I find stories of faith-change fascinating. What leads a Muslim to forsake his family’s faith? How does an Orthodox Jewish girl move away from the only belief she’s ever known? Why does a devout Mormon family switch allegiances? It is so amazing to witness their struggle, to feel the tearing of their hearts, and to see (in some) the dawning of a new faith.
Having said that, forsaking faith sends shock waves through those left behind. When the famed evangelist (and associate of Billy Graham) Charles Templeton forsook Christianity and embraced atheism, Christians reeled. Whether it’s on a larger stage or within our own friendships and families, people leaving faith creates a struggle for understanding. How could this happen?
Why do people who’ve have faithfully followed Jesus sometimes turn away?
In a recent message I shared with the Erickson Covenant Church, I explored 10 reasons people have walked away from Jesus. They were either the primary reasons, or they created the conditions which resulted in them walking away.
10 Reasons People Turn Away From Jesus
- Disgust in other Christians. People who have been hurt by other Christians will often pull back, feeling betrayed and stung by the hypocrisy they’ve experienced. Whether through church division or personal conflicts, people can question the validity of the Christian faith when Jesus followers seem less Christian than those outside the church.
- Disappointment with God. When God doesn’t seem to be hearing me or answering my prayers, disappointment can set in. Often this is due to unrealistic and untrue expectations of what God was going to do in the first place, but it also can happen when God seems silent and unresponsive. Are you even there, God?
- Difficulties. Related to disappointment, we can experience difficulties in life that can drive us away from God. Following Jesus can make life worse, blowing up relationships, inviting persecution, the rejection of family, and hard times. Or, quite simply, the ongoing call to take up our cross and follow Jesus can become more than we signed up for.
- Distractions. We live in a hyper-busy world, and our attention can jump from one thing to another. I’ve seen people who used to be really fired up but now have other priorities. Now I’m on to a new business venture and I don’t really have time to invest in spiritual growth. I signed the kids up for hockey and we just can’t make it to worship anymore. I’ve got this new hobby, etc. And distraction from faith leads to the destruction of faith.
- Discouragement. I’ve heard it many times, when people feel like they have been trying so hard and getting nowhere. Discouraged with themselves, discouraged with their lack of experience with God, discouraged by some recurring sin, they give up.
- Doubt. Of course, there are those who struggle with doubt. Maybe their aren’t so sure about the resurrection or that Jesus really is the Son of God. Perhaps they’ve got doubts about the Bible. This could be honest doubt, and that needs to be expressed in an open community. Doubt can be a great pathway to growth and learning. Doubt could also indicate a lack of discipleship–they’ve never really been taught or lead to grapple with the basics of faith. But doubt can also be a smoke screen for sin (next point).
- Desires. The truth is, some people leave the faith because they don’t want to live under Jesus’ authority. I want to sleep with her. I want to serve myself. I want to rip them off. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it. And they walk away from Jesus. Often when people voice concerns about the uniqueness of Jesus, it’s covering over a desire to do something that contradicts his Lordship. By ditching Jesus’ leadership, they feel free to live how they want.
- Distance. Distance often comes as a result of other things–we feel disappointed or disgusted, we are distracted or have doubts, and we pull away. We isolate ourselves from other followers of Jesus and before too long we just don’t feel a part of things anymore. Sometimes distance is chosen, and other times is comes due to mental or physical illness, difficult family situations or a change in lifestyle. But make no mistake, distance isolates and leads people away from faith.
- Drift. I’ve noticed that people who never put any intentionality into their spiritual growth simply drift. Like a boat with no oars, no sail and no motor, they end up somewhere far away. Perhaps they had embraced a basic faith in Jesus, but without intentional community, without incorporating spiritual practices, without choosing to follow Jesus, they ended up drifting away.
- Deceit. And finally, we can be deceived. We believe a lie about who Jesus is and what life is all about; we come under spiritual influences that cloud our minds. We listen to a buddy at work or a brother we respect, and our faith is quelled; we read a compelling book or watch a viral video, and the argument presented seems so persuasive. Without ever exploring valid alternatives, we accept a lie and faith is dislodged. There is an enemy, and he seeks to deceive and devour.
Have you seen any of these 10 reasons turn people away from faith in Jesus?
Have you struggled with any of them yourself, and what did you do about it?