full of warnings concerning falling away from the grace of God in Christ.
Let’s start with this passage in Luke with the Parable of the Sower and then get to the Hebrews passages:
“And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him [Jesus], he said in a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.’ As he said these things, he called out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'” – Luke 8:4-8
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” – Hebrews 2:1
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”‘” – Hebrews 3:7-11
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” – Hebrews 3:12
“So we see that they [Israel] were unable to enter because of unbelief.” – Hebrews 3:19
“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” – Hebrews 4:1-2
“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance 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, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” – Hebrews 6:4-8
Man. Those make me tremble in fear before God! Those are hard verses! But they are God’s Word and we must submit to them, despite their hardness. But what are they saying? I had a hard time with this in high school as to what it was saying because I knew Christ had ransomed me and would not let me go. But these passages are really hard. Most people at this point, simply want to write off what is said because it is just too hard to work through and easier to skate around the implications and turn to comforting doctrines alone. But as Tim Keller said, “If we play down harsh doctrines, we will gut our pleasant and comfortable beliefs too.” In other words, as you look at these hard truths, keep looking to Christ and His work as the source of salvation.
Many interpret these to either say 1) that a true believer can lose their salvation (which is easily countered with other Scriptures), or 2) that it isn’t speaking about salvation to begin with (which in the context doesn’t make any sense at all). But many don’t consider 3) that it is saying there are people who profess with their mouths to be saved (whether it is to please their parents, their peers, their youth leaders, etc), but after trials and temptations of the world come in (as fire comes in and burns away impurities from precious metals), their faith is exposed to be false (i.e. not true, God-wrought faith), and their entire foundation is shown to be built on sand and they fall away from Christ in unrepentant unbelief, willfully rejecting Him. I believe with all my heart the author of Hebrews is speaking of the third interpretation. The larger context of the greatness and sufficiency of Christ within the passage calls for this conclusion. If it is not talking about salvation in this passage, then why does the writer say, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3)
This student who grew up in the church, who confessed Christ as their Savior walks away from Christ, and very very sadly (man how it makes me weep for the lost), they may (I emphasize the word “may”) never have a chance to turn to Christ again because of the hardening of their hearts in unbelief. (Hebrews 6:4-8)
What are some applications of these scriptural warnings against falling away into apostasy? And how can we keep this from happening to the people we shepherd?
1) We must not assume everyone is saved just because they take the name “Christian,” (just as the writer of Hebrews thought it was very likely that some of the people he was writing to may not have been saved) but always preach the Gospel truths in all of their completeness, assuming people don’t get it (wrath, holiness, justice, fierce anger of God against us because of our sin and rebellion; compassion, love, mercy, and redemption from our plight by grace through faith in the work of Christ on the cross). The larger church in America has rejected doctrine because they say it is useless and their argument is that people just need Jesus. Well, who is Jesus, what did he say, what was his purpose in being here? As soon as you answer these things, you are uttering doctrine. It is unavoidable. The Arians said the same thing in the early history of the church about doctrine, that it wasn’t profitable to speak of. Their doctrine was heresy and they led many astray from the Gospel. I’m telling you that the world is armed and ready with doctrine (false truths) that Satan is using even right now, to take people to hell with him and turn them away from the light of the truth of the Gospel. We must counter this with doctrine from the scriptures. This is why theology is so vitally important. We must preach correct, biblical truths or else leave people with little or no understanding of the truths of Scripture, subjecting them to being ravaged by doctrines of devils, people who may have no clear apprehension of the Gospel to begin with.
2) We must reject legalism in our speech and actions because it is opposed to the message of the Gospel, all the while holding up the Gospel as the essential message for all heart-change. We witness with both our words and our actions, and both need to be free from legalistic tendencies (Romans 2, Romans 14). Mark Driscoll, pastor @ Mars Hill Church Seattle said in an interview for the recent Desiring God conference, that he asked a pastor, “Do you know any strippers?” The pastor replied, “No, that’s disgusting!” Driscoll’s response? “Exactly, they need Jesus.” Right on. We are to be in the world not of the world, and that means being involved in unbelievers lives where they are while not partaking of their indulgences. To separate ourselves from the world altogether is not our calling, but we are to be salt and light in a dark world that needs to hear of eternal hope through the message of the Gospel. To simply tell people they need to do this or that doesn’t fix the messed-up-ness within people’s hearts. Law restrains the heart, it doesn’t supernaturally change the heart like Christ and His work (Keller). In fact that is exactly what the Pharisee’s did, told Jesus to do this and that, imposing a bunch of man-made rules and regulations on Him, and correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t those the people Jesus, the Son of God, preached against the most, the religious leaders, because they were leading people to hell? The law can’t go where the Holy Spirit alone can (Keller). People need the grace of God, the Gospel truths to set them free, applied by the work of the Holy Spirit Alone through the preaching of His Word. They do not need people like us (who think we are better than everyone else because we are saved) telling them what they can and cannot do. The world is sick of that message and rejects Christians primarily because they think we’re all a bunch of bigots. We are missionaries in America. We are to lovingly persuade people through the Scriptures and through proper apologetic defense that Jesus Christ is supreme above all and that He is worth following. Is it not the Holy Spirit who changes hearts anyway? We preach and He acts according to His will. Who are we to stand over unbelievers and call them sinners? We’re sinners too! We do the same things (i.e. breaking the law of God) everyday, just in different ways. If we saw the depth of our sinning against God, our mouths would stay shut toward those we despise because they indulge the flesh outwardly. You and I are no better. I am the worst sinner I know. We are sinners all. But by God’s grace, He has given us Christ who redeems us from this body of death. That is our message to a lost and dying world. (If you can’t tell, legalism gets me fired up ;] )
3) ” … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Realize that it is Christ alone, through His sustaining work on the cross, who keeps you from falling away. (1 Peter 1:5) Know that you have nothing of worth to offer God, but all you can plead is Christ and His work for you, not your own. You have nothing to offer God of worth. Your best works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) Why did you believe while someone else who heard the same message rejected it? Were you better than them, more spiritual, smarter, lucky? I think not. It would be pride to say that and taking credit for an aspect of your salvation. It is the grace of God ALONE that makes the believer to differ from the unbeliever. These truths are humbling and push us exactly to the place all of us need to be, at the foot of the cross, weeping for our sins, while at the same time weeping with joy at the mercy we have found in Christ. Where else can we go? There is no other name by which we are saved. (Acts 4:12)
4) If any of you fear you may not have truly believed in Christ, seek assurance only through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the risen King, realizing that through His atoning sacrifice that paid the debt against sinners on the cross in the shedding of His blood, you can have perfect acceptance in God’s presence and you can have Jesus’ perfect record before the Father counted your own, because of His work on behalf of us sinners. Run to Christ for assurance, flee to Him and run fast from the sin that so easily entangles you. You will find assurance no where else.
Other Resources Pertaining to this:
Perseverance Section on Monergism.com
The Danger of Dull Hearing – Piper
The Elect are Kept by the Power of God – Piper
The Parable of the Sower – C.H. Spurgeon
Growing Up Christian – MonergismBooks.com