What is apostasy?

Question
What is apostasy? I am also interested in the Scriptures surrounding the issue.
Answer

1 John 2:19: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (cf. Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Tim. 1:18-20).

Thanks for your question. Apostasy means "a falling away;" to abandon previously professed beliefs.

Not everyone who belongs to a church is regenerated by the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8; cf. Matt. 7:21-23; 1 Tim. 1:18-20). We may recall that Jesus taught the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). Though wheat (the elect) and tares (the reprobate) may be planted in the same field (see links below on Matt. 13 and reprobation), only one of them has the true living harvestable seed in it - the wheat.

The "tare" that Jesus describes was also known as the darnel seed. The two seeds (wheat & tare) look almost exactly alike in the initial stages of their growth. However after the tare matures a little, it becomes evident that it is only a weed. There are no weeds in heaven! In context, tares are the lost in the world. If some of these lost are in the church, they are merely "professors" of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), but not genuine "possessors" of God's gifts of election, effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification (cf. Rom. 8:29-30, see below). Though at the first these professed believers heard the Word of Truth (Prov. 30:5; John 17:17; 2 Tim. 2:15) and claimed to accept and believe it (cf. Acts 8:9-24), for various reasons (not only because they weren't elected / predestined, but hardening secondary causes too, Matt. 11:21, 23; WCF 5.2-3, etc.) it never fully took root in their hearts (Mark 4:1-9). These are members merely of the visible church, but not the invisible church (see below).

Apostasy can be a gradual departure from one's profession. But many may not even be aware that they are apostate until the last day (Matt. 7:22-23). Moreover, there are false teachers even in the visible church that lead some away from the faith once delivered (Matt. 24:11, 24; 1 Tim. 4:1-2). Besides, there are numerous idols, desires, prosperity, temptations, motives, sufferings, and afflictions that attempt to control and overwhelm our hearts daily. However, genuine conversion is always a fundamental change of one's heart, nature, and mind that stands against such (Eph. 6:10-18). In other words, genuine believers literally become new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17); they are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, walk in his triumphs, and stand against the wiles of the evil one (Eph. 6:10-18).

God works his initial spiritual life in the believer without their assistance (Jer. 13:23; Ezek. 37:1-10; Acts 9:1-19; Tit. 3:5-6; Acts 16:14; 11:18; Eph. 2:1-10; Phil. 1:29; 2:12-13). So we are passive in regeneration, and God alone is active. The instrument of change in regeneration is the Word of God (John 6:63; 15:3; Acts 19:20; 20:32; Rom. 10:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Jas. 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). The result of belief and repentance in genuine conversion is that the believer: (1) has a new relationship (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6); (2) brings forth new living fruit (Matt. 3:8; 7:16; Luke 3:8; Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:8-9; Col. 3:12; 1 John 3:24); and (3) they will absolutely persevere in the faith (Rom. 8:35-39; 1 John 5:4-5).

The Bible teaches that those whom God intimately loved before the creation of the world, he will never leave. Whom he predestined, He actually preserves. Those God effectually calls, he eternally keeps. Whom the Spirit regenerates, he never rejects. The ones God forgives, he never forsakes (Psa. 37:28; John 10:28-29; Rom. 8:35-39; Eph. 1:3-4, 11; Phil. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:7-8). So, the perseverance of the saints is the clear teaching of Scripture.

A genuine Christian can never apostatize. But he or she can appear too. In the Old Testament, we observe that David did not repent for numerous months after his sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1-12:15; Psa. 51). In the New Testament, Peter, who literally denied the Lord, is an example of a horrible sinner too (John 18:15-27; 21:15-19). But even if a person may appear for a time to be an apostate, the Lord will never allow a genuine believer mdash; such as David or Peter mdash; to fully and finally fall completely away from the faith (Phil. 2:13; cf. 2 Chron. 30:12; 1 Cor. 15:10; Eph. 1:5; Heb. 13:21).

Are you an apostate? (Num. 15:30-31; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:16-17; cf. 2 Cor. 7:10; Heb. 3:8, 15; 4:7). Are you leaning that way? Are you drifting in your faith? Are you concerned about your relationship to God? I hope not as this is an exceedingly dangerous place to be (Heb. 2:1).

Unless you have totally shipwrecked your professed faith (1 Tim. 1:19), this still may be a positive concern to have. he concern itself may be genuine evidence that God is still working in you (Psa. 138:8; Jonah 3:9; Joel:13-14; Phil. 1:6; 2:12-13), Unlike the reprobate, is God still convicting you of sin? (John 16:8; 1 John 1:8-10; cf. Heb. 12:16-17 [Esau pleaded with his father, not the Father, Gen. 27:34, 38, 41]; Rom. 8:7-8; 2 Cor. 7:10). Is he still giving you his gifts of faith (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:4-7) and repentance? (Acts 11:18; Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 2 Pet. 3:9). If so, this is good news! Examine yourself. Do you fail the test (2 Cor. 13:5).

Make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10; cf. 2 Cor. 13:5) and continuously preach the gospel to yourself. Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). Forsake your past fleshly works now, walk in faith today; in newness of life (Rom. 13:11-12). In God all things that are consistent with his will and nature are possible to him who believes (Matt. 19:25-26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). May God show us each mercy and enable us to find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16). God desires us to be confident in our faith ( 1 John 5:13).

Related Topics:

Calvinism and Matthew 13?
What is Reprobation?
Can your briefly explain election in Romans 8:29-30?
Calvinism and Matthew 11:28?
What is the Visible / Invisible Church?
A Salvation Check-Off List
Make Your Calling and Election Sure - 2 Peter 1:10
What is heresy?
What is the meaning of the word cult?
Is Jesus the ONLY WAY to Heaven?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).