Faith in freefall
How to help a friend who is thinking of giving up on Jesus.
You might have had the unpleasant experience of when one of your Christian mates stops coming to church or youth group, turns away from God, stops following Jesus and goes back to living life their own way.
Sometimes it can happen just for a season of struggle but other times it looks permanent. You might be upset that you won’t be seeing them as much and feel concerned about some of the decisions they are making. While you continue to love them unconditionally and encourage them to come back to God, you may still have some big questions:
- Will they ever turn back to God?
- Will God forgive them a second time around?
- Will they still be going to heaven?
- Are they still forgiven even though they don’t call themselves a Christian anymore?
All these concerns are summed up in the question: can a Christian fall away? At face value, it seems a very obvious "yes" simply because many of us have friends who appear to have done just that. But on a deeper level, when we ask that question, what we’re really asking is: can someone who believed in God, and trusted in Jesus to save them, ever lose their salvation?
People have many different answers to this question but, generally speaking, I have found there are 3 common reasons why a young person might "fall away".
1. A faith that never takes root
If someone appears to have fallen away, it might mean that deep in their heart of hearts, they have never really given Jesus control of their life or trusted in him completely to save them. I believe these are the people Jesus referred to in his parable of the sower when he mentioned the seed scattered on the stony ground. These people appear to become Christians and for a season are very enthusiastic about God, the Bible and doing good works but their faith never really takes root and they end up falling away.
2. They never make a real decision
Perhaps they changed their behaviour to fit in at church or youth group but maybe it wasn’t from a heart that sincerely loved God and was being transformed by the Holy Spirit. These are the people Hebrews 6 is talking about when it mentions people who fall away. They "taste" what life in God’s family is like, "share" in the benefits of the Holy Spirit and are "enlightened" by leaders and teachers who show them what it means to be saved but, in the end, they turn away.
3. They misunderstand the gospel
It could mean that they never really understood the gospel message at all and they need to be loved and encouraged back to God. In that case, you now have an opportunity to help them really understand the gospel for the first time and they have an opportunity to really put their trust in God for the first time.
What you can do to help
Regardless of what answer you might have to hypothetical questions about falling away, the opportunity to watch someone return to God is something you don’t want to waste. James 5:19-20 talks about how great it is to help someone return to faith:
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
No matter how bleak it looks, only God knows their heart. So don't give up on your friend. You might soon be able to ask them about their decision or it might take years of patience before you have another chance to talk to them about God. When you do finally get that chance for a chat, be gentle and loving, not judgemental.
In the meantime, keep praying for them and loving them as you trust in God’s promises.