Don’t be misled by the title. This post concerns anyone who is going through the struggle with a close one falling away from the faith. Whether it would be a family member, a close friend, a spouse, a pastor, etc. nothing is more devastating to a believer than a beloved one that separates from the grace of God. It pains us, it aches us, and many times we are clueless as to how to stop it. How can one be left unaffected by an event like that? It’s impossible, and yet it seems that being able to help the close one is also just as impossible.
Every time I was faced with the situation, it didn’t get easier. Sometimes those who’d leave Christianity were close acquaintances who I had discipled. Others were distant relatives who’d only pretend to be Christians for the sake of the family. However, nothing had left me as completely devastated as when one of my best friends had not only left the faith, but also called me to try to “convert” me to atheism. This was my best friend who I trusted with all my life, and that I had know for years and years. We gave our lives to Christ around the same time, and I helped to bring him to the knowledge of the gospel. Together we aspired to become ministers of the faith, until the day which left me in tears and emotional ruin. The person I knew since grade school, and who had been my friend during my teen years recanted his faith and everything he stood for.
I am not writing this post to claim I have all the answers. I am writing to try and offer a comforting discussion as to how one can deal with this sad issue. It was never easy to see people departing from the presence of Christ, especially the ones you loved so dearly. I had wished someone was there to at least guide me in my disappointment and grief. These following pointers are not to be taken as gospel but rather as suggestions as to how one can begin to move forward despite the desire to lay in defeat.
1.) Begin praying for the individual.
During any kind of hardship, prayer should always be the first place to which a believer runs. There is no greater counsel that one can receive than the counsel of God. When one turns from the faith, we must realize that the person has already heard the gospel before. This makes the attempts of evangelizing to the fallen dear one to become more difficult, more stressful, and more unbearable. There is not a more difficult evangelism than trying to save a person who once was called a “Christian”.
The only thing that one can do at that point is to begin praying that the Holy Spirit would begin His work in the heart of the individual. He is the sanctifier of all sinful men who have been called by God, and He carries out the will of the Father according to salvation. We can only pray when it seems that everything we have tried to achieve has failed. God is able to help us in our desperation. In the end, God will do what is perfectly good and what is perfectly just according to His sovereign purpose.
2.) Offer all praise and thanksgiving to God.
There is no better time to offer praise during these kinds of season than to sing praises and to thank God for all the times He helped you before. During the time of when my best friend left the faith, the one hymn that comforted me most was “Be Still, My Soul”. When singing the third verse, I have to admit that it was difficult to sing, but necessary:
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away
Another favorite of mine was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. In the hymn, we are called to pray, worship, and honor our God even in our darkest times of desertion. Can you imagine how much more passionate your heart will be for God if you are able to sing praises and thanksgiving to God even when your friends leave the fold of God? When you are able to praise God, knowing He is worthy of it, your heart begins to open to the understanding of His goodness and love.
3.) Test your own faith.
I can’t stress this enough. I remember thinking about many of my disciples that would turn and I would say in my mind something like this: “I can’t believe these people that grew up Christian just left. They were such good believers.” It was only after a few times that I started realizing that I was very naïve. I had become like Peter in my own thinking. In a sense, I was foolishly saying, “I’ll never be like those people who fell away.” There was no consideration of my state of sin, and just how close my friendship and servitude towards God was.
I began testing my thoughts and my actions to be assured if I was truly on the course of salvation. I didn’t want to fall away from Christ, and I certainly didn’t want to fail Him in any way. Too many people looked up to me and I couldn’t simply walk away. So, I examined my heart through the Scriptures to have blessed assurance in the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. Never think the falling away can never occur with you. Instead, look to see if you are truly in Christ and if you are truly far from leaving Him.
4.) Free yourself from all regret and shame.
It is very easy to fall into guilt and shame, especially when someone pours out his or her soul into the individual that would fall away. There’s a sense of responsibility that we place on ourselves when the people we bring to Christ or disciple fall away. It is even more heartbreaking when it is a best friend or a family member. No matter how hard it can be and how devastating it seems, we must recognize this truth: their souls are in God’s hands.Often times we forget that all we have done to lead someone to the faith was the preaching of the gospel while the rest was up to God.
We can’t call for the Holy Spirit to save a person, we don’t know who God predestined unto salvation, and we certainly don’t have any power over anyone’s salvation, even our own. God is in charge of salvation, not us. Therefore, we are not supposed to carry any regret or shame for whatever occurs in an individual’s life. All that we can possibly do is to be freed from all barriers and continue preaching the gospel, even if it is possible that the next person might also fall away. We approach evangelism knowing that God does the miraculous work of salvation. There is no reason to pity ourselves, instead we are to be strong as we continue in our call to be stewards of God.
I hope this was helpful in any way to what one might be going through as they make disciples and preach the gospel. Watching people who you remember had been so desperate for Jesus just simply turn can become a terrible experience. Nevertheless, God wants us to be strong in Him no matter the cost. At the end of the day, all that we can do is simply dust off our shoes and continue preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. May we never become discouraged to the point of refusing to preach the gospel, the message of light to all men who are willing to hear it.
Soli Deo Gloria.