You can fall
No Christian is safe from falling. Yet no Christian is beyond God’s mercy.
Unfortunately, too many Christians believe they will never fall, yet every year our churches are scandalised by young and older believers alike walking away from Christ to chase what evangelical pastor Chuck Swindoll narrows down to the four worldly pursuits of fortune, fame, power and pleasure.
The Rev Jim Ramsay, who has worked in ministry spanning 47 years as head pastor at Bexley North, Liverpool and Engadine Anglican churches, and now works part-time with the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, says all Christians can be enticed away from the Lord, including leaders.
“I have seen people fall away – people very, very close to us,” Ramsay says. “I know of over 45, almost 50 clergy who have been unfaithful to their wives. Some of those men have walked right away from God. Some of those have hardened their hearts. Some of those have repented and, by God’s grace, are pressing on well.”
What leads people to walk away?
“The Bible’s worried about it, so therefore we should,” Ramsay says. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve seen people fall and I’m aware it could be me.”
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall . 1 Cor 10:12 (ESV):
A driving force that leads to a fall is believing the lies that sin promises, he says. “The mindset seems to be: the thing that I need, the thing that I would like to experience, the burden that I don’t want to carry, the difficulty that I have to undertake is just too hard and my need right now is to be comfortable and to be happy as much as I can. And to be, in the nicest possible way, self-serving. And you know what? That starts off being nice. It’s pleasant.
“I left school when I was 15. I was an apprentice in a factory and somebody said to me: ‘Good Aussie rule: look after number one’. And it’s a brilliant rule. I loved it. The problem was you keep on meeting other people who are living by the same rule.
“But theologically we’re talking about the deceitfulness of sin. And the only power that the devil has over us is the fact if we believe his lies. He’s powerless otherwise.”
It's a slow drift
Despite common perceptions, Christians normally don’t fall away because of one giant mistake that suddenly happens.
“Jesus has begun to fade to black – little bit by little bit,” Ramsay says. “I’m not aware of any guy who goes to bed happy one night and wakes up the following morning, saying: ‘Today, I’m going to be unfaithful to my wife and sleep with X’. It doesn’t happen that way. It’s sort of like a courtship and a seduction but on the wrong side of the tracks.”
The lure of worldliness is far more deceptive and likely to occur over a longer period, says Sarah Condie, a co-director of the Mental Health and Pastoral Care Institute with Anglican Deaconess Ministries, as well as a women’s pastor at Church by the Bridge, Kirribilli.
“When you’re thinking about sin, it’s the subtle things that pull you away from God that you don’t even realise are sins,” Condie says. “You might not actually realise that you’re being pulled.”
One such subtle pull is disappointment – normally stemming from common everyday anxieties such as, grief, illness, loneliness, hopelessness or marital dissatisfaction.
“For example, you’re single and you want to be married, and that’s a deep longing,” she says. “Or you long to have children and that doesn’t happen. So do you fall away? How do you keep going?”
Another subtle pull is busyness, says Steve Kryger, the chairman of Katoomba Easter Convention and BASECAMP,
“Every pastor I’ve met with says the issue of busyness is the biggest factor in their churches for people not growing and participating,” he says.
Kryger regularly meets with laity and leaders across all denominations as part of his job. “People are too busy for relationships,” he says. “And when you’re busy, you’re lonely and you’re tired, you then start spiralling into other activities that take you away from trusting God.”
There is hope
There is always hope for God’s people who have fallen – Christ’s blood on the cross is proof of that. Moses killed an Egyptian, King David committed adultery and sent Bathsheba’s husband to his death, Peter denied Jesus three times and Paul imprisoned the first Christians. All were restored to, by and for the Lord.
“How do people turn it around?” Ramsay says. “They turn to Jesus.”
Some hard questions have to be asked first, however. “I try not to ask the binary question: ‘Do you want to come back?’” he says. “I’d much rather ask the clarifying or evaluative question: ‘What’s holding you back? How much do you want to?’”
The person who seeks restoration through the grace of Christ also has to ask themselves hard questions, he says.
“When I realise I’ve got to turn it around, then I’ve got to ask myself the question: ‘Do I really want to do that? Am I prepared to take the shame of it?’ Obviously, I’m not ready to turn my life around if I still don’t want anyone to know about my sins and I’m hiding it inside myself. There’s got to be humility and teachability.”
How do restored Christians then deal with the guilt? “Christ. Confession. Confidence,” Ramsay says.
“First, Christ: it’s got to be about Jesus and the cross. I’ve got to front up to Christ. That’s the first and last thing. It’s not going to see a psychologist – as helpful as they are – to help me understand myself or to make wiser decisions and overcome my anxiety and depression. It’s got to be Christ and what he has done for us.
"It’s got to be about Jesus and the cross."
“Confession: articulating what it is. It appears to be me that no psalmist ever ends up an atheist. Each psalmist actually vomits out this awful stuff but they haven’t turned their back on God and are cursing the world. The psalmist asks ‘Why, why, why’ but says, ‘I’m still talking to you, God’.”
His third point, confidence, is understanding that if you repent of all your sins and trust in Christ’s mercy, then if you died tonight that you will be with Christ.