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.
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 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:16). And even though the Fourth Gospel does not include this list, it does refer to Jesus’ betrayer as “one of the twelve” (John 6:71) and “one of His disciples” (John 12:4).
It’s 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.
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.
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.
PHOTO VIA UNSPLASH
(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.