Even as a new Christian, I had a burden for those who became Christians but wandered away. Sometimes it seemed they neglected spiritual disciplines (like fellowship and reading the Bible), but I’ve learned that God can draw us near even when we are not predisposed to discipline. Others fell away after some thoughtless treatment from people who call themselves Christians. Whatever their reasons, many of the names on my prayer list are people that started well, but are not continuing, at least not at the moment.
A book about prodigals says that nearly every Christian experiences a time of backsliding. We reach a place where it seems we cannot do anything right, get discouraged and quit trying. Or we are mistreated or let down by someone we expected to do better, then in pain and anger walk away. The book said that this is never the end of the story. It used verses like…
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24)
It is God who does the saving. Our part in obedience and spiritual discipline is important, but these are responses to what He is doing in us, not the means of our salvation.
Besides that, I know that some who seem to begin well are not really in the family of God. False teachers fall into that category, as do those whose hope is based on something other than Jesus Christ. Faith is about Him, not church attendance, money given, or living a good life. Eventually, all else fails except the keeping power of God. He may allow some to wander away that they might learn that they cannot save themselves.
Today’s devotional reading is about God’s keeping power and Judas. This man walked with Jesus and was counted among the disciples. However, he was more interested in lining his pockets than in godliness. His heart was not right so he was open to Satan. Besides, the Old Testament prophesied that one close to the Messiah would betray him. Judas was it.
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:11–12)
Of all the people in history that I would not want to be, Judas is at the top of the list. He had no desire to be loyal to Jesus or to follow the ways of God. He betrayed the only One who could have saved him from his sin, but he wasn’t interested. Eventually, the liar Satan led him to destruction and his name became associated with treachery.
Notice that Jesus speaks of keeping all who followed Him but this one man, Judas. Notice also the reason that Judas was lost. It was not that Jesus failed to keep him, but that this sinner and his sin fit into the plan of God. Considering that we all are sinners, God could have used any of the disciples to fulfill Scripture. Apart from the love and mercy of God, He is not obligated to save any of us either. That He promises to do so is amazing in itself, never mind that He promises to keep us in His name when we sin and disobey Him, even when we wander for days, months, years.
My burden for the wanderers can focus on the sinfulness of humanity and become discouraged. Who can possibly be brought back? But when I focus on the power of the Gospel and the plan of God, I rejoice. He is able to save to the uttermost. What He does with His own in their wandering is none of my business, except to pray for them as Jesus prays for them. He will bring them back in His time, and even if nothing much happens that I can see, I must trust His promise that all who belong to Him will be made complete when He returns.