Have you ever known someone who seemed to be a solid Christian, but they suddenly walked away, going back into their worldly behaviors and attitudes? The reality of such a situation can be disturbing and sad. Can people fall from grace?
What Is Grace?
The simplest way to understand grace is as undeserved merit. For example, parents often do things for their children, even though their behavior might not actually merit the thing. Johnny is frustrated because he doesn’t know how to dribble a basketball.
His older brother tries to help him, and instead of being grateful, Johnny reacts angrily and shouts, “I don't want your help! I can do it myself!” Their father understands what is going on in the situation and steps in. His dad understands that Johnny is frustrated and angry with himself and doesn’t want to be seen as needing his big brother’s help.
Is Johnny’s behavior good? Has he reacted in an appropriate manner? Certainly not. But instead of punishing Johnny, he merely corrects him and then spends the next hour teaching Johnny how to dribble a basketball. Did Johnny deserve his dad’s help?
No. In fact, based just on the merits of Johnny’s behavior, he deserved punishment. But his dad did not do that. He dealt with Johnny with grace — undeserved merit. It is the same with all of humanity.
We are all rebellious, violating God’s moral law, failing to love our neighbors, living sinful lives. Nothing about us deserves to be given a pass. And yet, God has provided a means by which we can be forgiven and have a relationship with Him, despite our miserable state.
There is absolutely nothing we can do to earn this grace. It is given to us as a completely free gift, even though we do not deserve it. Rightly appreciated, grace is an inspiration to us to do better, to seek God’s will, and to live a righteous life (Romans 3:24; Romans 5:15; Romans 11:5-6; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 15:10).
“All of these persons (patriarchs and prophets), therefore, were highly honored, and were made great. This was not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves. Nor are we justified by our own wisdom, understanding, godliness, or works we have done in holiness of heart. Rather, we are justified by that faith through which, from the beginning, almighty God has justified all men” (Clement of Rome).
“Therefore, let us not be ungrateful for His kindness (grace). For if He were to reward us according to our works, we would cease to be” (Ignatius)
What Does Falling from Grace Mean?
Unfortunately, not everyone who has been the recipient of that grace truly appreciates the magnitude of that grace. We all have known someone who has had a “backslid.” I know a guy who was solid as a rock for the vast majority of his life.
He mentored me as a new believer, taught me about prayer, made sure I was in church whenever the opportunity presented itself, took me to conferences, etc. He was very active in evangelism in the city and fearlessly declared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, both to those who hated and scorned him, as well as those who listened respectfully.
One day he came to me and said he believed God had told him to stop being my friend, and that was the last time I saw him for about 20 years. In retrospect, this was a sign that not all was well in his spiritual life. He then went on to become a missionary in Europe for a major evangelical missionary organization, met his wife (also a missionary), and settled in Germany.
When I finally encountered him again, he was quite literally very hateful toward Christians, scorned Christianity, and did so in the most crude and vile language. When I asked what had happened to him, why he had become so virulently anti-Christian, he attacked me personally and blocked me on social media.
There is no question in my mind that my former friend was a part of the Body of Christ. His love for Christ was genuine. Every bit as genuine as his hatred is now. He quite clearly fell from grace. Scripture makes it clear that people can and do apostatize (fall away) from the faith and the grace afforded them (Hebrews 3:12; Luke 8:13; Hebrews 6:4-6; 2 Peter 2:20-22).
In fact, we are informed that as we approach the End Times, apostasy will increase, even to the point of reducing the church to a small remnant (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1; Matthew 24:10: Matthew 24:12; Matthew 24:9-10). Our response to those who fall from grace may be the key factor in whether or not they return to the fold.
In the case of my friend, I attempted to understand what it was that caused his apostasy since that would be the core issue that needed to be addressed. With that having been done, no progress could have been possible.
While he was able to simply block me, the fact that he felt the need to do so is, in my opinion, an indication that he was being convicted of his apostasy and chose to ignore the Holy Spirit. The lesson here is it is much better to discuss these things face to face than attempting to do so via email or social media.
What Is the Difference Between Grace and Mercy?
As you do so, be certain to speak with love, avoid harsh judgments, and if you warn them of the spiritual dangers of their attitude and behaviors, do so by revealing both Scripture on the punishment of those who fall from grace as well as the grace and mercy of God using the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Keep in mind that God still cares for them, and they can indeed be restored after a fall from grace.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/rancescoch
J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
10 Lessons from a Navajo Christian Missionary