I was asked to speak about “spiritual deconstruction.” It’s a word that has only recently entered into the vocabulary of Christians. Have you heard this word? Let me explain it. Essentially, deconstruction is when a person who was raised with Christian beliefs begins to critically examine his own beliefs, but then further than merely examining them, he or she begins to tear away the layers of belief until finally they no longer identify as a Christian.
Some more famous ones in the last couple years include Joshua Harris, author of the old bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, former pastor and theologian. Just last year he divorced his wife and announced he no longer identifies as a Christian. Famous youtubers Rhett and Link, who before their rise to internet fame were not only Christians, but had done missionary service and had worked for Campus Crusades for Christ. They have denounced the gospel, and no longer think Christianity is true.
And for every big name deconstruction, or deconversion, there are a hundred deconstruction stories that get to attention. They are your family members, your children, your friends, your neighbors. Personally, I’ve known many people who have deconstructed.
When I was in high school, my older brother walked away from the faith we were raised in. I remember him taking me to lunch and him telling me it was only a matter of time before I figured out it was all a sham, and that I would soon walk away too.
My own brother in law, raised in church, went to a solid Bible college, then to a conservative seminary, who served on pastoral staff, and then, gradually his whole worldview collapsed and was replaced with something so radically opposed to everything he had been taught.
Why is this? The problem is not that people are losing their salvation. True salvation cannot be lost. The problem is False conversions: it’s when someone thinks they’re saved, believes they know Christ, believes they’re right with God, believes they’re going to heaven, but the assurance they have is false. They are not actually reconciled to God. And eventually they realize the shell is not worth keeping.
The Bible teaches that false conversions are more common than you might think. In the parable of the soils, two of the seeds planted seem to sprout before withering and dying, representing people who appear to trust Jesus and before abandoning him. 1 Tim 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…” 1 John 2 “they went out from us because they were not of us.”
The most frightening passage regarding this problem is found in Matthew 7:24-27. Here we have people who have thought they knew Christ, thought they served Christ, but at the end of the day they were not right with God.
I mean, if you think about it, every single person fits into one of these four categories. You’re either 1) Saved and you know it. 2) Saved and you struggle with doubt, 3) Unsaved and you know you’re not saved. 4) Unsaved but you think you are.
I bet, in a room this size there are probably some of you who are in group 4: You’re not right with God, but you think you are. And it could be that you are around Christianity, around churches, and can speak Christianese, but there is no spiritual life within you. Are you like that?
Are you like that mythical person who has no existence alone? He’s at the party. He’s with the crowd. But as soon as the last person leaves, he vanishes into thin air. He doesn’t exist alone. And I think there are some people who are that way spiritually. As soon as they’re all alone their relationship with God vanishes. No concern for God, his glory.
A Christian veneer without a pulsating Christian heart? What can we do to prevent that? Now, part of my job as a pastor is to think about what the Bible says a church should do to help its members persevere in the faith. And I’m thankful God has spoken to this issue.
Turn to the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews was writing to encourage people not to leave Christianity and go back to their old ways under the Old Covenant. Many of his readers would have professed Christ, but were wondering - maybe we should go back to the law?
In other words, you could say that these particular people were being tempted to “deconstruct” their Christian faith and return to their old habits. And so there are several ways this letter applies to the issue of deconstruction today. I’m gonna cherry pick from this book and we’re going to discover 5 urgent things we need to begin doing know if we want to avoid falling away.
Stop drifting from the gospel
Hebrews 2:1. Chapter 2 comes after chapter 1. According to 1:3 “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” After that, we see his superiority to angels - as the divine son of God who died in the place of sinners.
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” In other words, do you know the best way to drift? Do nothing.
Think of it this way: You already live in a current. You have the trends of the world, which are moving away from God. You have the schemes of the enemy, which are moving you away from God. And you have the natural inclinations of your own sin, which pull you away. All you have to do to drift is nothing. To put it another way, if you’re not devoted, you're drifting.
I remember going to the Colorado River one summer and swimming in one of the deeper sections where the current wasn’t really fast. I remember just going out to the middle, just swimming around, exploring. And when I looked up to see where I got in, I noticed I was 50 feet from where I walked in. I drifted. I didn’t have to choose to swim with the current. I was already in the current. “Pay close attention to what you’ve heard.” The gospel. Or you’ll drift.
I wonder: do you know the gospel? If I paused the message right now, asked you to turn to your neighbor, and explain the gospel in 60 seconds - could you?
This is the most important reality in the universe, it’s the absolute center of Christianity, and yet it continually gets buried into irrelevance by lesser issues! If you don’t know the gospel - you actually don’t have a relationship with God!
Here it is: God is the holy creator of the universe. He rules as king in perfect righteousness. He created us in his image to glorify him. But we have all sinned, we are all guilty, and our guilt renders us deserving of his righteous wrath. We can do nothing to save ourselves. We are stained so deeply with the stain of sin, we cannot wash ourselves clean. If we will be saved, it must be God’s choice to save, because we cannot save ourselves.
And the good news is that God, out of sheer mercy, sent his own son, Jesus Christ to live a perfect life, die upon the cross, and rise from the dead. Jesus’ death and resurrection means sinners can be saved. How? Everyone who turns from self-salvation and trusts in Jesus will participate in the greatest exchange: they will give their sins to Christ and he will pay for them on the cross, and in return they will receive Jesus’ perfect righteousness.
If you want to avoid deconstruction, pay close attention to this. Master the gospel. Meditate on the gospel. Maybe you pay attention to sports - you’ve got your fantasy team lined up. Maybe you pay attention to politics - you’re being driven crazy by everything on the news. Maybe you pay attention to stocks, to your career, to your friendships. What about the gospel?
If you’re not, you’ll be like me in the Colorado River, you won't even realize you’re going anywhere until you realize one day you’re miles from where you started.
It’s been said, “The Devil is more likely to dull your affections over a decade than to destroy your soul in a day.” Oh, how patient he is. How subtle. How cunning. Don’t drift from the gospel!
Don’t stop going to church (Heb. 10:23-25)
Take a look at Hebrews 10:23-25.
One of the ways we hold fast to our confession of hope - the gospel - is by regularly meeting with God’s people. Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians have been gathering on the Lord’s Day - on Sunday - to stir one another up, to listen to his Word, to sing praises to him, to encourage one another. It has been a non-negotiable for Christians since the very beginning.
The writer’s warning here is: “do not neglect the gathering.”
One of the most important decisions you can take, a decision that will have generational ripple effects, that your children and your children’s children will be impacted by - is the decision to simply be in church every single Sunday.
Think of it this way. Some of you when you go out to eat, you know exactly what you’re getting. You don’t need to look at the menu. You’ve got it down. That’s basically how I am. The question is not, ‘Will I get a burger,’ the question is “which burger.”
Now there are others - my pastoral assistant is this way - who want to explore the menu. Every time they go to eat it’s a new adventure. New foods. I don’t get it. Why take the risk? Why spend money on something you may not even like? But it’s a new decision every time.
When it comes to church, you don’t want to be making a new decision every Saturday. You don’t want to be wondering if you should go. You should make a decision, based on this conviction, that God wants you to gather with your church family - and then you should be there. Every Sunday. Rain or shine. Whether the game is on or not. Whether you feel like it or you don’t.
And look: go with the idea that you’re going to help someone else. Stir them up.
I find it amazing - that there are some appointments we will not miss. We won’t skip the game. We won’t miss a Drs appointment. We won’t miss our favorite TV show. And yet we are willing to regularly miss a divine appointment to worship the king of the universe. How embarrassing! I mean, the infinite God of the universe who is Holy and Wise and Good, and who intends to bless us and use us for his purposes - and we find other things to do? What kind of colossal fool would do something like that?
And yet there are some people - many today - saying that church is fine and good for other people, but they really connect with God in other ways. The mountains are my sanctuary. The ocean is where I really feel the presence of God. Well, by all means, worship God in the mountains and worship God at the beach - but your Christian life is not all about you - and you have been called to gather regularly with God’s people!
One of the clearest evidence of life-change in a man is when he moves from thinking that church is an optional add-on to his life to seeing church as the sun around which his entire life should orbit. He realizes that to serve Christ who is in heaven is to serve his body on earth. And so he’s there every Sunday. When the doors are open, he’s there. Rain or shine.
Don’t deconstruct - be in church!
Be in a church that can know you and exhort you.
Heb 3:12 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
According to this passage, one of God’s means of grace that he uses to uphold and preserve your faith is the presence of a church family who can know you and exhort you to live faithfully.
I wonder if you’re in a church that does this. He’s warning about the potential of an evil, unbelieving heart and causes us to fall away. That’s the warning. Then he gives the prescription, that is, the way we heed the warning. “But exhort one another every day…”
We need to be in a church that actually lives this way. Where people are known and encouraged and exhorted and challenged and confronted and embraced and loved.
Some Christians attend church the same way they attend a movie. Anyone show up on time for a movie? I never do. Show up a few minutes late. Passively observe. And then leave after it’s done. But they’re not functioning like the body of Christ - they’re not exhorting anyone and they’re not being exhorting. They’re missing what God says their faith needs.
The church I serve is pretty remarkable in this way. I’ll describe what I see after the sermon ends. I see people talking, catching up, and the laughter of friendship. I see a few people comforting a grieving sister who just lost her father. I see a group of four men, they’re praying together about the sermon they’ve just heard or about some struggle that was just confessed.
And I think we have lots of growth still ahead of us. God’s design for every Christian is to be in a vibrant community where we take seriously our calling to “exhort, encourage, one another.”
Do you have anyone who knows your struggles? Are there other men who know your weak spots? And let’s be honest - we can blame others, but how many of us have built impenetrable walls that don’t allow anyone in?
If you try to deal with your troubles alone, your troubles will destroy you.
You were not designed to live this Christian life without a band of brothers. You are needier than you think. Trying to live faithfully without people to know you closely and care for you specifically is like trying to drive through the mountains at night without headlights. Why would you try that?
Submit to godly pastors (Heb. 13:17)
Your pastors need to know you. They are called “overseers” for a reason, God has charged them to oversee your soul. Open your life and submit to godly pastors. They need to know you, and you need to let yourself be known by them.
In the Bible, church leaders are called elders, overseers, and the one we use most frequently, pastor. Pastor is the same word for “shepherd.” The Bible often compares us to sheep - dumb, clumsy, wandering, vulnerable, and weak - and in desperate need of a shepherd.
Jesus is the chief shepherd. He’s the ultimate shepherd that cares for our souls. But did you know that the Bible teaches that Jesus has appointed “undershepherds” that are supposed to care for your soul?
Charles Jefferson, writing 100 years ago, said, “A few things are certain. We live in a universe created by a Shepherd God. The Lord is our Shepherd. Our world is redeemed by a Shepherd Savior. Our Elder Brother [Christ] is a Shepherd. The man whom humanity needs most is a shepherd.” You need the chief Shepherd, Jesus, yes. But you also need godly pastors.
A good shepherd will feed you the truths of God’s Word. He will lead you by his own godly example. He will know your own vulnerabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. He will make your spiritual growth his own personal responsibility.
If you’re here with a godly pastor who is caring for your soul, you should praise God for him. And if you are not in any relationship with any pastor or elder, I would encourage you to make that one of your first applications when you get home. Go introduce yourself to your pastor.
Strive for holiness (Heb. 12:14)
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” The author says that true Christians are characterized by a pursuit of holiness. Personal purity, personal integrity. There’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t care about being holy.
At my church I’m preaching through the gospel of Mark, and a couple months ago we hit the end of chapter 9. It’s a powerful passage of Scripture. Let me read it to you. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
What Jesus is saying here is that those who have made peace with sin have made peace with hell itself, and will one die find themselves enchained there. If a person says they know and love Jesus, but in their hearts adore sin, and in their action are committed to it, they will go to hell.
There are many motivations God gives us in his word to kill sin. Isn't this one of the weightiest? Here, Jesus motivates us to kill sin by saying, “If you don’t kill sin, you’re in danger of hell.”
I remember hearing about a couple who had grown up in the church (the girl was a missionary kid), but they became involved in fornication. And they met with the pastor, and the pastor lovingly but firmly looked them in the eye and said, “If you don’t stop that, you’ll go to hell.”
That girl had never been told that her salvation was in question because of her unrepentant sin. And 30 years since, every single year, that girl sends that pastor a Christmas card, and on it writes him a thank you note for speaking the truth to her. Because it was his firm words that brought her to repentance.
I wonder if there are any men here, holding on to their secret sins, unwilling to repent, because they’re convinced that in the end, they will not face any consequences.
The most certain way to drift, to deconstruct, is to hold on to your sin. Eventually, your commitment to your sin will be stronger than your commitment to Christ, and you will fall away.
Let me repeat Jesus’ words to you: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”
Are you playing games with sin? Are you toying around with it? Now, I’ve counseled people who finally want to start getting serious about dealing with their sin. They are sometimes even excited; finally a plan that will help me overcome my sin. And then you start telling them what they might do. “What will I do without my smartphone? But...that’s where I check my sports scores. What about the text messages? What will the guys think?” Or, “You want me to tell someone? You want me to confess?” Are you serious?
To which I respond; was Jesus serious when he said those who are committed to their sin will one day be committed to hell?
If you want to avoid deconstruction, be radically committed to holiness. Seek to know God’s word and obey it from the heart. By grace, seek to be pure of heart, pure of mind, pure in your actions. Don’t tolerate little sins, they never stay little. They grow into bloodthirsty monsters and devour you - and usually the people you love.
These are not big, fancy, new ways to avoid deconstruction. But they are biblical ways:
Focus on the gospel - master it, meditate on it, believe it.
Show up to church.
And open your life to be exhorted by your brothers.
Submit to godly leaders.
And by the power of the Holy Spirit, kill your sin.