Some people stop going to church. Some will even tell you that they are no longer Christians. A new description for the most abrupt examples of this transition is deconversion. Some of the reasons people give for no longer following the Lord are expected, but others are surprisingly subtle. The subtle reasons for falling away should cause even regular church-goers to examine themselves.
Before we consider these subtle reasons, let’s think about the more common reasons someone may give for no longer being a Christian. Perhaps they experienced persecution. In other cultures, following Jesus can cost you your job, your family, or your life. Some who initially say they trust Jesus pull back when they start seeing the costs they have to pay.
Even in our culture, which is much less hostile to Christianity, you can experience ridicule for your beliefs. Many first year students at college decide that they don’t want to be the butt of the professor’s anti-Christian jokes anymore. “You still believe the Bible is true? Aha!”
Another common reason for walking away is disillusionment by a heartbreaking experience in a church, like abuse or a respected leader proving to be a fraud. Sadly, many other people leave God because they simply want to have sex with someone he says is forbidden. God’s great plan for sex is lots of enjoyment between one man and one woman within marriage. Since having sex with anyone outside of that design is against God’s good laws, some choose sex over God (or should we say they choose sex as their god?).
Falling away from God is terrible. Some of the strongest warnings in the Bible are found in the book of Hebrews. The situation was a group of people from a Jewish background had heard about Jesus: “He is the Messiah. He lived perfectly. He died in the place of sinners. He rose from the dead. You can be in a right relationship with God if you repent and trust him alone.” The Hebrews responded positively to that offer.
The problem came when the Roman Empire turned up the heat against Christians. At the time Judaism was still legal and some of these Hebrews were tempted to deconvert. The letter to the Hebrews highlights the superiority of Jesus to the Jewish symbols and warns them not to fall away.
Here is an example of a soul-shaking warning in Hebrews. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27). He is saying that falling away from Jesus is an indicator of never truly trusting in Jesus.
But, let’s consider the subtler ways people can fall away from the Lord. Some of these reasons aren’t flagrantly rebellious. In fact, sometimes what starts out as a good thing can turn into a bad thing when it crowds out the Lord.
An example of a good desire that turns bad is wanting to work hard to provide for your family. Of course, that is very important. God calls men to take responsibility to provide for their families. But what about when a man gets consumed with his work? What about when he becomes too tired to get up a little early and read the Bible and pray? What about when he starts picking up extra work on Sundays to make even more money?
Other people are working so hard and involved in so many other activities that they save Sundays for themselves. Once again, spending time with your spouse and your children is a great choice. Everyone needs to rest and catch up on things. But, what about church? The voice of God begins to grow faint as you stop hearing his word proclaimed week by week. What about those needed conversations with others at church to pick you up spiritually? God designed the church gatherings to be essential for Christians to keep going through the toughest times of life (see Hebrews 3:13-14).
I have a friend that wrote a provocative article about sports leagues with Sunday games. He titled it: “Ball or Baal?” Really the title says it all, doesn’t it? Sports leagues and countless other activities are wonderful to participate in. The problem comes when these good things crowd out the best thing.
I don’t think anyone who begins to make some of these subtle choices ever intends to walk away from God. But these small choices add up to a big and dangerous result. In the parable of the sower, Jesus himself mentions this unexpected reason for why some of his gospel seeds don’t bear the lasting fruit of salvation.
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matt. 13:22). It isn’t surprising that violent persecution could tempt someone to reject Jesus, but do the cares of the world seem spiritually dangerous to you? The devil doesn’t care which train he can put you on to leave Christ, as long as you are moving away from the station. He doesn’t mind overfilling your cart with good things, as long as he eliminates all of the room for Jesus and his people.
Are you closer to the Lord this year than last year? Which direction are you moving? If you are drifting away spiritually, STOP! You may feel more rested in life, your Sunday mornings are quieter, you are watching your kids improve in their sport, and you may have more money. But if you are trading any of that for Jesus, you are making a terrible deal. Think of eternity. You may have thirty more years of quiet weekends, but what about hell forever? This whole life is like a vapor compared to eternity.
It’s not too late to turn back to the Lord today. He loves to forgive even those who didn’t mean to neglect him. But, please don’t keep neglecting him. Unintentionally falling away still leads to deconversion, which is deadly serious.
By John Crotts