Well, it's happened again. Another prominent person in ministry has apparently fallen away from the faith, and he renounces what he once was a part of.
This isn't a story like the supposed apostasy of Joel Osteen. That was a false story foisted on the world through computer hacking. What a strange time we live in, where such hackers could invade the Associated Press' website and plant a false story about the president getting injured---causing the stock market to temporarily drop, until the truth came out.
The moral of the story is: Don't believe everything you read or hear in the news, until firmly established by two or three witnesses, to use the biblical standard.
But this story about a prominent man in ministry falling away is verified from multiple sources. His particular sin happened to be homosexuality, to which he has now returned.
As Christians, how are we to understand it when people seem to get converted but fall away, presumably for good? Like they say, the Bible will keep us from sin or vice versa.
Perhaps this man will eventually get back right with the Lord. Perhaps he won't. When people say, "Once saved, always saved," I prefer to add two qualifiers: "Once truly saved, always truly saved." Obviously, temporary setbacks are on a different level than permanent ones.
I like the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. If someone is truly a saint, he or she will persevere in the faith. Jesus even said, he who perseveres to the end will be saved.
I think the parable of the sower from Jesus sheds light on this topic as well (Matthew 13). The farmer sows the Word of God, but the hearers respond differently---just as the quality of the soil makes a difference as to how well seed will grow (if at all)
- The first soil is rocky, and the Word has no impact on them whatsoever.
- The second soil is shallow, and appears to embrace the seed, but the Word has no lasting impact.
- The third soil is the reason I even bring up the parable. (I'll say more on it a moment.) This is the soil among the thorns, which eventually choke the Word making it ultimately unfruitful.
- The fourth soil is receptive terra firma that grows plants well, very well, and exceedingly well.
The third soil is described by the Lord as being "among the thorns." The seed (that is, the Word) grows there and begins to produce crops, but concomitantly the thorns also grow. Eventually the thorns choke the Word, and the plant dies.
What are these thorns? Jesus lists them in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as "the deceitfulness of wealth," "the desire for other things, "the worries of this world," and "the pleasures of this life."
Jesus gives no timeline as to when this can happen. In the big picture of things, perhaps the Word produces good results for a while, but eventually the thorns win out.
John Paulk is the fallen away man. (Hopefully, his falling away is not the final chapter of his life's story.) At one time, he was the poster boy for the ex-gay movement, but now he claims that he never was changed. Fair enough, because only he and God know his own heart. But what he says now implies that no one with such a struggle can change.
As the wife of an ex-gay once told me in an interview, "To say that people can't be transformed is to say that God cannot transform people, and that's blasphemy. Nothing less."
Granted, some sinful backgrounds may be harder to work through than others. But God can and will transform those willing to submit to His will. He wants us to be free more than we do.
Knowing the frailty of the human heart and the constant need for forgiveness, perhaps this is the reason Jesus said we should forgive our brother seventy times seven times. As He said on another occasion, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
I actually know some ex-ex-smokers. They gave up smoking---for a while. In some cases they became fanatical against smoking. But eventually, for whatever reason, they lit up again, and they no longer try to fight these urges.
Does that mean that no one can quit for good? Of course not. Yet that's sort of implied in some of the media stories about our fallen away friend. Jeremiah reminds us, "The heart is desperately wicked. Who can understand it?"
In the 18th century, there was a young man who lived a profligate life. With some of his fellow drunks, they went to mock the great preacher George Whitefield. Mesmerized by his preaching, instead, this young man was converted.
Robert Robinson was his name, and at the age of 23 he wrote a hymn, "Come Thou Font." This hymn includes the lines: "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, / prone to leave the God I love; / here's my heart, O take and seal it, / seal it for thy courts above."
But years later Robinson fell away. One day on a stagecoach ride, he noticed a woman passenger with an open hymnbook, humming his particular hymn---put out of his mind long ago.
He asked her what she thought of it, and then, as the story goes, he began to cry and said, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."
Every Christian is described by Paul as a "living sacrifice." The problem is that sometimes we living sacrifices can crawl off the altar. We should pray for such people to crawl back. When they do, they'll see that God waits for them with open arms, like the father of the Prodigal Son.