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Wednesday, September 17, 2008 

I Didn’t Stumble, I Fell

Here’s how the conversation went down:

No, no you didn’t fall, you only stumbled!

Uh no, you’re wrong, I was an atheist and that means I was without faith, and without faith that’s no stumble that’s a fall and a fatal one at that.

A fall means you couldn’t get up, you did get up and that means you only stumbled.

But I was an atheist. I was without faith. Without faith there’s only hell and death.

You didn’t fall though, you got back up.

Atheists don’t have faith and without faith they are condemned to Hell, that’s a fall!

You didn’t fall, you only stumbled.

No I didn’t, I committed the one unforgivable sin and that is unbelief. Unbelief in Christ condemned me to Hell. I rejected Christ and for that I was fallen. For crying out loud, Satan had more faith than I did but like Satan I rejected God’s Word and he fell, like me.

But you didn’t fall.

Yes I did! I was an atheist, that’s fallen, plain and simple. Hey look…if I’m not declared righteous by faith in Christ, which is only a gift by grace by the Holy Spirit, God’s Law declares me fallen that is to say dead. Failing to live up to God’s good and righteous Law, which I couldn’t do only condemns me. And since we can’t live up what God expects we need Christ to fulfill God’s law in our stead. And without faith in Christ we fall short of keeping God’s Law, we fall, and when we fall; it’s deadly, it’s fatal.

You didn’t fall.

I don’t care what the theological tradition is, whether it be Calvinist, reformed or Lutheran, it just bewildering that some folks will not call the decision to declare oneself an atheist a fall but rather a stumble. And to make the matter even more perplexing is the fact that the former atheist now Lutheran has to defend that he was fallen and without faith to his Christian friend who says otherwise.

Just because I have faith now doesn’t mean that I’ve always had faith that somehow or maybe wasn’t properly kindled. I was an atheist for over fifteen years and for that time I was as fallen as I could possibly be. Without faith in Christ I could not stand before God. Without being able to stand before God as righteous on my own merits the only place left for me was the grave as I was dead to sin. And believe you me, the dead don’t gently lie down in the grave; they fall and they fall hard. I didn’t just stumble into that grave, I fell.

Too often we wind up looking at the terminal cancer as if it were the flu. When we do this, a fatal fall appears to be a mere stumble which of course it is not. Unbelief is a fatal sin and terminal fall I could not recover from through any works of my own.

I thank God daily for sending the Holy Spirit to give me the faith to confess Christ as Lord. I just wish He would give me the words to explain to those around me the difference between the stumbling that I do daily and the fall that Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross erased.

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I wonder if the Once Saved Always Saved thing is getting in the way here in people's thinking.

The way OSAS works, if you were once a Really Truly Christian (TM) you CAN'T fall. You can only "backslide"

Unless of course you weren't Really Truly Christian (TM) to begin with. Maybe that would make more sense to people - "I *thought* I was a Christian, but I wasn't REALLY TRULY a Christian, because otherwise I wouldn't have denounced God and become an Atheist."

Ay-yi-yi. I've got a headache. Glad you're here on the Lord's Side with the rest of the Lutheran Blogosphere.

Calling it merely a stumble implies they were once on the right track, moreso, it also implies that they got up on their own power.

Fallen kinda also implies someone was once on the right track. The difference is the degree. I guess though, fallen isn't the right terminology either.

The point of course that you spoke clearly is that once you (we) once were dead, and now we're not through God's grace and faith in Him.

EC, I wasn’t thinking OSAS, that might have been the sticking point. As I never heard the Word preached purely (at all really) so I do usually say I’m not sure what I was. What I did look to then was a sort of emotionalism that is too long of a story for a comment. Suffice it to say, it is because I came from this background that I cling so strongly to the preached Word and Sacraments instead of self help sermons or the latest program and fad.

I had a headache because he would call an atheist fallen!

Red, you make a good point about the terminology, fallen does imply that I might have been sort of ok or on the right track, once. I equate fallen with death but I understand that from a point of being an former atheist.

Frank, your fall left a crater in the pavement. That's good though.

With that comes the realization that you're deader than the cockroach you fell on. So there's no temptation to think YOU had anything to do with the fix.

Creation is through Christ, re-creation is through Christ. No matter how far apart your cells got in the fall, Jesus makes whole by his gooey death of atonement

Longeye. As you know I’ve heard the once saved always saved thing, heck, I’ve even heard folks say that once they are Christian (you know who I talking about now don’t you?) they stop sinning. But what had my brain hurting was this friend not being able to call an atheist a fallen sinner.

This seems like an odd debate to me. As an atheist, you were no more dead than the person who imagined they were in good standing with God but didn't have saving faith in Christ. Christ tells us that we are either FOR Him or against Him--it's that simple.

I didn't grow up an atheist, but I knew nothing of God nor did I care enough to do anything about it. I was just as much a sinner as you. This has to do with our identity in Adam and his sin. But thank God I now have my identity in Christ because of what He did on the cross for me. I've trusted Him for salvation and I'm now dead to sin.

That doesn't mean that I no longer sin. It simply means that I am no longer controlled by my sin nature. That "old man" is gone. The "new man" has the Holy Spirit living inside him (i.e. me).

The unforgivable sin seems to be different than being an atheist. A person who commits this sin attributes the work of God to Satan. That would imply that the person does, indeed, believe in a spiritual realm--I think. I won't pretend to really know what that is all about. That's one of those areas of scripture that's quite mysterious.

Anway, I'm glad to have Lutheran blog friends (i.e. "friends" that I've never met) like you and elephantschild. You guys are the real deal and you tolerate my evangelical-non-denominationalness.

DB, the only unforgivable sin is unbelief. The Pharisees believed in a god but they believed that their God would never take on human flesh and dwell with his people.they rejected Jesus and at the end of the day Jesus calls them white washed tombs. The atheist and the Pharisee both wind up in the same hell, and it’s by their own choice, their own unbelief.

Concerning those who think that they are in good standing with God but can’t see what role Jesus plays, I try to always put the best possible construction on it and chalk it up to poor teaching and preaching. If they have been taught that their salvation rests on the work of Christ and His cross, and still they say “well we reject that and we believe (fill in the blank), then and only then do I say they are as dead as the Pharisees and on their happy way to hellfire and giant rabid squirrels. This doesn’t mean I don’t call out folks when they are wrong but I do understand that the vast majority of churches in America today preach something other than Christ.

I would like to challenge your statement “As an atheist, you were no more dead than the person who imagined they were in good standing with God but didn't have saving faith in Christ” I would have written it to say that as an atheist I was just as dead not more. Dead is dead in Scripture no matter how you get there.

And thank you so much for the kind words. It’s funny but I find that it’s sometimes easier to converse with my evangelical nondenominational friends than it is to talk with a goodly number of Lutherans. Most of my evangelical friends know what it is and why they believe. IMHO, Lutherans should but don’t always know what it is that they believe and confess. Sadly this has always been the case and there is no indication of it being otherwise.

Finally, thanks a bunch for tolerating this earthy Lutheran. Who knows, maybe the opportunity will present itself that two friends and brothers in Christ that have never met will be able to get together on this side of eternity and have a beer (or scotch). One never knows…

I'll throw down a fine brew with you anytime. I don't know much about scotch, but I'd be willing to learn.

“I don't know much about scotch, but I'd be willing to learn.” And I would be happy to teach :)

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