Why Church Leaders Should Be Aware of The Danger of Falling Away From The Faith
There are many places in the New Testament where people who are genuine, born-again Christians are warned that if they fall away from the faith they will lose salvation.
Whether it is actually possible for a Christian who has been born again and has received the Holy Spirit to finally fall away and end up in hell is an issue I will briefly touch on below. I also want to say something about my main concern in this article, which is the responsibility of church leaders to warn their flocks of the perils of falling away. But first my aim will be to show that there are numerous passages in Scripture where genuine Christians are warned of the danger of losing salvation. Here are some relevant texts:
‘But it is the person who endures to the end who will be saved.’
The first thing to note is that the salvation in view here is surely salvation from sin, the most common type of salvation referred to in the New Testament. Nothing else even remotely fits the context in any of these verses. It cannot be about being saved from suffering persecution, because it is precisely the one who endures persecution who will be saved. Nor can it be about being saved from death, not least because in the context of each passage we find the martyrdom of Christians (Matt 10:21; 24:9; Mark 13:12).
The fact that in these verses salvation is portrayed as something future is not a problem for understanding the salvation as salvation from sin. The Bible refers to the salvation from sin of Christians variously as something that has happened in the past, as something that is continuing during this life, and as something that will be completed in the future. Here the future aspect of being finally, completely saved from sin at death or the return of the Lord is in view.
We must note secondly that these verses have to be referring to genuine Christians, because those without a genuine faith would not be given a promise of being saved from sin by enduring.
‘To the end’ could mean either to the end of the age or more generally to the end of whatever period of persecution the Christians in view suffer. Regardless of which if these options is correct, however, Jesus is clearly implying that if these Christians do not endure to this end, they will not be saved.
Although these verses may be referring directly only to Christians alive at the end of the age, it would surely be appropriate to widen their applicability to Christians suffering persecution at other times too. This repeated saying of Jesus, then, stands as a warning to genuine Christians not to make poor decisions and thereby lose salvation.
(2) In Romans 11:20-22, in Paul’s discussion of the olive tree, which represents those who are saved, he tells the Gentile Christians among his readers:
‘[Unbelieving Jews] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. See, then, the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in that kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.’
Those Gentiles Paul is addressing here are surely genuine Christians. Only those who are genuine believers – whether Jew or Gentile – can be part of this tree. Paul says that Jews who did not accept Jesus have been broken off from the tree, and it makes no sense that Gentiles who have only superficially accepted Jesus as Messiah could ever be regarded as grafted into the tree.
There is a clear warning here that the readers should in some sense fear suffering the same fate as unbelieving Jews, and that they must continue in God’s kindness so as to avoid being cut off. There should be no doubt that the warning here is to genuine, born-again Christians about the danger of losing salvation.