The great falling away is not a general falling away from the Christian faith that occurs in each generation. It is the specific, unique falling away that occurs in the last generation that ushers in the second coming of Christ. There are many New Testament passages that speak of the great falling away.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was in response to their concern that it appeared they were in the great tribulation. That horrendous final several-year period when God pours out His wrath on the earth.
It is in this context that Paul tells them of the great falling away.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [the Day of the Lord; the great tribulation period] will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?2 Thessalonians 2:3-5
Paul also spoke to us of the great falling away in greater detail in two other places:
Now the Spirit expressly says [emphatically] that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…1 Timothy 4:1
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away.2 Timothy 3:1-5
First reference, “in the latter times.”
Second reference, “in the last days.”
In The Latter Times Some Will Depart From The Faith
Paul’s first reference is bad. The latter times will witness true saints of God being deceived by demons and many departing from the faith.
You cannot depart from faith you never had. Despite the beliefs of once saved, always saved champions, these are genuine followers of Christ. Unfortunately, however, like Eve, these believers entertain Satan’s lies and depart from God. To teach that true Christians cannot believe Satan and depart from saving faith in God is an obvious error.
See how nice I am. I did not say lie. I said error.
Paul says some will do this. But in context, some must include a huge number for the Holy Spirit to bring our attention to their apostasy. Most Bible translations call this mass departure from the faith of Christ as the falling away or the rebellion or the apostasy.
The New Living Translation calls it “the great rebellion against God.” Contextually, that is exactly what it is. A great rebellion. A great departure from the faith (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
But what will this departure from the faith look like? Will a bunch of church people stand on pews, so to speak, and denounce Christ as the Son of God? Or will they express their rebellion in another more subtle, yet unmistakable way?
In The Last Days Perilous Times Will Come
Paul’s second reference to the great falling away is astounding, in a bad way. It appears that he went to the dictionary and just started pulling out bad stuff. The astounding thing about this list is these are self-proclaimed church people. They have “a form of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).
What power do they deny? According to the immediate text, the power to live a godly, holy life.
There have always been people like this in the church. However, the great end-times falling away is unique in its numbers, popularity, and boldness.
These cursed backsliders, these apostates, are “despisers of good.” They are not secretive about their ungodliness. They defend this behavior and are bitterly opposed to the godly. Consequently, they label as legalistic those who are faithful to the true gospel of repentance:
Then He said to them [after His resurrection], “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”Luke 24:46-47
Do you see? The true gospel does not promise remission of sins without repentance. Surprisingly, however, people reject the true gospel of God in the name of God. They have a form of godliness, but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).
This sounds unbelievable. But all one has to do is to look around the American church and that is what we see in growing numbers. The holy remnant of God is criticized most by those within the visible church.
Live In Sin And Go To Heaven
One group of once saved, always saved folks tells their converts in one way or another that if they repent and believe the gospel, they are forever saved and can now live in sin and go to heaven. They do not purposefully and consciously seek to encourage this behavior in their “converts.” Nonetheless, it is the consequence of their doctrine.
Another once saved, always saved group doesn’t even bother to instruct their converts to repent. All they have to do is accept God’s goodness, and perhaps believe a couple of facts about Jesus, and they, too, are forever saved—no repentance and holiness required.
My group, the Charismatics, the power and prophecy folks, have always been weak in good doctrine. But at least we used to believe in repentance and living right. Now we’re more doctrinally screwy than ever, and many of us have the nerve to scorn repentance and holiness for a brand of grace that demands nothing and justifies everything.
And, of course, the liberal denominations have always been wishy-washy on believing the Bible. The deity of Christ, repentance from dead works, faith toward God, and other fundamental pillars of Christianity. So nothing new there.
What Jesus Said About The Great Falling Away
Last, the Lord had something to say about the great falling away:
And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.Matthew 24:12
That statement is taken from His long end-times teaching in Matthew 24-25. He warned that the pressure of popularized lawlessness will overwhelm the love of many and cause their hearts to turn cold.
The Lord’s prophecy has come true! Saints today are overwhelmed by “Christian” lawlessness and ungodly peer pressure. They are seduced by doctrines that destroy their fear of God and consecration to God. Consequently, their hearts have grown cold with compromise.
False Grace And The Great Falling Away
This condition of popularized lawlessness among those who call themselves followers of Christ and followers of the false grace message was not a widespread stronghold in the days of the Thessalonians. It did exist in small pockets, but was vehemently denounced by the apostles:
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ…Woe to them!Jude 3-4, 11
Jesus gave us the what that would cause the love of many to grow cold: popularized lawlessness.
Jude gave us the how lawlessness would become popular to the people of God: false grace.
Notice Jude said these men “turn the grace of our God into lewdness.” They preach grace in such a way that it undermines repentance and holy behavior.
God now becomes so good and loving (in their view) that a radically changed life and obedience to His word is no longer the proof of salvation:
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.1 John 3:10
Now we are told by the false grace preachers to ignore the ungodly lifestyles of the persistently disobedient and to instead see them as children of God simply because they say they are children of God.
But it is not your words that prove you are a follower of Christ. It is your life. If you believe otherwise, you will dramatically discover this either the moment after you gasp your last breath, or the moment the Lord surprises you with His return.
When Christians Deny The Only Lord God And Our Lord Jesus Christ
Jude said something about the false grace preachers that reveals a mystery. Their version of grace denies “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). How does one preach grace and simultaneously deny God and Jesus?
The mystery is unravelled by noticing two things in Jude.
God Is Lord and Jesus Is Lord
First, the most obvious thing is how the apostle emphasizes calling God “Lord” and Jesus “Lord.” The Scripture could have easily read “God and Jesus Christ,” leaving out Lord. I mean, we all know God is Lord and Jesus is Lord. Right? So why emphasize the obvious?
Jude emphasized the Lordship of God the Father and Christ the Son because the inevitable effect of the false grace message is it either subtly erodes or directly attacks the Lordship of both.
In fact, the proponents and followers of false grace have even come up with a name to derisively refer to the rebuttal that obedience to Christ is necessary for salvation.
They call it the Lordship doctrine.
Yep, if you tell a false or deluded Christian that there is no such thing as receiving Jesus as Savior without obeying Him as Lord, they will say you are legalistic, and that you are teaching the lordship doctrine.
False Teachers Inside the Church
Second, tucked away in the tiny book of Jude is the fact that these particular false grace preachers are within the church. Jude says, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed…” (4). This point is important because we have a tendency to look for external threats and to overlook internal threats.
In my opinion, the great falling away does not come because of the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Muslims. It comes from the false grace preachers, and some once saved, always saved preachers.
I say some once saved, always saved preachers because many of them preach true repentance. This group’s error is that it convinces the true convert that biblical faith is necessary to receive Christ, but not to remain in Christ.
Biblical faith demonstrates its presence and genuineness by obeying God. Or as the apostle James said:
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless. Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.
You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.James 2:19-24
A righteous life will always follow genuine, saving faith.
The point of the two observations above is that one can deny God and Christ even while saying words that give the appearance of being a Christian. I believe this is the characteristic trait of the great falling away. It is what we see today.
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