Leaving the Faith

By Robin Schumacher

Originally posted at The Christian Post

I got an email from a friend the other day asking me if I'd seen a blog post by the daughter of a prominent Christian leader who has renounced her Christian faith and now claims to be an atheist. While I do remember hearing about it, I hadn't read the full description of the account.

Pastors and Christians in general oftentimes wrestle with the question of why some people who profess to be believers walk away from the faith. Some of them depart from Christianity in just a short period of time while others take much longer to leave their supposed convictions by the side of the road. But regardless of how long it takes, when you read stories like the one my friend forwarded to me, the theological reason as to why they do becomes quite clear.

Simply put, it's what they want to do.

Don't misunderstand that minimal statement; there's actually quite a lot of theology packed in there.

Salvation is About More Than Bible Knowledge

In the blog post, the young woman references how well she understood Christian terminology and how easily, due to her father's training, she could answer complex theological questions.

While I certainly believe in strong Christian education where the Bible is concerned, such knowledge doesn't automatically equate to a person being right with God.

Remember that when Herod asked the Jewish religious leaders where the Messiah was to be born, they had the exact answer (Matthew 2:4-6). When Jesus disclosed He was the Son of God during His trial and quoted a section of Scripture that pertained to His deity from the book of Daniel, the chief priests knew the exact part of the Old Testament to which He referred and what it meant (Matthew 26:63-66).

The point is that having all the right Bible answers doesn't mean a person has been born again. Those who would have won every Old Testament trivia contest back in Jesus' day were the ones who received Christ's sternest rebukes including: "you serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?" (Matthew 23:33).

Salvation is About More Than Evidence

The young woman's post also details how she could stand with the best Christian apologists where refuting atheists and skeptics were concerned. While I am all in favor of apologetics training for every Christian, knowing Christianity's solid evidential arguments backwards and forwards doesn't mean there's a real belief in them, or a love for the God who is behind them in the heart. Unfortunately, people are able to easily dismiss evidence and act contrary to what's true all the time.

The religious leaders saw Jesus heal physical infirmities multiple times, conquer countless demons with His own word, and bring people back from the dead including Lazarus who had been dead four days. Further, they knew how such acts dovetailed with prophecies about the Messiah.

But what was their response to the evidence before them? They dismissed it, committed the unpardonable sin of attributing Jesus' work to Satan (Mark 3:22-30), and actually planned to murder Lazarus in an effort to stop Jesus' growing popularity (John 12:10-11).

In addition, let's not forget their reaction to Jesus' resurrection and the report from the mouths of their own guards about what they had seen: a bribe, a cover up, and a dismissal of the evidence that could be confirmed with just a short walk down the road.

Salvation is About More Than Zeal

Christians struggle especially hard with those who once seemed to have had a great zeal for God (evangelizing, serving, etc.) but now want nothing to do with the faith. How could they have appeared so committed and now live as if God doesn't exist?

We have to remember that real salvation is about truth and more than initial enthusiasm. Jesus once referenced the Pharisees who had great passion and would "travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte" with the end result being that their convert was made "twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matt. 23:15). Moreover, Jesus spoke about people who "immediately receive it [the gospel message] with joy" but then fall away because of a variety of personal concerns or desires (Matt. 13:2022).

Salvation is About Real Freedom and Holy Desires

In her post, even though she does her best to make the case that she couldn't believe something because of feelings alone and that unanswered questions drove her away from Christianity, she either knowingly or unknowingly admits why she really left the faith: the "freedom" to participate in a non-Christian lifestyle that she desired.
Freedom is my God now, and I love this one a thousand times more than I ever loved the last one.
In other words, she left Christianity because she loved something more than God. Unanswered questions...living something you think isn't true...all these things really had nothing to do with it. She wanted to be "free."

While debates are endless about what separates a person who possesses genuine salvation vs. a pretender, the more I study the Scriptures and listen to "de-conversion" stories like this young woman's, the more I'm convinced that it comes down to this:

It's all about the kind of freedom a person wants and the desires they exhibit.

As Jonathan Edwards wrote in his masterful Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, holy affections will characterize the life of a person God has brought to salvation. This doesn't mean that a Christian will still not struggle with sin as the old nature is still present (Romans 7), but it does mean that an authentic desire for God's will presents itself where none existed before.

Further, these new holy affections are given freedom to grow and manifest where, before, the only freedom the person had was the "freedom" to sin without much effort or guilt and the "freedom" to easily disobey God's will for their life. Paul spells this out in clear detail:
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:1623)
Did you catch Paul's quick statement about a non-Christian being "free in regard to righteousness"? The Message paraphrases verse 20 as, "As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter."

In other words, that kind of person is "free" from obeying God's moral law and has little to no love for the things of God. Such things have no hold on the person and there is no affection for them because the only "freedom" the person has is to obey the sinful desires they have had since birth.

But the Bible calls that being a slave to sin (Romans 6:20).

By contrast, the Christian gradually defeats sin by loving something more than sin, something better. As Thomas Chalmers wrote in his famous sermon, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection:" "Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of the gospel." [1] The person is changed to be someone, as Jesus said, that hungers and thirsts after righteousness vs. things from their old way of life (Matthew 5:6). [2]

So why do some people who once professed to be Christians walk away from the faith? They do so because they have really no true affections for the things of God, no real love for God to hold them in a relationship to Him, and no freedom to choose God's ways over their own ways because they are a slave to other desires.

It's a sad choice they make, plain and simple; a choice they love "a thousand times more" than God Himself.

1. Chalmers, Thomas; "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection".
2. Of this fact, Martin Lloyd-Jones writes in Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, "I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you're a Christian. If it is not, you had better examine your foundations again."

Published 7-28-14