Slowly to Oblivion: How Christians Fall Away from the Lord, Part 1


Falling AwayNothing in the Bible should be more sobering than the reality that some people aren’t going to make it to heaven. Even more sobering is that some of them were once considered part of the in crowd.

Now some will protest that Scripture is clear that the saints will persevere. (Hey, that rhymes!) But it also seems clear that the Bible repeatedly notes that some who were at one point counted part of the group were not counted so at the end.

Something happened. Something undeniable.

Claim all you will that those who don’t make it were never part of the group to begin with, but there’s that daunting reality again that a lot of people who now seem out of the group were the same ones we once accepted readily as being in.


Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
—Hebrews 3:12 ESV

Throughout his writings, Paul used the term brothers to refer only to those who were in.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
—Matthew 24:9-13 ESV

Context is king. In this context, the King of Kings is talking to the in crowd. They are the ones who will see their numbers dwindle and fall.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.
—Hebrews 6:4-10 ESV

“…as you still do.” What matters in the end is perseverance, and it is clear that some who were once in may not persevere.

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”
—Revelation 3:1-5 ESV

A name once written in the Book of Life has the potential to be blotted out if what was once alive becomes dead, if the works once started remain incomplete.

The one who continues to long to remain in Christ will remain there, for no outside force can rip us away from God. But we need to be careful of what we harbor within.

How can you and I fall away from the Lord? It’s scarily simple.


Hoard everything God gives you. Time. Goods. Knowledge. Wisdom. Love. Keep it all to yourself. Build barns and silos to store it all. And if you should dole out a tiny portion of what you have been given, make sure others know how generous you are in doing so. And make sure the knowledge you portion out is used to crush others who don’t have the silo full you do. Also ensure the pittance of love you offer has every expectation of being returned. Then when people don’t treat your generous gift with the appreciation you believe they should, horde more. And don’t ever repeat the mistake of throwing your pearls before those you deem “swine.”

Cultivate cynicism.

Knowing everything means suffering fools, of which there seems to be no end. The person who knows it all can see through it all. Every motive in others becomes clear. Every sell job known for what it is. The cynic claims to see all as it rightly is and calls it out from the lofty grandeur of self-deemed righteousness. Some go so far as to label this “discernment.”

Love only those who love you.

While you’re not casting your pearls of wisdom before swine, don’t give them your love either. Talk about those people. Make sure everyone knows who you think they are. Save your love for people like you; the right kind of people. And since there are usually so few who measure up, most of your love will eventually deepen into further self-love. Because it’s easier to love yourself and leave it at that.

Find a ghetto to dwell in—then never venture out of it.

Lutheran. Charismatic. Calvinist. Paedobaptist. Dispensationalist. And on and on. The Christian life contains all sorts of ghettos. Of course, the one you choose to live in is the best. The others contain nothing but error. Best not to visit them—ever. There’s nothing anyone in those other ghettos can teach you anyway. No sense risking damnation by checking out how the other half lives.

Fight every battle.

It doesn’t matter what the battle is, proving how right you are is all that is essential. Make sure everyone knows where you stand on every position. “Fight the good fight,” right? Take on your enemies and pound them into submission. And if it seems after a while that everyone else is the enemy, chalk that up to the rightness of your cause. Because anyone who is on the side of rightness will be persecuted—or so you keep telling yourself.

Pursue comfort.

Even though you’re fighting endless righteous battles, no need to work up too much of a sweat. Look after yourself. Make sure you have the best of everything. You’re a King’s Kid. You deserve the best. This is especially true of Americans. You’re pretty sure the American Dream is right there in the Bible, so it’s in your best interest to embody it.

Exude righteousness.

Practice your religion before others and make sure they know how well you are doing it and how poor their execution is. Talk about your spiritual giftings all the time. You’re a model. You probably even tithe your mint and dill, though others give you strange looks when you toss part of your spice rack in the offering plate on Sundays. What do they know?

Use the lingo of the in crowd.

When you talk about your religion, use the buzzwords. Often. Because nothing says you’re in like talking in the approved code. In addition, this is a good way to ensure the out crowd stays out.

Find ways around the must-do’s that only the noobs must attend to.

You’ve been around. You’re proven. No need to spend too much time attending to the basics, like prayer and Bible study. Or serving the downtrodden. Leave that to the new guys. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Besides, you know it all and have done it all already.

Resist reproof.

And the noobs? Who are they to question you? Error is for the other guy. Really, the nerve…

Never question yourself.

Once you’ve arrived, why make trouble for yourself by checking to see if your destination is the correct one after all? The other guy is in the wrong place. He always is.

I’ve heard it said that sarcasm isn’t very Christian.

What seems to be not so Christian is to let oneself fall into the kind of delusion the sarcasm above attempts to pierce. It’s a common delusion though. What makes it really sad is that most people who need desperately to reverse course before they find themselves out of the in group will read that set of warnings above and resist reproof. Because error only and always dogs the other guy. Always.

I end by saying that to the person afflicted by the delusional thinking depicted above, all change is bad. And yet a great swath of Christianity in the West needs desperately to change. This doesn’t mean abandoning solid doctrine, just bad practice based on self-righteous misunderstandings of the words of God.

Too many of us have become the living embodiment of the Pharisees we mock. The mirror of Scripture and the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit should reveal us for what we have become.

Unless it is already too late.


Slowly to Oblivion: How Christians Fall Away from the Lord, Part 2

Each of Us a Monster


Whenever a media event occurs that involves some sort of atrocity, the language of discussion involves power words. Human beings have an ingrained need to label, so the words we assign to horrific events and the people involved in them are the most powerful we elicit.

I’ve heard the word monster used often in the past week. A power word like that contrasts with the other labels we use, such as innocent. Labels help us make sense of the world, especially when tragedy strikes. The problem with labels is that we usually use them incorrectly. If anything, they become a means for us to distance ourselves from reality, a lie we tell ourselves to feel better in the midst of pain.

Evil demands labels because we want to make sense of it. We have a strange sense of fairness about how life should be, and most often evil is what we consider anything that robs life of its fairness. It’s a very American way of thinking.

For these reasons, we label perpetrators of evil as monsters, especially when that evil appears to us to be on a grand scale. Almost everyone considers Hitler a monster. So were Stalin and Mao. Anyone who preys on children is a monster, such as John Wayne Gacy or the Columbine shooters.

Though Americans are less of a religious folk than they used to be, if asked where those monsters are now, few would balk at claiming they are in hell. The ways in which monsters commit their crimes only furthers our belief that such people must be subjected to everlasting torment for us to feel that life is fair.

Here is what others say about genuine evil:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
—Matthew 5:20-22 ESV

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
—Matthew 5:27-28 ESV

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
—Romans 3:10-19 ESV

In the end, the truth is inescapable: Each of us is a monster.

The Nazi Final Solution happened because thousands or even millions of people just like you and me were complicit in sending other people to their deaths. A nameless, faceless man at a desk initialed an order that killed families by the hundreds, then he went home and ate a meal with his own family. He was just doing his job. They executed the generals and commandants when the war was over, but the guy who initialed the papers went unjudged. Or so we think.

The rhetoric of evil in the America today makes no room for the thought that we too swiftly judge the obvious monsters and excuse ourselves. We condemn those who use guns to kill, but we make excuses for ourselves when we use words that kill the spirits of others and often trap them in a living hell for the rest of their natural lives. The young girl who is called ugly. The boy subjected to a  morose father’s beatings. The people we crush without thinking, mostly to make ourselves feel superior or to demonstrate our illusory power.

Each of us is a monster.

Even if you have no pretenses to any kind of religious thought, it doesn’t excuse the fact that human beings, even the most vanilla of us, are capable of the most sickening acts. We lay aside our fairness and brotherhood quite easily. The monster lurks perpetually within.

Perhaps you have heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment. If not, I invite you to watch this video excerpted from a documentary on the subject. The video contains nudity and obscenities, but then those obscenities are always lurking beneath the surface of our lives:

If we can draw any wisdom from this experiment, it is that even the most upright of us is capable of atrocities given the right circumstances.

We can talk all we want about the hows and whys of acts of terror and evil, but it is just a cover for the greater problem: that each of us is capable of those same atrocities. We should not deceive ourselves about the ease with which we  commit small atrocities daily. Nor should we convince ourselves that the larger acts of evil, the ones that grab the news headlines, are not bubbling in our hearts.

Again, someone addressed this:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
—Luke 13:1-5 ESV

Asking why asks so little of us. Labeling others as monsters is easy, because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

But it is all  a lie. We are, each of us, monsters.

And unless we repent of our monstrous proclivities, we will all likewise perish.

When “Faith” Is a Lie


My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace….
—Ezekiel 13:9-10a

I started a diet back in November that has seen me lose 30 pounds and keep it off. I’m right at the weight I want to be, and that’s a good thing.

One of the “guilty” foods the diet affords is Peanut M&Ms. I like Peanut M&Ms, especially the new variation, the dark chocolate kind.

But as I bought this guilty pleasure more often, I noticed an odd thing: I was being lied to.

The lie? Well, ask yourself, When is a pound not a pound? Answer: When it’s 12.75 ounces.

Now some people aren’t bothered by this because they don’t consider a substandard packaging size a lie. I do. It’s a form of fraud, especially when it’s done to make the price appear stable. Plenty of people won’t notice the change, and the company avoids the heat by claiming they’ve kept the price down. But they haven’t. The cost per volume/weight has gone up. Often considerably.

Edy’s/Dreyer’s ice cream went from a half gallon (2 quarts) to 1.75 quarts to 1.4 quarts. Same price. Except it’s not.

The government said last quarter’s consumer price index rose only 0.6 percent. Does anyone here, in an age of $4 a gallon gas and 1.4 quart ice cream containers, believe that for one second? Honestly? I suspect that the majority of packaged foods I regularly purchase have seen a downsizing in package size in the last nine months. In other words, food prices have gone way up, no matter what companies claim.

Okay, so the cynical ones among you will ask what we should expect from companies out to make a buck or a government that only seems to exist to placate the masses. Our surprise should not be when companies and government do bad things, but when they actually do good. Point taken.

On the other hand, what do we do about an institution that is always supposed to be good, yet lies to us nonetheless?

One of the issues I have with the American Church in its present state is that it confuses faith with a pollyannna mentality. It is simply wrong to say, “If we just have faith, all our problems will go away.” That’s a lie. Yet how often is that lie foisted off on believers on one level or another by well-meaning Christian leaders?

Here’s a prime example from Scripture of real faith and the action that followed:

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
—Genesis 41:25-36

Think about what would have happened if Joseph had instead told Pharaoh, “Don’t worry about your dream. Have faith in God! He will preserve us because He is a good God who only wishes the best for His children.Isn't it all so happy? Now let’s all go eat, drink, and be merry!”

Having faith does NOT preclude wisdom and preparation. Yet think about how many churches are ill-equipped to handle any kind of disaster. Think about the churches who routinely preach it will always be sunshine and lollipops. Is that your church?

In the passage that opened this post, God condemned the lying prophets who told the people not to be serious about the times, to go on as if nothing were changing around them, to claim a time of peace when it was anything but.

There is a stark difference between a healthy fear and senseless bravado passed off as faith. When Satan tempted Christ to leap off the top of the temple, the Lord responded to the father of lies with a healthy fear of the Father of Lights. We need that same kind of healthy fear.

Some of you may have heard talk of a looming trucker’s strike the first of June in protest over gas prices.  I don’t blame the truckers, I’m angry too that fat cats speculating on oil futures have driven the price through the roof.

Now think about how our entire country depends on trucked-in everything for its operation. Think about what happens when the grocery store runs low of food. Think about what happens when the hospital can’t get its supplies. Think.

Now ask yourself: What is the American Church doing to prepare?

See, it’s a lie to keep on acting as if everything is swell, as if the problems aren’t there, as if the seven years of famine won’t be all that bad. Genuine faith doesn’t sit on its haunches and sing happy songs. No, it gets out there and makes a difference. It prepares. It asks tough questions and comes up with tougher solutions. It asks something of its people.

It bothers me in the extreme that we simply can’t get Christian leaders to act. No matter what kind of fire we light under some of these guys, they’re content to spend all their time persecuting minor heretics and arguing over the finer points of infralapsarianism or some other non-essential when people are losing jobs, houses, and, potentially, food.

The early Church ensured that the proper people, godly people, were selected to wait the tables of the widows and orphans, to make certain they were cared for. How does that contrast with how we Christians prepare to meet challenges facing our communities and the society as a whole? How stupid and irrelevant do we wish to look in the eyes of the world if we are entering a time of tribulation without any preparation (other than to think, Hey man, Jesus is going to rapture me outta here! )? Is that the way the early Church responded to looming threats? (See Acts 11:28-30 for the answer.)

Faith is not a license for foolishness. Faith does not suffer liars lightly. Faith is only faith when it’s mixed with godly action.

What is our godly action right now? And why aren’t we acting on our faith?