I think I would be safe in saying that all who come to Jesus Christ in obedient faith have done so because they see their sinful nature and they want to be reconciled to God. They also probably desire to go to heaven and spend eternity with God (John 14:1-6). When one comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he or she has decided to build their life on the solid rock foundation which is Jesus, as opposed to the fickle and weak systems of the world such as finances, education, earthly lineage, and prestige (Matt 7:24-27).
While one rests safely in God’s care by trusting in Jesus, there needs to be the reminder of the ever-present danger of drifting away and falling from the foundation which one previously stood on. How one can read the New Testament and come away with the thought that once one is in a saved condition there is no danger or even the possibility of ever losing that relationship is hard for me to understand. Consider some passages with me that show that a Christian can fall away and be forever lost if he or she walks away from God and refuses to repent.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians includes a passage where he tells those Christians if they attempt to be right with God by keeping the Old Testament Law they have fallen from grace (Gal 5:4). If there was no possibility of falling then this passage is unnecessary. The apostle Peter in his second letter deals with some individuals who once knew the way of righteousness and have turned from this and now are in a worse condition (2 Pet 2:20-22). With these two passages (among others) it’s evident that the Bible teaches that a Christian who was once in a saved condition can indeed be lost.
While it is true that a Christian can forfeit his salvation by deciding not to remain faithful, this should never happen. When you consider all that God has done to redeem man, and all that he has done to keep man saved, an individual has to work really hard to be lost once he has been saved. While much can be said about God’s forgiving nature, and even those who fall can be forgiven when they repent and turn to God, a lot needs to be said about ways that a Christian can keep from falling.
Many prisons would probably be empty if individuals focused on keeping themselves from certain activities that led to crime instead of not having a “defense system” set up beforehand. The wise Christian must have a “defense system” set up to prevent himself from falling before apostasy ever takes place. The Christian should have a heart of prevention before a heart of repentance is ever manifested. Look at the prescription that Peter gives for preventing spiritual slip and fall:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall (2 Pet 1:5-10).
Faith as described in the Bible often deals with two things: one’s personal trust and belief in God (Rom 10:17; Heb 11:6) and the practice of true religion (Eph 4:5, Jude 3). As faith is used in Second Peter it deals with one’s personal trust and belief in God. If I would keep myself from spiritual slip and falls, I need to increase my trust in God. This comes by hearing God’s word (Rom 10:17). My trust and belief in God will keep me from falling as I rely on him and I comply with his will. I need to daily be sure that I am trusting in God more and in myself less, I need to cooperate with the will of God, but I also need to strengthen my faith by studying God’s word and believing it.
Moral excellence also is required so that one maintains sure footing in his or Christian walk. Christians need to do their best to not only avoid sin but also approve of the things that are excellent (Phil 1:10). When it comes to my daily recreational activities and my entertainment choices, if I would keep myself from falling I need to choose what is best. The Christian life is one of a high calling and I need to live up to this high calling and not settle for mediocre discipleship (cf. 1 Pet 1:14-16).
Knowledge keeps me in right standing with God so long as I apply it. As it relates to knowledge in Christianity, it doesn’t come through mere feelings and emotional experiences but rather one must make an effort to read and study God’s word (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim 2:15). If I ever want to grow and stand on firm ground I need to have a growing knowledge of God’s word. Study the Bible on purpose, for a purpose, and with a purpose. Seek to learn something from every sermon you hear and every Bible study or Gospel meeting you attend. When you read the Bible, seek to learn something you haven’t known before and then look for immediate ways to apply it to your life so that it will stick. Knowledge can help to keep one from falling spiritually, so acquire as much of it as you can.
The Christian who wants to remain in a right relationship with God must exercise self-control. Self-control deals with many aspects of life, whether it be speech, thoughts, desires, or attitude. Christians must exercise discipline and self-control so that they do not jump at every opportunity to sin and every enticement to fall away from their Lord (cf. Gal 5:22-23).
Patience helps to make one complete (Jas 1:2-4). Endurance is important in Christianity because the Christian life is a marathon and not a sprint, there will be hardships and losses, deaths and disappointments, and these things will try and test my faith. Patience in God and learning to wait on Him will keep me from giving up when deliverance and rescue doesn’t come immediately. Spiritual endurance sets one on solid ground and when the storms of life come the individual who has been patient and learning to walk with God steadfastly will stand through tough times. Jesus told his disciples that souls are possessed in patience (Luke 21:19).
Godliness can simply be defined as being like God. God cannot sin and fall away from being God, so if I would do my best to imitate and emulate God I can be confident that falling is less of a reality. I need to look into God’s word and see how He interacts with individuals, how does He extend mercy, how does He view sin, how does He love and how does He forgive. When I put the attributes of God into practice and make them a part of my nature I am assuring my footing.
The way I treat others has a lot to do with whether or not I will fall spiritually. Jesus relates discipleship to how Christians treat one another (John 13:34-35). Many who fall probably will not consider how they have treated others and interacted with brethren, but the relationship I have with others and the sacrificial love and kindness that I display will keep me on solid ground (Phil 2:1-4). If I will endure in the Christian walk until the end I need to be kind to brothers and sisters in Christ and cultivate healthy relationships with them (Matt 10:22).
While the King James Version of the Bible uses the term charity, the word love carries the same thought. If I don’t have love, all of the religious service I render and spiritual talents are worthless (1 Cor 13). How much of my life is characterized by love? Am I known for being a loving person? Love corrects someone when they are wrong, love encourages and notices the things right that someone is doing, love speaks well of someone and doesn’t talk behind their back, love puts others before self and doesn’t always have to be first.
The graces that Peter describes will keep someone from falling spiritually. Do you want to grow stronger in your relationship with God? Cultivate the above graces and attempt to magnify them in your life. Look for ways to show more brotherly kindness, gain more knowledge, and show more love. Remember the words of Jude: “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).