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We will now proceed to find out if a similar theme exists elsewhere in Scripture. We will start with 2 Peter 1:5-11. In this passage, we read about a contrast between (1) those who are "shortsighted and blind," who have forgotten about being "cleansed" from their "past sins," and (2) those who "add to their faith" the qualities listed in verses 5-7, and who make sure that they have been "called" and "chosen" by God.

In the immediately preceding context, we are told that God has freely given us everything we need for life and godliness, so that we can be partakers of the "divine nature" and escape the corruption in the world that is caused by evil desires. The term "divine nature" does NOT mean we become deity, but that we are able to have the "nature" - the moral characteristics - that God has. This is why we are told to "add" to our faith the characteristics mentioned in verses 5-7. If we belong to God, he has given us the power to do so!

As in Hebrews 6, we see both a general statement (a command that the people are to obey) as well as two types of people (based on the way they respond to the command).

General Statement:

We must "add" various godly characteristics to our faith (v. 5-7; "in increasing measure" - v.8).

Two responses:

Group 1

Group 2

  • They do not have these qualities [at least in increasing measure, compare with v. 8]
  • They are nearsighted and blind
  • They have forgotten that they have been cleansed* from their past sins (1:9)

*[Note that this word "cleansed" is often used of Jewish ceremonial "purification rites" (Mark 1:44, Luke 2:22, John 2:6, 3:25; etc.) and does not necessarily imply salvation.]

  • They possess these qualities in increasing measure
  • They are kept from being "ineffective and unproductive" in their knowledge of Jesus Christ (compare with 3:18 - a command to grow in knowledge)
  • They have made their calling and election sure
  • They will never fall, but will be richly welcomed into the eternal kingdom (1:8, 10-11)

As before, we find two distinct groups of people. The first group has many characteristics that we often associate with being "Christian." But it is the second group that is described as having a part in the eternal kingdom.

The last half of 2 Peter 1 makes reference to the apostles and prophets, and how their message was a message from God himself. Chapter 2, in contrast, describes a different group: the false teachers, whose message consists of lies of their own invention. In many ways, these false teachers may have once seemed to be "Christian," but Peter tells us that any past similarity is now gone. Though they may have once looked good in many ways, they actually belong to what we have been describing as "Group 1" people.

What they were like in the past:

What they are now like:


  • In some sense, they were "bought" by the Lord
  • They have denied him (with their false teachings), and will one day receive "swift destruction" and "condemnation"
2:1, 3
  • In some sense, they were on the "straight way"
  • They have wandered off the straight way
  • In some sense, they once escaped the world's corruption through knowing Jesus Christ
  • They are again entangled and overcome by the world's corruption
  • They knew the way of righteousness - at least some aspects of it (verse 12 says that there are things they don't understand)
  • They turned their backs on the holy command that was passed on to them
  • Like a dog: [They had purged their stomachs of their vomit] (implied)
  • They have returned to their vomit (to eat it again)
  • Like a pig: The "mud" that covers them had been washed off [compare to 1:9: their "cleansing" was only "external"]
  • They have returned to the mud, to roll around in it
  • [They had many characteristics we normally consider "Christian"]
  • They are contrasted with "godly people" and will someday receive a horrible (but deserved) eternal condemnation
all of chapter 2

Peter describes these false teachers as having "fully known the way of righteousness" and then as having turned their backs to the "holy command" that had been passed on to them. They have no excuse for their actions, and will be judged accordingly. But does this mean that they were once saved, and have lost their salvation? Peter does not make any such claim. Rather than jumping to any conclusions, it would be better for us to remember that Hebrews 6 also lists various "Christian" characteristics and does NOT equate them with "things that accompany salvation." It would be better for us to continue our study without jumping to such a conclusion. If such a conclusion is merited, it will be found in the Word without our superimposing it into the Word.


We will now turn to the book of James. In this book, we are told that it is the Word that can save us. However, if we merely listen to the Word, and fail to do what it says, we end-up with self-deception, instead. We must not merely listen, but do what it says. (1:22)

Again, merely being "religious" is not enough. If one's "religion" does not result in a change in conduct (in this passage, the focus being on one's speech), we are once again self-deceived: our "religion" is worthless. Religion that God considers acceptable has an influence on one's conduct. It results in the expression of love - both toward God (purification and avoidance of sin) and toward our "neighbor." (Note that James does not use the word "religion" as a synonym for "being a Christian.") (1:26-27)

Again, merely having "faith" - a faith that does not influence one's conduct - is not enough. Such a "faith" is totally useless. It is dead; it has no power to save anyone. As with the previous items, James tells us that there must be an effect on one's conduct: a living faith will result in the expression of "life." It is not dead. We must not merely make "claims" about faith; we must live it. (2:14-26)

James also talks about wisdom. Again, there is a genuine and a counterfeit. One is from God; the other from the devil. (3:13-18)

Below is a summary of James' comparison between the "genuine" with the "counterfeit." This shows us that there are many "Christian" characteristics that can be imitated, to one degree or another, by those who have unchanged lives. (Verse references are given in the above paragraphs.)



IF IT IS "GENUINE" [Group 2]:

  • Listening without an effect on one's conduct
  • RESULT: Deceived
  • Listening and doing what it says
  • RESULT: Blessed in what he does
  • No change in one's conduct (focus in this passage: on what the person says).
  • RESULT: Deceived; worthless religion.
  • Purity in one's own life ("being unpolluted") and love expressed toward others (the "helpless")
  • RESULT: "Religion" accepted by God
  • No effect on conduct
  • RESULT: Dead, useless faith; Not saved
  • Seen by its effect on conduct
  • RESULT: Justified
  • Self-centered
  • RESULT: Disorder and every evil practice
  • ["Other-centered"] Shown by one's actions, done in humility
  • RESULT: Peace; a harvest of righteousness


The apostle John talks about those who were "among us" but who left, proving that they weren't really "of us" (1 John 2:19). He contrasts them with those who demonstrate the love of God and who "purify" themselves, following Jesus' example (1 John 3:3). Those in this second group do this, because they have "this hope" [of being like Christ when he returns] within them. The others may claim they have fellowship with God, but since their lives are characterized by "darkness," they are nothing but liars (1 John 1:6) - though they themselves may be convinced otherwise.

As you look through this list, note that those who belong to "Group 1" make many claims. But their claims are NOT backed-up by their lives.

Group 1

Group 2

  • They claim to have fellowship with God, but they walk in darkness; they are liars (1:6)
  • They walk in the light; this shows that they have fellowship with God (1:7)
  • They claim to know God, but do not do what he commands; they are liars (2:5)
  • They obey God's commands; this shows that they know God; they know they must walk as Jesus did (2:3,6)
  • They claim to be in the light, but they hate their brothers; they are still in darkness ... and don't even know it (2:9, 11)
  • They love their brothers; this shows that they are in the light (2:10)
  • [At least some of them:] They have abandoned the truth (2:22 and context)
  • They know they must continue / remain in the truth, if they want to remain in Christ (2:24 and context)
  • They keep on sinning; they have neither seen nor known God (3:6, 8); they do not do what is right, nor do they love their brothers: they do not know God (3:10)
  • They know that everyone who does what is right has been born of God (2:29); they purify themselves (3:3); they do what is right (3:7); they are not able to continue in sin (3:9)
  • They do not love God; they do not know God (4:8)
  • They love each other, showing that God's love, as well as God himself, are both in them (4:12. 16)
  • They do not love their brothers, so they are liars, even though they claim to love God (4:20)
  • They love God and so they obey him (5:3). And because they love/obey God, they also love his children (5:1-2). (Love to God and love to "brothers" are inseparable.)

It is very significant to realize that John writes this book in order that we can know that we have eternal life (5:13). Many people claim to be children of God. But only those who obey him are really his children.

Interestingly, the apostle wrote the gospel of John so that we would be able to believe in who Jesus is, and through faith, have eternal life (John 20:31). But how do you know that the faith you claim to have is truly "saving faith"? 1 John was written so that we could know if we have the type of faith that results in eternal life. Many people are deceived into thinking they have "saving faith," whereas their lives prove them wrong (1 John 3:7).

Yes, it is "through faith" in Jesus that we can have eternal life (John 20:31); works can never earn our salvation. But the "faith" the Bible speaks well of, is a faith that overcomes sin. (1 John 5:4).

Dennis Hinks © 1998

"Christians" Who "Fall Away" Title Page