Nearly every book in the New Testament warns Christians of the dangers of false preachers and teachers who preach another Jesus or another gospel. Jesus, Paul, Peter, et al. had some harsh words to say about those who mislead the saints.
But what about the saints who are misled? What happens to them?
The usual answer is, “They could lose their salvation and go to hell along with the lost.” The usual answer is wrong. Since a Christian, by definition, is one who has been united with Christ, the only way he can go to hell is if Christ goes – and Christ isn’t going!
In fact, the odds of a Christian being eternally condemned are the same as the odds that God will break his promises, because God will have to break his promises to do it. If you are worried about losing your salvation on account of poor performance, I encourage you to stop trusting in your own faithfulness and take your stand on his. Let the promises of your heavenly Father be a firm and secure anchor for your soul (Heb 6:19).
What do I mean by “go astray”?
I mean “stop trusting Jesus,” or “fail to continue in the faith,” or “neglect to hold fast.” We tend to think of backsliders (what an awful word) as skipping church and rejoining the world. But someone who goes astray may also fall into dead religious works. Someone who is not trusting Jesus may appear to be very religious indeed.
As we have seen elsewhere, walking after the flesh may involve good works just as easily as bad.
What happens to Christians who stray?
In Part 1, I listed seven tragic consequences of going astray. Here are seven more:
8. We miss out on all God has in store for us (2 John 1:8)
Jesus said those who went all out for the sake of the gospel would receive back in this life 100 times what they gave up (Mk 10:29-30). Live to reveal the good news of the kingdom and you’ll be rich in friends – people whose lives have blessed by your revelation of Jesus, people who will be your friends for eternity. In contrast, those who aren’t walking in the power of his grace won’t achieve anything of lasting significance.
9. We get bogged down in time-wasting, life-sapping discussions (1 Tim 1:6)
In his warning about men who were fascinated by myths, Paul did not say, “Some have turned aside unto damnation.” He said, “Some have turned aside to idle talk.” In other words, they’re wasting time in conversations that are going nowhere – usually on Facebook. Haha!
An excessive interest in controversy is a sure sign one has wandered from the uncontroversial gospel (1 Tim 1:4, 6:4). It’s good to ask questions, but when it comes to the gospel, Jesus provides emphatic answers. At some point you have to stop asking and start believing.
10. We live lives of regret (1Tim 6:10)
Paul did not say, “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and lost their salvation.” He said, “Some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” Sorrow and regret is what you get when you run after inferior substitutes like money and reputation. Only Jesus satisfies the deepest longings of your soul.
11. We do not mature (Lk 8:14, Eph 4:14)
A lot of maturity teaching is based on the so-called spiritual disciplines. You need to do more of everything in order to grow. But growth is a perfectly natural process. You don’t need to do a thing – it just happens (Mk 4:27, 1 Cor 3:7). The only thing you can do is hinder the process by choking the seed of the gospel with the cares of this world or contrary teachings.
Do you desire good teaching? Do you crave good food? Then “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Jesus is the best teaching. Anything else is junk food.
12. We look less and less like Jesus (2 Tim 2:16-18)
Review this full list and you will see nothing that describes Jesus. Did Jesus lose sight of his Father’s love? Was Jesus enslaved to men’s expectations? Did he cast off his good conscience when the Pharisees pressed him with their traditions? Did he indulge time-wasters? No. Everything about Jesus speaks of life, freedom, and intentional living.
Paul said, “Those who indulge in godless chatter become more and more ungodly” (2 Tim 2:16). What you talk about reveals your treasure. Hopefully what you talk about reveals Jesus and his love, for there is no greater treasure.
13. We fear God’s punishment (1 John 4:17-18)
Those who are secure in their Father’s love can look forward to Judgment Day with confidence. Those who are insecure will be anxious. Have I done enough? Will God find fault with me? These are the questions asked by those who have wandered from the faith, who have fallen from grace, and who have left their first love. If this is you, read this now.
14. We’ll be ashamed (but not condemned) when Jesus comes (1 John 2:28)
I love how the Message Bible translates this verse:
And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ. Then we’ll be ready for him when he appears, ready to receive him with open arms, with no cause for red-faced guilt or lame excuses when he arrives. (1 John 2:28, MSG)
John doesn’t say, “Abide in Christ or you will lose your salvation.” He says, “Abide in Christ so you won’t feel like a fruitless schmuck when he returns.” Imagine the shame some are going to have when Christ shows up and all their futile attempts to impress him are burned up in the splendor of his glory. All our manmade programs, all our self-efforts – Woof! – gone in a puff of smoke. How embarrassing to arrive at the wedding feast with the smell of smoke in your hair (1 Cor 3:15)!
How do we avoid going astray?
We stray when we lose sight of God’s love for us. Get distracted from God’s grace and goodness and the odds are high that you will do most of the things listed here. And that is why the number one take-away in the New Testament writers is to abide, remain, dwell in God’s love:
I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. ~Jesus (John 15:9, MSG)
Make God’s loving embrace your permanent resting place and it will be impossible for anyone to lead you astray. When you allow yourself to be apprehended by the wild and relentless love of your mighty Father, no one will seduce you out of it.