By Jady W. Copeland
In this the last of these articles on the subject, we want to discuss the condition of the fallen, actually what has happened, and what he must do to be saved. We have noted the symptoms, causes and prevention of failing away from God, and it must be noted that there are two who have a responsibility in restoring the erring: (1) the fallen brother, and (2) the faithful brother who knows it. I am afraid that we have too often neglected our responsibility in restoring “such a one” in the proper spirit, taking the attitude that we didn’t push him into the ditch and have no responsibility in saving him. Such was not the attitude of Christ.
Stop and think of the amount of space the Bible gives in the Old Testament to the prophets who were trying to warn the people of apostasy. Note for example the pleading of Jeremiah in his prophecy (Jer. 2:19ff; 3:12; etc.). In the New Testament we take particular note of Hebrews 3. The admonition is addressed to “holy brethren’! (v. 1). They were partakers of his “heavenly calling” and were to consider the High Priest, Jesus Christ. In verse 12 he says, “Take heed, brethren lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: but exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called To-day; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Losing our faith is a major problem among God’s people, and the “faithful” have a grave responsibility.
A Sad Condition
In noticing the prodigal (Lk. 15) we note that he made a foolish mistake in leaving home too early, and the mistakes that followed. Too often, we get ourselves into trouble because of stupid mistakes. Yet these mistakes don’t keep the Father from accepting us back when we repent. In this story, there was the son of Abraham who found himself in the pig pen of a pagan. As someone said, we have “Abraham’s son feeding Caesar’s hogs.” What a plight; what a humiliating situation! Some one has said, “The man who yields himself to the power of sin loses all joy in God, all relish for spiritual enjoyments . . . all capacity for appreciating the fellowship of the good and great, all sense of sacredness and spiritual worth of life.” This pretty well expresses the plight of a Christian who finds himself falling away from the fellowship of God, after once having known the way of righteousness. And the “faithful” brother need not feel good about a brother who has decided to turn his back on God. Neglect of this fallen brother is sin.
What Has Happened To Him?
He has “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4; Rev. 2:5). Can you think of anything as bad as having known and been in the grace of God and now to fall away from Him? Besides that, he has lost his power to save others (Matt. 5:13). Furthermore he presents himself as a servant of the devil (Rom. 6:16). He fails to grow in the grace of God (2 Pet. 3:18). Like the “non-Christian,” he often relies on his moral goodness for salvation, when in reality he knows it will not work. In short he has chosen to serve the devil rather than to serve God. He has erred from the truth (Jas. 5:19) and it makes no difference if he has been baptized into Christ, he is still a sinner. Before he obeyed the gospel he was a sinner, and sin condemns; and after becoming a Christian if he sins, he is a sinner, and stands condemned. We need not talk of an “erring child of God” because he is still a sinner. And the only way he can come back to God is by repentance and praying for forgiveness. If I understand Peter, he has become entangled again in the “defilements” of the world, and is in worse condition than before (2 Pet. 2:20). No, he does not need to be baptized again, but he must turn to God, just as he did before he became a Christian. The reason we stress this point is because we have used the figure of the family so much (making the wrong application perhaps) in speaking of the “child of God” and when we say this person is an “erring child of God” we may just leave the impression that this condition is not so serious. Indeed it is more serious, since he has once “known the way of righteousness. “
What Must He Do To Be Saved?
First it would do well for him to remember his former life in Christ (Rev. 2:4-5). Remembering the blessings in that blessed relationship with Christ and the saints can have a strong influence and power in his life. It seems that the memory of the father’s house was one factor in bringing back the prodigal. Like the sinner before baptism, he must realize he is lost. The prodigal certainly realized his grave mistakes. I have an idea that the memory of a good home has been instrumental in bringing many a boy or girl back to their senses and returning to God. Sure, underlying all that is the power of the word, but the prodigal remembered “back home in his father’s house.”
But this memory is not sufficient. The prodigal not only changed his mind, but this led to action; he went! God does not forgive those who refuse to repent. The saints at Ephesus first had to “remember therefore whence thou art fallen” and then “repent and do the first works.” The prodigal saw how foolish his decision was and when he remember his father’s house, he acted. He saw his folly and infatuation with the world and how utterly foolish it was. Then he turned back to his father.
Then John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins. . . ” (1 Jn. 1:9). Sure God knows our thoughts (or could know them) but how much good confessing sins doesl Like the prodigal we are saying, “I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight.” Does not God want us to fully realize our mistakes – what they are, and what can be done to correct them? He is the only one who can forgive, but we must meet his requirements here as before we were converted to Christ. And then, we pray to God and ask his forgiveness. Simon was told to “repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.” Sins must always be repented of and confessed to the Lord. They do not always have to be confessed to the brethren. I believe that depends on the situation. When I sin without anyone knowing it, what would teach me that I had to “take it to the church”? Surely if one’s sins are of a public nature, the brethren should know that the sinner is repenting of his sins, and making all right with God. And if he directly sins against a brother, then this must be confessed to the brother (Matt. 18:15-17). Thus in turning back to God, as with our initial obedience to the gospel, let us impress on the mind of the sinner that he must realize his sin and remember the One who can, and is anxious, to forgive his sin.
The Responsibility of the Righteous As noted above, the faithful Christian must realize his responsibility toward the erring. God is willing and able to forgive (1 Jn. 1:9; Isa. 1:18) and the faithful brother must be willing and able to help. Surely there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents (Lk. 15:7, 32). We are hearing more and more about children being abducted. Sometimes they are reunited with their parents, and I can think of no happier scene than to watch the cries and laughter of joy, both in the parent and the child when they are again united in the family circle. Such can be a picture of the fallen child who has been “abducted” by Satan, and then claimed again by the Lord. “But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Lk. 15:32).
And what can I do to save the brother? “And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all” (1 Thess. 5:14). It is much better to prevent one’s falling away (see the former article) than it is to reclaim him. This is true for several reasons. First he may never come home, or he may die in that condition before any effort is made to save him. Second of all, he has missed the joys of service while away, and the potential for saving others during that period of time.
Let me close these thoughts with this admonition to the faithful in Christ. I am afraid it is far too common among brethren to think that the restoration of the erring is exclusively the responsibility of the elders. Without trying to say that the elders have no responsibility here they surely do – we want to emphasize that all spiritually-minded brethren can do a good work there. “Ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness. . . ” (Gal. 6:1). Souls are precious. Satan never sleeps. We have an interest in the welfare and burdens of our fellow-saints. Too long we have hired preachers to do this work, and relied on the elders to do this type of work and have the sectarian idea that our duty is fulfilled when we “warm a pew” and give a little into the Lord’s treasury. It magnifies the dangerous idea that the Lord’s church is becoming just another denomination. May it never be. If we love our brethren, let’s save them and do what we can to reclaim them for the Lord who died for them.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 6, pp. 168-169
March 19, 1987