Over the years, I've seen many friends leave the faith. Some have completely turned their backs on God. Others still identify as Christian, but Jesus no longer occupies the throne in their lives. To them, Christianity is more of a cultural tradition, rather than a living faith that informs their everyday choices.
In most cases, the change didn't happen overnight. They drifted. Slowly but surely, their path diverted from the straight and narrow. People who knew them back then wouldn't recognize them today.
Our job isn’t to judge them but to love them and pray for them. If you’re not sure how to do that, this blog about loving friends who leave the faith might be helpful. In the meantime, we should remember that we’re susceptible to the same outcome. We also drift.
I'm reminded of the story of King Solomon. He was loved by God since he was born (2 Sam 12:24). He was blessed beyond measure. He served the Lord in tremendous ways. Solomon had everything going for him. Based on his spiritual CV, one might've expected him to have an unshakable faith.
Yet he didn't finish well. Later in his life, foreign wives "turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been" (1 Kings 11:4).
What Doesn't Prevent Drifting
There are no "protective factors" that sustain a thriving faith. In fact, this idea may produce a false sense of confidence. Here are a few things that do not prevent us from drifting:
Family upbringing: Solomon grew up in a godly household. His father David was a man after God's own heart, who modeled righteous living and imparted values onto Solomon. Even when the Lord was angry with the Israelites, he relented "for the sake of David [his] servant." But Solomon did not share that intimate friendship with God. Likewise, those who grew up in a Christian home should not assume their standing. They should be intentional about pursuing their own faith and having their own relationship with God.
God's blessings: Solomon was the king who had it all. He wielded power. He enjoyed prosperity. And perhaps most notably, he saw peace. The kings who came before and after him had no peace. They faced ongoing wars, internal rebellions, and assassination attempts. Solomon didn't need to worry about those. This freed him to spend time on leisurely activities. Yet blessings from God can become distractions from him –– a risk that we in our 21st century comfort also face.
Knowledge and wisdom: In a personal encounter with God, Solomon asked for wisdom. This was wise, as God affirms his choice: "I will give you a wise and discerning heart... [and] I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings" (1 Kings 3:12-13). And so, Solomon became the wisest man in history. But knowing the right things –– even teaching the right things (Proverbs) –– doesn't mean that you'll consistently do them.
Ministry activities: Solomon had the honor of building the temple of the Lord. In its dedication, he exhorted the people to always remember that "the Lord is God and that there is no other. And may your hearts be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands” (1 Kings 8:60-61). Yet he himself, not many years later, bowed down to pagan idols. Fruitfulness in ministry does not ensure faithfulness to God. I've seen friends from church and InterVarsity renounce their faith, even Bible study leaders, worship leaders, and campus staff.
To Walk with Jesus Daily
In Ernest Hemingway's “The Sun Also Rises,” a character is asked how he had gone bankrupt. "Two ways," he responded, "Gradually, and then suddenly."
The journey to unbelief occurs in a similar manner. Whether the problem stems from cultural shifts and social disagreements, personal offensce from churchgoers, or disillusionment with the church itself, the common story arc is one of drifting (gradually) and crossing a point of no return (suddenly).
When longtime believers walk away from the faith, they often have months and years wrestling with their conscience. By that time, it's too late to intervene –– not for God, who can restore sight to the blind and life to the dead –– but for us, their friends and companions who helplessly watch on. The best apologetics cannot pierce a hardened heart. Preventing spiritual bankruptcy starts long in advance.
What Keeps Us from Falling Away
Jesus spells it out for us: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23). The operative word here is daily. We must admit our faults daily, commit to following Jesus daily, and submit our will to his daily.
We are also called to daily fellowship and accountability: "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb 3:13). This requires being in each other's lives –– not only on Sundays but throughout the week –– knowing each other's personal business and lovingly calling each other out as needed.
Students, don’t just attend Bible study or large group. Seek to build intentional friendships. Speak the truth in love and allow others to speak truth into your life. Exhort one another, as the Scripture says.
These things are not popular in our culture. But to prevent drifting, we must stay close to Jesus and his Church. We must abide in him and hold fast to community. We must take up our cross and follow daily, lest we find ourselves gradually, and then suddenly, strangers to God.
After my disastrous encounter in the deli with Kyle, I decided to learn everything I could about loving people through faith transitions. As someone deeply committed to the way of Jesus, how I treat other people in their moments of doubt, disillusionment, and disbelief matters.
Perhaps you're a freshman or sophomore who needs to declare a major soon. You're overwhelmed by the options and need guidance on where to start. Or you know what you want but seek reassurance. Here are a few perspectives that may help.