I was converted just a few weeks before going up to university 40 years ago this month. In my first week there, two Christian girls living in the same halls discovered I was a new Christian and made it their job to encourage me, integrate me into the Christian Union and a church, and make sure I didn’t slide during this very vulnerable period.
I’m very grateful to God for them. After I graduated I lost contact with many of my student friends, including those girls. It was to be more than a quarter of a century before I had any news of them. By that time, one was an atheist and the other living in a lesbian community in California.
Most of us have known people who seemed to be such strong Christians, and yet who drifted away, and drifted so far as to have no credible claim to be a Christian at all.
It should not be a surprise; the Lord Jesus said it would happen (remember the parable of the sower?). In fact, he went so far as to say that ‘the love of most will grow cold’ (Matthew 24:12). Some of us may fear that it will happen to us too in time.
I believe strongly that those who are truly saved can never be lost. And I believe just as strongly that it is those who stand firm to the end who are truly saved (Mark 13:13). How can we ensure that we endure? What can we do to make sure that we do not fall away? Can we do anything?
Certainly! For Peter lists certain things and says, ‘If you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10-11).
Paul, too, gives us guidance in 2 Corinthians 6, and it is that guidance I want to look at in this brief article. First, he says (v. 1) we must take God’s grace seriously: ‘We urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain’.
God’s grace had led to the Corinthians hearing the gospel in the first place. It was God’s grace that led to them becoming part of the church there in Corinth. But they would have received that grace in vain if they later turned away.
By urging them not to turn away, Paul is making the point that it is in fact up to them whether they persevere. Yes, Paul knows that God is sovereign over all things. But it is important to grasp that people don’t ‘catch’ falling away in the same way they catch ’flu, by being in the same room as someone who’s already infected.
Nor is it like, for example, cancer: just ‘one of those things’ that happens to some, but not to others. Falling away does not ‘just happen’.
When people fall away, at some point they have lost sight of God’s amazing grace. Perhaps they began to think it is automatic, and will keep them whatever they do.
Or perhaps they have ceased to think about the cross and the cost of our salvation. The apostle says, ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (Hebrews 12:13). Lose sight of this, and we are in danger.
Secondly, Paul says that we must take our own cross seriously. In 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 he gives an extraordinary catalogue of the sufferings he has known as a Christian and an apostle.
They fulfilled God’s words to Ananias: ‘I will show [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name’ (Acts 9:16), and they remind us that suffering is the Christian’s common experience.
Our Lord Jesus commanded that we must take up our cross daily. Paul himself taught that it is through much suffering that we must enter the kingdom of God.
Very often I come across people who turn away from God because things go wrong in their lives. ‘If there was a God’, they say — or ‘if God loved me’, they argue — ‘he wouldn’t let these things happen’.
And I wonder, ‘What Bible do these people read?’ For the Bible is full of stories of the sufferings and endurance of God’s people. Hebrews 11 has many examples. Church history too is sprinkled with the blood of martyrs, so that the church on earth cries out, ‘How long, O Lord?’
Unless we are aware that the Christian life is not easy, we are almost bound to fall. We must take seriously, from the outset, that walking with God does mean some hardship. Jesus calls it ‘counting the cost’.
Thirdly, Paul encourages us to take separation from sin seriously, in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. I have no space to consider this as I would like, so let me say: it is always the purpose of Jesus to save us from our sin and never in our sin.
Righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common. If we are to be saved, we must follow after holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, it is not God’s purpose to let his people drift, or keep us guessing about our place in heaven. But if we want that abundant entrance, we must take his Word seriously.
The author has pastored Moordown Baptist Church, Bournemouth, since 1997. He and Elaine have two grown-up children, who are both active in the church, and three granddaughters.