He was a devout believer. He was saved by God's mercy. He had eternal life because of his faith in Christ Jesus.
He was a loving husband, a dedicated deacon with an evangelistic fervor. He passed his faith to his children. His wife was strong in faith, too; largely because of his spiritual leadership in the home.
And then an unbeliever at work asked him a question. It was a difficult question with philosophical and theological crossings. The devout believer knew there had to be a good answer, but he didn't know it immediately. He was an engineer. He spent 50 hours a week at a nuclear plant, so he did what most of us do when we need an answer to a question like that; he asked someone who he thought would have studied the issue. But he wasn't taken seriously; and the answer he received was puny. It didn't make sense to him and it sure wasn't going to make sense the unbeliever.
As the unbeliever half-heartedly delivered the puny answer, he was asked another difficult question – and another, and another, and another. Over a number of months, as he tried to discover for himself answers to questions and as he was offered measly answers from others who didn't understand the importance of moment; the believer's faith weakened. To make a long story sad, ultimately he didn't believe at all.
The experience of the readers of John's first letter was different from mine – to state the obvious. But even regarding those who leave, there is a difference.
The readers of 1 John could name people who had left their community of faith. They left because they had never believed. They denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. They had never bought into the truth of "the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us" (1 John 1:14). And to be honest, Jesus was quite clear, "If you don't believe I Am, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). Those who didn't believe that Jesus was God incarnate left, and John says about them, "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (1 John 2:19). His declaration about them not ever really belonging is about this situation where these anti-christs who left had never believed the truth about Jesus, so they were never really one of his disciples; they were still in their sin.
Most of the people I've seen leave the community of believers have been people who had believed, and were saved; but had lost their faith, lost hope, and forfeited their eternal life because they gave up the faith by which we are saved.
Either way, spiritual tragedy is the result
I've thought about these realities as I've thought about this story and 1 John over the years:
- There are faith-building answers to your questions that you can pursue and discover.
- Jesus really was God in the flesh and you must believe that to be saved.
- True believers can lose their faith.
- We have to take all questions seriously.
- Untruths can sound convincing.
- We have to be on our guard for our sakes, and the sake of others.
That's Life at Work!