I’ve been reading Pilgrim’s Progress to my young sons, and I am continually amazed at the depth and clarity with which Bunyan examines the spiritual condition. Most recently, we read of Hopeful’s acquaintance Temporary and how he fell away from his faith.
Temporary, as his name implies, was a pilgrim who started his journey with enthusiasm, but then quickly left the path of faith. He stand as an illustration of those who, like the seed that falls among the rocky soil, which quickly grew, but then withered under the heat of the sun. He begins with outward excitement, but as there is no inward working of the Holy Spirit, he soon proves to be apostate.
Christian, in explaining how Temporary fell away, gives us a warning for our own life of faith. Here are the steps to avoid:
They draw most of their thoughts away from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come.
Thinking regularly on God’s holiness, Christ’s death for your sins, and the coming Day of Judgment keeps you in close communion with God. Yet so often, family concerns, careers ambitions, and the barrage of social-media and 24/7 entertainment are distractions from thinking of God.
Then they gradually neglect private duties such as personal prayer, curbing their lusts, watchfulness, sorrow for sin, and the like.
The God-given means fo grace (ie. prayer, Bible study, reading of wholesome books, discipline (physical and spiritual), self-examination, stewardship, etc) are all meant to strengthen you in your faith. Neglect these gifts at your own peril.
Then they shun the company of lively and whole-hearted Christians.
Though you may continue to come to worship, the conversations over coffee never get past the kids activities or current events. The idea of sharing your testimony, or listening to someone else’s never comes to mind.
After that, they grow cold to public duty, such as conscientious listening, reading of the Word, godly corporate gathering, and the like.
When you stop talking to others about your faith, then your desire for worship falls away. Attendance becomes hit and miss, you cannot concentrate on the sermon, and your commitment to the ministry of the Church weakens.
They then begin to find fault or pick holes, as we say, in the lives of some of the godly, so that they may claim religion is stained based on some weaknesses they have noticed in these believers, and they then justify putting religion behind their backs.
With no real commitment to the worship and ministry of the Church, you then turn on the people of the Church. With growing criticism, you judge the saints with specks in their eyes while ignoring the logs in your own (Matt. 7:3-5).
Then they begin to adhere to and associate with, carnal, immoral, and unrestrained men.
As you no longer participate in the life of the Church, and you don’t like the people of the Church, your circle of activity expands to include worldly entertainment and even Sunday activities (hunting, organized sports, etc) that conflict with church life.
They give way to carnal and depraved conversations in secret, and they are glad if they can find similar practices in any who are considered reputable, for these hypocrites encourage them to be all the more bold.
As you spend more time with people of the world than with people of faith, worldly influences creep in, looking for the faults in other Christians as justification for your own.
After this they begin to play with little sins openly.
Desensitized to the effects of sin, you dance even closer to the fire, with no fear of being burned.
And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are.
No longer bothered with pretense, you invite more worldliness into your life, and reveal your true nature.
Christians, trust in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to keep you and strengthen you in your faith. Do not wander or neglect the means by which God has promised to nourish and sustain you. And if you find yourself in Temporary’s path toward apostasy, repent, and turn from your sins, that you might be restored by God’s mercy!