Being raised in a Christian home or saying a prayer are not in and of themselves what makes one a Christian, though they can be a part of a person's Christian experience. A Christian is a person who has chosen to fully trust Jesus Christ as singular Lord and Savior and has been indwelled by the Holy Spirit (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8–9). Can a person experience this transformation and then lose or renounce it? Is there such a thing as an ex-Christian?
First John 2:19 makes it clear that there are no ex-Christians when it says: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." This behavior is that of an antichrist figure, one who is in opposition to Christ. This chapter goes on to make it even clearer by saying that if one denies Jesus, the Son, that they do not have God the Father: "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life" (1 John 2:23–25; see also 1 John 3:6). We see that the key fruit of our salvation is abiding in the transformative work of the Spirit that begins at the moment of salvation.
The gospel is controversial. It causes discomfort to our own personal preferences and it conflicts with the prevalent wisdom of the world around us (1 Corinthians 1:18–25). Christians allow themselves—their hearts, their preferences, their habits, and their decisions—to be continually transformed and sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within them. This process is ongoing (2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 10:14). If someone who is a professing believer is not regularly confronted by the gospel, motivating them to continue transforming their habits and decisions into alignment with the Word of God, they may never have been saved in the first place.
Someone can say they believe in Jesus and even follow some of His teachings, but if there has been no inner heart transformation by the Holy Spirit, their salvation has not been made complete. James makes the point that even demons believe in Jesus, but are demons Christians? Certainly not! Faith without works is dead: "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?" (James 2:18–20). We are not justified by our works, but rather, our works serve as outward evidence of the inner condition of our hearts.
Christians represent, serve, and follow Christ. Once a person has completely believed in and trusted Jesus as their Savior, experiencing the fullness of His grace and love, they could never renounce their faith. Some people have an association or connection to a Christian church, but later renounce it and turn their heart against Christ and His church. Other people have "sampled" and "experienced" Jesus Christ without actually receiving Him as their Savior or making Him the Lord of their life. Some people do good works and think that will guarantee them salvation, but Jesus warned that this is not the case (Matthew 7:15–23).
Moments of pressure prove what one's faith is made of and whether it is truly rooted in Christ. These times of pressure frequently sort out those who are true believers from those who aren't. While all Christians may experience seasons of difficulty, feeling far away from God, or falling into sin, but true Christians return to Him in a state of repentance. Their hearts are inclined to know Him more and walk through the struggles of life with Him as their guide and source of peace. In-name-only Christians" tend to fall away from their faith when under pressure (see Matthew 7:24–27). It is easier to fall in step with the ways of the world than it is to live according to the counter-cultural standards of the gospel. The only way we can successfully live out our faith is through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. When we are saved in Jesus Christ, we will remain in Him because His Holy Spirit will remain in us.
Only God can accurately judge the salvation of a professing believer, but we can confidently say that a true Christian cannot become an ex-Christian. Jesus assured, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:28–30). Someone who claimed that they were a Christian but later rejects their faith was never truly a Christian in the first place.
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