If you run in the Christian circles like I do, you have most likely heard or read about several recent prominent Christian leaders who have “lost the faith” or “turned away from the faith.” While this is alarming, it is definitely not a new trend.
Back in the 80s and 90s there were quite a few very popular Christian bands that had some high profile artists. There were several of those who turned away from Christ. Many are now claiming atheism.
But let’s go farther back.
In the Bible we see many stories of people who either turned away from their faith or doubted it. In Exodus 12, for example, we learn that Miriam and Aaron both oppose Moses but end up being restored. The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert due to a lack of faith. It even led to a bloody conflict that led to half of Israel being killed by the other half of Israel because of faith.
Then you have Jeremiah who wished he had never been born.
King David, in Psalm 13, had doubts. Even in 1 Chronicles 21 we see that David counted his armies rather than trusting God.
Even Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, despaired.
Then you have the doubters. Moses, Thomas, and Gideon all doubted. Peter both doubted and denied. Judas turned away from the faith altogether, and he was in Jesus’ inner circle.
I know that over the years, I have viewed my faith as a moving target sometimes. As humans, we all wax and wane in our faith. There are times we feel so far away from God and others we feel that we are best friends.
One thing I have learned about doubt, or even the “failure of faith” is that we easily get confused when we see ourselves as the prime leader in the relationship. I’d like to focus on a few Biblical characters whose failures could have led to any of them turning away from God altogether. But they each ended up humbling themselves, realizing that they were not the Creator of the Universe (even their own), and came back from their failures.
I like to start with Paul. He is someone I like to think I associate with closest in the Bible. An evangelist at heart but with so much baggage in his past that he always wonders how God can use him. Paul was the epitome of sinner. Prior to his conversion, he was the dreaded Saul of Tarsus. Not only was Saul a killer of Christians, but he was the one who approved the execution of Stephen in Acts. Saul’s sole purpose was to destroy the Christian church. He would go door to door in Jerusalem and seek out Christians and then throw them in prison. Once there, he would track the letters they sent to fellow believers and gather them up as well.
After Saul’s conversion to Christ he changed his name to Paul and became one of the world’s greatest evangelists.
But he still hated who he was.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 – Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
So what can we learn from Paul? No matter when you give your life over to Christ, even after an entire life of horrible sins, the Gospel is too powerful to leave you the same person you were and that transformation becomes a powerful testimony to God’s grace.
Next, let’s look at David. David was the same guy who took a stone and killed the Philistine champion Goliath. He wrote many of the Psalms as worship to God. He was a man after God’s own heart.
However, David was not only mentioned in over half of the Bible’s books, but he broke over half of the 10 commandments!!! He coveted Bathsheba, committed adultery, stole her from Uriah, lied to him, and then had him killed!
But when he is confronted, David repents.
That repentance doesn’t undo everything he did in the past, but it does change the trajectory of his spiritual future.
2 Samuel 12:13 – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
What we can learn from David is that if we truly do repent of our sin we are not saved from the consequences but we are still able to be used by God.
Third, I would like to look at John Mark. John Mark came from a very important family. Peter went to John Mark’s house when he was released from prison. Paul & Barnabas pick up John Mark on the way back from a mission journey. Unfortunately, we learn that John Mark left Paul & Barnabas in Perga and went back to Jerusalem.
While we don’t know the reasons behind why John Mark left them, we do know that it wasn’t for a good reason. Barnabas later suggests they go get him and Paul refuses to do it. This leads to the disagreement between Barnabas and Paul that causes the two of them to part ways. Barnabas chooses Mark and Paul chooses Silas and they go their separate ways for as long as we know in the Bible.
Later, when Paul is in prison, he writes to Colossae and tells them that John Mark is with him and has been a great comfort and that they are to welcome John Mark. This is the same person that disappointed Paul earlier in life so much that it caused division among the saints.
And now, Paul is calling him a “fellow worker.”
What can we learn from John Mark? While conversion is instantaneous, it takes a lifetime to grow into the faith you are accepted into. Maturity comes at a later date, even when we think we are mature enough to handle situations we cannot. As long as we persevere, we can outgrow those immature moments in life.
Next, let’s look at Peter. Peter was loud and shoots from the hip quite a bit. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. He was the only one to attempt walking on water and he was the first to tell Jesus he believed He was the Son of God.
But we know what happens, Peter denies Jesus not just once but three times!
Jesus doesn’t give up on Peter though. Peter is the first person Jesus appears to. He restores Peter at the Sea of Galilee.
And then Peter went on to preach the first sermon in which 3,000 people got saved!!!
What is it that Peter can teach us? Failure doesn’t disqualify you from the Kingdom of God.
The last person I would like to look at is Elijah.
Elijah was someone who worked so many miracles it would be hard to think of him as human. He caused the rain to stop for 3 years, he was fed by ravens, he witnessed a young man resurrected, and he called down fire from heaven, thus destroying the prophets of Baal.
But then we see that Elijah burned out. After calling down fire, Elijah realized he couldn’t take anymore. He fled to the wilderness and felt totally alone and afraid.
God met him there. He fed him. He allowed him the time to rest. And after a while, he answered Elijah in the still, small voice.
What can we learn from Elijah? Burnout is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don’t listen to everything and everyone when you are exhausted. Take time to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Then get back out there and win people to Christ.
The only way that failure will win in your life and cause you to leave the faith is if you allow it to do so. We serve a big God. This is the same God that created the universe! He can give us what we need, if we only allow Him to do so.