From that time many of His disciples (followers) went back and walked with Him no more [John 6:66].
Yet another “high profile Christian” has renounced his faith.
Aside from glorifying such outings or judging the increasing apostasy, such situations raise an interesting and crucial question. Am I a true follower of Jesus Christ or am I simply one in the crowd who is tagging along for quasi-religious reasons? More specifically, am I a follower of Jesus Christ, or am I merely in search of a spiritual experience?
My lifelong habit of reading and studying the Bible reveals one pertinent, irrefutable truth. It is also confirmed within my own family. Upon being born, neither of my children can become “unchildren.” Their births mean membership in my family.
Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again (or from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God” [John 3:3, parenthesis added]. In other words, once someone is truly born again, born from above, heaven-born, born into God’s family, or however you wish to classify it, it is an irrefutable reality.
As biological children, we begin demonstrating the family resemblance. People can say, “Wow, you look just like your father!” Or, “Oh my; you act just like your mother.” When confronting His adversaries, Jesus paralleled this familial likeness with a spiritual application.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. [John 8:42, 44]
The two choices seem rather plain – the two cannot coexist. Either I am a true follower of Jesus Christ, have been born again, reflect the family resemblance, and am indwelled by the Holy Spirit or I am a “go-alonger” who is interested in Jesus, enjoy hanging out with Jesus-people, know the lyrics to songs, and appreciate Scripture, yet have never been spiritually “born” into God’s family and have never had the Holy Spirit residing within me. Either a spiritual birth has taken place or it has not. If it has, a declaration of “unbirth” is ludicrous.
Birth Versus Behavior
A true follower (believer) isn’t perfect – just as children don’t always behave perfectly. But bad behavior doesn’t negate their position in the family. However, it usually does involve discipline! “For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” [Hebrews 12:6].
As a child, I recall deserving numerous “disciplinary sessions” with my parents. But nothing I did could ever negate my sonship. A birth took place by which I was forever a part of my family. Similarly, when a genuine spiritual “rebirth” occurs, a person is forever part of God’s family. Nothing said or done can remove them from God’s sovereign, all-powerful hand [John 10:28-29].
Change of Mind Versus Birth Reversal
That said, some people do “denounce” their faith. Many followers of Jesus rejected Him and no longer followed Him. Scripture also explains that in the end times, as we approach Christ’s return for His own, many will “depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron [1 Timothy 4:1-2]. But there is a world (and eternity!) of difference between denouncing one’s faith and declaring a birth reversal.
Anyone can change his or her mind about what he or she believes. Faith can be as shallow or deep as a person chooses. But no matter how hard a child believes or wishes to renounce family membership, it doesn’t change the fact. Yes, some rebellious children even go so far as to malign their parents – even resorting to unthinkable violence. But they still belong to the family gene pool because of their birth. Relationship always trumps belief.
However, someone not born into the family is simply an acquaintance. A visitor. A go-alonger. He or she may hang around my family, but they’ve never been born into my family. They have no ownership or membership claim. From a faith perspective, they are like the sower’s seeds that land on the wayside, stony ground, or among thorns [Matthew 13:1-23]. The seed and soil are present, yet there is no depth or growth.
To summarize, when someone “denounces” his or her faith, I have to believe he or she wasn’t a genuine believer (follower) in the first place. This isn’t judging them any more than calling an apple an apple. “By their fruits, you will know them” [Matthew 7:15-20]. Facts are facts. Two opposing premises cannot exist simultaneously. A change of mind doesn’t result in an un-birth.
Jesus warned us about such departures. “Take heed that no one deceives you. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” [Matthew 24:4, 11]. We’re seeing more and more people trading their “faith” for political correctness, social acceptance, moral relativism, a larger audience for their products, or a myriad of other superficial reasons.
Yes, people will “fall away” from the faith. But true believers, those who have been “born from above” and indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit, will never – cannot – fall away. The blood of centuries of martyrs confirms that true followers of Christ are faithful to the end.
To be in relationship with the One who not only created me, loved me enough to sacrifice His life for me, “re-birthed” me spiritually, and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell me as confirmation of our relationship – why would or how could I ever “fall away”? This is the primary difference between a relationship with Jesus Christ (true follower) and religion (a go-alonger).
So, which are you? A true follower or simply a go-alonger?
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Nate Stevens