By Ben Swift
‘The inward hidden content of God’s mind can become the possession of man only through a voluntary disclosure on God’s part. God must come to us before we can go to him.’ (Neil Cullen McKinlay)
It’s interesting listening to and trying to interpret the deeper meanings behind the lyrics of musicians. At times I think it comes down to the religious undertones that often point to past religious influences such as Catholicism. An example that comes to mind is Ritchie Sambora, lead guitarist from Bon Jovi. His lyrics often refer to a ‘fall from grace’ or from Graceland as in one of his songs.
More recently the whole idea of the concept of, ‘falling from grace’, has played around in my head. Unless I am mistaken, it refers to a person who at one time lived under God’s Grace, only to fall away to a state of God’s condemnation. The reason this whole concept boggles around in my mind is that it infers that a person can at one time, be a follower of Christ, only to reject this calling and deny the work of the Holy Spirit. A Lutheran Pastor I know once likened this to giving God and therefore His gift of Grace, the proverbial finger. Obviously if we start journeying down this road, seeking to find answers where answers may not be found, we come to the hurdle of what it means to be God’s elect.
It has often been suggested that differing opinions concerning Christian election and predestination are not worth getting too obsessed with, as in the end only God knows and the whole subject can become divisive. The problem is that one’s understanding of predestination impacts one’s ability to tackle the question, “Can a person who is truly elect in Christ and thus being transformed by the Holy Spirit, reject God, never to live under grace again?”
Lutheran Pastor, Friedemann Hebart, in his book ‘One in the Gospel’, suggests that the gift of grace, made possible through what Christ has done, exists for all of humanity as all have been chosen by God. It is by the refusal of this gift, after it has been given, that leads to the rejection of those who turn their back on God. God doesn’t cause human opposition, even though he foresees it. According to the Formula for Concord, ‘The reason why all who hear the Word do not come to faith and therefore receive the greater damnation is not that God did not want them to be saved. It is their own fault because they heard the Word of God not to learn but only to despise, blaspheme, and ridicule it, and they resisted the Holy Spirit who wanted to work within them.’
While this helps us to understand the Lutheran view on predestination and how God’s grace can be rejected, it doesn’t answer the question of whether grace can be rejected following a person’s sincere willingness to let the Spirit work within their hearts.
According to Dr Herbert Lockyer, Scriptures present a union of divine sovereignty and human responsibility and that the concept of predestination refers to those being set apart to be perfectly conformed to God’s Son (Romans 8:29-30). Lockyer suggests that the doctrine of predestination concerns the future of believers. “Predestination is the divine determining the glorious consummation of all who through faith, and surrender become the Lord’s. He has determined beforehand that each child of His will reach adoption, or ‘the son-placing’ at his resurrection when Christ returns. It has been determined beforehand that all who are truly Christ’s shall be conformed to His image.” (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5)
If we surrender to this way of thinking, then it is clear that God is in control, and that those who truly belong to Christ will not fall from grace, rather Christ will ensure that they will be heirs to His eternal kingdom as adopted sons and daughters.
Perhaps one of the most important passages in the Scriptures in helping us to address the question of falling from grace can be found in John 10: 27-30. Jesus makes it clear that those who belong to Him can feel secure in the knowledge that they will not fall from grace, but rather be held onto in such a way that nothing can separate them from Him.
Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I recognise them, they follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from my hands. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them from the Father’s hands. I and the Father are one.”
While the comfort and security of this truth is something that the Christian can wrap themselves up in for eternity, it still leaves us with the question, “What about those who claim to have had faith, accepted Christ, but have now turned their backs on God?”
There have been many stories of pastors and devout church members who have renounced their faith, changed faith, turned to atheism or humanism or given up on life altogether. I can recall reading about several famous, influential people dabbling in Christianity only to fall away and follow the next path. While I suspect these are the types of stories that lead to the whole idea of ‘falling from grace’, only God will ever know the truth about the inner-workings of each individual human being and it would be wise for all of us to refrain from making any judgements regarding ‘the sheep and the goats’.
While the words, ‘fall from grace’, do make interesting lyrics, the questions and concerns that they bring need to remain God’s business. So let us not presume to know what transforming work is being done within anyone we come across, but instead pray that they will fall into grace and be held ever so tightly in the hands of the Almighty.
By God’s grace, without earning it, all are granted the status of being considered righteous before Him, through the act redeeming us from our enslavement to sin that was accomplished by the Messiah Yeshua. (Romans 3:24)