Monday, August 15, 2011

Falling Away from Faith

For the Apostle Paul, nothing was to be considered more dangerous than a false gospel. That’s obvious from his letters. But sadly, for far too many Christians, ancient and modern, being concerned about the vital integrity of the good message about God in His redeeming work has drifted to a less important matter. When that happens, and local churches are not on guard, dangerous and destructive teachings can creep in.

We see it all the time. I’m sure some reading this would roll their eyes (as I probably used to do) and say, he’s at it again. But the fact is that Paul speaks to this grave concern yet again in 1 Timothy 4.1-5, so as we work our way through this letter, we can’t help but see his heart. Deceptive, false teachings are real, and they can cause us to walk away from the faith.

Paul describes the danger and concern with falling away in clear terms. What do we need to be aware of, in order to preserve us from falling away?

1. The certainty of some falling away from faith cannot be taken lightly (v. 1).

Perhaps the scariest part of this brief section is how adamant Paul is. He says it is absolutely certain that some will depart from the Christian beliefs they once held to be true. That ought to cause some pause for every one of us. He says the Spirit “explicitly says” that some “will leave” the faith. It is certain, and therefore it should not be taken lightly—by any of us, since the false teachings are so deceptive. Peter concurs:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. (2 Peter 2.1, HCSB)

2. The subtlety of falling away from faith must be recognized (vv. 2-3).

When people have seared consciences, their hypocrisy and lies don’t matter to them any longer. As such, Paul says they even invite demonic influence. People don’t like to talk about demons these days. It seems outdated. But the danger remains real, and subtle. In fact, part of the primary danger is the subtlety factor. It can happen when we’re not on guard. Also, it doesn’t happen merely in those instances when a biblical teaching is completely disregarded; it can happen when a correct teaching is barely twisted into something else with any mixture of error.

Many believe this example in verses 2-3 may have been a gnostic or pre-gnostic set of teachings that obviously altered God’s plan for marriage and food. It is possible to fall into the trap of false teachings through subtle shifts and exploitations in our weaknesses. See what Peter has to say in agreement:

They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. (2) Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. (2 Peter 2.1-3, HCSB)

3. The antidote to falling away from faith must be repetitive (vv. 4-5).

The only realistic way to combat false teaching is to fight it continually. Paul speaks to this particular false teaching with the reminder that both spirit and matter are created by God, who declared them good (which contrasted with basic Gnosticism). He explains that the repetitive, ongoing way to recognize this is through the intake of His word (the Scriptures), and through prayer, both of which are always intended to be continual practices. Again, Peter agrees:

Dear friends, this is now the second letter I’ve written you; in both, I awaken your pure understanding with a reminder, (2) so that you can remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets, and the commandment of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles. (2 Peter 3.1-2, HCSB)

I used to read these texts and think, Well, it’s not going to happen to me! But the Bible also says, Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10.12). My assumption was foolish. I need to stay in God’s word and in prayer to keep focused on the one, true gospel, through which God is able to keep us from falling (see Jude 24).

Let’s take heed.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]