. . . the love of many will grow cold. – Matthew 24:12
When I was a young college christian, I remember making the statement to another Christian that I had “never known a Christian to fall away”. I was newly come to the joy of the faith and it seemed impossible to me that anyone would leave it.
The person who I was speaking to, who was older than me, looked at me like I had a screw loose.
I’ve found, to my grief, that he was right. As a former lay-minister to junior and high schoolers and a current college/young singles worker, I’ve become quite the heartbroken student of the multiple way young people fall away from Jesus. Let me count some of the ways.
In my observation, a common cause of steps away from Christ is a lack of community after high school. That analogy student ministers use of the burning branch being removed from the fire is remarkably accurate. Oh, how we need community, yet we run from it! Often times a person’s first step away from God is a step away from his people.
Others fall away because they grow angry with God. For some of these the problems of pain and suffering in the world preclude belief in God (or alternatively cause a lot of fist-shaking in God’s direction). Some back away from the Lord due to the perceived disconnect between the Bible and science, as their faith is – illogically, in my view – swallowed up in the overwhelming weight of eons and light years, and the infinite smallness of man. “How could such an arrangement include a personal God?” they think. For many, I think being a christian just seems like too much work. Their faith consists of lots of dos and don’ts, and little else, so what’s the point? Some, perhaps more than you think, leave the church due to perceived hurts, or disillusionment, sometimes because their faith was placed in fallable student leaders, or the church itself, rather than Jesus. Disillusionment and hurt can be crushing. Finally, I think many become enamored with all the hope that they see here on earth, and they love this present world, chasing after what will make them rich, or famous, or popular. Why give up earthly hopes for the perceived less attainable hope of being with Jesus?
It is on such rocks as these that faith is shipwrecked.
But there is a heart-issue at the bottom of every falling. The issue can appear to be a lack of faith, or misplaced hope, but I think at its root the problem is a lack of love.
If people have been won to a belief (of some sort) in God but not to a love and
desire for him, what love there is by definition is already cool. What we win them with is what we win them to, and if people are not won to a love of Jesus, because he loved them first; if they are not won to a deep love for God and their neighbor because of the great mercy and love shown them in Jesus, I submit that there is no heat to that flame. And yet they can still fit in pretty well in a Christian context. For awhile.
I’ve heard former believers describe the deep commitment to the Lord that they once had. “I went on mission trips! I led people to Jesus!”. Their zeal was hot. But zeal and love are not the same thing. I’ve known zealous christians that are full of hate, often for other christians. I think the only way they reconcile this with the command to love the brothers is by making the leap to “no one knows the truth but me”, which usually turns into “no one truly believes but me”. And that is such a dangerous place to be. Hating your brother is murder, and a million miles away from Christ’s calling of love.
Love grown cold; I’ve seen too much of it. Yet I continue to hope that the flame has not completely died out for the beloved prodigals I’m thinking of. Fire still falls from heaven and love never fails.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.