Some Will Depart From the Faith
In 1 Timothty 4:1-5, Paul warns us that “some will depart from the faith” and then helps us to understand some of the causes behind that. This is a helpful section not only for understanding how this happens in the lives of others, but also for understanding how it could happen in our life. Today we’ll look at: What is saving faith? How do I know if my faith is genuine? Is assurance possible? What are potential obstacles to be aware of as I follow Jesus?Audio | RSS | iTunes
This morning we are just over half way through our study of First Timothy, a 2,000 year old letter from the Apostle Paul to his friend, traveling companion and partner-in-mission. The church(es) in Ephesus were in a bit of a mess, so Paul sent Timothy to pick up the pieces. Over the first three chapters we saw that some were wandering from following Jesus and, instead, were following their own self-made ideas about God – which are useless, at best, and destructive, at worst. We might think, “Oh, but we’re beyond that today” but we’d be wrong. We are just as full of our own ideas about God and life as any other generation. Since God is the most precious reality in the universe, it is crucial that we get him right and not rely on mere personal preferences. For this reason, the Apostle Paul is deeply concerned for the church in Ephesus – and in Seattle – because everything is on the line when we get the gospel of Jesus Christ wrong. That is just as true today as it was when Paul originally wrote this letter. That, of course, is why we’re studying it together. Today, in 4:1-5, Paul warns us that “some will depart from the faith” and then helps us to understand some of causes behind that. This is helpful not only for understanding how this happens in the lives of others but also for understanding how it could happen in our life.
Q: WHAT DOES “SOME WILL DEPART FROM THE FAITH” MEAN?
4:1 Now the Spirit expressly [or, clearly] says that in later times some will depart from the faith
“the Spirit expressly says…” This is most likely a reference to Jesus’ prediction, or his own, that some would fall away from the faith:
“Many will fall away…and many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” – Jesus
(Mt 24:10-11; cf Mk 13:22)
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” – Apostle Paul (Acts 20:29-30)
“some will depart from the faith”
“the faith” here is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the summation of all the Scriptures; the good news that the living God became man to live our life, die our death in our place, for the forgiveness of sin and life with God, now and forever (i.e. Jesus in our place).
Paul is speaking of those that “depart from the faith” which is a deliberate departure from trust/following Jesus to trusting/following yourself. This is a major theme of Paul’sl letter to Timothy, though he speaks of it in a number of different ways:
1:6 swerving from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith
1:19 making shipwreck of their faith
5:15 straying after Satan
6:10 wandering away from the faith
6:21 swerving from the faith
In other words, Paul is describing the tragic reality that some, like Judas, will turn from Jesus, from eternal joy to eternal misery. There will always be some who make temporary response to Jesus, but do not have genuine faith. Now we have to be careful here. Paul is not describing someone who is struggling w/ their faith, has honest questions or some doubt. In many ways that’s a normal part of the Christian life. Rather, Paul is describing someone who abandons biblical faith in Jesus Christ that they once professed to have. We are to expect this sort of thing in the “later times” (the time between Jesus first and second coming; 1Jn2:18;1Pe1:20-21;Heb1:2; 2Tim3:1-5).
So, in sum, we shouldn’t be surprised when someone who claims to be a Christian turns their back on Christ. Jesus said it would happen; in fact, it even happened to him, from among his closest friends. Yes, as we discovered last week, the church is pillar and buttress of truth, but its messy, and it can be very discouraging if we’re not ready for that. This is a helpful and sober reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect local church where everyone is 100% sold out for Jesus.
Q: “Is Paul saying that these were genuine Christians who lost their salvation?”
The question that all of this raises is, “Is Paul saying that these were genuine Christians who lost their salvation?” The answer to that is “No.” Let’s look at three quick notes here:
#1 The Bible is clear all who are truly saved and have genuine faith in Jesus will persevere to end.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jn 6:38-40
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Rom 8:29-30
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” Eph 1:13-14
“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6
#2 At the same time, the Bible emphasizes that only those who persevere to the endare truly saved.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples…” Jn 8:31-32
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved…” Mt 10:22
“if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel…”
“[hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain…” Phil2:16
“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end…”
“Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.” Romans 11:22 (cf Jude 20-21; Jn15:16)
God urges us to persevere, hold fast, continue, endure, abide. Why? If we don’t, any initial evidences of faith will not do us any good. We should take these warnings at face value: If we fall away, we will not be saved in the end. Praying a prayer, even if followed by intense emotions, is no proof you are saved. What is the primary proof? Enduring to the end.
”They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” 1Jn2:19
Faith that ultimately fades, no matter how amazing it seemed at the beginning, is not saving faith. Why is this important to know? This is important to know because many will use the idea “once saved always saved” as an excuse. “Well, I prayed a prayer…or grew up in a Christian home…so I should be good with God.”
Salvation does come through a prayer you pray or family you’re raised in or religious hoops you jump through. Salvation comes through a posture of repentance (turning from sin) and faith (turning to Jesus) that lasts all your life. We enter into relationship with Jesusthrough repentance and faith and we continue via repentance and faith. If you abandon that posture of repentance and faith, your faith was likely never saving faith to begin with. So, let’s put it another way, “once saved, always saved” is true if what you mean, at the same time, “once saved, forever following”.
#3 Those who fall away may give many external signs of genuine conversion.
In his book Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards, makes the point that someone may know their Bible, cry over sin, lead a ministry, tithe, lead others to Christ, but not actually have genuine faith. Jesus said the same:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you…” Mt 7:21-23
“the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” Lk 8:13
Q: “OK, so how do I know if my faith is genuine? Have can I have assurance? I wasn’t concerned, but now I am.” Two questions:
At this point it is really important to point out that if you follow Jesus, God wants you to have assurance. He doesn’t want you to be forever living in a place of uncertaintly. In fact, the reality is that your relationship with him won’t take off until you have it. Until you know you are His and He is yours by faith – based on his performance for you, not yours for him – you will never be sure of your position before Him. So, here are two simple questions to prayerfully consider:
#1 Is the present posture of my heart and life marked by repentance and faith in Jesus? What’s condition of your heart right now? Don’t look back to prayer or experience, but present posture. A repentant heart is not one that has an absence of struggle. A repentant heart is one where there is an absence of stubborn defiance against Jesus and his ways. Repentance is acknowledging Jesus is Lord of everything and aligning your life w/ that truth. “What if I have doubts?” Here again, faith is not the absence of doubt, but the continuation of following Jesus amidst your doubt. Assurance comes not from our faith, but the object of our faith. Hope is not in ourselves, but in Him. Where is your faith and trust right now? Right now are you trusting in him?
#2 Is there a trajectory of growth and evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your life? Every follower of Christ will be wrestling with indwelling sin for rest of our life, but every genuine follower of Christ will experience a trajectory of growth. Our ongoing struggle with sin should assure us of our salvation, not make us doubt it. If there as no fight, that would be a sure sign your faith was not genuine. What are some of these evidences? (1) You’ll have an increasing appetite for God, (2) an increasing distaste for sin, (3) an increasing love for others (esp fellow believers), (4) an increasing yield of the fruit of the Spirit, etc.
Here’s the good news. If the present posture of heart/life is marked by repentance and faith and there is a trajectory of growth and evidence of Spirit, you have every reason to believe that your faith is genuine. If not, you don’t.
Q: “What do you do when your faith is lukewarm, not hungry for His Word, hard season, mind wanders?” Answer: re-visit the gospel and re-place your trust in Jesus and re-rest in his finished work. That’s all you can do – and, fortunately – that’s all you need to do. “But I don’t feel saved” We don’t gain assurance from our feelings. We gain our assurance from the crosss of Christ. Don’t feel your way into your beliefs; believe your way into feelings.
#1 For those who follow Jesus, this should be incredibly encouraging. No one and nothing can change that. No one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand. He will bring to completion the work he has already begun in you. Revel and relish in that good news.
#2 This is not only encouraging, but also sobering. The fact that saving faith is persevering faith, this should move us to not to take grace of God for granted.
#3 We shouldn’t be surprised when some fall away, but when they do, let’s not dismiss them but pursue and love them just as Jesus has you.
#4 If you’re not a follower of Jesus, this is God’s gracious, loving warning. He is a good God. His offer, in Christ, is a real offer. This is not a game. If your posture of heart and life towards him is not marked by repentance and faith, you must be careful. You can change that today.
Q: HOW DOES THIS FALLING AWAY HAPPEN?
What are the factors that cause this falling away? Paul gives us four potential, and common, causes; typically a combination of these. If want to endure, abide, persevere and continue until end, important to know obstacles/enemies along way
Cause #1 Demonic lies. “by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”
Every Christian has three enemies: flesh (inner inclination to evil), world (God opposing forces in culture), devil (fallen angels of God). They typically work together. Two common mistakes: talk about to much (“devil made me do it”) or talk about too little. The reality is that we often ignore this topic because it scaress us. But, ignoring it like a gardener thinking that he will be able to ignore the weeds in his garden.
- “This just reflects a primitive, pre-scientific worldview” » Reality: This is not a matter of science; the two are not incompatible.
- “This topic is not very prominent in the Bible” » Reality: Satan, evil and forces of darkness are actually a major theme in biblical theology.
- “Experience w/ demonic only happen on mission field, not here…or, died out long ago” » Reality: Inaccurate.
Life is not just biology. There is a unique spiritual dimension to reality. Satan: Real, active, intelligent, destructive. Personification of evil. Archenemy of Jesus + those who follow. Outside of Christ we’re under his controlling influence. he blinds us to our spiritual need and the beauty of Christ. As Christians we can give into his lies and follow him away from God. He main goal is to tempt us to believe/pursue things that will ultimately harm us.
1 Peter 5:8 (cf 2 Cor 2:11) “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Eph6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Jesus calls us to respond to his truth and Satan tries to lure us to follow lies. There is not only the Holy spirit, but unholy spirits; not only Spirit of Truth, but spirits offalsehood. Holy Spirit leads people into eternal security while unholy spirits lead into eternal destruction. Their goal? delude, deceive, blind, lead astray, discourage, condemn, shame, mock and lie to.
2 Cor 11:14 “Satan disguises as angel of light”
Their main strategy is to get us off of Jesus, his sacrifice, his sufficiency, his love, hiscross, his forgiveness. He is the master of lies and confusion. He makes non-central issues, central, while trying to distract/distance us from truth of God. Often, you can discern his lies in your life – and lives of others – because they come in 3rd person, not 1st:
“God is not good/not enough/not sufficient for you. You are good just occasionally do bad things. No one will find out. Just one more time. You deserve it. Everyone is againstyou. You’re alone. This isn’t going to get any better for you. Everyone thinks poorly ofyou. Jesus is for the weak. You’re amazing, you don’t need Jesus. Jesus is for those that need to feel better about themselves. Jesus is not real. Christianity is the world’s longest running guilt trip. You know better than this.”
The way to counter these lies is to be well acquainted with the truth of God through His Word. God is good. Enough. Sufficient. Near. For you. Strong. Mighty to save. Faithful. No condemnation. Refuge. Deliverer. Salvation. Adopted. Loved. Complete. Satisfaction. Eternal life.
Satan loves to keep true Chrsitians unsure of salvation b/c knows won’t have joy/freedom/confidence God wants. At the same time, he loves to keep false Christiansdeluded into thinking they are on their way to heaven, when really not. No wonder Jesus calls him a “liar” and the “father of lies”:
Jn 8:44 He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The good news is that, in Christ, we’re safe. If you stay close to him, fight lies with truth, live out your faith in community, keep short accounts with your sin, rest in gospel, you will be fine.
Cause #2 False teachers. “through the insincerity of liars”
Demonic false teaching is spread through human agents. Source: supernatural. Agents: natural. These could be teachers…or friends, coworkers, neighbors, authors, radio or tv personalities. They may or may not even know they are proponents of demonic spirits. These individuals don’t come in horns, forks, red capes. Rather, they are often smart, well-versed, intelligent and really nice…and spreading/teaching things that oppose Jesus and gospel.
Have to be really careful who you listen to, what you read, what you watch, who you surround self with. Point? Think critically about who you listen to, learn from, read, watch, etc. This doesn’t mean only listening to Christian music – Lord, help – but thinking through the lens of God’s Word and truth. It is vital to remember that we’re not neutral. We are always being shaped by something or someone – if not God’s truth, it will be something else.
Cause #3 Seared conscience. “whose consciences are seared”
Conscience is internal moral monitor, that affirms or condemns our words and actions. Sensitivity to right/wrong guides our behavior, therefore keeping your sensitive conscience is crucial for walking w/ Jesus. This is why Paul said that he, (Act 24:16) “strive to always keep my conscience clean.”
“seared” here means “cauterized” – a medical practice of burning skin, nerve to stop bleeding, numb, desensitize it. Here Paul is warning against numbing your conscience. How? Constantly arguing w/it, stifling warnings, muffling alarm, smothering voice – eventually goes silent.
Over time, our consciences become cauterized and no longer function, at least rightly. Wemore easily give into lies when our consciences have been seared. We no longer feel guiltor shame or remorse like we used to. In fact, we do things we never imagine we’d do. It is then we are easier prey to error, lies of the enemy and making shipwreck of their faith. Often, we’re last ones to recognize it’s happening – while everyone else is worried about you. If you fear that’s you. Right now, ask God for forgiveness and begin his work of repair within you. You are never too far gone for Jesus.
Cause #4 Distorted gospel. “who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods…”
What teaching were these false teachers teaching? Don’t get married or eat certain foods. Apparently they were advocating some form of ascetism in order to reach a higher level of spirituality. That is a distorted gospel. Paul is fired up two reasons: (1) Misses God’s purposes in creation. (2) Completely misses the gospel.
First: their distorted gospel misses God’s purposes in creation (immediate context) Paul is saying, “No! God created marriage and food as good things. How could it be right to deny those things?” God made marriage and food for same reasons as everything else – to give us joy, and bring him glory.
The term “made holy” means to be set apart. He’s not advocating magic here. Rather he’s saying that through the Word we know God’s actual intentions for creation – him glory, us joy. Through the Word he sets creation apart and acknoweldges the ultimate purpose for which it was created. Creation is not just there. Not meaningless material. Created fornoble intentions of enjoyment and glory. Then, we affirm that through prayers of thanksgiving, acknowledging him Creator and ourselves as created.
“We should determine then, to recognize and acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate, all the gifts of the Creator: the glory of the heavens and of the earth, of mountain, river and sea, of forest and flowers, of birds, beasts and butterflies, and of the intricate balance of the natural environment; the unique privileges of our humanness (ration, moral, social and spiritual), as we were created in God’s image and appointed this stewards; the joys of gender, marriage, sex, children, parenthood and family life, and of our extended family and friends; the rhythm of work and rest, of daily work as a means to cooperate with God and serve the common good, and of the Lord’s day when we exchange work for worship; the blessings of peace, freedom, justice and good government, and of food and drink, clothing and shelter; and our human creativity expressed in music, literature, paining, sculpture and drama, and in the skills and strengths displayed in sport.” Stott, 115
Sure, say grace before meals, but also before running, working, reading, writing, resting, and playing.
Second: their distorted gospel keeps people from God by making barriers that the true Gospel doesn’t make.
1:15 Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
2:5 For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
“How could you say marriage or food will help? Jesus is our mediator, savior, redeemer.” Jesus is immovable center of Christianity, in him we trust, not bunch of rules, list of do’s/don’ts, morality. Every other world view, religion is based on self-salvation (what I do, my work, my merit, my performance). Christianity alone says we can not get to God by any of those things, so he came to get us. Christianity alone says we’re saved by grace, not works; by faith, not performance; by trusting, not trying. When we place our hope anywhere else, other than Jesus, we’re in danger of falling away.
All who are truly saved, with genuine faith, will persevere until end. Only those who persevere until the end, will be saved. This is a call for a “long obedience in the same direction”.
Christian: If the posture of your heart and life is repentant and faith-filled, you are His. He will not let you go. Keep trusting. Keep going.
Non-Christian: Be warned. Eternity is real. The offer of the gospel is real. Our need for salvation and forgiveness is real. This is not a game.
For all of us:
- Are there lies you’re believing that you need to speak truth into?
- Are there people around you that are speaking error into your life?
- Has your conscience been seared?
- Have you been following a distorted gospel? Own self-salvation project?
In this life, you’ve never fallen beyond the grace of God. You can’t out-sin his grace. It’s not over until its over, so fly to him today. Place your sin, guilt, shame, questions and life on Jesus. He will meet you, forgive you, restore you, and keep you – now and forever – that’s guaranteed…if you persevere. Let’s continue to trust him together.
Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart, JD Greear
Powers of Darkness, Clinton Arnold
3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare, Clinton Arnold
The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis
Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards