“I used to be a Christian, but now I’m an atheist.” – Mr. Apostate
This claim is all to common. I’ve come across countless atheists who claim they used to be a Christian but due to some special revelation or possibly seeing hypocrisy in their former church they became an apostate. Despite how vigorously they may defend this claim it is simply not true. The reality is, either the now apostate was not fully committing themselves to Christ when they made a profession of faith or they’re now being dishonest about their supposed profession of faith. Only these two possibilities exist. Either way, the claim that one can be an ex-Christian is simply not true.
Purpose of the claim
The main purpose of the claim is to attempt to add credibility to a secondary claim. This secondary claim is that Christianity is built on falsehoods.
This secondary claim is usually supported by even more claims such as, God isn’t real, Jesus never existed, Jesus did exist but not as a divine being, Christianity is evil and so on. So the real play here is to try and discredit Christianity but from a subjective, personal experiential level. Reason being, because it is difficult to prove all of these supposed claims against Christianity as true. It is much easier to default to a position of subjective, personal experience for the purpose of discrediting Christianity then it is to provide solid objective facts to discredit Christianity. The reason for this is Christianity simply can’t be discredited. It has stood the test of criticism against those who have opposed it since the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
To be fair, relying on personal experience is not necessarily a bad thing to do. As believers, we rely on personal experience as well. However, we are to recognize personal experiences are subjective and to top it off people are not always honest about their experiences. To ensure there is a proper balance with our experiences and Christianity we center our lives with the word of God. This keeps us as believers from being tossed around by the winds of emotionalism, perception that’s void of reality, or the deception that exists within the heart.
So the question is, “Is the claim being made true?”. I believe the answer is no and it can be shown quite easily using scripture as well as our own reasoning.
Why the claim is false
Biblically the bible makes it clear that God keeps those He saves.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. – John 10:9
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. – John 10:28
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. – John 10:29
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. – 1 Peter 1:3–5
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. – John 6:39
The bible is littered with verses that speak to the assurance of salvation to those who are in Christ.
Now, there are some who think it is possible to lose their salvation. Taking this position is extremely dangerous. It is important to realize that if it is possible to lose our salvation then works becomes a means to salvation rather than grace alone (Ephesians 2:8–10). Why? Well, if we say it is possible to lose our salvation then who is responsible for us losing it? If salvation is a gift given by God and God keeps his own then surely God can’t be responsible for losing the gift. If God has the power to save then why would He not have the power to keep us saved?
If God is not responsible for us losing our salvation then that means we are. That means we have the ability to override the power of God’s saving grace. If we can lose our salvation then it means we can keep it. However this isn’t biblical because if we have the power to keep ourselves saved then we have the power to save ourselves. Truth is, we don’t have the power to save ourselves. If we did, there would be no need for Christ Jesus.
From a biblical perspective the claim of being an ex-Christian just doesn’t add up. However we can’t expect an unbeliever to adhere to this sort of scriptural exercise and come to this same conclusion. So let’s look at it from another perspective with the fundamentals of Christianity still at the foundation, since that is the object of discussion.
The word of God commands two things from all who would be willing to submit themselves to the grace of salvation.
God calls all to repentance. It is impossible to read through the bible and miss the theme of God constantly calling His people, starting with Israel, to later include all people, Jew and Gentile, to repentance lest they perish.
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. – Luke 13:3
And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent – Mark 6:10–12
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 3:1–2
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. – Acts 2:38
The word repent, comes from the greek word metanoeó. To repent means to change one’s mind. To think differently than how one is normally accustomed to thinking. As it relates to salvation, it means to turn away from sin. To turn away from the sinful things that one is used to doing. To change one’s mind so sin is no longer the object of affection but rather God is.
The second thing one must do in order to be saved is believe in Christ as the Son of God, the one who paid the penalty for all sin, for those who would believe in Him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14–15
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:16–18
The gospel calls all to repent and believe in Christ Jesus. Scripture makes it clear that we are all sinners and without the gift of salvation by grace through faith we are condemned under God’s wrath. The gospel calls for the recognition that we are unholy, unrighteous, rebellious and sinful people. It calls us to turn away from all that is not holy. All that God hates. Lying, lust, homosexuality, envy, blasphemy, murder, idolatry, thievery and so on. The gospel causes us to admit our sinful plight to ourselves and to a holy and righteous God. It causes us to be broken and to cry out to the only one that can save us from our sinful selves. The God man which is Christ Jesus.
This is where the whole idea of the “ex-Christian” begins to fall apart. An ex-Christian must take this step of entering into a place of brokenness. A place of complete hopelessness in their own ability to cure themselves of the wretched disease called sin. A place where they know God in fact is real, Christ is real and that there is no other way of salvation but through Christ. A place of self-examination of their sinful core, their deceitfully wicked heart that lusts after doing whatever pleases the flesh. To be an ex-Christian would mean that one must have lied about their sinful state during their so called conversion. If an ex-Christian truly believed they were sinful, dead in their sins, hopeless without Christ, filled with hatred at their sinful core, in recognition that there is nothing good in them, then at what point does the mind change about this belief? At what point does one come to the conclusion that they instead, believe they’re actually a pretty good person and that this whole Jesus idea is a big sham? To change one’s mind later after acknowledging the issue of sin means one never fully believed they in fact were hopeless and dead in their sins. To look at the world and reason that it in fact is full of depravity, to only change one’s mind in the blink of an eye and consider the world full of goodness is to commit self deception. We either believe in total depravity or we don’t. An ex-Christian must either lie about their belief in total depravity and sin during conversion, which leads to a false conversion, or they must lie in reference to them ever being a Christian to start with.
Now, it is also quite possible that the ex-Christian never fully repented. The issue of repentance could be something that was never brought up before conversion. Instead, they accepted Christ into their heart, said a little prayer, or maybe they went to church religiously and never fully acknowledged their sins while turning from them. They simply never gave them up! Both avenues lead to false conversions.
I’ve yet to meet or speak with an ex-Christian who in fact admitted they were sinners, totally depraved, hopeless without God’s gracious gift of salvation, broken, who clung to the cross due to the love exhibited by Christ, only to later say they now think they’re a good person and there is no such thing as God. They either lied during conversion which brought about a false convert, or they’re lying about ever being a Christian. Either way, I simply cannot believe there ever has been or is such a thing as an ex-Christian. In fact, every single ex-Christian I’ve encountered and heard of others encountering never fully gave up their sins. They in fact wanted the blessings of Christ, the eternal reward but they also wanted to keep their sins. Typically, after years of not being able to reason their sins with the righteousness of God, they claimed to have left Christianity. They usually reason it all against a backdrop of emotionalism with statements directed at God as a misogynist, a murderer, vengeful, baby killer and on and on it goes. Because the ex-Christian can’t keep their sins or deal with the realities of the people they like or love being ushered into Hell for rebelling against God they shake their fist at the idea of God. They usually have spent years struggling with issues of pride, never humbling themselves in full recognition of what sin is so they claim to have left the faith. They have issues with people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa or their parents going to hell for rejecting Christ so they have a “coming out” and deny the faith of Christianity. My answer to that is no. No man or woman leaves Christianity. It isn’t a club of VIP members. In fact, I would argue they were never in the faith to begin with. Christianity involves a renewing of the heart and a quickening of a once dead spirit. It isn’t based on good deeds, rituals, traditions, exhaustive prayer, bible study, tithing, missionary work or a whole host of other works. It is based on the redemptive work on the cross by Christ Jesus. It is a gift of God’s grace to all who would receive it.
Furthermore, God keeps those who He calls unto salvation. Albeit we as Christians may struggle in our walk with God, God has the power to save us and the power to keep those He has chosen to save.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. – John 10:27–30