The Anatomy of a Failure
During several formative years of my life, Bishop Douglas White ministered to my soul at camp meetings, conferences, and seminars. Time and time again, his stirring sermons send me running to an altar to touch God. His dynamic preaching ministry is in constant demand and has been for as long as I can remember. He has a way of preaching hard truths with love and urgency that compels you to respond. I’m grateful for his ministry. So, when I discovered his newest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God, I purchased it faster than you can say “Visa.” Links to buy The Anatomy of a Failure are listed below. I suggest ordering several of them to give away.
Every Apostolic reading this shares the familiar heartache of knowing friends and family members that have forfeited their salvation. And for those of us who genuinely believe what the Bible teaches about salvation and Hell, we agonize over the condition of their souls and the wasted earthly potential. We’ve all seen as White says:
A beautiful soul rushing back to a hideous condition. A victorious spirit tumbling back to a tortured existence. An honorable life stumbling to a dishonorable lifestyle. A blessed home collapsing into a cursed abode.
How does this happen? That’s the question White strives to answer in The Anatomy of a Failure. The book is a spiritual autopsy. A posthumous examination of dead souls that once thrived in the Spirit. More than that, however, White somberly reminds us that we too have the potential to fail God. This book equips us with defensive weapons and understanding that might be vital to finishing the race. Another byproduct of this book is the light it sheds on the process of backsliding. I finished reading The Anatomy of a Failure with a greater understanding of why good, and I mean “genuinely” good people, abandon Truth. My prayer is that by understanding backsliders better, I might assist them in finding restoration.
Losing Salvation is Possible
Grace is probably the most misunderstood, misconstrued, and misused doctrine in the Bible (I’ve written more about that here). It’s at least up there in the top five. With that in mind, White tackles that issue in the prologue titled The Fallacies of a Failing Soul. In what becomes the underlying text for the entire book, White cites Hebrews 12:14-15:
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.
Because grace is often tragically misrepresented as a Divine blank check enabling us to sin freely without consequence, White doubles down on the meaning of Hebrews 12:14-15, saying, “God’s grace never fails – but people can fail.” And he continues:
Nobody will ever stand before God, look Him in the eye, and say that His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace that God is offering and continues in his sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. It is one of the fallacies of a failing soul to think otherwise.
Nobody will ever stand before God and say His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace God is offering and continues in a sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. -Doug WhiteTweet
White moves on to address the most common objection to the reality that good people can fail the grace of God, “A loving God wouldn’t send anyone to Hell (I’ve written an in-depth study on the biblical doctrine of Hell here).” For me, White’s response was revelatory:
A loving God would not send anyone to Hell. But the moment a person dies, Jesus no longer sees him or her through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word?
When a person dies, Jesus no longer sees through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word? -Doug WhiteTweet
Ultimately, when sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd. White says it best, “Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task.” Later he rephrases it like this, “A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life.” It’s important to remember that not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. Of course, some do, and we remember those moments the best. But more often than not, people slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever. That’s the fallacy of a failing soul.
When sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd.Tweet
Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task. A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life. -Doug WhiteTweet
Not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. People slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever.Tweet
Four Main Reasons Good People Make Bad Mistakes
Bishop White identifies the initial source or the root of every backslider’s eventual failure. He insightfully leans on forty years of ministry to pinpoint four common trouble areas that fit into the anatomy of a body. The four bodily diseased areas that rip people away from the Body of Christ are feet, stomach, head, and heart. Learning to protect, heal, defend, and cultivate these areas is the key to successfully serving God for a lifetime.
Feet: The Instability of an Unsure Foundation
White reminds us that “the only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation.” He makes a classic reference to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock compared to the man who built his life upon the sand (Luke 6:48-49). Everything else in our spiritual life is built on our initial foundation. This is perhaps the most crucial area to get right early on in the spiritual journey.
The only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation. -Doug WhiteTweet
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Millennium Tower located in downtown San Francisco. The luxury condominium cost a whopping 350 million dollars to build in early 2002. It’s a beautiful structure, made chiefly of elegant glass that towers high into the horizon, reflecting the radiant hues of the sun. Until 2015 everything went precisely as planned. The building became a status symbol of wealthy city living and garnered several awards. It became the residence of choice for affluent San Franciscans. But that all changed when residents began to report loud popping noises and large panes of glass started cracking unexpectedly. And worse, experts noticed the building was sinking and tilting drastically. So far, it has fallen nearly eighteen inches into the ground and tilted another fifteen inches to the northwest. All that lurching, turning, and twisting is breaking all kinds of things from the top of the structure to the bottom. Even after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, the renovations have done little to stop the problem. Groundwater loss from adjacent construction has been blamed for the issue by the tower’s developers, while geotechnical experts say the key is that its foundation is not rooted in bedrock. You see, where I’m going, it doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.
It doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.Tweet
White points to three crucial materials that must form every spiritual foundation: The Bible, faithfulness, and integrity. He says:
Far too many individuals walking through those spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word.
Too many individuals walking through spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word. -Doug WhiteTweet
In our podcast conversation, Bishop White made a profound statement, “The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds.” Without using the words, White spends a great deal of time pushing back against universalism and ecumenicalism, both of which are prevailing heresies of our age. While there might be room for disagreement on some biblical points, central salvific doctrines like the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the necessity of the infilling of the Holy Ghost, holiness, and righteous living must become the bedrock of faith.
The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds. -Doug WhiteTweet
The second element in the threefold mixture that forms a sure spiritual foundation is deep, abiding faithfulness. White describes it this way:
It is faithfulness that refuses to negotiate with sin or temptation or even emotional upheavals. Those who live on a sure, solid foundation are the individuals who choose daily to live a life of faithfulness to God: Faithful involvement with God’s kingdom. Faithful gathering together with the saints. Steadfast in our walk with God. Authentic in our representation of God to our world. Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, this truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness… Your belief in truth is null and void if you don’t act faithfully upon the principles of that truth.
Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness. -Doug WhiteTweet
The third and final element in the foundation mixture is unshakable integrity. White defines integrity as “having the ability to see yourself the way God sees you, not the way you would like to be seen.” A life of integrity is devoid of hypocrisy and infused with humility. I consider this to be White’s most impactful quote in the first chapter:
In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause.
In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause. -Doug WhiteTweet
Stomach: The Pull of an Unholy Consumption
If you could only read one chapter of The Anatomy of a Failure for some strange reason, it should be this one. I consider unholy consumption to be the primary reason the average person falls prey to the enemy. Because our highly advanced, super technological culture allows for instant and nearly unlimited access to the consumption of carnal things, countless Christians develop a habitual taste for dainties that slowly pushes out their desire for holy things. Just like the eunuch thought Daniel would be weakened by abstaining from defiling foods from the king’s table, society views our restrictive lifestyle of purity as fanatical and unsustainable. But our separated lifestyle is the key to our power. Sadly, some have come to view it as a hindrance because they desire to fill their bellies with unrighteousness. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech. White says:
Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech.Tweet
While the story of Daniel is old, the principle it promotes is just as true today: The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are… If you fit into the category of someone who constantly struggles in your walk with God, I suggest you take an immediate inventory of what you are putting in your spiritual stomach. Such an inventory is necessary because allowing your spiritual man to exist in perpetual struggle eventually eliminates vital elements like joy, passion, zeal, and even a desire to continue serving God.
The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are. -Doug WhiteTweet
What you consume will affect you spiritually just as surely as the physical things you consume will affect you physically. It’s also important to realize that it’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God. White gives a good measuring stick for measuring the quality of your consumption, “Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption.”
It’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God.Tweet
Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption. -Doug WhiteTweet
The conversation surrounding what is acceptable for Christians to consume and still be saved is always fraught with disagreement. At the core of this conversation is wisdom. It takes wisdom to know what is healthy, benign, and unhealthy for a Christian to ingest. Sadly, I’ve been around many conversations revolving around how much junk a Christian can devour and still be saved. White mirrors those questions, “How much poison can I consume and still stay alive? How much filth can I eat without getting sick? How much rottenness can I devour without suffering the consequences?” He continues, “Knowing the challenges every individual has to contend with to serve God with integrity, why would anybody challenge themselves further by deliberately empowering their flesh?”
There’s an old Indian story of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside us all. One wolf is good, loyal, pure, and full of integrity. The other wolf is violent, angry, evil, and dishonest. “Each day, these two wolves fight inside of me,” said the grandfather to his young grandson. Wide-eyed, the boy asked, “Which one will win?” “The one I feed,” replied the wise grandfather.
Head: The Hindrance of an Unbridled Mind
This issue is so important that the Bible speaks of our thoughts 138 times and refers to our minds 137 times. White emphasizes how the battle for our soul begins in the mind. And while temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down. White puts it succinctly, “Sadly, over time those thoughts became temptations, which eventually developed intentions. Those intentions eventually found an occasion to sin.”
While temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down.Tweet
The old-timers used to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from settling in and building a nest there.” We can’t keep unholy thoughts from flying through our minds, but we can make sure they don’t make a home there. As White wisely states, “Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you.” Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. White says it best:
To stop the catastrophic loss of salvation, your unbridled mind is hurling you toward; you must become spiritually mature enough to turn off the flow valve of the deadly sewage of unholy thoughts.
Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you. Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. -Doug WhiteTweet
Heart: The Delusion of Misplaced Passions
White comes out swinging in this chapter, “Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary.” It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly. White teaches that passion is the gauge for measuring spiritual heart health, “Passion is the tell-tale sign that our heart is involved; without passion, any work we do has ceased to be a matter of the heart.”
Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary. It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly.Tweet
This chapter revealed something that had perplexed me for a long time: How can people seem to love God but not serve him passionately? White reminds us that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts in no uncertain terms. He says:
Any time this commandment is casually diminished by placing a greater passion on something else, we have become the victim of a divided heart. The obvious way to tell if an all-the-way-salvation has become a divided-heart situation is to compare your passion for God with your passion for other things.
And here is the revelation that greatly enhanced my understanding:
Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart.
Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart. -Doug WhiteTweet
Conclusion & Summary
Pay prayerful attention, and you will find that everyone you have seen fail God fits into the four categories as defined by Bishop White:
- They had spiritual feet that lacked a sure foundation, leaving them unstable and quick to fall.
- They had a spiritual stomach that consistently fed on unholy things, leaving them weak and defenseless against the adversary.
- They had a spiritual head that refused to restrain their unholy thoughts, allowing temptations to become sinful intentions, which led them to sin.
- They had a spiritual heart that became careless, allowing them to misplace their passion in carnal things, deluding them with the idea that “selling-out” wasn’t as important as merely “claiming salvation.”
We are all susceptible to failing in these areas if we aren’t on guard. Awareness is half the battle. Viewing these anatomical areas invigorates my desire to put on the whole armor of God. Years ago, the Lord gave me a dream of thousands of Christians rushing into battle with incomplete armor. Some had everything but a helmet, while others had a sword. One by one, they fell to the enemy. In that graphic visual, the problem seemed so obvious. But Christians do this all the time, yet they feel safe because they have almost all the armor they need. They have an allusion of safety but lack the fullness of God’s necessary resources. I pray this is not so for you and for me too.
- Link to purchase The Anatomy of Failure by Doug White
- Link to purchase If I Had to Do It All Over Again by Doug White
- Link to purchase The Anointing of Sonship by Doug White
- Link to purchase The Garments of God’s Man by Doug White
- Link to purchase Sure Signs You Want a Pulpit (But Not a Real Ministry) by Doug White
- Link to purchase Hell’s Apostles by Doug White
A relevant apostolic resource that covers biblical topics of interest, ministry, Christian living, and practical insights hosted by Ryan French. An extension of the popular blog Apostolic Voice (www.ryanafrench.com). Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
Sought after preacher, Bishop of Abundant Life of Silsbee, TX, and prolific author Doug White joins the program to discuss his latest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God. Visit www.ryanafrench.com for an in-depth review of The Anatomy of a Failure. In this interview, Ryan explores with Bishop White the four areas (feet, stomach, heart, head) godly people leave vulnerable that can lead to spiritual failure and backsliding. If you’re wanting to safeguard your faith this is the episode for you. If you’re trying to understand or help a backslider you need to hear this program. Stick around to the end where the French Family tries Key Lime Kit Kat bars for a fun edition of Gross-Good-Great.