I have seen and probably you have seen the people who have drifted away. This breaks my heart and pains me to write that I know people personally who this can be said of. There was a time they walked with the Lord and now they do not. I hear that the percentages are about %50; %50 of students walk away from the faith in college. Barna and even USA today have recorded this. This is obviously not if they attend a Christian college where their faith is encouraged but the number is pretty shocking nonetheless.
I know that some people have taken to better marketing to solve this problem but let’s look at what the Bible has to say about this. When I hear this statistic it makes me think of the parable of the sower, not about better advertising. A guy goes out to sow the seed and he leaves the seed on four kinds of ground.
The first ground is a hard surface and the birds of the air come and eat up the seed. The second ground gets into the light ground and immediately springs up but because the plant has little root it withers away. The third seed lands among the thorns and when it springs up it is choked out by the weeds and it withers and dies. The fourth and final seed hits the good ground and takes root producing various fruit. (Mathew 13)
The thing about this parable that is scary is that while 3 of the 4 respond to the sowing only 1 out of the 4 make it. Now this is not a one to one correlation for evangelism statistics, but it is still a hard truth. For me the harrowing part is not that some will reject the message but that some who seem to be with us for a season may not actually remain with Christ in the end. Jesus explains the parable as the first road is simply the enemy not allowing the seed to take root, people flat our reject the Gospel. The second ground is the rootless ground, a strong emotional response to the Gospel but one that cannot withstand actual trials and tribulation and the poor root is knocked down. The third ground is one who hears the word and considers it but it is ultimately undermined by other competing interests and passions, there is no crash and burn but a slow perhaps inevitable transition away. The final ground receives the seed and cultivates and produces fruits: some little, some many, and some vast.
As much as I would love to believe that “once saved always saved is true” I do not. I say this because the Bible does not communicate it in this way, it talks more of an enduring process. The reasons are many and they have nothing to do with God’s faithfulness because I believe he is absolutely faithful and that it is true that nothing can separate us from his love. I also believe that he who began a good work in us will complete it. But we have to understand to whom this is directed at. This is an encouragement to God’s elect. In other words these truths are true from God’s perspective. The Bible tells us that God knows those who are his. (2 Tim 2:19) He does keep his own safe. But I do not have the privilege of knowing that, from my perspective I only see the seed go into the ground and I do not yet see what the harvest time will bring. I must minister as if the fields are full of true germinating seed. But this parable gives us insight.
In Mathew 13 there is the second parable of the Vineyard and the enemies who have sown the weeds and thistles among the wheat and the angels ask God to remove them but God says he will allow them to remain because uprooting them would uproot true believers. This is another one of those scary truths. God is aware that there are those with a false confession among even his children. The reminder with yet a third parable however is still that while many will be lost, the tree in the garden will still grow to be the biggest one there is. Jesus words will not return void. Mathew 13 is very clear with this theme, as he brings it home with a fourth parable about a drag net that will not truly be sorted until the return of Christ. The net will have the Jesus fish along with some of those others fish that want to reject his place in their lives. The trash will not be removed until the end. So we have people who continue with us, people who up and leave and others who continue only to be sorted later.
God is aware of the whole process. The question is are we? I wish that people who once seemed to have a confession of faith would go the distance and remain. But this is the point, people can seem to have confession, but only God and them truly know. A third-party cannot know, but as a minister I have to minister in hope that they are sincere, I treat them as such and encourage them as such. This is why Jesus continues to teach that we must abide in him. He teaches that if we abide in him he will abide in us for apart from him we can do nothing.
Paul teaches that some plant, some water, but God gives the growth. What this tells me is that I am to minister in such a way that there is always hope, because there always is. This is the parable of the prodigal’s son. There may be a time when they come home, and to be honest I have seen this as well and there is no joy like seeing a wanderer return. This is why a party must be thrown.
This is why the Word of God has so much encouragement language to endure, to remain, to fight, and to keep the faith. To be that lasting seed is the point, not simply an emotional prayer said once in our youth. Jesus says look for the fruit. Fruit only comes as the roots are in the good ground of Christ nourishing and being strengthening over time. Jesus said hold and practice his words to establish that lasting foundation. (Luke 6:47-49)
This is why the Calvinist and Arminian debate fails to ultimately deliver. Because I believe Calvinistic-ly from God’s perspective he does operate that way but our response is to Arminian-ly persevere not in earning but in faithful obedience. This is a hard-line to walk for sure because some will accuse of a works faith, but even James reminds us that our faith without it is truly dead. (James 2:14-26)
This is why a minister must continually cry “Be reconciled to God!” If we are not living as if he is our very lifeblood then, he might just not be. If we are not living as if he is our very breath we need then we might just be breathing someone else’s fumes. Christ is not merely a crutch, but our iron lung, our hospital, the great physician and the insurance company (one that doesn’t refuse payment). He preserves us as we humbly submit to that life-giving truth. Christ is all. If we abide, he abides in us after-all.
I don’t want to lose anymore friends, so I pray. Help germinate the seed by being watered! Help produce fruit by being faithful. Obedience is necessary, this is why Jesus tells the other story of those who approach him on the day of visitation and Jesus tells them plainly “I never knew you!” They protest that they did works. But Jesus says that day there will weeping and gnashing of teeth because those who thought they were safe were very much not grounded. (Matt 7:23)
This sobering thought is why I cannot simply say “peace, peace” when there is no peace. But there can be. Go and make sure you have peace with God. This coming year, get grounded, get to know him, abide and get peace with God.