"The Falling Away" (November 2003)
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." (2 Thessalonians 2:3) Paul is warning us of what will happen before the return of the Lord. He tells us that there will be a "falling away" in the church before the Lord returns. Whenever I think about this scripture, I have always thought about the "apostasy" that will take place among believers. A short while ago, the Lord quickened to me that this verse has a twofold meaning. That's what I want to talk about this month- both meanings of the falling away.
The falling away that most of us think about is what we call the "apostasy". There will be a time when those who once loved the Lord and served Him will turn their backs on Him. They will no longer follow Him, they will no longer surrender their lives to Him, they will no longer be devoted to Him, but they will go back to the things of the world and live in harmony and friendship with the world not wanting the things of Christ. They will become as Lot's wife when she turned around to look back at Sodom and Gomorrah. She turned to a pillar of salt; a worthless mound in the wilderness that was trampled under foot. If we "turn" from the Lord, then we will become nothing more than salt that has lost it's savor and trodden under foot of man. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." (Hebrews 6:4-6) It's not the Lord's will that any should perish, and it certainly isn't the will of the Lord for those who once knew Him to turn their backs and walk away from Him. At this point, let me encourage you to keep your relationship with the Lord strong and in tack. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; keep your affections set on things above; hold fast your profession of faith; don't listen to the lies of the enemy; don't let anyone deceive you and cause you to turn away from the Lord; there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun; and the return of the Lord is at hand, don't miss it. No man can pluck you out of His hand, but you have the free will to stay in His hand or jump out- please do whatever you have to do to stay close to the Lord and inherit the eternal life He has planned (and provided) for you.
I want to spend more time talking about the second aspect of the falling away. It's one that isn't as blatant as the one we have talked about already, yet, it is just as dangerous and deadly. I believe we are seeing this one fulfilled daily. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:3,4) It's a "falling away from the truth". We see this happening in our nation with the removal of the Ten Commandments from public buildings. The world doesn't want to know the truth, much less live by it. It's only natural for sinners not to want to be governed by the laws of God. But what isn't natural is for the church, for Christians, not to want to be governed by them. It's one thing when the world doesn't want to adhere to the commandments of the Lord, but it's an entirely different matter when the church doesn't.
What does it mean to fall away from the truth? What is truth? "Thy word is truth." (John 17:17b) The Greek meaning for "falling away" is- defection from truth, separative, divorce, desert, to withdraw self. Falling away from the truth means to divorce yourself, to separate yourself, to withdraw yourself from the word of God. It means to desert it's teachings and principles. It means that you don't give heed to what it says; you don't do what it tells you to do by applying it to your life; you don't hold it up as the highest authority in your life; it means you don't follow the word any more but you follow whatever suits you; whatever interest you, whatever condones what you are doing, whatever gives you a license to do what you want to do. It means that the word has stopped being the "pump line"- the only true standard- in your life.
Keeping God's commandments is not an option. When we break them and turn away from the truth, there are serious consequences that occur. Look at Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They did not keep the commandment that God had given them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and as a result they got kicked out of the garden and sin came upon all mankind. King Saul did not obey the word of the Lord that was spoken through Samuel the prophet and offered up sacrifices when he was told to wait instead. As a result, the kingdom was taken from him. David did not heed the commandments to not commit adultery or not to kill. He did both and brought shame upon the whole nation of Israel and lost the child to death that was produced from that affair.
So how does this falling away from the truth start? We find our answer in the Garden of Eden. It starts in the life of a believer just like it did there. "And he [the serpent] said unto the woman, 'Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'." (Genesis 3:1b) It starts when we, or when we listen to the enemy, put the word of God in question. Anytime you begin to think that maybe God didn't really mean what He said, you are on your way to falling from the truth. God always says what He means and means what He says. Balaam is an example of putting the word of God in question. When the King of Moab called Balaam to come and curse the Israelites, the Lord spoke to him and told him not to go. Balaam evidently didn't believe the Lord really meant what he said because he kept going back to God in prayer over and over until God told him to go anyway. (Numbers 22) The Bible warns us not to follow the way of Balaam. "Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam, the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness." (2 Peter 2:15) What was the way of Balaam? He forsook the "right way". He defected from the truth. He went after his way- which was a broad wide way that led to destruction- instead of going God's way- which is straight and narrow and leads to eternal life.
"And the woman said unto the serpent, 'We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die'. " (verses 2,3) Falling away from the truth happens when you "add to or take away" from the word of God. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree, but He did not tell them not to touch it. She inserted something that God never said. When we add to or take away from God's word it ceases to be the truth. This goes back to believing that God means what He says and says what He means- nothing more, nothing less. If He had intended to say more, He would have said it. Let me tell you what the danger is in adding more to what God says. Back to Eve; when she put two conditions on the tree- eating and touching- then once she touched the tree it was easy then to say, "Oh, well, I have blown it already by touching it so I might as well go ahead and eat." You know what I am talking about. We have all done it. We've committed "part" of the sin so we fall into the trap that says- you might as well go ahead and do it all. This is a trap set by the enemy to destroy you. If you find yourself in this type of situation, don't go any further. Two wrongs never make a right. Stop and turn from it in repentance. Be like Joseph. When Potiphar's wife came near to him and grabbed him, he didn't fall into a devilish lie; he ran before it got worse. You have a way out- take it. "There is no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)
"And the serpent said unto the woman, 'Ye shall not surely die'." (verse 4) Again, it all goes back to believing that God says what He means and means what He says. If you listen to the lies of the enemy, or of men, and regard what they say above the word of God, you are falling away from the truth. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth...?" (Galatians 3:1) "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" (Galatians 5:7) Jesus even addressed this, "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:8,9) "Beware of the leaven [teachings] of the Pharisees." (Luke 12:1) In speaking to the seven churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation, He addressed this matter as well. To the church of Pergamos- "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam..." (Revelation 2:14) To the church of Thyatira- "Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols." (Revelation 2:20)
"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat." (verse 6) This is probably the biggest reason why we fall away... Our own flesh! The word of God will hold us to a standard- and it's not one that our flesh likes. Our flesh is constantly in rebellion against anything that would threaten it's authority. The word of God does exactly that- it puts the flesh down and makes it subject to the law of God, it denies it of it's lustful desires. Our flesh doesn't want to be told, "No". It doesn't want to be deprived of anything. The word of God (if it is followed and applied) will bring self denial. The word of God builds our spirit man and tears down our flesh; it strengthens our spirit and makes our flesh surrender; it gives dominion to our spirit and strips our flesh. When we give into our flesh and what it wants, we are compromising the word of God- we are falling away from the truth.
As we have looked back at the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, we have seen what causes us to fall away from the truth. Now that we know we can be on guard and be careful not to put God's word in question, not to add to or take away from it, and watch out for the opportunities that the flesh would take to have the final say so. But as we have looked back through this account, I see a common thread which tells me that the bottom line to why we fall away from the truth- why we desert it- is "unbelief". If we really believe what God says; if we really believe that He means what He says; if we really believe that God says what He means; if we really believe Him and take Him at His word- then we would make very sure that we were obeying it to the letter. This is why the children of Israel could not enter into the promised land--- unbelief. They didn't believe that God would give the land to them like He said He would. They believed the report (lies) of man over the word of God. They just didn't believe His word or they would have held to it and acted upon it. If we really believe His word, then we will hold to it and act upon it as well and not fall away.
Adam and Eve "fell" because they "fell away" from the truth (the word of God). This is a warning to us as well as a word of instruction. If you have "fallen away" from the truth and thought that your way was better, you need to get back to the word because all other paths lead to destruction.