We are going to do a short series on the nature of apostasy.
Apostacy is very misunderstood by many, and it is something that is worth thinking through.
We were just discussing a guy who was part of our church a few years back who apostatized. This led us down a very disheartening discussion of the many others who are in the same situation.
We will merely introduce this subject in this podcast, and then try to develop it in detail in others.
Some Initial Thoughts:
- It is not the same as Church Discipline.
The focus in church discipline is upon sin that is held onto by the professing Christian. The bible does not assume that when you made a profession of trust/faith that in fact you are definitely a believer. It does teach us to embrace you as a believer assuming your profession is based on the actual gospel.
Also, it instructs the church to then teach you sound doctrine and expect you to obey it, and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Also, it instructs the church to be holy. For the professing believer, to remain in unrepentant sin, requires the church to discipline you out as an unbeliever. In other words, you were to be viewed as an “almost-Christian.” BUT, it also means that there is the opportunity to repent and return.
Or, you can become an apostate.
- Old Testament history has apostasy as the norm. From the moment sin entered the world you have those who actively reject YHWH. Israel is the greatest example of this apostasy.
In Deuteronomy we read that Moses made the entire nation learn a song that essentially told them that the vast majority of them would go into apostasy, just like their parents did and died in the wilderness.
The apostasy found in rejecting the promised land. This is picked up by the author of Hebrews.
The apostasy repeated over and over in the Judges, each doing what was right in his own eyes.
The apostasy of the splitting of the kingdoms. Where ten tribes abandon the priests, the temple, and the law.
Paul talks about that very apostasy in Romans 11 and how saved Gentiles should not get arrogant against the apostate Jew. Instead they should fear, knowing that it could be them as well.
- The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by consistent apostasy. (John 6:35-66)
This is the day after the feeding of the 5,000. The crowds go looking for Jesus in Capernaum and find him. They want breakfast. He turns the table on them and begins to speak of himself as being the true Bread of life and the one who will cause them to never thirst.
There is then an incredible amount of teaching on the glory of God in saving sinners.
- The revelation that the Father has given people for the Son to save.
- The reality that all of them shall come and none shall be lost.
- The fearsome truth that unless the Father draws us and grants us the privilege to come and be saved that there is no hope.
He ends it all with the idea that he is the true food and drink and they must partake of Him to live. Not a reference to the Lord’s Supper as commonly argued, but a reference of the source of life being in Jesus and not traditions. The idea of eating and drinking is in perfect parallelism with coming to Jesus, or believing and beholding Jesus in the prior verses.
This leads to an argument by the Jews and more instruction in the synagogue in Capernaum. From there we will just read the passage:
"Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. "But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him." (John 6:60-64)
Jesus has just made more declarations regarding who He was. He makes the strong statement about being the Son of Man and that He only did the will of His Father.
Verse 30 then says, “As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.”
But the very next verse shows us that everything is not quite what it appears to be: “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
What is interesting and important is by verse 33 these same people who “believed in Him” are now showing arrogance of the highest sort.
How can we be set free? We are Abraham’s children.
He points out that all who sin are slaves to sin. And he tells them that his word does not have a place in them--a good warning to back away and show humility.
Again they assert that Abraham is their father like that is supposed to mean anything. So he tells them that Abraham is only their true father if they obey like he did.
Then he lays it out bluntly. Abraham is not their father, Satan is, and that they were in reality trying to kill him; not believe and follow him.
So in a span of a few minutes we go from revival to apostasy.
Jesus consistently spoke of apostasy.
Many will do things in the name of Jesus, but that is not the same thing as being “known by Him.” And frankly, that is all that matters.
The apostate is a talker, but not an obeyer. So they build on a foundation of sand rather than rock and cannot withstand the times of testing and hardship.
This is interesting to me as a pastor as so many people are scrambling for relief from hardships as Christians rather than realizing that these are moments of proving one’s faith.
Matthew 24:11, “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.” This is in the very well known passage on the end of time. It is also debated as to how it should be interpreted, but we will simply deal with it as we see it.
Notice how this is connected to the “last days.”
Acts 2:16 is the announcement of the last days, marked by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. And so this means that we are still living in the last days.
2 Peter 3:3-4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
So here we have a sense of what is to be expected in these last days.
People who are really controlled by their own desires. They are calling into question the simple, foundational truths of the gospel.
1 Timothy 4:1-3, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.”
Some will “fall away.”
How? Through hearing false teaching and false practices based off of those teachings.
Legalisms and lies are the tools of false teachers. But also they, themselves become the tool of God to reveal the hearts of many who claim to follow and believe in Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:1-4, “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.”
A great passage on perseverance. Paul desires their prayers that he and his companions will persevere and be rescued from the false believers. Paul simply says, “for not all have faith.”
This is key for us all to know.
Time will tell of your faith and ours. Many are saying today that they have done and believe such and such. But in the end will they all be standing blameless and with great joy?
But he also sees the hope found not in his faithfulness or the believers in Thessalonica, but in the faithfulness of the Lord.
So in that light, he exhorts them to continue to obey and follow their lead.
This is only an introduction. The next time we visit this subject we will begin to look at key passages that deal with the idea and reality of apostasy. Because it is a controversial and emotional subject we will try carefully to address the passages so that clarity will be the result.
One final point should be made before signing off. Apostasy happens all the time but often we just don’t see it for what it is. The bible is not just being silly when we read of warnings to guard the church and to guard our hearts.
Who you listen to and who speaks into your heart and home is important. There are many voices out there and just because they started the journey with Christ does not mean they will end it with Him.
Understand therefore, that undergirding this whole doctrine is an even greater doctrine often known as the perseverance of the saints.