God’s Grace, Public Apostasy, and Our Response

I read about Joshua Harris denying his faith and it saddened me. What made him trade Jesus? This is a man whose books I have read and learned from. The nuggets of wisdom in his writings shaped and transformed many Christians from my generation. What can possibly be better in our broken world than Christ and His eternal Word?

My thoughts immediately remembered Peter and his own denial. His exuberant declaration to die with his Master turned into a gutless skeleton of dispersed words the night of Christ’s crucifixion. These empty words fluttered in the cold wind while hanging in front of the meek, courtyard fire. Then the rooster crowed. His denial was fully birthed. The signals of betrayal synchronized with the sounds of the bird: Peter denied Jesus.

I wrote a post called “When Christians Fail a few months ago. In it, I looked at Peter’s failing moments around Jesus’ crucifixion, as well as Peter’s grievous repentance. The scene by the fire in the courtyard provides rich lessons to learn from about personal failures and responses to sin. What did Peter need most at that moment? What would you need if you were in Peter’s shoes? For that matter, how do you respond to a fellow believer caught in sin? How should Christians respond to Joshua Harris today?

Joshua Harris denies Jesus. Is he lost forever? Can he undo his faith with one decision or, is he, like Peter, facing a rough patch—an undetermined time of excruciating hurt and confusion? I don’t know if and when Joshua Harris will turn back to Jesus. I cannot provide a spiritual trajectory of his faith. It could be as short-lived as Peter’s, or as eternal-lived as Judas’. But what I do know is that how Christians respond to him in his darkest, most rebellious hour matters. Our expressed attitudes and actions as followers of Jesus will either show Joshua (in spite of himself even) the hopeful splendor and the loving might of the true God we serve, or it will sadly confirm to him the critical and self-righteous streaks of the church he left.

1.      Back (Again) to Jesus Christ 

Joshua Harris, Peter, and I share in the sinful nature of rebellion, idolatry, denials, and worldliness. Peter, for instance, is both likeable and annoying to me. He makes me love him one chapter, and totally irritates me the next one. I’m with him one verse, and turned against him for many more. I admire his maturity, and laugh at his childishness. I am following him along just fine, only to lose him shortly after. Peter is both daring and cowardly, devoted and disloyal, on fire and in hiding, preaching and cursing. Perhaps the reason I am drawn to Peter’s character is because I can easily read myself into his persona. I relate too much with his many failures recorded in the scriptures. 

I don’t know Joshua Harris at all. He may be nothing like Peter. But I do know that the best part of me is Christ. I could spend my time picking this man’s life apart and looking down on him because of his denial of Christ. Maybe shake my head while adding a few self-righteous comments of “I knew it!” or “Told ya so!” When Joshua Harris decided to denounce Jesus, he chose for himself the path of death and eternal separation from God. And while calling him out on his choice is in step with the scriptures, I wonder if we should stop at just voicing publicly our theological views on morality, legalism, and apostasy. And then close up the computers and go on with our lives. Should there be more to our responses? I think there should be. Jesus was just as compassionate towards sinners as he was righteously angered against the sin. Now more than ever, Joshua needs to hear the gospel fresh and anew. Displayed for all to see–and especially for Joshua’s eyes–must be an ever-so-enlarged Christ who lives in Christians—the only hope of glory who could (and may very well) restore Joshua Harris. Even if it may be for the first time in his life, Joshua needs the gospel. Again and again. In his darkness and confusions, I’d speak of what Jesus has done for us sinners. I would tell of divine mercy towards the denier Peter and the persecutor Paul. I’d remind Joshua of God’s character of grace and mercy and that, as long as He lives, there is hope of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. He should remember that he is not alone in failures and shame: every one of us knows them too well. 

2. Back (Again) to the Beautiful Gospel

In this century, Joshua Harris is fighting his greatest war. Life without God is no trivial issue. The prospect of anyone choosing to spend eternity apart from God should shake us to our core. We are witnessing Satan’s hateful, two-forked declarations assaulting Joshua’s inner man. And Joshua Harris seems to embrace its every hissed-word! This man’s soul is hated by Satan the most. But what about us in this cosmic assault? In Christ, we are more than witnesses: we are God’s warriors. We carry within us the message of eternal hope such assaulted people desperately need to hear. We carry the glorious message of freedom in Christ Paul never tired to share with people–the kind of gospel that empowered him to love faithfully, even when folks were turning away from the true faith. It is a beautiful and glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, unparalleled to any other secular messages. One defined by heavenly love and bloody sacrifice, divine mercy and messianic holiness. What then can there be better, hollier, more exuberant, and glorious still than Jesus Himself to this world?

I want Joshua to note that he is prayed for and loved by such Christians! The darkness he is in now may coddle his fleshly shadows, but we know that the flames of Christ pierce fully any demonic glooms. Paul never gave up on the ones who were seduced by the world and chose to turn away from the gospel of Jesus. In Galatians, for instance, Paul writes to a group of spiritual deserters–confused Christians who literally embraced a different gospel. They let go of the message of salvation and embraced, instead, a worldly kind of spirituality. Quickly and thoughtlessly, God’s people were leaving the sound gospel. We find Paul filled with urgency, resolution, and deep love. Like a parent whose child is in extreme danger, Paul’s writing is acute exclamations of halts and calls back to safety. And yet, behind the grave calls, in contrast with the flimsy, contemporary gospels, Paul paints a most beautiful message of godly hope, coated with divine grace, peace, and fatherly love. There are strokes of eternity in our future, lines of victory in Christ, and accents of forever belongingness to God’s family. Who can be more beautiful than Christ Jesus, our Lord?

I pray Joshua Harris will eventually respond to the Heaven’s invitation to dine at the Lamb’s table. Oh, what a reunion that will be! But until he sends in his final RSVP, even if it were to take him his entire life, may we be on our knees, praying faithfully for his return to Christ, just like we would for our own prodigal children. May we bring the gospel closer and closer to the confused prodigals—trusting in the work of the Spirit to prod, change, turn, and unite. May we be with Joshua Harris more like Jesus was with Peter—close, prayerful, truthful, watchful, interceding, calling, loving.