Departure from the faith is gradual, individually or an entire sect or congregation. When one ceases to faithfully serve the Lord, usually it is not an overnight departure. It is a gradual process that involves a few steps before it finally takes place. This is why it is very difficult to reason with those who have fallen away. By the time it happens, they are generally unwilling to be touched by those truths that once motivated them to faith and service. Yet, the effort must be made because they may still be moved to return to the Lord.
There are many counterfeit Christians. There are others who are very young in the faith, and who, through some great temptation or passion, are overcome. These are often ashamed to come back and face the humiliation. However, people who know the truth, who have tried the Christian life successfully for some time, simply do not fall away suddenly. Their apostasy is always gradual, sometimes so gradual that they themselves are not aware of their change.
There is no doubt that the saints in Laodicia started off in the same manner as did those of Philadelphia and Smyrna, but when the Lord dictated the letter to that church in Revelation 3, these Laodiceans were saying of themselves, “We are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing.” But the Lord said they were “Wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” There was quite a contrast between the two. Needless to say, they couldn’t see their departure from the faith.
Congregations often stray away, and when nothing bad happens to them, they believe that they have God’s approval. Therefore, they will not listen to anyone who “Speaks where the bible speaks, and is silent where the bible is silent.” Just as described by Jeremiah about Israel who had turned to idols, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you! But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble.” (Jer 44:16,17) This explains why denominations can’t see the error of their ways and why many members of the body of Christ are slowly falling away.
The solution to know if you have fallen away or are in the process of falling away, is to examine yourself. Paul said, “ Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Cor 13:5) What kind of test should we conduct? We need to compare what we do to what the scripture validates. Simply put, we need to adhere to the apostle’s doctrine. (Acts 2:42 f; 2 Jn 9) The apostles worshiped on Sunday to remember the Lord’s death and to give of their means. (Acts 20:7) They worshiped God in Spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23,24) As Paul said, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Cor 2:13) They didn’t go beyond what the Spirit revealed and warned us not to go beyond that which was written. (1 Cor 4:6) They sang with the Spirit and Understanding also without the use of musical instruments. (1 Cor 14:15 f; Eph 5:19) The work of the church was completed by the church, which is headed by Christ and qualified elders (Col 1:18 f; Acts 20:28), and not by man made institutions. (Eph 4:11,12) This was imperative that they turn not to every kind of doctrine. (v14)
Last, but not least, we should look at our own life. If we are not being persecuted for the cause of Christ, we are doing something wrong. (2 Tim 3:12) Paul made this clear when he was accused of teaching circumcision. He said, “And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.” (Gal 5:11)
Let us not be concerned so much about the world or fellow Christians, as we are about ourselves. We need to first save ourselves, and then and only then, should we focus on saving others. (Acts 2:40 f; Jam 5:19,20) This we must do unless while we teach others, we lose ourselves. (1 Cor 9:27)