We all know people in our lives who proclaim to have given their life to God. It is a joyous event when they step over the faith line. They are all revved up about Jesus and you can see their lives change dramatically. It is an awesome thing to see someone go through. Sometimes though, with time, their excitement for faith seems to fade and their lives start going back to the way they were before they gave their lives to God. Sometimes these people still proclaim to be a Christian and still say they believe, but the way they are living their lives does not reflect that talk. Some people end up turning away from God completely and may even go so far as to stop believing in God. One thing I have always wondered is do the people who are saved but then fall away from their faith still go to heaven?
This seems like a simple enough answer, but it is not. It is very hard for anyone to know the answer to this question because only God and the person who dies know if they go to heaven. The problem is that God isn’t talking and that person is not coming back here to enlighten us.
Let’s start by taking a look at what God tells us in the Bible regarding this subject. Peter addresses this in the 2nd chapter of 2 Peter.
2 Peter 2:20-22 (NIV)
20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 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. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”
It would seem to me that the Bible sees it as a very bad thing to fall away from God. It uses some very strong imagery like a dog returning to its vomit and a sow wallowing in the mud.
There are basically two positions people take on this question. Some people say that the people in these verses were saved, but by falling away, they lost their salvation. They support their view by observing that:
- These people had a relationship with Christ.
- These people had escaped corruption.
- These people had since become entangled in sin again, worse than they were before.
People who hold this view also see the tragic results of falling away from God as reasons why the New Testament warnings against falling away are so vital. Here are two examples of this:
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)
4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Hebrews 6:4-6 (NIV)
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Other people have a different position on this question. They see salvation as an irrevocable gift. They believe people can appear to be saved. These are people who know about Jesus and their lifestyles appear to improve. But this view concludes that such changes are merely superficial and that such people were never truly saved in the first place. Those who hold this position see a distinction between genuine Christians and those who merely dabble in Christianity for a time. Here are two good examples found in the Bible:
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 John 2:19 (NIV)
19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
There is a third view on this and it incorporates elements of both of the above positions. This view says that some people fall away because they were never sincere in their faith while others fall away because they neglected their faith. The dividing line in these various opinions seems to depend on one’s own view of God’s grace. The question then becomes: Are God’s promises irrevocable or do they depend on our response? Do we have eternal security in Christ or do we have conditional security in Christ? These questions will never be fully answered this side of heaven.
So what view do you have on this idea of falling away? I would love to hear your responses to this.
I would say that I would lean towards the third view that incorporates elements of each position. People do fall away. Some people were never sincere and were never saved in the first place. God knows the state of each person’s heart. You can’t put on a good cover and fool God. If you are not sincere, you will not receive salvation. Other people are sincere and do receive salvation, but for whatever reason, neglect their faith and can lose the salvation they once had. I believe that God gives each of us free will and we ultimately choose our own destiny regarding whether we go to heaven or hell based on our response to God’s gift of grace. I believe we have eternal security in Christ as long as we believe in Him, but if we don’t believe in Him, we are on our own and we will not be in heaven. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people walking around who think they are saved and they really are not. That is pretty scary stuff. I think we all need to work on developing a deeper submission to God. We can do anything with Him, but alone, we can fall so easily.
Each day you live you either are walking towards God or you are walking away from God. There is no staying the same. Let’s keep walking towards Him each day and everything else will take care of itself.