It is a popular teaching today that once someone becomes a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she will never cease to be God’s child regardless of behavior and continuance in saving faith.
In order to express this teaching, it is reasoned from human experience to that which is spiritual and a strong distinction is made between “fellowship” and “relationship”. It is said that a believer can harm and even sever one’s fellowship with God while somehow maintaining a saving relationship. The only way to express this concept is through human analogy.
Neil T. Anderson gives us the basis of this argumentation in Stomping Out the Darkness, co-authored by Dave Park. Under the heading: There’s A Difference Between Relationship and Fellowship, Anderson writes…
…Doesn’t our sin block God’s acceptance of us? No, as the following story illustrates. When I (Neil) was born physically I had a father. His name was Marvin Anderson. As his son, I not only have Marvin Anderson’s last name, but I have Marvin Anderson’s blood flowing through my veins. Marvin Anderson and Neil Anderson are blood- related. Is there anything that I could possibly do which would change my blood relationship with my father? What if I ran away from home and changed my name? What if he kicked me out of the house? What if he disowned me? Would I still be his son? Of course! We’re related by blood and nothing can change that…In the spiritual realm, when I was born again I became a member of God’s family…As a son of God, is there anything I can do which will change my relationship with him? No! I’m related to God by spiritual birth and nothing can change that blood relationship (pp 55, 56- emphasis his).
Anderson, like so many others, gives very little scriptural support for his contention that once we become a child of God, we inevitably remain one forever. He later quotes a portion of Jn. 10:27, 28 and cites Rom. 8:35, but does not consider them in their proper context and ignores many other related Scriptures, as will soon be demonstrated. Anderson relies primarily on a “story” to make his case and try to demonstrate that sin and apostasy can only affect our fellowship with God, but never our relationship.
Let us consider some of his statements from this portion of his book, “I’m related to God by spiritual birth and nothing can change that blood relationship (emphasis mine).” Please notice that Anderson first calls our relationship spiritual, but then in the same sentence calls it a blood relationship. Since a blood relationship is physical, it can never be spiritual. Consider the following Scriptures: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent (literally: “of bloods”)…but born of God”(Jn. 1:12, 13- emphasis mine). “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn. 3:5, 6- emphasis mine). It is clear from these two scriptures that the new birth is entirely spiritual and has no physical element to it. To say that we enter into an unbreakable blood relationship with God is to contradict the testimony of his word.
To make matters worse, once we are “born again” (Jn. 3:3), we become a part of God’s family through “adoption” (Rom. 8:23-25) and cannot properly be compared to natural born children with a “blood relationship”. Even Israel, whom Paul called the “natural branches” (Rom. 11:21), are children only through “adoption” (Rom. 9:3, 4).
To compare our relationship with God to our blood relationship with our natural parents is to draw an analogy that Scripture does not support and flatly contradicts. Paul warned against such dangerous reasoning, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8- emphasis mine).
What of Anderson’s contention that we can in no way jeopardize our relationship with our heavenly Father, but only our fellowship? Anderson responds categorically with a “No!” saying nothing can change that “blood relationship” (which we have shown to be an unscriptural concept), and that continued sinning, or even walking away, cannot jeopardize our relationship with God. Again, Scripture is not on his side.
Therefore brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature to walk according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Rom. 8:12-14 (emphasis mine)
There are several important truths to be gleaned from this passage of Scripture. First, we see that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Second, those that are called “sons of God” are those that live by the Spirit by putting “to death the misdeeds of the body.” Third, if we continue to “live according to the sinful nature” we will die spiritually. What if we experience the new birth and later fall back into a lifestyle controlled by the sinful nature? We would cease to be “sons of God”, because only those led by God’s Spirit are his children, and those led by God’s Spirit are those who “put to death the misdeeds of the body” and no longer “live according to the sinful nature.” Fourth, Paul tells us that we are obligated to live by God’s Spirit. For those who want to be God’s children, such a Spirit led life is not optional- “we have an obligation”.
Anderson wants us to believe otherwise. He writes,
Our freedom in Christ is one of the most precious gifts we have received from God. You no longer have to walk according to the flesh as you did before you received Christ. You are not even forced to walk according to the Spirit. You can choose to walk according to the Sprit or to walk according to the flesh (pg. 89- emphasis mine).
Notice how Anderson says we can be a child of God and still walk according to the flesh, while Paul says we are not free to walk according to the flesh but obligated to walk according to the Spirit! The consequence of walking according to the flesh is spiritual death according to Paul, but only a shaky fellowship according to Anderson. Paul gave a similar teaching in Gal. 6:7, 8,
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
To claim that we can sow “to please the sinful nature” and still reap eternal life, is to mock God’s word. Only those that sow “to please the Spirit” will reap eternal life and avoid spiritual “destruction”. It is impossible for a child of God to return to a lifestyle controlled by sin, and still remain a child of God (Rom. 8:9-14). A child of God is recognized by his or her behavior,
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning…This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother (1 Jn. 3:7, 8, 10 emphasis mine).
According to these Scriptures, and numerous others, there is far more than our “fellowship” at stake. Our saving relationship with Jesus Christ (the only source of eternal life- 1 Jn. 1:2; 5:11; Jn. 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; Heb. 5:9; Col. 3:4) is at stake when we walk away from God, or live a life that is not in accord with his life giving Spirit. We are in danger of “grieving” (Eph. 4:30), and finally “insulting” the Spirit that seals us (which constitutes apostasy- Heb. 10:26-31), for God’s Spirit belongs only to those that continue to obey him (Acts 5:32; Jn. 14:15-17). If we cease to have God’s Spirit, we no longer belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9).
We are truly children of God the moment we believe, but there is an aspect of our adoption that we have not yet attained (Phil. 3:10-14; Rom. 8:23-25). Only those that “overcome” will inherit God’s kingdom, be called God’s “son”, and escape eternal punishment (Rev. 2:11; 21:7, 8). We have not yet arrived, and we face the real danger of apostasy if we take sin lightly or falsely believe that we can live according to the sinful nature and remain God’s children. Paul says we are free, but only from sin (and the requirements of the ceremonial law), and to be free from sin is to be a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:15-18). There is no middle ground.
The fatal flaw in Anderson’s thinking is that of comparing the natural to the spiritual. Our spiritual birth and adoption is contingent on us remaining in the new relationship that the new birth creates. While one may be disowned in the natural and still remain a biological child, we cannot remain God’s child if he disowns us, for there is no biological relationship that ties us together (Matt. 10:32, 33).
The Scriptures know no such distinction between relationship and fellowship. To have fellowship with God is to be cleansed by Christ’s blood (1 Jn. 1:7). The security described in Jn. 10:27-29 is contingent on our listening and following Jesus (vs. 27). Anyone who would cease to follow Jesus, by allowing the sinful nature to again take control of his or her life, can no longer be secure in Christ’s arms. The Lord will protect the true believer from outside forces, but we can still walk away of our own free will. The same is true of Rom. 8:35-39. This promise is only for those that “love [God]” (vs. 28) and are considered his “sheep” who endure persecution for Christ’s sake (vs. 36).
Again, the true believer is protected from outside forces, but is responsible to “remain” in Christ’s love (Jn. 15:9; Jude 21). We can still walk away of our own will, or fall away through sin or persecution (Matt. 10:22, 28, 32-33; Luke 8:13). We are safe and belong to God only as long as we choose to remain in him, and unless we remain, we can no longer belong to God’s family (Jn. 15:5, 6; 1 Jn. 2:24, 25; 2 Jn. 9; Rom. 11:17-22; Col. 1:21-23). Even Anderson cannot remain consistent with his unbiblical relationship and fellowship dichotomy. He later writes, “If you hold onto a secret, lustful thought or proud attitude without hurting anyone else, you need only confess it to God. The only relationship affected is the one between you and Him (page 92-emphasis mine).”
Anderson is also inconsistent in regards to which sins were forgiven at the point of conversion. He writes, “When you step off the path of the Spirit, confess your sin to God and anyone you may have offended, receive forgiveness and return to walking the right path (pp. 91, 92- emphasis added).” Here Anderson gives us good counsel. When we sin we are to confess our sin to receive forgiveness and cleansing from God (1 Jn. 1:8, 9). Jesus admonished us that asking forgiveness for our sins should be a part of our daily prayer life (Matt. 6:9-13). He also told us that we would not receive forgiveness if we harbor un-forgiveness in our hearts towards others (Matt. 6:14, 15; Mark 11:25). He even went so far as to say that our entire debt of sin would be charged back against us if we refused to forgive our fellow man (Matt. 18:21-35).
If it is true that we need to continually come to God for cleansing and forgiveness when we sin, then it must also be true that only our “past sins” were forgiven at the point of conversion (2 Pet. 1:9). Any sins committed after conversion must be confessed in order to receive forgiveness (which is part of our walk of faith- Jn. 1:7-9). Anderson seems to understand this, but later writes, “He has cancelled the debt of your sins past, present, and future (pg. 107- emphasis mine).” If God has already forgiven my future sins then the previous Scriptures are senseless. Why would Jesus and John tell us to ask forgiveness for sins that are already forgiven before we even commit them?
When Anderson contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture, and even his own writing, he proves that he is in error. This is especially disturbing considering his book is written to youth and promises to give them the tools they need to overcome sin and bondage in their lives. When we teach that nothing we can possibly do will affect our relationship with God, that we are free as Christians to live according to the flesh (if we so desire), and that our future sins are forgiven before we even commit them, we are giving license to new Christians to return to a lifestyle that will lead to spiritual death and destruction (Rom. 8:9, 12-14; Gal. 6:7, 8; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; 2 Pet. 2:18-22; Rev. 21:7-8). We are also giving a much distorted view of Scripture regarding our place in God’s family.