When Christians Walk Away – Part 3

When Christians walk away, they are walking away from Jesus Christ, not just from Christianity or a local church. After all, when they became a Christian, they had entered a relationship with a Person, not a religion or a church.

I’m talking about becoming a Christian in the true sense. There is such a thing as cultural Christianity, where one may celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps even attend church regularly and partake of the Lord’s Supper. I’m not talking about that. And netither were Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson, back when they called themselves Christians and wrote books and songs expressing their love for Jesus.

In the aftermath of these men’s very public walking away from Christ, here’s another question the rest of us must ask: Can a Christian who walks away from Christ walk back to Him? 

The short answer is yes, potentially. But the odds aren’t in their favor. In fact, the odds are completely against them, as we learn from one of the Bible’s most explicit passages on the topic.

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. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6). 

This is the passage that convinced me that Paul is the author of Hebrews, because no one else in the early church could have written with such severity. Peter, perhaps, but he was not schooled enough to have written the rest of Hebrews.

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The heavenly gift referred to in Hebrews 6:4 is the gift of salvation. Paul describes salvation as a gift elsewhere too, as in these verses:

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

And in one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, Jesus Himself tells the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Salvation, as Webster so succinctly defines it, is deliverance from the power and effects of sin. And the good news, the gospel, is that it is free.

Like any gift, God’s free gift of salvation can be spurned, or received and then returned. Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson did not spurn God’s gift when it was offered to them at some point in their history. They received it, enjoyed its benefits for a season, and then returned it. Tragically, there are many thousands who treat the heavenly gift in this manner.

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According to Hebrews 6:4, those who walk away from Christ do so knowingly, because they had once been enlightened. Whatever their reasons for walking away, ignorance is not one of them.

Christians who walk away know what it is to have the darkness in their souls illumined by the light of Christ. They know what it is to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and to feed on the Word of God. They have experienced the Father’s love and at least some degree of a transformed life. This is a foretaste of the age to come, when we will see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and never again battle the sinful desires that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).

Jesus died a bloody, brutal, shameful, innocent death so we could enjoy these benefits. To walk away from Him is to deem His sacrifice worthless, which is to crucify Him all over again and drag His name through the mud. This is why Paul says it is impossible for those who walk away to be brought back to repentance.

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The phrase it is impossible in Hebrews 6:4 is one word in the Greek: adunatos. Apart from “that which is impossible,” adunatos also means to lack the ability or power (dunamis). From this we can infer that those who walk away are unable to repent and return.

By the same token, those who stay are able to do so because God gives them the power. In other words, it is possible for a Christian not to walk away!

It is possible, but it is not easy. The Christian life has rightly been described as a war, and war is never easy. Ask any vet.

We are in an all-out war with “the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12), but Jesus has won a comprehensive victory on our behalf. He “disarmed the [demonic] powers and … made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And His resurrection sealed the deal.

If we are in Christ we are already on the winning side. But if we are to avoid becoming a casualty, we must do our part. That’s why the Bible urges every believer: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

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(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved. 

When Christians Walk Away – Part 2

The walking away of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson has raised a question that inevitably surfaces when such things happen: Can a Christian lose their faith?

Christians regularly sidestep this question by saying the person who walked away was not a real Christian in the first place. That’s essentially what Franklin Graham did when he told Fox News he doubted whether Harris and Sampson “even had a faith at all to begin with.” Maybe they don’t have a Christian faith now, but does that mean they never did?

Every serious believer must wrestle with this question, and it’s one for which we can have only one answer. Either we believe that Christians can lose their faith, or we believe they cannot and that those who do were never truly Christian to begin with.

Let me explain my own position through two illustrations. The first is drawn from contemporary American culture.

The #WalkAway movement is made up of people who have walked away from their former progressivism. Try telling one of these folks that they were never progressive to begin with. All their activism will rise to the fore as they convince you why they were indeed progressive and what has changed. 

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My second and more important example comes from the very beginnings of Christianity. It’s the chilling tale of the first disciple who walked away.

Judas Iscariot had walked with Jesus from the start of His public ministry. He had spent three years at close quarters with Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach. He had seen Him perform miracles. He had traveled in His company. He had even worshiped Him. And yet he walked away.

To say that Judas was “not a disciple to begin with” would be to contradict the Bible. Each of the Synoptic Gospels mentions him in the list of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:4Mark 3:19Luke 6:16). And even though the Fourth Gospel does not include this list, John 12:4 refers to Jesus’ betrayer as “one of His disciples.”

It is sobering to remember that Jesus was not betrayed by a stranger but by a disciple who had walked with Him for the entire duration of His ministry, all the way to the Last Supper.

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Although I have never renounced my faith in Christ, I have experienced many faith crises over my four decades as a Christian. Some of them were severe enough to make me consider ending my life. Sadly, my mother knows this is true.

Having battled the temptation to walk away once and for all, I can say this one thing with certainty: We have an enemy who is fully committed to destroying our faith, and a Lord who is fully committed to saving it.

But here’s the rub. Neither God nor the devil can impose their will upon us against our will. Yes, they each try to convince us to believe or not to believe as the case may be, but neither can make us stay or walk away.

Back when I struggled with the temptation to walk away from life, my mother and a few others (including myself) prayed that God would give me the grace to make it one difficult day after another. But I still had the choice to receive that grace or to reject it.

Jesus has done all that is needed for our salvation, and prayer works wonders. But at the end of the day, we can choose to listen to God’s voice or the devil’s. Our actions are ultimately the consequences of our own decisions. That’s the terrifying power of choice.

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The decision of a longtime Christian to walk away from their faith does not happen overnight. Like any major decision it’s a process, a series of smaller choices leading up to the big one. If it were possible to examine each of the smaller choices Joshua Harris made in recent years, we would see the trend towards the big decision to kiss his faith goodbye.

The terrifying power of small choices is why we must constantly keep our lives under the searchlight of the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist prayed:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

The good news about small choices is that it cuts both ways. Just as small wrong choices lead to bigger bad decisions, so also small right choices lead to bigger good decisions.

Yes, Judas walked away, but all of the other eleven followed Jesus to the very end. And so have millions of Christians down through twenty centuries. And so can we.

As we daily choose to receive Christ’s enabling grace, as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power and remain in the Father’s love, we will finish our race without falling by the wayside. And finishing well is what the faith marathon is all about. That’s why the Bible urges, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

To be concluded. 

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(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

When Christians Walk Away – Part 1

As an intercessor I am privy to all sorts of secrets, and I thought I had lost my capacity to be shocked. And then along comes a brilliant writer and shocks me in a way that brilliant writers are expected to do in their books. But I wish I’d read what he had to say in a novel and not on Instagram.

I’m referring of course to Joshua Harris.

I was living in Mumbai when Harris’s extraordinary first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was released in early 1997. A friend introduced me to it that summer, while I was visiting the US for an RZIM conference in Atlanta. I was overawed, by the quality of the writing and especially by the content.

A few years later, now in Los Angeles with a failed marriage behind me, I read Harris’s second book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Once again I was overawed, and for the same reasons.

After keeping the books in my possession for well over a decade, I gave them to a young man with this facetious remark, “Thy need is greater than mine.” He promised to read them and pass them on.

Cut to three weeks ago.

I was searching the internet for something when a headline about Joshua Harris caught my eye. I read the Instagram post where he announces, in so many words, that he is walking away from his marriage, his views on sexuality, and his faith in Christ. And to my shock I realized that I have not lost my capacity to be shocked.

I was not shocked that a Christian could walk away from Christ, from their marriage, and from the views for which they are best known. Christians regrettably do it all the time. I was just shocked that the Christian in question was the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Close on the heels of Harris’s revelation, another influential Christian went public with his doubts: Marty Sampson, a songwriter and worship leader at Hillsong, Australia. “I’m genuinely losing my faith,” wrote Sampson (also on Instagram), “and it doesn’t bother me.”

Sampson’s announcement was less shocking to me personally, because I had never heard of him until I heard of his loss of faith. Unlike Harris’s announcement, it did not conjure bittersweet memories of a younger, better looking version of myself from two decades ago. Still, it is no less disturbing. Sampson is a worship leader who lost his faith, and there once was a worship leader in heaven who lost his faith.

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Harris and Sampson’s announcements have sent shockwaves across the Christian world. The reactions veer between two extremes. On the one end, there is nothing but gooey sympathy. Thanks for being so brave, honest, and authentic, say these softies, many of whom don’t mention the person this is really all about: Jesus Christ.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who roundly castigate the Christians who have walked away. One such reaction comes from Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In an interview with Fox News, the late great evangelist’s son said, “These are very young people, and I doubt whether they even have a very strong faith, or if they even had a faith at all to begin with.” He added: “Why are they making it so public? I think they just want publicity.”

I appreciate Franklin Graham’s passion for the gospel and I admire his boldness to speak out about controversial issues that other Christian leaders won’t touch with a barge pole. But his assessment in this instance comes across as simplistic and harsh.

For one thing, these two men are not “very young.” Sure, they are younger than both Graham and myself, but they’re in their forties. That’s not the same as having a crisis of faith in your teens and twenties. And when they made these announcements, the men were not young believers either.

Harris had almost a lifetime of Christian faith under his belt. That’s no safeguard, of course, but it’s more difficult to walk away from something you’ve believed all your life — especially when you’ve written books and preached sermons about it, as Harris had. And although I don’t know much about Marty Sampson’s story, I doubt he’d have made it as a worship leader had he been a new believer.

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Another thing I find disconcerting about Franklin Graham’s statement is that he says these men “just want publicity.” Only God and these men know whether they did it for publicity. While it is necessary at times to judge people’s actions, especially when they are public figures, we cannot judge other people’s motives. In fact, we are in no position to judge even our own motives!

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. It’s only the Lord who can “search the heart and examine the mind” (v. 10). And as Proverbs 21:2 says, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Perhaps Joshua Harris felt he owed it to his readers to tell them that he has kissed Christianity goodbye, so they had it straight from his lips. Whatever his motives, publicity was an inevitable byproduct. When the author of two bestsellers on Christian courtship and romance announces that he is leaving his marriage and his faith, it is bound to garner publicity. Franklin Graham has lived most of his 67 years under the glare of the public eye. He of all people should understand that publicity often comes unsolicited.

To be continued. 

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(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

 

Nothing to Wear

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Ladies, how often have you looked at a closetful of clothes and said, “I have nothing to wear”? I have said it more times than I can count — and anyone who has helped me move knows I have plenty to wear.

As women we know that when we say “I have nothing to wear,” we mean “I have nothing I FEEL LIKE WEARING.” If men understood this, it would nip many a marital quarrel in the bud.

But even if men understood that “nothing to wear” means “nothing I feel like wearing,” few men realize that very often behind that statement is a cry that has pierced every woman’s heart since Eve realized she had nothing to wear.

Eve’s realization came the moment she and her husband did the deed that “Brought death into the world, and all our woe,” as Milton puts it. Ever since, the cry that at one point or another has pierced every woman’s heart is this: “I don’t feel beautiful.”

Matthew 6:28 has the answer not only for those times when we have nothing to wear but also for when we don’t feel beautiful.

When Jesus says, “Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,” He is saying more than “Do not worry about what you will wear.” He is giving us a key to spiritual growth. The clue is in what He says a few verses later: “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things” (Matthew 6:32).

Spiritual growth comes not by toiling and spinning and other forms of fleshly striving. It comes by being secure in the knowledge that we have a Father in heaven who loves us and is taking care of us. In other words, spiritual growth comes by faith and is an evidence of faith.

(c) 2019 by Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

The Prayer God Always Answers

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Much as I love Joshua 1:3, time was I was overawed by the promise it contains. It’s pretty much a blank check — especially when taken out of context. I may talk about taking verses out of context some other time, but for now let me just say that even when I was saying this verse in prayer, I knew I didn’t have the kind of faith it takes. And then some years ago the Holy Spirit said something that was both liberating and motivating.

One day as I was meditating on Joshua 1, the Holy Spirit said: “Every place you tread IN INTERCESSION I will give you.”

In intercession! 

That was the key! It was liberating because I already knew that in intercession, the onus is on God’s desire to fulfill His will. Our faith is always important, of course, but God’s desire to fulfill His will is far more important.

And what the Holy Spirit said was motivating because God was promising to answer intercession. That meant I could intercede with full confidence!

WHAT IS INTERCESSION?

Not all prayer is based on a knowledge of God’s will. Some prayer is simply telling God what we want and asking Him to give it to us if it is His will. We might say, “Lord, I’d like a new car. Is this Your will for me?” And He will respond in  in one of three ways: Yes, No, or Wait.

As an important aside, God’s silence usually means “Wait.” Don’t take it as a yes or a no until He makes that clear, but do wait in faith.

Sometimes we don’t even have to add “if it is Your will.” For instance, Jesus taught us to ask to our daily bread, for the forgiveness of sins, and for deliverance from evil without qualifying it with “if it is Your will” (Matthew 6:11-13).

Similar to this is the prayer of inquiry, the prayer that is the precursor to intercession. The inquiry goes something like this: “Lord, what is Your will in this situation?”

When we find out God’s will — bingo! We’ve found what God will say yes to, and that becomes the subject of our intercession.

Many times we stop once we find out God’s will. We tend to think our task is over, but only step one is over. Step two is to then pray God’s will to be done.

Yes, we are to pray for God’s will to be done. Jesus Himself taught us to pray saying “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NKJV). We are to pray this even when we don’t know what God’s will is. But when we do know what God’s will is, we are required to pray that it is done.

That, in a nutshell, is intercession: praying into the earth realm what God has always said yes to in the heaven realm. After that will is done, we thank God and move the next item.

And don’t worry, your list will never run out. If you want to intercede, God will always have an intercession assignment for you.

WHY INTERCEDE?

I believe there are three primary reasons to engage in intercession:

1. There is a need. People have needs and God is looking for those who will step in and pray. Apart from Jesus’ teaching and modeling while He walked this earth, on numerous occasions the apostle Paul also urges us to pray. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:1 he says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (NIV).

2. Both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are engaged in intercession. We know this from Romans 8:26, Romans 8:34, and Hebrews 7:25.

3. Intercession enables us to hear and know God better. We can only truly intercede for a situation once we have already found out God’s will concerning it. Finding out God’s will is all about hearing Him, and hearing Him is all about knowing Him. And knowing Him is what it’s all about.

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(c) 2019 by Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

Immeasurably More

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This morning I was driving to one of my favorite stores when the Lord prompted me to look at my gas gauge. I didn’t really want to stop for gas (because I really wanted to get to Best Buy), but the gauge was on the low end and I was passing a gas station. It was a cue I couldn’t miss. I pulled in.

When I went inside to pay, the young man ahead of me politely thanked the attendant and said, “And happy Memorial Day.” As soon as I heard that the Holy Spirit said, “Go encourage that young man.”

So I went up to him and told him that I appreciated what he had just said. Then I asked if he knew the Lord Jesus.

His face lit up. “I do,” he said. “He’s my personal Savior!”

Nothing thrills me more than hearing someone say that. I beamed as I always do when I meet a brother or sister in Christ, and that’s when the Holy Spirit gave me Ephesians 3:20 for him. I shared a few more words (okay, a few more sentences), and as we were walking out he said, “Thanks, I needed to hear that today.”

That would have been enough of a reward, but then the Lord gave me another blessing. The young man had a friend who also loves the Lord Jesus! I had a different word for this second young man, which felt like those BOGO deals we love. Two for the price of one!

If you need a word of encouragement today, why not receive Ephesians 3:20 by faith? And if your faith is on the low end, like my gas gauge was, read these words aloud. Repeat them over and over until you find yourself believing them.

You can never go wrong believing God’s words!

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV).

(c) 2019 by Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

A Time to Remember

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Memorial Day is the first American holiday I celebrated as a US citizen, and fourteen years later it remains my favorite American holiday. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It’s an honor to remember those who laid down their lives for others.

It’s also an honor to celebrate those who were willing to lay down their lives and who, happily, lived to tell the tale. One such person is Carl Harstine, the World War II veteran I had the privilege of meeting last week.

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Corporal Harstine, 92, served in the United States Marine Corps in the early 1940s, facing combat for the first time in the Battle of Guadalcanal, at the tender age of 18. He was a guest of honor at an event at work, and since I was covering the event, I had the privilege of interviewing him.

It was a one-sided affair. He did the talking, I the listening. It was also one-sided because one of us fell in love with th’other.

As a lover of history, which was one of my minors at college, World War stories never fail to move me. As I knelt beside Corporal Harstine, I was aware that I was in the presence of a legend—and alas, instead of keeping calm and carrying on, I collapsed into a blubbering mess on my knees. (I’ve been telling myself for twenty years that someday I’ll be a cool American, and maybe someday I will. But for now the jury is out.)

I thanked Corporal Harstine for his service—twice. Both times he touched his hearing aid and said he couldn’t hear me. So the third time I wrote in my notepad, “I am an immigrant from India. It’s an honor to meet you. Thank you for your service.

He smiled and looked away. It was clear from his expression that he was remembering something. I thought it might be a trip he’d made to India or some Indian friend he had. When he spoke again I realized it had nothing to do with the land of my birth.

“The flag they raised in Iwo Jima,” he whispered. “It’s in the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.”

Now this was interesting. I’d rather have a World War II vet tell me about Iwo Jima than reminisce about a trip to India or some long-lost Indian friend.

“Were you in Iwo Jima?” I scribbled in my notepad.

He shook his head.

“I was saved by the Voice.”

I’m guessing my expression asked the question for me (“What did the Voice say?”), because he added, “I’ve heard it only three times in my life.”

On this occasion, the Voice told the young corporal, who was to be sent to Iwo Jima, “Get out if you can.” He was somehow able to obey the Voice, so he was also able to get out of the war alive.

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It was time to say goodbye. That’s when I noticed an elderly lady leaning on a cane, waiting by the door. I introduced myself to her and asked if she’d come with Mr. Harstine.

”I’m his daughter,” she replied. “I drove him here.”

“Your dad’s a hero!” I cried. “I’ve fallen in love with him!”

We walked out to the parking lot. Two of my coworkers led Corporal Harstine, and I took Judy’s hand. I noticed that it was badly bruised and that she took deep, labored breaths with each step.

I waited on the sidewalk as they buckled up. As Judy was preparing to back out, her father asked her something. I’m not known for my lip-reading skills, but this one was easy. Judy said, “She has fallen in love with you.”

He blew me a kiss, raised his hand in a jaunty salute, and off they went. I found out later that Judy passed away that Thursday.

Losing a child must be one of the hardest experiences anyone can face on earth, but it’s one our Father in heaven understands best. May Carl Harstine and every parent who has lost a child find comfort in this, and hope in the fact that God’s only Son did not stay dead but rose again and is alive forevermore. This, let us never forget.

In a City Called Bombay

Unlike my previous videos, which open with the statement “Hi everyone, this is Sharon Arpana,” my latest begins, One night 28 years ago.”

28 Years tells the story of one of the momentous experiences of my life, which took place in a city then known as Bombay. In this video I also share seven benefits of being baptized in the Holy Spirit and one really anointed song.

Links to my prophetic words can be found on the Videos page or on my YouTube channel.