Have you ever noticed that people who were your great friends one day seem to have disappeared altogether the next day? I was reflecting on this the other night, and wondering if God feels the same way. That is, how many people come to God one day, but eventually they are nowhere to be found?
Consider human friends and the social media for example. I often get people seeking to befriend me, and they are full of praise for me and what I do. They have recently discovered my website or some such thing, and they can’t seem to get enough of me. They initially are very active in interacting with me.
They will like and share my stuff, and make all sorts of comments. But then, a few months later, I am left asking, “Whatever happened to so and so?” “Where did he go?” “Why do I never hear from her anymore?” They seem to have dropped out just as quickly and unexpectedly as when they first got in touch with me.
Now I realise everyone is busy, and people change, and so on, but I just find it odd that one day some folks seem to think you are some sort of superstar, yet the next day they have dropped you like you have the plague. I have to ask myself, “What did I do? After all, I did have a bath a few weeks ago!”
It is getting to the place that when some newcomer appears, seeking my friendship and singing praises, that I feel I must warn them: sooner or later they may well find something about me they don’t like. They may discover that I am in fact a rank heretic (in their view) and they will then turn on me like I am the anti-Christ.
But of course there are likely all sorts of very good reasons why people may dump me as abruptly and decisively as they once befriended me. I am sure I have all sorts of things about me that may put people off. Sometimes I am surprised that I have any friends at all!
But when we think about God and those who would seek him, then the story changes radically. Millions of people come to God in a rush of adrenalin, in a place of emotion, or a climactic initial encounter. But how many of these folks are also fair-weather friends, who seem to disappear as quickly as they came on the scene?
They come to God through Christ, but soon enough drop away. But in this case they have no excuse whatsoever for doing so. As mentioned, if people dump me they may very well have a hundred good reasons to do so. But if they dump God, they have zero good reasons for leaving him.
He is perfect, unchanging, glorious, loving and merciful God, and all who come to him have every reason to fully and finally stay with him. Yet tragically so many people stay only for a little while, then turn their backs on God altogether. Some may do so temporarily, but many do so permanently.
They walked with God for a while, then they turned away. The Bible of course records this sad fact in the life of individuals as well as groups. Simply think of Israel as a whole, and how often she abandoned God, forsook God, turned away from God, and resisted God. The Old Testament presents a very sad picture of all this.
Individuals can also abandon God. We read about many such cases of apostasy, backsliding and desertion. The New Testament both warns against this and provides examples of it. Here are just a few of them:
-Mathew 24:9-14 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
-Acts 20: 29-31 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!
-1 Timothy 1:18-20 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.
-1 Timothy 4:1-2 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
-2 Timothy 3:13 evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
-Hebrews 3:12-14 “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
One of the clear warnings about the dangers of falling away comes in the Parable of the Sower, or what might be better called the Parable of the Soils. We find this teaching of Jesus in three places: Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; and Luke 8:1-15.
I have already spoken to it elsewhere, as in: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2015/07/17/flash-in-the-pan-or-faithful-to-the-end/
But let me speak to it here just a bit more. Not all soils are conducive to the seed of the gospel, and many hear the Word but quickly fall away because the seed has not taken root. In the parable we have four different responses to the sowing (the preaching of the gospel) with only one of them being successful.
The three poor soils indicate an initial reaction to the gospel, but because of various reasons, that commitment is short lived, and three out of four types of hearers of the word will eventually fall away. James Montgomery Boice lists the four responses as follows: the hard heart, the shallow heart, the strangled heart, and the open heart.
Only the last sort receives the gospel and is truly converted. The other three are short lived responses but not a whole-hearted dedication. While this parable is likely not telling us that a full three-quarters of those who are at first receptive to the gospel will fall away, it does tells us that many will – probably the majority.
I am not sure how many friends and followers I have lost in life. Plenty I am sure, and as mentioned, many may well have had good reason to give me the flick. Sometimes I want to give myself the flick! But we have absolutely no reason at all to give God the flick.
He is the only one in the universe we should run to, trust in, rely upon, and glory in. He is fully faithful, always loving, eternally trustworthy, and the best companion you will ever find. Jesus dealt with wavering responses throughout his ministry. The episode found in John 6:61-68 is worth closing with here:
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”