What Is Apostasy?
Apostasy is to turn away from, or forsake Christ. In Matthew 24:10-12, Jesus warned that many who initially followed him would ultimately fall away from their faith. The Apostle Paul gave a similar warning, saying that there would be a “falling away” or “rebellion” (Gk. apostasia) from among God’s people before the end of the age (2 Th. 2:3). These passages can be troubling because they seem to indicate that the salvation received by trusting in Christ can be lost. The writer to the Hebrews seems to confirm this by saying, “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit…and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…” (Heb. 6:4-6).
This question has been the cause of much debate, with sincere Christians taking a stand on both sides of the issue. It seems to me there are potential problems on both sides. On the one hand, the idea that believers can lose their salvation tends to engender fear and self-doubt. But Scripture provides great assurance that those who belong to Christ cannot be taken out of his hand (Jn. 10:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:31-39), and it is that assurance and confidence in God’s love, not fear, that is the basis of our relationship with him. On the other hand, the “once saved always saved” perspective can lead to a flippant attitude toward our salvation, which concerns itself only with the security of our destiny rather than the character of our lives or an authentic relationship with God, thus missing the point of our salvation. So how can we understand both the serious warnings and the confident assurances Scripture gives, without falling into error on either side?
It is important to point out first, that these warnings are not suggesting that salvation can be lost when we sin, or go through periods of time when we are far from God or “backslidden.” If that were the case, we would all be in jeopardy. What is in view here is the deliberate turning away from, or renunciation of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews was speaking to people who were considering abandoning Christ and returning to Judaism. During the early centuries of the church, many renounced their faith in Christ under the pressure of persecution. Those who did were often forced to demonstrate their sincerity by offering sacrifices to the pagan gods or blaspheming the name of Christ. Such deliberate turning away or rejection of faith once held is what is meant by apostasy.
The Doctrine of Perseverance has also been helpful to my own understanding. It states that those who truly have put their faith in Christ will remain true to Christ to the end, even in the face of extreme persecution. This is in line with the promise of God in Jeremiah 32:40: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn away from me.” Those who have sincerely given their hearts to Christ, then, need not fear. God will enable them to persevere in their faith. May we, in turn, commit ourselves to live faithfully as God’s people.
Pastor Jon EnrightJune 7, 2018