July 31, 2019 • Dennis Ellingburg
This past week another man whom I respected greatly joined the ranks of the fallen. Joshua Harris, one time pastor of Covenant Life Church in Maryland, and author of the best selling book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, stated last week that he and his wife of 20 years were divorcing. Less than a week later he stated in an instagram post that “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” This was heartbreaking for me. In my personal library I have two of Joshua Harris’ books, and have often gone back to them for encouragement and help in my ministry.
In recent years I have known several friends and colleagues who have likewise left the faith, and Harris’ rejection of Christ reopened old wounds, doubts and anger that I had thought were buried years ago. And in my personal quiet time I asked, “Why?” In my personal quiet time, I wrote these words, “Today I am mourning, Lord, the apparent failures and apostasy of a man that I revered. Joshua Harris had it all. A huge church, large influence, a wonderful family, and yet he’s walking away from the faith. What is going on with these men I loved and revered? Joshua Harris’ apostasy, Mark Driscoll and James McDonald’s failures. My own friends who have walked away from the faith. It makes me so confused. So sad. Why are so many bowing to social pressure? Lord, I’m drowning right now, but help me cling to you. Help me stay safe in your arms. Hold me Jesus!”
So in the past few days I’ve been seeking insight from God and asking him to help me understand. I have a few things that God has shown me that I think can help us in these times of questioning and doubt, especially when it’s a child or loved one who has left the faith.
Here’s the truth of this situation: If Joshua Harris permanently rejects God, then he did not fall away from God because he was never with God. In 1 John, John was dealing with a church that was hurting because some seemingly left the faith and left Christ. But John notes, “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” (CSB). Here, John makes it clear that the reason they left the faith was because they never even belong to God in the first place. Our salvation in Christ is assured, not by our ability to remain in Christ, but in Christ’s ability to make those who are his remain his. In 1 Peter 1:3-5, Peter reminds them:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Peter notes that it is God who is guarding us. Joshua Harris did not fall away, as if Christ was not powerful enough to keep him. Nor did he tear himself away, as if God’s hand was unable to hold him. Joshua Harris was never a believer to begin with. ‘
Sure he looked like one of us. He mentally assented to the truth of the gospel. He vocally said he believed in Christ. He preached, he taught, he lead others to Christ. But Joshua Harris wasn’t ever truly a believer. He was never Christ’s.
Second, there is evidence in scripture that some who apparently fall away, can return. The best example of this is Peter. Peter, faced with the prospect of joining Jesus in his fate on the cross abandoned Christ and denied him three times. There are some who go through times of wandering, but God is faithful. For those who are truly saved, he will bring them back to him. This reminds me of my favorite hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” and it’s refrain “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”. But if we are Christ’s it is Christ who holds us in his hands, not we who cling to him.
As R. C. Sproul notes,
“Only God can truly see the heart. Some people profess faith falsely. Others who seem to have fallen away will eventually be restored. At Jesus’ return there will likely be some surprises when we see who really trusted Him and who did not (Matt. 7:21–23).”
So what should we do in the midst of Harris and others falling away? Well, since we cannot see the heart, we should not assume that he has left the faith permanently. We should pray for those who appear to have apostatized. We should pray that the Lord work in their hearts and bring them back to themselves. We should also pray that the God we love would keep us in the faith, and protect us from such back-sliding. That we would persevere to the end. Matthew 24:13 reminds us that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Pray that God would hold us in his hand (Romans 8:38). Soli Deo Gloria!