We tend to think of apostasy as an early church or medieval sin: the word even sounds ancient! But apostasy is still a problem in the church today. As I write I am thinking of dear friends who journeyed with me through Bible college or served with me in the churches I have fellowshipped with who no longer identify as born-again Christians. Among them are men with greater gifts than I have, men whom I have prayed with and confided in. And yet they are men who have abandoned the Jesus of Scripture. Some abandoned the faith due to a critical spirit, others due to unfulfilled ministry dreams, and some due to moral compromise. The unnerving part of this is that, since all true believers will persevere to the end (Rom. 8:39; Phil.1:6), their lack of perseverance indicates that they were never truly regenerate in the first place! Imagine this: a person can bear many of the hallmarks of saving faith, but their apostasy reveals that they were never internally transformed by God.
Why some don’t persevere
It should not surprise us that a person can sincerely and intellectually assent to a faith system without spiritual regeneration. After all, there are millions of people who adhere to false faith systems, who sincerely believe, who are willing to die for their beliefs; but who are sincerely wrong. How can this be? This happens because faith systems meet sociological needs, satisfy intellectual curiosities or are expected parts of some cultural or ethnic identities. But that doesn’t make them right. Likewise, people can adhere to the Christian faith; they can commit to attending a Christian house of worship; they can believe in Christian values and read the Bible – all without spiritual regeneration.
So what is true faith?
True faith displays itself in belief and faith in the Gospel message, in the reception of Christ Jesus as your Lord, and through an ongoing walk with him. Colossians 2:6-7 reads:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
If you want to be rooted, built up and established – which are the opposite of shallow, surface-level belief leading to apostasy (think Judas) – you will have received Jesus as Lord and walked in him. Walking with Christ involves (1) following him, (2) trusting him enough to follow him, and (3) availing oneself of the disciplines that increase our trust thereby enabling us – with God’s help – to follow him! Eventual apostates hang around Jesus, observe, talk about and maybe even proclaim him; but they fail to walk with him. In time, their failed faith is seen for what it is: adherence to Jesus without true allegiance to his person and path.
It’s easy to ruffle Bible-believing Christian’s feathers when one talks about the necessity of a walk with Jesus. That’s because many tend to preach the instrument of salvation-justification brought about by God’s grace-without preaching the implications and illustrations of true faith. But the Scriptures are not ashamed of and see no conflict between the two. Every person who is truly saved by Jesus will truly walk with Jesus. A sanctifying and assuring walk inevitably and necessarily results from the experience of having been justified by faith. And so, whenever a supposed believer professes the latter but displays none of the former – including a persevering walk – they display their religiosity but betray their lack of true faith.
How should we assess ourselves for signs of true faith?
Take some time to evaluate if these signs of saving faith are present in your life:
- Genuine belief in the Gospel (Jn. 3:16).
- Repentance from sin (Mk. 1:15).
- Reception of Jesus Christ as Lord (Rom. 10:9).
- Ongoing displays of spiritual fruit (Gal.5).
- Ongoing confession of sin (1 Jn.1:9).
Are these qualities present in your life? If so, by God’s grace you will persevere till the end!