My August blog covers Hebrews 6:4-6, in which I conclude utter apostasy is treated by the author of the epistle as hypothetical situation if you believe in eternal security, but literal if you believe free will can override God’s great desire for us to spend eternity with Him. The purpose of this blog is to allow myself to share with you what I believe true apostasy of the Christian faith is, and how it reflects upon those controversial biblical passages that seem to speak of it.
Let’s first go to Hebrews 10. In chapter 10, the writer of the epistle stresses Christ’s sacrifice as an everlasting one, unlike the Israelite’s animal sacrifices. This is a continuing subject carried throughout the letter to warn the readers to resist the Hebrew Judaizers who were teaching that a Christian had to go back and observe the statutes and ordinances of the Mosaic law in order to become “fully” Christian. As I’ve written before, the danger in that was if some fell for that deception, they would essentially have turned their backs on the grace and mercy that the crucifixion brought; thus ultimately turning their backs on and rejecting Christ and all He accomplished and stood for. Now we read, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” 26,27 KJV
Sounds a lot like 6:4-6, doesn’t it? But there’s extra information added here. “For if we sin willfully…” The writer is not merely speaking of single acts of sin to any greater or lesser degree, including besetting sinning. The word “willfull” denotes an extraordinary power of self-will propelling it – obstinate sinning with no regard as to utterly and completely damaging and destroying their faith. Allowing for such a state of non-spirituality to go on unchecked, according to this verse, can end up in true apostasy. The individual has reached a point of no return. Christ’s sacrifice becomes null and void to them.
Here’s where it also gets a little complicated. 99% of Christians I know, and 99% of theologian’s comments state that scriptures that seem to refer to apostasy – a complete and utter rejection of Christ – is not possible for a true believer, but rather those scriptures and bible passages are speaking of “nominal” or “professed” Christians that are not Christians at all. There seems to be three reasons for the confusion:
1) The phrase “falling away” or “fallen from” (grace). The Greek “fallen” ekpipto can mean “to be temporarily driven off course; become inefficient”, or it can mean “to lose; to fail; to be cast away”.
So you can see how “fallen from” can be interpreted for one who believes in eternal security to mean a temporary lapse of spirituality, or for one who believes in the possibility of true apostasy, total rejection and impossibility of return to salvation.
2) The word “knowledge”. For example, 2nd Peter 2:20 and 21, “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” KJV Before a person knows the “way of righteousness” – Jesus Christ – they are lost and condemned. But here Peter writes that if a person (in this case a false prophet or teacher) goes back to their old ways and is overcome, rejecting the Truth after having had knowledge of it, “…the latter end is worse with them than the beginning…” Think about that. They will be MORE lost than as hopelessly lost as they were before they knew Christ! Again, we see a problem with the words “knowledge” and “know”. In the Koine Greek, there are three nouns for “knowledge”, and five verbs for “know”. “Knowledge” can simply be acquired by learning, effort or experience. But the words “knowledge” and “known” in these verses go beyond that. The Greek is epignosis and epignosko, “precise or further knowledge through acquaintance with; true knowledge”. However, these Greek words can also mean to simply “acknowledge”.
For example, one can acknowledge the Bible as a book of moral and spiritual values. One can acknowledge that to be a Christian they should attend church. But to have experiential knowledge of Christ means that the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ has proven Himself. We can discern His presence in our lives through answers to prayers, by spiritual gifts He has given us and those we have seen in operation in others. And by His conviction upon our hearts when we sin. Again, for one who believes in eternal security, they have no choice but to claim that this passage is not referring to experiential knowledge and are therefore only “professed”, false Christians. Others may believe Peter is writing about those with true, born again knowledge who have been “overcome” during a strong, willful, deliberate motion to return to the pollutions of their previous lifestyle, thus rejecting the grace and mercy of the cross.
3) 1st Timothy 4:1, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;…” KJV “Depart” is aphistemi, “remove: desert: depart; fall away”. “Faith” here is faith in the gospel. 2nd Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;…” “Falling away only here is apostasia, “to leave; depart”. A departing of what? Of faith in the coming of Christ. Again, on the one side, those who believe in eternal security will say this scripture is speaking of those who are only Christian imposters. In other words, they may have a working knowledge of some of the Bible and accepted Christ with false pretense. But they are not born again. The Holy Spirit does not reside within them. Those who believe a true Christian can forfeit their salvation takes these verses literally for what they say.
I think I have come to understand one of the great paradoxes of God’s logic. There are many encouraging words in the Bible concerning our eternal security. Many are written in the past tense, as if these wonderful promises of God’s salvation has already come to pass. “We have passed from death unto life.” “We have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ’” “We have become new creatures.” “We have the seal (the guarantee and down payment) of eternal life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” “Christ is the author and finisher of our faith.” “God will complete in us the good work that He began.” So how do we reconcile all the seemingly contradictory teachings?
This is the key: First, we have a two-way, active covenant (agreement) with Christ. He has done His part and continues to do so, and we have to do our part in exercising faith and obedience. God has given us His Spirit , but also a free will that is so powerful, it can neglect and even ignore the Spirit’s conviction. More importantly, God is omniscient! Every single one of His promises of eternal life hold true for anyone He has already seen has and will “endure to the end” in faith and obedience. Only God knows who they are. And those He has, in turn predestined to eternal life. Closely read Romans 8:28-30, “…for those whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate…”. Paul wrote in Romans 8:19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed”.
I pray this blog study, if it has accomplished nothing else, has caused some to realize the Bible is mult-layered. It must not be simply read, but studied using the myriad of study tools that are available. I realize there are some, for one reason or another, simply are not mentally capable delving as deeply into the Word as others. I pray they are getting good preaching, teaching and counseling from those who are well versed in the history and the languages of the Bible. I admit, I’ve never been much for taking someone’s word for anything. I always need to do the research for myself to prove it out. And believe me, I have had times where the more I learned about a doctrine, the more I realized I was wrong about my opinion.
But I have found the best way to prove a doctrinal point is to purposely look for scripture that seems to disagree with a preconceived notion that I have been taught and taken for granted. I even put it to the test to the extent where I try to prove what I believe is wrong! I am really wary of people who just believe in something because that’s the way their pastor or church teaches it. No man or woman knows all the truth. Just go to YouTube and type a doctrine in the search bar, and you will soon find hundreds of different viewpoints about the same subject. You will also find more often than not that these viewpoints are not built on dissecting the scriptures word by word, but rather a particular person’s philosophy that is nothing more than pseudo-spiritual. We are living in times where it is more important than ever to pray for divine wisdom and discernment every day!
I hope I have presented you with a lot to think about. We can take the easy way out and just continue what we continue to believe because it’s just too much trouble to concern ourselves with. Or we can take the Bible seriously as the divinely inspired Word of God, and for a while, just put our preconceptions on the backburner. If we’re serious about our beliefs, we need to know why we believe them. How serious is this? Everyone, including us Christians, are going to have to give an account for every thought we’ve ever had before the judgment throne of Christ one day.
So, by now, you may be wondering what side of this doctrinal issue I’m on. At this point, I do believe it is possible for someone to forfeit their hope of eternal life through total and utter rejection of the gospel. I do believe that there is a point that someone can reach where their own forceful and willful decision to abandon the faith, for whatever reason, is possible. When we read in the Bible all the promises God has for a Christian, I am definitely under the assumption that it is referring to true, persevering Christians who “endure to the end” in faith.
We are saved by grace for sure, but in turn, we must continue to have faith in Christ, or His mercy and grace, although still available, will profit us nothing. To describe just how essential our faith is in our covenant with Christ is, I’d like to use a passage from 1st Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1:3-5 KJV This is speaking of the promise of eternal life. However, what does this promise hang on? “…Who are kept by the power of God through faith…” Who’s faith? God’s? Jesus’? The Holy Spirit’s? No. OUR faith.
The apostle John adds a different aspect: “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 1st John 4:17,18 NLT Agape love comes from the Holy Spirit, but is exercised through our discipline. That love is a result of obedience to Christ’s precepts. And obedience cannot exist without faith. If we were to reject our faith, there would be no reason to obey God’s laws and free to disregard any agape love God would still grant to exist within us. Without that love, we would have reason to fear the day of judgment.
No matter what side of this doctrinal issue we’re on, I want to reiterate it is NOT a point of salvation, so please don’t let what I have written become a stumbling block to you. I trust you have prayed for discernment while reading what I have written. If it an earnest prayer, you can be sure God has answered it. No one, including myself, fully comprehends the mind of God. All we can do is do our best with what He has given us. Till next time, the Lord greatly bless your life. Amen!