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Falling away from faith
by George F. Wollenburg

Dr. C.F.W. Walther, first president of the Missouri Synod, told a story of the death of Oliver Cromwell. When Cromwell was dying, he became alarmed about his salvation. He asked the chaplain who was attending him whether a person who had once been a believer could ever lose his faith. Cromwell concluded that all was well with him, since he once had faith, and must therefore still have it.

The Synod of Dort (Calvinist) declared that even though a person who was a believer fell into gross sins, adultery, murder, etc., faith was not lost, merely the exercise of faith, or the consciousness of faith.

Among American denominations today, there are various groups which teach this same error, particularly a variety of Baptist groups. They base their teaching on passages such as 1 John 3:9. This doctrine is summarized in the slogan, "Once in grace always in grace" or "Once saved, always saved."

Dr. Martin Luther wrote, "When holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of it and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery and murder and blasphemy, then faith and the Holy Spirit have departed from them. For the Holy Spirit does not permit sin to have dominion to gain the upper hand ... but represses and restrains it" (Smalcald Articles).

True and genuine faith is not merely the acceptance of the story of Jesus as true. Even the demons believe this (James, 2:19). Genuine repentance and true faith is the work of the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Word of God. Such faith can be lost by impenitence and deliberately and willfully allowing the flesh to rule in our lives (Rom. 8:12-13).

The Scriptures clearly teach that faith can be lost (Matt.12:43-45; Heb. 6:4-8; Matt. 13:20-22). A loss of faith occurs when,

1) A person carelessly and indifferently follows the will and desires of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).

2) A person continues to live in the gross sins of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

3) A person carelessly or willfully neglects the hearing of the Gospel and use of the Sacraments (1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rom. 10:17; John 8:31).

4) A person continues to indulge his evil imagination and does not with the help of the Spirit strive against unclean desire. To feel temptation is far different from yielding to it (1 John 3:3; Matt. 5:27; Eph. 6:10-17).

5) A person allows the love of pleasure and ( riches and the material things of this world- fame reputation, etc. to have priority in life (Matt. 13:22; Eph. 5:5-6; 1 John 2:15-16; Matt. 6:24).

6) A person does not adhere to the Word of God and pray diligently for divine help and protection against the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh (Matt. 26:41; Eph. 6:10-18).

God has, according to His eternal counsel and will, determined that He will protect the believers in their weakness against the devil, the world, and their own flesh; raise them up again when they fall; keep and preserve them in true faith among many troubles and afflictions; continue to convert their hearts to true repentance and genuine faith If they adhere to His Word, continue to use the Means of Grace, and pray diligently (1 Peter 1:3-7; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Phil. 2:12).

God Himself creates the moments in which He offers us forgiveness, grace, and salvation. God is certainly present at all times and in all places, but He Himself determines the moment or time when He draws close to us with the offer of salvation. Since we cannot control the time or create the moment for the conversion of our hearts, it is Important that we make use of those moments that God creates, the time when His Word is preached and the Sacraments are offered to us (Heb. 4:6, 7, 12; Luke 19:44).

Even in true believers, the sinful flesh, the old Adam, remains. There is a constant struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. In this struggle, believers are to be serious about warring ag6nrit their own natural inclinations and fleshly desires (Gal. 5:16-21; 1 Peter 2:11; Rom. 7:23).

The unconverted and unregenerate person resists God altogether and is entirely a servant of sin (Rom. 8:34; Rom. 6:16).

The regenerate or converted person delights in God's law, takes pleasure in doing what pleases God, according to the inner man (Psalm 119; 10, 11, 24, 97; Rom. 7:22).

The believer is aware of the constant attack upon spiritual life. For this reason, no child of God becomes secure in his or her faith but prays daily, "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief."

There are times, when every true believer will feel that he or she has lost his faith and fallen from grace. These are times when grave doubts arise in their hearts. This is part of the grievous temptation which our own flesh and the devil brings to us. Concerning this, the Lutheran Confessions say, "And although they (believers) sometimes fall into temptation so grievous that they imagine they perceive no more power of the indwelling spirit of God, yet they should without regard to what they experience In themselves, be encouraged and say with David, 'Nevertheless, Thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto Thee'" [Psalm 31:22b] (Formula of Concord, Article XI).

When such time of temptation comes. we are not to try to find feelings or some sort of inner religious experience, but instead we are to believe the Gospel which God speaks to us and to use the sacrament. It is through these Means of Grace that God spin draws us to Himself, converts, and regenerates us (1 Cor. 1:21; Acts 10:5-6; Rom. 10:17).

When the moments of temptation come, the hours when we no longer feel the presence of God or seem to be able to pray, we are to put our trust and confidence in the promise that it is Christ Jesus who makes intercession for us (Rom. 8:31-34; 1 John 2:1-2).

George W. Wollenburg was the fourth vice- president of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Billings, Montana when he wrote the article.

Used with permission of the publisher, The Lutheran Witness, November, 1984.

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