“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.” – 1 John 2:19
Apostasy – how do we handle it? Christians view apostasy according to their understanding of the work of God in salvation. It is just here where we find a great divide of opinion between those embracing the reformed doctrines of grace, and those who do not.
According to the Scriptures, Jesus does not ever lose a single one of His true sheep (John 10:28-30). All the Father gives to Jesus will come to Jesus, and the Father’s will is that all those given to Him (Jesus) be raised up (to eternal life) on the last day (John 6:37-39). I can’t for a moment see Jesus failing to fulfill the will of His Father. He always carries out His Father’s will. So with great confidence I think we can say that all the ones given to Him, will indeed come to Him, and He will then raise all of these up to eternal life on the last day.
Elsewhere, Romans 8:28-30 presents the Golden Chain of Redemption where, in the five links of the chain forged by God Himself, amongst other things, all whom God calls are justified, and all whom God justifies, He glorifies. No truly justified person falls through the cracks and fails to be glorified. God speaks of their final glorification with such certainty that He does so in the past tense “these whom He justified, He glorified”, yet we know that in time, this refers to something that will yet take place in the future. If we can see ourselves somewhere in this golden chain – namely as one who is justified – then all the other things mentioned in the chain, both backwards and forwards, hold true. If we are justified, we were first called, predestined and foreknown. Truly justified people have the utmost assurance regarding their eternal welfare… those whom He has justified, will be glorified, for He who began the good work in them will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
With that said, how do we understand it when someone has professed faith in Christ for many a year, and was perhaps even a leader in a Church, and yet then renounces Christ? Were they ever truly united with Christ? Were they in all reality a “former” brother or sister in Christ as some would assert? Did Jesus’ work of mediation work only for a time in their case? Did they possess a temporal form of eternal life and then lose it?
Here is something I found to be very helpful on the subject from my friend Dr. James White. He is responding to an anonymous person who used to sit in his class and certainly, at the time of the class, professed faith in Christ. However, this person is now apparently an atheist. I think you’ll find the discussion here illuminating. Its a little lengthy, but well worth reading. Please read on.
Dr. James White writes: The existence of apostasy is troubling to many, though, again, if people would live in light of that phrase, “theology matters,” they would be significantly less liable to being disturbed by it. The fact is that the New Testament names apostates who entered that condition even during the ministry of the Apostles. Jesus gave us parables that warned us ahead of time of the reality of apostasy and its reasons (such as the parable of the soils). Entire books, like 1 John, are filled with references to those who were troubling the church who had once been leaders within her number.
A few weeks ago I specifically addressed the issue of hypocrites in the church and how the proclamation of the gospel will often compel these people into false religions or open apostasy. At that time I pointed out that a balanced view of Scripture would give us a solid foundation upon which to view the reality of apostasy. This is especially true in today’s context of the church’s ministry within a society under the wrath of God, where God is allowing such a wide-spread existence of false teaching that apostasy of every possible kind can be observed today. One must have a truly biblical view of salvation to make heads or tails out of what is happening around us.
Take the inconsistent position held by many tradition-bound evangelicals today, those who deny the foundational truths often called “Calvinism” and yet hold, for some odd reason, to “eternal security.” Not only is their doctrine of “eternal security” unbiblical and unsound, but they have no meaningful basis for believing it in the rest of their theology. And the result is predictable: since they have no means of understanding false faith, let alone the judgment of God in causing those who refuse to love the truth to believe a lie, they are left scratching their heads at those who professed faith for a season, even a long season, and yet today deny what they once professed.
These thoughts have been prompted by a blog article by an anonymous person named “exbeliever” which I read only today as I arrived home from ministry in Auburn. I made reference to a series of questions posted on this particular blog that “debunks” Christianity yesterday. Well, it turns out that one of the contributors to this blog claims to be a former student of mine. Here are his words:
“I found this quote interesting for personal reasons. Though, as I’ve explained, I hope to keep my anonymity, it might interest some readers that I was once one of Dr. White’s students. I took a class in Christian Philosophy which Dr. White taught as an apologetics class. During that (albeit, short) class, Dr. White was very complementary of my work. Because of my background, the two of us often chased rabbit trails that most of the other class members could not follow. I got an “A” in that class. After reading Dr. White’s quote, I couldn’t help wondering what he would think of me now. He, obviously, doesn’t believe that one can be a “‘former’ Christian,” so would he, now, believe that I had fooled him?”
(Dr. White now continues)
Now, first, I truly wonder why anyone would wish to remain anonymous and yet be a contributor to a blog “debunking” Christianity. He provides a link to the explanation, but evidently it is only for atheists or something, as it says I am forbidden from accessing that URL. In any case, I assume this student took L1311, “Christian Philosophy of Religion,” in Mill Valley, Denver, or Phoenix, sometime over the past eight years or so. But why the anonymity? Fear of family reprisal? Is he a “secret” apostate? I suppose I could do some digging around, but I truly have no interest in investing time in such an effort.
In answer to the question posed, if one thinks that it is my job, or anyone else’s job, to peer into the hearts of men to determine their true spiritual state, then I guess one could say I was “fooled.” But I have never claimed that all of my students were believers. I have never claimed an apostate could not do well in one of my classes. And my theology would preclude me from saying that a person who could give good answers in an apologetics class would automatically thereby prove their election unto life. In fact, there could not be any logical connection between taking a class in a seminary setting and one’s true spiritual state, outside, I suppose, of stating that only the elect would persevere in the consistent application of godly truth to their lives. In any case, I would say to “exbeliever” that I would think a great deal more of him if he were not hiding behind a non-descript moniker, first and foremost; secondly, I would say even asking if he “fooled” me demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the theology he should have gotten in the course of that class. Now, “exbeliever” does say this later:
“No, James White probably never prayed to God to confirm my salvation, but he did consider me an intelligent person, well-versed in Christian apologetics.”
Indeed. I do not seek God’s secret knowledge of the actual state of the souls of my students. I am in a particularly poor position to judge such things anyway, given that in almost every instance where I have taught L1311 in the past, it has been an intensive course, i.e., one that is taught over a very short period of time. Such is hardly conducive to in-depth knowledge of the spiritual states of students.
“Exbeliever” goes on to present a bit of his “Christian credentials,” as so many who leave the faith and then seek to defend their apostasy do, asking if he had “fooled” this person or that group, etc. The same comments made above would apply to each and every one of the situations he presents: God had a reason for allowing Demas to be a part of the ministry of the Apostle Paul for a period, but then, to abandon him, and the work, for the love of the world. Paul warned men would arise from the very ranks of the eldership of the church speaking perverse things: that means they had to have shown long-term traits consistent with true faith, “fooling” the church itself.
As difficult as it is for many to believe, God has a purpose in allowing false teachers and apostasy. In fact, God is glorified in the judgment of apostates, is He not? Does it not prove that none of us can, in fact, depend upon ourselves, our wisdom, our insight, to “make it”? That it must be all of grace? If someone can be under the sound of the gospel, and even preach the gospel to others, and yet not endure to the end, what must this mean? Is God incapable of protecting those who are truly united to Christ, or, is it true that there is a difference between a said faith and saving faith, faith that is the result of the work of the Spirit of God? And is it God’s purpose that we learn from the sober observation of what happens to those who refuse to love the truth even when they have been exposed to it repeatedly (2 Thess. 2:10ff)? Sobering indeed. “Exbeliever” writes:
“And most importantly, did I fool myself? I know that many of the Christian readers, here, have theologies that say that this can’t be the case, but I tell you that during all of those years, I honestly believed that I was a Christian. I believed that I was a sinner unworthy of grace, that Jesus died for my sins, that I had been elected for salvation by the God of the universe. I was serious about my sanctification. I prayed that God, who had began a good work in me, would be faithful to complete it. I wept over my sin. I wept over the lost. I attempted to study to show myself approved so that I would be a faithful minister of God’s Word. I prayed over every decision I made in life. I attempted to seek first the kingdom of God. So, all that time, was I fooling myself? Or was I like the seed that grows in shallow soil with no roots so that I was blown away at the first “trial” (though there really was no “trial” to speak of)? I know that your theology may not allow for the non-perseverance of the saints, but honestly, I can describe it in no other terms. Where I once had faith, hope, and love in and for the Christian God, I now only have skepticism.”
(Dr. White) Sobering reflections. All the right language, all the wrong focus. Over the years when speaking to people about the examination of their faith I have referred to a concept I picked up from Jonathan Edwards back when I was writing a lengthy paper on his theology in seminary. Edwards, in essence, had suggested that the greatest evidence of true regeneration is not the common religious affections that many possess, even in false religions: the greatest evidence of true regeneration in the heart is whether we love those very aspects of God’s nature and character that are the most reprehensible to the natural man. Now, of course, I would add that when we speak of loving God in this fashion, I am not talking about a spurt of emotionalism, a short season of conviction. I am talking about the same kind of love that keeps you obedient to your marriage vows: love that acts over time. Do we love God as He is for the long term, or only for as long as our current theological predilections will allow?
I do not know who “exbeliever” is. I do not know his heart, or what has caused him to seek to “debunk” what he once professed (though I can surely suggest lots of reasons from my experience with such individuals in the past). A quick look at some of his other posts surely reveals a less-than-compelling level of argumentation against his “former faith.” Just as an example:
“Atheists are the true worshippers of the true god, The God Who is Not. Our praise to her comes in our refusal to debase her by connecting her with backwards, morally-bankrupt world religions or with this uncaring, painful universe. Our thoughts of her are too high. We are better, more faithful worshippers than any religious person who profanes the concept of the true god by associating it with their hideous faith.”
I only make reference to this person’s statements first to address the issue of whether we are “fooled” by apostates or not, and secondly, to address the reality of apostasy and the fact that outside of a full-orbed biblical view of God’s purposes and man’s depravity, it makes no sense at all. But within that view, its purposes can be seen, and we can be properly motivated to sober reflection and a proper detestation of all those systems that compromise God’s grace and place the control of salvation in the hands of man.
Here’s the Westminister Confession of Faith on the theme of Perseverance:
I. They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved
II. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.