I’ll admit, apostasy—leaving the faith—has been something I’ve thought about a great deal. When I was young, I had the false idea that if I sinned I might not be a Christian. And I sinned. So I worried about how I could be sure I was a Christian.
Later, when I learned my Bible better, I discovered there were some apostates. Solomon was the one that continues to haunt me. I mean, the wisest person in the world? If he could doubt and question and go his own way, who couldn’t?
In the end, it’s been a good thing that I learned about him because it’s pushed me to my knees, pleading with God to keep me from straying from Him. I don’t want to be Solomon—I don’t care how rich he was or famous or powerful. He knew God’s secrets about child rearing, but look at how his son Rehoboam turned out! He knew that the beginning of wisdom was the fear of the Lord, but look how he strayed from God and even sought to have a prophet of the Lord put to death for confronting him about his sin. It’s a sad, sad end to his life, even though it appears from Ecclesiastes 14 that he did finally repent.
But I’ve been thinking recently about apostasy because of that atheist I’ve had conversations with and whose video explained how a young man headed for the ministry ended up believing God doesn’t exist. “Coincidentally” Alistair Begg, the pastor I listen to on the radio, has a 1 Timothy sermon series airing.
He’s reached chapter 3 where he addressed apostasy. Interestingly, Paul first brought up the subject when he mentioned something to Timothy late in chapter 1:
fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (vv 18b-19)
Paul goes on to name a couple of these shipwrecked former followers of Christ, but he gives more detail about apostasy in chapter 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.
Pastor Begg equates apostasy with what Jesus said in the parable of the sower. Some seed fell on rocky soil and it immediately sprang up only to quickly wither away. Luke records Jesus’s explanation:
“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.” (8:13)
They are Solomon.
It’s kind of amazing to me to hear any number of atheists or “Progressives” tell how they once believed as I do.
Well, no, they didn’t, because if they did, they’d still believe, more now than when they first believed. Paul explained it like this in his Colossians letter:
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Col. 1:21-23a; emphasis mine)
This continuing in the faith is both the means to counter apostasy and the sign proving actual relationship with God. The idea is that when the word of Christ richly dwells within us (Col. 3), we won’t turn our backs on God.
This topic is something we Christians don’t talk about much because of a doctrine known as eternal security. There are lots of verses that say we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, engraved the palm of God’s hands, held where nothing can snatch us from Him, loved in such a way that nothing can change or interrupt or redirect God’s care for us.
But there are a handful of other verses like these Sower verses from Luke and Matthew that seem to indicate some people embrace faith, then walk away. The passage in Hebrews 6 is the one that describes apostasy in the most chilling terms:
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (vv 4-6)
I understand God’s nature (as much as I can understand what He’s revealed), and ultimately I trust Him to do right. So if someone who once professed faith, and really thought he was a Christian, walks away from God, I have to say, I believe in eternal security, and I believe in apostasy. I’m not sure how the two work together.
Most say those who walk away never truly believed. Others who walked away, come back, as did the prodigal son in Jesus’s parable, so I’m not sure the verses in Hebrews 6 say what they seem to be saying.
Here’s where the whole counsel of God needs to come together. There can’t be any pulling verses out of context to use as proof texts for the doctrine of choice while ignoring others that seem to call in question that doctrine.
I heard a sermon once that was dealing with passing on our faith. I forget who the examples were, but let’s say David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. The first knew God, trusted Him with his life, literally and lived for Him. His son knew God and trusted His gifts, the wisdom he’d received and the wealth, fame, and power. His son didn’t know God and trusted his own desires.
The preacher said, we often worry and fret over how to move that third generation “Christian” away from his apostasy. Instead, he said, we ought to be focused on whether or not we’re in the place David was—living for God wholeheartedly, trusting Him with our lives. If every Christian prayed to become that kind of Christian in which the word of Christ dwells richly, apostasy would be a non-issue.
For those who have walked away, I pray God’s mercy on them.