Question:

I've been pondering and thinking about it all.

Here's my question, can a saved Christian after he's saved and changes his lifestyle, shrink back? Fall from the faith? Go back to his old ways? And then return back to Christ?

For a more clear illustration:
Say a young man is involved with gang activity, drinking, partying and basically goes to church just because his parents tell him to. Then one day this young man really gets himself into big trouble which nearly put his life on the edge. The young man realizes he needs to make changes in his life, else he's heading straight for disaster. Then this young man starts going to church, Bible study, but it's not like before where he's just going to please his parents. This time he's actually going because he feels the need to. He participates when he goes and he applies his heart and try to apply what's learned in the Bible study to his life. If this young man somehow turns back to his old way, i.e., gets a girlfriend, starts with the drinking and the sex again, even though he doesn't get back into a gang and what not, he's still doing some of the old things. He stops praying as he used to, stops reading his Bible, goes to church but isn't really emotionally, spiritually and mentally there. Sometimes he gets upset with God, some periods of time he even doubts God. Basically this young man has spiritually died! But even though he's gone back to some of his old ways, every now and then he feels that burning, a little conviction about what he's doing. Then he tries to re-connect back with Christ. Failing time and time. Sometimes he feels since he's struggling to obey the commands. He's struggling to do what God wants, he's just going to walk away from the faith altogether. He can't keep going on and lying to himself. But even when he tries to stay away he feels an emptiness. So this young man tries again to reconnect with Christ.

Now my question once again is this: can someone who is genuinely saved go back to his old lifestyle? I'm not talking about repeating some words after a preacher and then still doing the same things. I'm talking about really feeling the need for change in your life, accepting and believing in Christ and actually changing your lifestyle around. But then after this change you go back or even fall.

Take for example a pastor who's genuinely doing the Lord's work. Because of this he often receives gifts from people. And all these gifts and praises from people gets into this pastor's head and arrogance takes over. He stops letting God be the ruler. And after a while of living arrogance and distancing himself from God, he feels the emptiness of even his downfall gets him to realize how far from God he has gotten and he turns back. Now my question once again is this, was this pastor genuinely a godly Christian to begin with?

Some biblical examples:

  • Solomon in the beginning was with God. His heart was after God and his commands, and he was doing as God wished. But Solomon's heart later was turned away from God due to all his concubines and following after their gods.
  • Paul consistently told Timothy to be careful of certain lifestyles and pleasures because it could "shipwreck" or destroy one's faith. When one's faith is shipwrecked or destroyed could they get back to where they initially were with God?

Not to confuse you but basically this is the main point to all of this. When someone is in Christ they are a new creature. But my question is, if you're in Christ and there is a change of lifestyle, but you somehow go back to your old ways or even fall in your faith. Does that mean it was really a work of salvation to begin with? Were you actually saved to begin with? These are questions I've been pondering on today. When I was younger, I actually did change after an incident that happened. I completely changed my life around. Many can testify. I wasn't going to church because it was what my parents wanted, and I wasn't being a "good boy" because it was some goody-goody act. But I really didn't feel like doing some of the things of old. I changed the friends that I was hanging out with. I even started doing better in school. But I didn't really understand the Bible too well, or understand the Christian faith too well because I had just started out. I was still young and tender. And I fell in faith. Since the start of high school I've been going back and forth between trying to get back with Christ like before and battling things like masturbation, porn, lust, and drinking. Thinking about this, I get two thoughts. One thought is that I wasn't really saved to begin with, and I'm just trying to justify myself and defend myself by not accepting. Another thought is that, I was saved, but I allowed other things to get into my heart which pulled me away from God and now it's hard to get back. Like Hebrews says he who falls or something like that, it wont be easy for him to get back. And the story of the prodigal son also comes to mind.

So once again here's my question: If someone believes in Christ and they actually change their lifestyle around, but then they get back to some of their old ways or even take up newer sins, was this person saved to begin with?

Brother, after my first year of college ended. I've been trying to get things right with Christ. The disaster that nearly came upon me is something that I'm trying to use as a wake up call and once and for all reconnect back with Christ. But sometimes I'm discouraged when I hear testimonies from people about true salvation. For example, stuff like, "When I sin I would say "I'll do better next time but then I just go right back to it. I wasn't really saved." I see that in myself. I can remember times when I said, I'm done. I'm getting back with Christ like before. Enough with this sinful lifestyle and nature. And I would probably go about a week, sometimes a month without porn, masturbation but eventually it all caves in, and I'm right back to where I started. And that's what discourages me. True repentance or salvation wouldn't say "I'll do better next time" and then go right back to it. You get a renewal of attitude don't you? I remember after my drinking and oral sex incident, I stopped partying, drinking and began focusing on books. But I just went right back to it. Although I didn't get into sexual acts, I drank again (didn't get drunk), danced inappropriately with girls. And kept on with the porn and masturbation. Then when my grades started to tank and I nearly got dismissed from school, I turned to reading the Bible and praying realizing that I really need to change and stop. That's the point I'm currently at right now. I've been reading scripture, praying, listening to sermons, and even trying to establish a weekly fast. But it's just discouraging thinking about whether I'm truly saved or not. I'm also worried this might not last and I'll go back to my old ways.


Answer:

"Therefore hear the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matthew 13:18-23).

When you ask whether you were saved, that is a question I cannot answer from what you've told me. I can tell you what God requires of you in order to be saved, but whether you've done those things I do not know. Take a look at "How to Become a Christian" and honestly think about your past and whether you have actually done the things discussed. Many people have a tendency to rewrite history and match whatever they did to whatever God said. That isn't the safe route. Tell me if you did as the Lord commanded.

If you did, then, yes you were saved. Can someone fall after being saved? That is one of the points in Jesus' parable of the sower that I quoted above. You were like the seed that feel among the weeds. You started well, but you got caught up in the world and it choked your faith.

Can someone like you return? The answer all the way through the Bible is "yes." David fell in his adultery with Bathsheba, but he turned around. Later he sinned again in taking a census against God's command, but again he turned around. The reason we remember David as a great king isn't the perfection of his life but the fact that he loved God so much that he gave up the world, even after the world ensnared him.

Think of the example of the prodigal son. He was a son in his father's house (i.e. he was saved). He went off to live wildly on prostitutes, and spending money freely. Eventually he realized he was better off at home and returned. Notice that the father (God) welcomed him back before he even explained that he just wanted to be a servant in the house. He was welcomed back as a son. The three parables in Luke 15 are each about how valuable a soul is to God.

Peter is another example. He denied the Lord three times at a critical moment in history. Yet, he returned, preached the first gospel sermon, and was an elder in the church.

There was a man in the Corinthian church who was having sex with his father's wife. He kicked out of the church because of that sin, but we learn in the second letter to Corinth that he repented and came back to the Lord.

So, yes, it is possible for someone to lose their way for a while and come back. I work with numerous people who are struggling in their faith. While they live I never give up hope that though they lost their way that they will turn back. The warning in Hebrews 6:4-6 is that I can't make it happen. The person has to choose to come back. There is no denying that turning back is hard, but many have done it.

I suspect that you have two problems: First, you have never put down firm roots in being a Christian. You had strong intentions and it sounds like you know a good bit of the Bible, but reading between the lines, I don't think you had much training in how sin works and why God says drinking, sex, and lust are dangerous. You know they are, but it appears the conviction of the danger isn't there. The second problem appears to be that you impose rules on yourself of how to be "good" without really looking at what God wants you to do. For example, you mentioned fasting every week. This was never a requirement of God in either the Old or New Testament. That people fasted at times, yes, but never as a weekly religious practice. You've picked some religious practices that are convenient to do, but again they don't appear to be based on what God said needs to be done.

The problem is that when people make up religious practices, they rarely are effective at dealing with sin. "Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations -- "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using -- according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).

So let's break down the immediate problems: you have been involved in drinking, lust, and pornography. You keep trying to stop, but you break down and give in again. My suspicion is you give yourself impossible conditions to keep and when you eventually give in, you go to the extreme. In a sense you are like a person who decides not to eat, but eventually you have to give in and so you overeat and then are so consumed with guilt that you try to be stricter on yourself. All the while never realizing that the rules you are placing on yourself are the ones causing the problem.

You can overcome these sins. So, are you willing to work at changing?

Yes, I'm willing to work at changing. Problem is every time I fall, I feel really disappointed and it makes it hard to go back. I feel disappoint with myself and often at times this is what leads me to rebellion and keep doing some of the things. For example, suppose after masturbating I pray and say, "alright I'm done. I'm not doing this again. No more from here on out." Then let's say I go about a week without it. I feel good. I feel like I'm making progress. Then about three days into going for a second week, I fall and I masturbate. I get frustrated, and disappointed and that's what gets me thinking, "I try and try and keep failing. I can do this anymore. I don't want to keep lying to God. I'm going to give up and just walk away. I can't get this Christian thing right. I might as well just give up completely and keep sinning and stop trying to tackle it." And that's what sends me into this rebellious I don't care attitude or mood. And leads me to do things. Then after going on for three weeks or so with my little rebellion, I feel like what I'm doing is wrong and I feel empty, guilty and I pray about it again. And get back into the whole, "no more of this. I'm done. I'm going to stop this behavior or that behavior" and that cycle just keeps repeating and repeating. And that's the way it's been since freshman year of high school when I fell or collapsed in my faith. I'm not proud of my drinking, sex, bad lifestyle. But there are atheist who may say things like, I need to change. I'm a bad guy. How do I know this is a genuine conviction of the spirit? For the past week or so, I've abstained from masturbation and have been reading the scriptures more and even trying to pray three times a day. But every now and then, thoughts of sexual things and urges will come to me and this makes me wonder if this is just going to be another cycle.

Concerning the fasting, I'm not doing it as a requirement, or because I think Jesus said to or not to. I feel like, it will help me spiritually and in my prayer life. It'll help keep things more godly centered, and it'll keep me closer to God. John Wesley (I'm Methodist) used to fast every Wednesday and Friday and he encourages others to do so as-well. In his writings he writes that he found that fasting advances holiness. I want to be spiritually stronger. By fasting every week, it'll help with discipline.

Also concerning salvation, the way I see it is this:

(1) To believe in God. Believe that Jesus died for one's sins.
- Reading through the gospels, I read about Jesus going about preaching the good news and so too did John the Baptist. But my question, considering how some recount or recall stories of how when they truly come to accept Christ, they feel this "feeling inside" and they change and become this completely new person. For example, even if they were a pastor they'll claim that all those years they have been a pastor was a joke but now that they have truly accepted Christ, it's completely different. Going by such stories, I wonder about my own life. That heart warming experience of Wesley and so many others. Have I really ever experienced it? But I never believed that going to church is the reason why one is saved, I don't recall ever repeating after any preacher when I first came to know Christ. Maybe in later years when things like alters calls and such were done.

(2) We are saved not because we follow commandments. But....:
- Although we are not going to heaven because we obey and follow laws because "no one is righteous.." and "we are considered righteous by our faith" (believing Christ died for us), that's not excuse to throw the commandments out the window and ride on "he died for our sins" and continue sinning. Jesus said he didn't come to abolish the law and that every word, letter still stands and is in effect. I John talks about if anyone say they have come to know him but keeps on sinning then they are lying. So basically, although following laws aren't the reason why we are saved, we should still try and do so because it's how we show our love for Christ, and we should be walking and trying to imitate Jesus (although we wont ever get to that level).

So it's faith and works.

In regards to fasting, I'm not against it, but what I am pointing out is that you look to it as a way to become more spiritual and it didn't work because that isn't what fasting was about in the Bible. You then get angry at yourself for not being stay pure, never thinking that it is the approach you are using that is lacking. That is why I quoted that passage from Colossians 2.

Like many people, you see righteousness as a result of good feelings. The Bible that good feelings come because of righteous living. Because of the way you are looking at it, when the feelings are not there, you are less motivated to behave righteously. Being a Christian is a way of life. That way of life tends to produce good feelings, but the feelings aren't Christianity.

Feelings can't be your guide to truth. Feelings are deceptive. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered" (Proverbs 28:26). None of the Gospel accounts talk about feelings inside. Rather we are told to trust what God has promised. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). And Jesus taught His disciples, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

In a sense, you want the feelings to come first and then you'll think you are following God. However, the feeling come second, as a result of following God. "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:3-6).

You are right that faith and works cannot be separated. "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. ... You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:17-18, 24).

I have two more things I would like you to read: What Saves a Person? and What Must I Do to be Saved? It is when people try to oversimplify God's teaching that they miss what God is telling us.