The Biblical Doctrine of Apostasy -Part 2: Personal Apostasy

This is Part Two of a two part series by Sam A. Smith.

If a saved person can’t lose their salvation (see the previous article in this series), then how do we explain all the warnings in the New Testament about departing from the faith? The answer lies in understanding the New Testament’s teaching on personal apostasy. Personal apostasy is a prominent teaching in the New Testament; and, quite interestingly, it’s discussed or alluded to in almost every book. In fact, it’s the major theme of at least two New Testament books: 1 John and Hebrews. An understanding of personal apostasy is essential to the proper interpretation of many New Testament passages.

What is personal apostasy? Personal apostasy refers to an indi­vidual falling away from their profession of faith in Christ. The key question con­cerning these indi­viduals is whether they were ever genu­inely saved. Since many pas­sages indicate that apostasy inevitably results in eternal damnation, this issue is of consider­able importance. (Personal apostasy is called “personal” to distinguish it from the apostasy of an entire institution, such as a church, or denomination.)

Personal apostasy defined

The word “apostasy” comes indirectly from a Greek word that appears in 1 Timothy 4:1. The word aphistēmi (trans­lated “fall away” in the NASB) is the verb form of “apostasia” from which we transliterate the English “apos­tasy.” The idea is that of “departure.” The signifi­cance of a departure is, of course, determined by the context, i.e., what one is departing from. In 2 Timothy 2:19 Paul uses this word to en­courage Christians to depart from evil (the NASB says, “abstain”), whereas in Hebrews 3:12 the author uses it to warn people not to fall away from the living God. Obviously, departing from sin, and departing from God are actions that result in very different con­se­quences. It is important to recognize that the occurrence of the word apostasia, or other related terms, doesn’t neces­sarily indi­cate that a passage is referring to personal apos­tasy. Likewise, apos­tasy is frequently described in passages where the term is not used. Some of the key passages in the New Testament dealing with apostasy are: 1 Timothy 4:1-3; Hebrews 3:1-19, 6:4-8, 10:26-31, 12:14-29; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 1-3, and Jude 5-16.

Personal apostasy described

The description of apostasy given in the New Testament is of an individual who, while fully understanding the truth of the gospel and having at one time professed faith in Christ, ultimately falls away from his, or her, profes­sion. As we will see when we come to the New Testament passages describing personal apostasy, this happens because they were never genuinely saved. We must be careful not to confuse “the faith” (the gospel) with personal faith (a personal choice). Apostates defect from “the faith,” because they have no personal, saving faith in Christ.

The Greek and Roman world was not a friendly place prior to the influence of Christianity; it could be very cruel, and the social effects were everywhere to be seen, from the exposure of unwanted infants and the elderly, to rampant moral degradation even under the guise of reli­gious worship. Where Christianity penetrated this dark­ness, there were people who were attracted to the life of local churches and the care that Chris­tians showed to one another; there were also those who saw the church as an institution to be exploited. Whatever the case, many people associated themselves with Christianity who had never genuinely yielded to Christ, resulting in regeneration. Christ foretold this gradual infiltration by unbe­lievers in his parables recorded in Matthew 13. Some of these indi­viduals eventually returned to their former religion, or went on to the next religion. This phenomenon was per­plexing and distressing to the churches. As a result, there are numerous references and ex­planations, as well as warnings concerning apostasy throughout the New Testa­ment. Unfortunately, the modern church has largely lost sight of this teaching, and the result has been confusion and incorrect interpretation of many New Testament passages. Lack of a clear understanding of personal apostasy is also at the heart of much of the divide between Calvin­ists and Arminians, though there are other important differences as well.  The following are some of the major New Testament passages describing or warning against personal apostasy.

1 Timothy 4:1-3

1But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (NASB)

Here Paul described an apostate as one who de­parts from “the faith” (v. 1). Some have mistakenly taken Paul’s statement to mean that these individuals were previously saved. However, this is a reference to a depar­ture from the gospel itself, not from personal faith. We must not confuse “the faith” with personal faith in Christ (cf. Jude 3); “the faith” refers to the body of truth (inclusive of the gospel) that defines Christianity; personal faith (i.e., “saving faith”) is submission to the gospel (cf. 1 Pt. 1:22; 2:8; 3:1; 4:17). Of course, in order for someone to depart from the faith, they must have professed to believe the faith at one time. In other words, an apostate is one who pro­fesses to believe the truth for a while, but later turns from their profession. There is no way to tell from a profes­sion alone if the faith professed is genuine; true faith can only be seen through a transformed life.

2 Peter 2:1-22

1But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;  7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “ A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”

Peter described the same type of person that Paul de­scribed in 1 Timothy 4:1-3. Notice the similarity: 1) In verse 15, he “forsakes” (relinquishes) the right way. 2) In verse 20, after es­caping the defilements of the world by the knowledge (epig­nosis) of the Lord and Savior, he reverts back to those defilements. The question we need to answer is whether there is any indication in this passage that the individuals described were once saved, and there are three lines of evidence that clearly indicate Peter was not talking about people who were once saved.

The first line of evidence is found in 2 Peter 2:20. Peter said: “…the last state has become worse for them than the first.” Verse 21 defines the two states to which verse 20 refers; the first state is: “…not to have known the way of righteousness.” The sec­ond state is: “…having known it, to turn away.” If we took this statement to refer to saved people, Peter would be saying that these individuals were better off before they were saved, which could not be true. In light of that, it should be fairly obvious that this pas­sage cannot refer to people who were once saved. No matter what kind of Christian a person might be, it could never be truly said of them that they were better off before they were saved. The Arminian view of this passage is that the people described were saved and lost their salvation, in which case they certainly would be worse off, but not worse off than they were before they knew the gospel as this pas­sage says, only worse off than before they lost their sal­vation. However, Peter said they are worse off than before they knew the gos­pel. What does that mean? The idea Peter seems to be conveying is that these individuals were better off before they turned away from the truth because up to that point they could have exercised faith and been saved, but now they have rejected the truth, rendering themselves with no recourse.

The second line of evidence is found in verse 22. What does the proverb of the dog returning to its vomit mean? A dog returns to its vomit because that’s a dog’s nature. Why does a pig wallow in the mud? Because wallowing in the mud is a pig’s nature. Giving a pig a bath doesn’t change its nature. This proverb simply illustrates the difference between external reforma­tion and inner transformation. Even having experi­enced a measure of personal reformation, a person headed for apos­tasy turns away from the faith because he, or she, was never trans­formed through genuine faith in Christ. Personal reforma­tion may in­volve both attitudes and actions (mind and body) but does not involve a renewed spirit, as does transforma­tion. When these individuals depart from the faith and deny the Savior, they are simply doing what is consistent with their na­ture; they may have appeared to be saved from what could be seen from the outside, but Peter’s message is that their nature was never changed. For some, that true nature will display itself in overt apostasy (cf. Luke 11:24‑28), while for others, they will remain as “hid­den reefs” within the local church (Jude 12). While apostasy may be perplexing and disheartening, it is the hidden reefs who pose the greater danger to the local church, especially if they serve in positions of leadership.

The third line of evidence in 2 Peter 2:1-22 indicating that these indi­viduals were never saved can be inferred from the doc­trine of eternal security. These individuals couldn’t have been saved because a saved person can’t lose their salvation. (See the prior discussion.) Note the final disposition of these indi­viduals: Verse 1 says that they will be “destroyed” (Gr. apollumi, means, “to destroy utterly,” i.e., a total and final destruction); this is the same term that is translated “perish” in John 3:16, where the ones perishing are set in bold con­trast to the saved. Note that in Matthew 15:24 apollumi is translated “lost”; the idea is that lostness indicates a future of eternal damnation. In 2 Peter 2:9, Peter indicated that these individuals will be kept under punishment for the day of judgment. In 2:17 he said: “the black darkness has been reserved” for them. This phrase, composed of six Greek words, is repeated in only one other place in the New Testament: Jude 13. A comparison of Jude 5-13 indicates that Jude was speaking in reference to the same sort of people Peter had in mind. Note that Jude adds the word “forever” in his description of their destiny apart from God, clearly indicating their eternally lost condition.

Hebrews 3:1-14

1Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house— whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
“ Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me,
As in the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
And saw My works for forty years.
10 “ Therefore I was angry with this generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they did not know My ways’;
11 As I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (NASB)

There are three major views on the meaning of this and the other related passages in Hebrews (6:4-14; 10:26-31; 12:14-29). The first view is that these passages are warnings to Christians not to live carnally. According to this view the “rest” referred to in Hebrews 3:18-4:13 doesn’t illustrate salvation, but the rest a believer enters into when he, or she, learns to trust and obey God; thus it denotes a level of spiritual attainment. Proponents of this view argue that if the rest mentioned here, which Israel failed to enter, repre­sents salvation, it would imply that even Moses wasn’t saved, since he didn’t enter the Promised Land either. This objection fails to take into account the fact that Israel in the wilderness is used here only analogically. Israel’s failure in the wilderness isn’t used here as an example of personal apostasy, but an anal­ogy. There’s a difference in saying that something is analogous to a particular thing (That is, like a particular thing in some way), and in saying that it is an example (i.e., the very thing itself). The second view is an Arminian (free will) view that these pas­sages are warnings to Christians not to aposta­tize, and thus forfeit their salvation.  The case will be made here that the correct view is that these passages are warnings to people in the church about the danger of failing to take possession of sal­vation (i.e., the failure to go all the way in exercising saving faith), thus falling beyond hope into unbelief. When we come to Hebrews 6:4-8, we will note an addi­tional view, the hypothetical view, with respect to that passage.

The major problem that must be dealt with in Hebrews 3:1-14 is determining “who” is addressed. In verse 1 the address is clearly to “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling,” and in verse 6 to the house of God (in so many words). Again, in verse 12 they are referred to as “brethren.” There can be no doubt that these are refer­ences to a group of saved people. However, note that each time the readers are addressed as “brethren,” or some other term indica­tive of genuine faith (cf. vv. 1-6a, 12), the address is qualified. The identification as saved people established in verses 1-6a is quali­fied in verse 6b (where “if” is the third class conditional—“ean” {subjunctive mood—implying that the state of the condition is un­certain}; in other words, they may or may not actually be of God’s house). What the writer was saying is this: You are what I have called you (in verses 1-6a), assuming you hold fast (v. 6b). What is the oppo­site of holding fast? Verse 12 defines it as “falling away” (aposta­sia). Again, the identification as saved people established in verse 12 is qualified in verse 14, and once again “if” is the third class conditional, subjunctive mood. In other words, the author cour­teously addresses his audi­ence according to their profession since he doesn’t know their hearts, but he does so with clear qualifica­tion. His form of address contains the cordial assumption that they are what they claim to be, though he clearly has concerns that some may eventually prove to be apostates, as have others that have already departed. There is a parallel to this type of address in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Three times in 2 Corinthians Paul referred to his readers as “breth­ren,” twice as “beloved” and in the first verse he addressed the letter to “saints,” but in 13:5 he warned that some might not be saved! Clearly his appellations were conditioned upon true faith in Christ. Even though he addressed the readers as “saints” and “brethren,” Paul knew the likelihood that in any church there are some who, though they fully understand the gospel and appear to accept it, have yet to exercise genuine saving faith. The writer of Hebrews does the same; he writes to a local con­gre­gation warning them about the possibility of apos­tasy, even though he is convinced that most of them are genuinely saved (cf. 6:9). While the passage is addressed to those pro­fessing faith in Christ, it is a warning of the dan­ger of failing to take possession of salvation through genuine saving faith.

The presence of these conditions is clear evidence that the author was concerned about the salvation of some in the local church. His assertion is that those who are truly saved are those who “hold fast the beginning…firm until the end,” (i.e., they are not of those who “fall away”). This should not be construed to imply works salvation. The idea is not that one is saved because he or she holds fast, but that holding fast is an invariable characteristic of true faith. So much so that falling away indicates there was never saving faith. Failure to make this distinction is the basis for much confusion. This agrees with the message of 1 John 2:18-19. Therefore, we should understand the “rest” referred to in 3:15-4:13 as illustrating salvation through faith. Those who have placed their faith in Christ have entered that rest; all who have not entered are exhorted to do so before it’s too late. There is no indication here that a saved person could become lost. The message is simply this: It is those who hold fast to the end that have saving faith.

Hebrews 6:4-12

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. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. [NASB]

The three basic interpretations of the Hebrews apostasy passages were given above; however, we need to mention one additional interpretation given to 6:4-12, which we will refer to as “the hypothetical interpretation.” It asserts that this passage de­scribes what would happen “if” a saved person could apostatize, which proponents view as impossible; thus, according to this view we have a hypothetical used for the sake of making a point. However, this view fails to recognize that the warning concerns a very real problem, as indicated both in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament.

This passage was addressed to a believing audi­ence; however, the key to its interpretation is distinguishing between those addressed (a mixed group that was pre­sumptively Christian) and those being described. Those described have five qualities: 1) they’ve been enlight­ened; 2) they’ve tasted of the heavenly gift; 3) they’ve been made partakers of the Holy Spirit; 4) they’ve tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come; and, 5) they’ve fallen away. How do we know that apostasy (as we have defined it) is in view in this passage? First, because of the description: the individuals described are ones who have “fallen away.” The Greek word parapipto is a strong term; it means, “to defect.” [Although parapipto is used only here in the New Testament, we can get some feel for the term by observing the usage of pipto in Romans 11:11 where it is translated “fall” and refers to a complete and irrecoverable fall. Parapipto (pipto with a prepo­sitional prefix) is an intensified form of pipto.] The nature and the magnitude of this defection can be seen in the last half of verse 6, “…since they are re-crucifying the Son of God for themselves and putting him to public ridi­cule” [the author’s translation]. Note the fol­lowing: We are told that they “re-crucify” the Son of God (i.e., they display in their hearts and minds the same hostility, re­jection, and con­tempt toward Christ as did those who crucified him. This rejec­tion is both personal and public. They re‑crucify him “to,” or “for” them­selves (middle voice) and put him to “open shame” (ridi­cule). This is clearly the same descrip­tion given of apostasy else­where in the New Testa­ment (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pt. 2:1; 1 Jn. 2:18-19). While some imply that car­nality in the life of a believer is figuratively a re-crucifix­ion of Christ, such a thought is completely for­eign to the book of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 10:10-14). Re-crucifixion of Christ in the heart and mind of an individual can only be taken as rejection; it is a falling away which, as we have seen from Hebrews chapter three, disqualifies one from the title of “brethren,” and being “partakers of a heavenly calling.”

The second reason we know this passage describes apos­tasy is due to the examples given. In verses 7 and 8 the two types of ground represent two types of people. There are those who respond with fruit and those who respond with thorns and thistles (cf. Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23). The ground described in verse 8 is clearly representative of the person described in verse 6 who “falls away.” Notice the description of this ground: ”… it is rejected and a curse is at hand [impend­ing], of which the end is unto burning” [the author’s transla­tion]. The word “curse” is katara, which elsewhere in the New Testa­ment refers to eternal condem­nation. Of course, it would be impossible for a saved person to suffer condemnation; oth­erwise, what was he, or she, saved from? Some find what they suppose to be a loophole in the word “nigh” (AV) or “close” (NASB). The argument offered is that this can describe saved people because it doesn’t say that they are cursed, only that they are “close” to being cursed. But, if as has been estab­lished, a saved person cannot be lost, how “close” can one get to something that is absolutely impossi­ble? It is as absurd to think that a saved person could be close to condemna­tion as it is to think that such a one could be condemned. The word translated “close” is eggus. Its usage here has the sense of that which is im­pending (cf. 2 Pt. 2:3b). The idea is that the judgment of the apos­tate has not been carried out yet, but that it will be when he faces the Lord whom he has persistently denied with full knowledge.

The third reason for believing that the person de­scribed in Hebrews 6:4-12 is an apostate is that apos­tasy is indicated by way of contrast with true faith. Verse 9 says: “But, beloved, we are con­vinced of better things con­cerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way” (NASB). The word translated “accompany” is echomena, which in the middle voice, as here, means, “to seize” or “to pos­sess for one’s self.” Notice that the writer distinguishes his readers in general from the individuals he has just described: They, the believers, had taken possession of salvation, clearly implying that those described earlier (vv. 4-8) had not. There are two responses to the gospel: one is to take pos­session of salvation through faith; the other is to turn from it, or simply ignore it—which is just a passive form of rejection. The peo­ple de­scribed in verses 4-8 are those who having received the gospel message, and perhaps at some superficial level having em­braced it, ultimately turned away.

Again, there is no indication that the individuals described in this passage were once saved. Let’s now take a closer look at each of the clauses used to describe these individuals. The first clause occurs in verse 4, and describes them as “…those who were once enlightened.” The word “enlightened” is photizo, and its use here is figurative. The idea is of a person coming to understand the truth of the gospel. The question is: Does enlightenment come before or after saving faith? The answer is: “Both.” One cer­tainly comes to understand some things only after coming to faith in Christ, but they must understand the gospel before they can make the decision to come. Thus, sufficient light must precede faith in order to make faith possible. The question with respect to the passage is whether the reference to enlighten­ment indicates saving faith, and since enlightenment must precede faith, it cannot be taken as evidence of faith. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the people described here once possessed saving faith. Note also that John 1:6-13 says that all men are enlightened at some time, though it is obvious that all men are not saved.

The second clause (v. 4) describes the subjects as ones who “…have tasted of the heavenly gift.” The key to unraveling this statement lies with the word “tasted.” Obviously this is a metaphorical use of the word since the heavenly gift is not something that could be literally tasted. The word geuomai, when used metaphorically, means “to perceive,” as in, “a taste of reality.” It’s not necessary for a person to be saved to per­ceive the gift of God, because perceiving salvation through the illuminating and convicting work of the Holy Spirit is an integral part of the epignosis (the sure knowledge of the truth) that one must possess before they can exercise faith. This perception, far from being an evidence of faith, is rather a prerequisite to faith.

The third clause also occurs in verse 4 and describes the subjects as having been made “partakers of the Holy Spirit.” There is general agreement that no one could be saved unless they first become a recipient (partaker) of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That work includes illumina­tion, conviction, and calling. Actually, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no call to accept or reject. Because we normally regard “partaking” as active (i.e., the result of a choice), it’s easy to misunderstand what the writer was saying. No such choice is indicated here, since “partake” is in the passive voice. In other words, these are not people who chose to partake, by an act of faith, but people who were only passive recipients of the illumi­nation, conviction, and general calling of the Spirit. To illustrate, we could say that they were made partak­ers of the Spirit in the same way that a person is made a partaker of the judicial system when he or she receives a speeding ticket.

The fourth descriptive clause occurs in verse 5 and pic­tures the subjects as those who “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Again we have the word “tasted” (geuomai), and as before it is here used metaphorically. These indi­viduals are said to have perceived the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, possibly a reference to the ministry of the Spirit in signs and wonders as mani­fested in the early churches. But this could be said of any­one within the church, whether saved or lost; so again, there is no implication that these people were saved.

The fifth descriptive clause occurs in verse 6 and pictures the subjects as having received all of the afore­mentioned benefits “and then have fallen away.” The question is: What did they fall away from? The answer is that they fell away from what they had: the opportunity, by virtue of knowledge and conviction, to respond to the gospel. Here we encounter a difficult concept, difficult in the sense that it is not pleasant to consider, but there comes a time in the life of every person who persists in refusing the gospel when their re­fusal becomes permanent by their own choice. There is a time in the life of every person when they are at the closest point they will ever be to coming to Christ—maximum light, con­viction, per­suasion, etc. If they refuse at that point, they will never come. Since no unsaved person knows when he or she is at that point, refusing to place one’s faith in Christ at any opportunity could poten­tially render him, or her, beyond hope. This was a poignant warning to those within the church who had come out of the world and into the church, but who had failed to enter into salvation, hence the strong parallel to Israel’s wander­ing in the wilderness described in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. Con­sequently, while this passage was written to a group of professing Christians, the writer was describing the prob­lem of those in the group who might eventually apostatize because they weren’t saved.

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “ The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [NASB]

Verse 26 begins with the word “for.” When we examine verses 26-31, which describe the path to apostasy, what we find is that this section stands in contrast to verses 19-25, which describes true belief. Note also the parallel between 10:19-25 and 3:1-6, and between 10:19-25 and 3:12-14. It is clear that we have in these passages a recur­ring warning against apostasy.

In this passage we see six reasons why the people described in verses 26-31 are apostates (as defined here, i.e., those who professed faith at one time, but later turned away because they never possessed genuine faith). The first reason is given in verse 26 where the text says, “For if we go on sinning willfully af­ter receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer re­mains a sacrifice for sins.” We know from our previous discussion of 2 Peter 2 that “the knowledge of the truth” refers to an under­standing of the gospel; this identification is consis­tent throughout Peter’s writings, see 1 Peter 1:22. Here we have a person who “sins willfully” (i.e., makes a conscious choice of sin over Christ) after receiving the sure knowledge of the gos­pel (the epignosis). What we must un­derstand is the nature of this state (the word “sinning” in the original is a present participle and indicates a continuing condi­tion, or state). The word “willful” is ekousios, which means “vol­untary.” In other words, this is the descrip­tion of a person who has aban­doned himself to an ongoing state, or condition of sin. In light of 1 John 3:6-10 this cannot describe a Christian who is merely struggling with sin; it is a description of a per­son who has willfully abandoned himself to sin and does not know Christ, regardless of what he might claim. (Virtually the whole of 1 John is devoted to this theme.) The second reason why this passage describes apostasy is found in verse 26b, where we read, “…there no longer remains a sacri­fice for sins.” The word apoleipetai, translated “remains,” means “to be left.” We could say, “…there is left no sacri­fice for sins.” The reason is because this person has re­jected the only sacrifice capable of taking his sin away. The third reason we know this passage is describing apostasy is that in verse 26 we’re told he doesn’t have a sacrifice (atonement) for sins, but rather the pros­pect of a terrifying future. Note this very important fact given in verse 27: these individuals are classified as “adver­saries” of God; adversaries whom God will judge with a consuming fire. The NIV reads: “…but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will con­sume the enemies of God.” The fourth reason why this passage de­scribes apostasy, as defined, is found in verse 29. There we see three parallel descriptions indicating that these individuals have rejected the gos­pel. The first state­ment says that they have “trampled under foot the Son of God.” Katapateo, which is translated “trample,” means “to spurn,” when used figu­ratively as here. The idea is an outright rejection. In other words, this person has come to regard the Son of God as “worthless,” like dirt beneath his feet. The second description says that he “regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sancti­fied.” The word “Unclean” (koinos) means “com­mon,” and thus, not holy. The idea is that this person regards the blood of Christ (his sacrifice) as profane. The third description says that they have “insulted the Spirit of grace,” i.e., the Holy Spirit. The English word “insult” doesn’t carry the force of the Greek word “enubrizo.” The idea is an arrogant, inso­lent, scornful, even blasphemous disregard of the Spirit’s work in calling men to salvation. In these three descriptions we have three graphic pictures of the rejection of the gospel. The fifth reason why this pas­sage describes apos­tasy is seen in verses 30-31. Ekdikesis, translated “vengeance,” refers to retributive jus­tice; the idea is pun­ishment in the strictest sense. Because of their rejection of the gospel, these individuals will face the full force of God’s wrath. The sixth reason is in verse 39, where the au­thor reflects back on what he has said in verses 19-38. Two words in the first part of this passage are critical to understanding who and what is being described here. “Shrink back” (hupostolēs) means, “to turn back”; the idea is equivalent to apostasia (“to fall away”); “destruction” (apoleia) means “perdi­tion”; Perdition is lostness. Also, note the contrast presented in verse 39b. There can be no doubt that verse 39 identifies the peo­ple described in verses 26-31 as apostates i.e., those who having once professed faith in Christ, have rejected him and his atonement.

Have we read anything in these descriptions that would lead us to believe these individuals were once saved? Arminians point out that there are a few reasons for thinking that this is the case. First, since the writer includes himself in the group he refers to by the pro­noun “we” (v. 26), some assume that he must be referring to saved people, since the writer himself was obviously saved. However, the passage itself defines who is included within the scope of the pro­noun; it is everyone who has “received the knowledge of the truth,” which encompasses both those who have responded posi­tively with faith unto salvation, and those who have ultimately rejected faith unto perdition. There is no gram­matical or contextual rea­son for restricting this pronoun (“we”) to refer only to saved people. The scope of a pronoun must be deter­mined by the context. For in­stance, the pronoun “we” in verse 39 is clearly restricted to saved people because the context limits the reference to saved people, but in verse 26 the reference clearly includes unsaved people. The sec­ond reason offered is that in verse 26 the subjects are said to have “received the knowledge of the truth.” As we have seen above, one must receive the knowl­edge of the truth in order to make a decision to come to Christ; accordingly such knowledge precedes salva­tion and in no way indicates that these individuals were once saved. In 2 Peter 2:20 Peter described people who received the knowledge of the Lord and Savior, but remain unsaved; we shouldn’t confuse “receiving the knowledge of the Lord” with “receiving the Lord.” Receiving the knowledge of the Lord doesn’t imply a decision on the part of the recipient; all that is indi­cated is that these indi­viduals came to understand the truth of the gospel, not that they received it. The third reason is based on verse 29: They were said to have been “sancti­fied” by the blood of the covenant (i.e., Christ’s blood), which many have taken as an indication that the writer must have been referring to people who were once saved. There is a tendency to associate the word “sanctify” (Gr. hagiazo) with salvation; however, the word “hagiazo” is used broadly in the New Testament, and its meaning must be determined by the context. In 1 Corinthians 7:14 this word is used in connection with the unsaved spouses of believers. It carries the idea of placing something into a privi­leged position, which might be a position of grace, or right­eousness, or consecration, or opportunity. The question is: In what sense would it be ap­propriate to refer to a lost person as sancti­fied by the blood of Christ? The answer is that the death of Christ sanctifies every man and woman in that it puts each one into a position of oppor­tu­nity to be saved (i.e., it makes them “savable”). This clause has probably been the greatest sticking point in the interpreta­tion of the passage, but it is im­portant to recog­nize that this is due to reading a very narrow con­cept of sancti­fication into the passage, rather than recognizing the broad scope of meaning for this word. Just as there is a special sense in which only true believers are sanctified, so there is an­other sense in which all men, especially those that are exposed to the gospel, are sanctified.

As we have seen, there is nothing in Hebrews 10:26-31 to indi­cate that the people in question were once saved; they are simply individuals who having come to understand the gospel, said “No” (or “Maybe”—which is the same thing), instead of “Yes.” The under­lying message is this: Today is the day of salvation; don’t put it off. Whatever a person might think, they are without excuse and without remedy if, after hearing the gospel, they fail to respond in faith (cf. Heb. 3:7-19).

Hebrews 12:14-29

14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.18 For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. [NASB]

In these sixteen verses there are five statements that indi­cate this passage is a warning against the type of apos­tasy we have described. The first is in verse 14b. What the author was saying is this: Pursue salvation; don’t stop short only to be lost. There are two contrasting responses to the gospel: one is to take possession of salva­tion (cf. Heb. 6:9, the NASB rendering, “ac­company” is echomena—middle voice, which means “to possess for one’s self”); the other is to turn away. Here the author is clearly concerned that some people might not press for­ward and obtain, by faith, that sanctification (salvation) without which they are lost. The second statement is in verse 15a. This one would be diffi­cult to interpret, if not for the con­text of verses 14-16; how­ever, given that context, it is appar­ent that coming “short of the grace of God” means failure to enter into salvation. The third statement is in verse 16. Here “godless” (bebē­los) means “irreligious.” The author is clearly describing apos­tasy. Even the illustration of Esau is of one who had some­thing within reach, but turned from obtaining it. This should not be construed to imply that Esau was never saved; he is only mentioned here analogically to illustrate appoint. The fourth statement occurs in verse 25a; it’s an admoni­tion about refusing him who warns from Heaven. Paraitēsēsthe  (trans­lated, “refuse”) indicates a decisive rejection of God’s warning of judg­ment. The fifth statement, found in verse 25b, de­scribes those who turn away from God. Unlike some of the other passages we have seen in Hebrews, this one contains nothing that might easily be mis­construed to refer to people who were once saved. It is simply a sobering mes­sage: Don’t be like Esau and trade your opportunity for a bowl of soup; if you do, you’ll be sorry!

1 John 1:1-3:12

1:1  What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

2:1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “ I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. 15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. The Promise Is Eternal Life. 25 This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 27 As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. [NASB]

Virtually the entire book of 1 John comprises an extended contrast of vain profession versus true faith, and demonstrates that disingenuous faith sometimes manifests its true nature in open defection, which is what personal apostasy is all about. For the sake of brevity we will focus our attention primarily on the first three chapters of the book. In these chapters John dis­cussed the problem of those within the local church who claimed to know God, but whose lives evidenced a different reality. The opening verses indicate that this church had become in­fected with an incipient form of Gnosticism. We know that re­gardless of whether these individuals were connected with Gnostic beliefs or not, they are clearly identified as those who deny that God came in the flesh (cf. 4:2); they professed to be in right relation to God but were characterized by corrupt living (1:5; 3:4-10), denial of sin (1:8-10), disobedience to the commands of God (2:3-4), hatred, or at least a lack of love toward the brethren (2:9-11; 3:11-18; 4:20), love of the world (2:15-17), in some cases open defection (2:18-19), denial that Jesus was the Messiah (2:22-23; 3:14-15), and denial of the personal union of the divine and human natures of Christ (4:1-6). John makes the point that such individuals do not have fellowship (a personal relationship) with God. He does this by way of contrast, stating that it is those who “walk in the light” who have fel­lowship with God, not those who merely profess.

It is a tragedy that the concept of fellowship with God has been so misconstrued. Perhaps the most prevalent view of fellowship is that Christians who obey God and “walk in the light” are in fel­lowship with God, and those Christians who sin and do not con­fess their sins are “out of fellow­ship”; hence, the misconception that confession restores “broken fellowship” with God. Such a view is com­pletely at odds with the message of 1 John. John clearly contrasts two kinds of people: the children of God (true believers, whose life is characterized by walking in light), and children of the Devil (whose lives are characterized by walking in dark­ness and deny­ing the faith), cf. 3:10. True believers have fel­lowship (a relationship) with God; everyone else is in darkness. This does not mean that believers don’t sin, everyone sins. But when they sin, saved people confess their sin and move forward. In fact, verse 7 clearly demonstrates than sin does not inter­rupt a believer’s fel­lowship with God. John said: “…but if we walk in the light [peripa­tomen—present continual action] as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship [koino­nian—present continual action] with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin [kathapizei—present contin­ual action]” (NASB). Notice that these three actions occur simultaneously: walking in the light, having fellow­ship, and being cleansed from all sin. John doesn’t say that if one walks in the light but falls into sin and loses his or her fellowship, that when they confess their sin fellowship is restored; he says this: If one is walking in the light, they are, at the very same time, experiencing fellow­ship with God and being cleansed from all sin. It should be apparent that John was not teaching that sin breaks fellow­ship, or that con­fession restores it. This is not to minimize the impor­tance of confession. The fact is that Christians can no more lose their fellowship with God than they can lose their salvation. While this discussion may seem to be unrelated to the topic at hand, it is impor­tant to understand the subject with which John was deal­ing. According to John, there are two basic categories of peo­ple associated with the local church: those who claim to be in right relation to God, and are, and those who claim to be in right relation to God, and aren’t. Those who claim to be in right relation to God, but who do not know him, are the same people described in the previous passages who ulti­mately, if they persist in their unbelief, fall beyond hope (cf. 2:18-19). We will proceed in the same manner as with the other pas­sages, that is, to demonstrate that the individuals described are set in con­trast to those who are saved.

In 1:5-2:2 John’s argument proceeds from the nature of God. God is light, without the slightest mixture of darkness (v. 5), so God’s children, who are in him, are children of light and walk in the light (vv. 6-7).  That does not mean they are completely without sin, for as verse 7 says, their lives are char­acterized by three activities, all occurring continuously: they walk in the light, they have fellowship with God and with their brethren, and as they walk in the light they are being continually cleansed of sin. Stated succinctly, what John said is this: If a person knows God, his life may not be perfect, but one thing is certain, it will re­flect that he is a child of light rather than a child of darkness. In essence, John said that it is possi­ble to see the evidence of true faith from the outside. This is an important truth that has been largely ob­scured in modern Christi­anity as we have lost our grip on the doctrine of conversion. Why did John make such a statement? Because the local church was experi­encing the destructive effects of those within that claimed to be right with God who were not what they pro­fessed to be. The only practical means of identifying true faith in another is conversion, i.e., the outward change that manifests inner transformation, a change that can only be observed over time (cf. Mt. 13:19-23, esp. vv.20-21). We must be careful in view of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 13 that some seeds sprout quickly, but die. In that parable only those plants that eventually yielded fruit rep­re­sent saved people. We must not be misled by those who readily re­spond to the gospel and appear to grow for a while; they may yet prove to be unfruitful. Only time will tell if their faith is genuine. We are not thus judging the new believer, but suspend­ing judgment until the evidence is in.

Apparently the particular form of unbelief that John was confronting had this characteristic: it tended to deny personal responsi­bility for sin. This makes a strong case that it might have been an early form of Gnosticism, since that was a feature known to have been associated with Gnostic beliefs.  John’s retort is clear and direct: If anyone says he has no sin, he is deceiving himself (v. 8), and calling God a liar, since God has declared all men to be sinners (Ps. 53:1‑3). Con­fession of sin, that is, coming to grips with what we are, is one of the core characteristics of true faith, it’s called “repentance,” and it’s one of the reasons some peo­ple refuse to come to salvation, because they cannot bring them­selves to admit what they are. Repentance isn’t just some­thing one does in order to obtain salvation, it’s an inte­gral part of faith; it’s a turning from sin in order to turn to God, and it doesn’t cease once a person is saved. Repen­tance con­tinues to be a part of faith as one progresses throughout the Christian life. The person who doesn’t mani­fest repentance, or as John says, “confession,” only evidences that true faith isn’t present.

In 1 John 2:3-11 John emphasized that the reality of true conversion, or as he put it, “knowing God,” will manifest itself not only in the in­ner life of the believer, but in the outer life as well. James also dealt with this subject (Jam. 2:14-26), but John took it a step fur­ther; he not only asserted that the true knowledge of God is evi­denced by obedience (vv. 3,5,6) and love of the brethren (vv. 7‑11), but he stated that where there is a lack of these, the claim to know God is invalidated. Such people live in the darkness, not in the light, and thus do not know God. This is tough language that the church needs to hear.

In 2:12-18 notice how John continues his contrast of true faith and false profession. In verses 12-14 he reasserts the position of the truly converted: Their sins are forgiven (v. 12), they know God (vv. 13-14), they have overcome the Evil One (“overcome” is nenikēkate—perfect active, i.e., they now stand as victors based on the triumph of their faith) cf. vv. 13-14, they are strong spiritually (v. 14), and the word of God continually abides in them (v. 14). The love of the world is inconsistent with Christian faith. (John wasn’t referring to the people of the world, but to worldliness, i.e., the embracing of the world’s ways and values.) Anyone who loves the world does not love the Father (v. 15), because the character of the world, that is, fleshly lust, material lust, and pride, do not come from the Father; they are the prod­uct of the darkness that is in the world. The world is destined to perish, but not the one who does the will of the Father, that is, the one who truly knows God.

In 2:19-27, having laid the foundational truth that there are two kinds of people within the visible church (those who truly know God, and those who merely profess to know him), John next embarked on his explanation of the apostasy of individuals within the local congregation. He reminds the believers that they are living in the last hour (i.e., “the last time”—the eschaton, which from the Old Testament perspective began with the advent of Christ). They had been taught that in the eschaton false Christs (antichrists) would come. Jesus is the source of this infor­mation. It originates from his Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24:24). Whether these believers had access to any of the gospel accounts is unknown, but they certainly had access to apos­tolic teaching, which would have included this important information. In verse 19, which is undoubt­edly one of the most important explanatory passages in the New Testa­ment, John made the profound assertion that those who have departed have done so because they were never “of us” (i.e., of the children who dwell in light, that is, those who know God). In light of the reiteration in the second half of the verse, it is quite impossible to misunderstand his meaning. He says that we know they were not of us because if (ei gar, “for if”—giving the reason) they had been of us, they would have remained with us, i.e., they would not have apostatized. John stated that the departure of these individuals happened for a purpose, “in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us”; the sense is that not everyone who professes to be right with God is truly saved. This verse establishes two critical points with re­spect to the theme of the book and the New Testament doctrine of salvation: 1) the theme of this book is the contrast of true faith with mere profession; and, 2) it establishes the doc­trine of the permanence of salvation, since it clearly says that anyone who departs from the faith they once professed was never genuinely saved. (See the previous discussion in chapter one on the permanence of salvation.)

In verse 22 John reiterated that the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, God’s Son in the flesh) speaks in the spirit of anti­christ, which denies both Father and Son (v. 22). The denial of Christ is also a denial of the Father (v. 23), which answers the ques­tion some have posed as to whether it might be possible that some who rejected Christ as Messiah could have been sincere worshipers of the Father. In light of John’s state­ment there can be no doubt that those who rejected Jesus, as the Christ, could not have been sin­cere worshippers of God.

In 2:28-3:12 John continues his contrast with the admoni­tion to abide in Christ, but adds an additional motivation:  that we might have confidence and not shrink away from him, as will those who dwell in darkness, at his coming (v. 28). Again, he rein­forces his previous statements to the effect that it is those who practice righteousness who are born of God (the word “practice” is “poion,” a present active partici­ple, meaning to practice as an ongoing thing). The one who practices sin (again, “poion”) also practices lawlessness, because sin is lawlessness. The ones who walk in darkness blatantly disobey God’s explicit commands (v. 4). Christ didn’t come to save men so that they would be free to sin, but so they could be free from sin (v. 5). He repeated what he had said before: “No one who abides in Him sins.” This is not a reference to individual sins, as we have noted, everyone sins, but to the giving of one’s self to live in sin. He admonished the brethren not to be deceived; true belief manifests itself in righteousness (v. 7)—imperfectly, of course, in this life. Where righteousness is absent, it is to be assumed that saving faith is also absent (v. 8). Notice the strong dichot­omy. John leaves no room for misunderstanding. He wasn’t merely contrasting spiritual believers with carnal believers as some interpreters suggest, he was contrasting the saved with the lost, belief with unbelief. Not only does the one who is born of God not practice sin (as a lifestyle), he cannot, because God’s seed, the indwelling Holy Spirit, abides in him. As if he had not stated this truth robustly enough already, John next connected all the dots so that no one would have any reason to misunderstand. He vigor­ously maintained that it is possible to tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil by their lifestyles (v. 10). In an age of “private religion” and personal tolerance, this is not a popular text; and if strictly applied, which it should be, we would have to confess that there are probably far fewer saved people than the number professing faith would suggest.

There are other passages in 1 John where this same contrast between the truly saved and the merely professing can be seen (3:14-15; 4:1-6, 7-10, 11-21; 5:1-12); However, the point is suffi­ciently made that there are two kinds of people within the visible church—those who claim to know God, and do, and those who claim to know God and don’t. It is those in this last group that are in danger of apostatizing

10 thoughts on “The Biblical Doctrine of Apostasy -Part 2: Personal Apostasy

  1. Greeting Alex,

    Thanks for the comment. This is indeed a difficult area of doctrine, and I appreciate your thoughts. I suspect there are dimensions to this subject that we will only understand in eternity, if then. However, I don’t think the concept of the “eternal now” bridges the gap between the two positions on election. The central issue, as I and many others (both Calvinists and Arminians) see it, is “causation.” If either election or saving faith does not cause the other, then what does election mean? (Here’s a mental exercise that might help: Assume what you stated in your comment to be correct; now try defining just what election means and why it is important.) There is a deep mystery here which we cannot completely unwind, nevertheless the scriptures do indicate a causal relationship between election and saving faith; I believe 2 Peter 1:1-2 is clear that election (being chosen) is the cause of faith (i.e., obeying Jesus Christ and being sprinkled with His blood). The view you cite is actually an Arminian (free-will) view in a different color suit. What if man cannot believe (due to his total depravity, cf. Romans 8:1-8) unless God does a prior work?


  2. Hi Sam, reading Richard Land’s chapter “Congruent election: Understanding salvation from an ‘eternal now’ perspective” in Allen, D.L. and Lemke, S.W. (eds.) (2010), Whosoever Will, B&H Publishing Group, Tennessee, the author seems to find a solution to bridge the seemingly irreconcilable positions between Calvinism and Arminianism in the election/foreknowledge/predestination debate. Firstly, there are two different types of election — “Abrahamic election” and “salvation election”. The former is national and about the status of the Jews as a special, chosen people, not to their salvation. The latter is refers to eternal salvation, which is what we (reading Kathy’s comments and your response above) are concerned with here. On salvation election, essentially, Land posits that, as God is not time-bound, He knows and experiences each person’s acceptance or rejection of Him in a punctiliar “eternal now” present moment, as opposed to our linear concept of time. Land writes: “So there has never been a moment in eternity when God has not had the experience of every elect person being convicted, accepting God’s completion of their faith, conversion, sanctification, glorification, and their eternal praise and worship in the new heaven and the new earth. Conversely, God has always had the experience of the “non-elect” — their rejection of the Spirit’s conviction, their rejection of Him, their increasingly hardened heart, and their ultimate condemnation and eternal judgment.” So while we humans debate about which logically happened first (i.e. whether God selected certain individuals to be saved first, or that those individuals believed first and God had advance knowledge of this) because we perceive everything in a time-bound, chronological manner, it is different for an omniscient, timeless, eternal God who knows and interacts with eternity past, present and future all in a singular, punctiliar moment.

    This, in my view, provides helpful understanding to harmonize and explain God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.


  3. Greetings Chris,

    Great questions! Jesus’ remark in Matthew 10:33 (also found in Luke 12:9) that he would deny those that deny him seems to refer to a final state or condition of denial, which is of course, unbelief. Peter’s denial was not final, as is evidenced by the fact that he did not remain in it. The question of when Peter was actually saved is impossible to answer. I understand your deep concern about your own salvation and the fact that you do not remember when you initially trusted Christ. That is actually very common, especially with those who grow up in a Christian home and trust Christ at an early age. If I may, I’d like to make an observation, and a suggestion. I think it would be highly unusual for a truly unsaved person to repeatedly ask to be saved. It sounds like you’re simply struggling with assurance of your salvation. You are not alone. Over the years I have talked with many people who were saved as children who have struggled with assurance. I suspect, based on what you have said, that you were saved as a child. Nevertheless, because of your lingering doubts I would encourage you to settle this issue once and for all. Pray and tell God everything you’ve experienced and that you accept all that Christ is and did for you, and that you want to put all doubts to rest forever. Then tell others close to you what you have done, write it in your Bible, paint a sign and nail it to a tree, whatever, but put the crippling doubts behind you and start trusting that the God who calls you into his kingdom will not slam the door in your face. Then get to know him; the more you focus on him, the less problem you will have with doubts. God never turns away a willing heart.


  4. Hi, Sam, I was wondering about your take on something. Jesus says: “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Later Jesus says to Peter: “Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'”
    Because a saved person can’t lose their salvation, how should these verses be interpreted? Is it possible Peter’s salvation did not occur until sometime after the second verse?
    Further, what if there is a new believer but they are in an environment which makes them fearful to announce their faith (and possibly even respond in the negative when questioned) after their conversion. Does this mean they weren’t a true believer at the time? The circumstance described seems to be the same as the situation of Peter. Later, after the resurrection, Peter becomes bold.
    The question of whether a saved person can lose their salvation is something I’ve thought about. I’ve been fearful at times that maybe I wasn’t truly sincere when accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life or that maybe I wasn’t saved because maybe I wasn’t strong enough such that some great tribulation might cause me to “lose” my salvation.
    I’ve also heard said that a believer should be able to give their testimony and that if they can’t (because they don’t remember when it happened) then how do they know it happened? That’s something I’ve also thought about: I’ve prayed to confess my sins and asked Jesus for his gift of eternal life, but I’ve done this several times because I am always fearful that maybe it “didn’t stick” or it “wasn’t real” that time. I grew up in a Christian household, so I had always been exposed to Church, the Bible, prayer and the other parts of a Christian’s life. But, as a young child, I probably didn’t understand these things and was likely just “going through the motions” and doing those things because my parents did them. Of course, as I’ve aged, I think my understanding has improved. But, at what point did I believe? I can’t remember all the times I’ve prayed and I never had such a dramatic testimony (I feel I am used to hearing dramatic testimonies from people who have experienced great change because, for example, they may have been previously living a life of crime).
    I’ve said quite a bit; I hope I’ve expressed myself well. I hope you will respond, you seem knowledgeable.


  5. Hi Kathy,

    The verses you mentioned are briefly mentioned on pages 200-201 of the book, but perhaps some more explanation would be helpful. First, it should be noted that neither Romans 8:29-30 nor 1 Peter 1:1-2 states that God made his election based upon foreseen faith, or any other foreseen action. Romans 8:29 says he predestined “whom [masculine gender] He foreknew,” it does not say he predestined based upon “what [neuter gender] he foreknew.” The New Testament is precise in the use of gender. 1 Peter 1:1 2 says that the believers were “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God…”; again as in Romans 8:29-30 it does not say that God based a decision on foreseen faith, choices, actions, etc., only that God knew the objects of his grace even from eternity past, echoing Paul’s thought in Ephesians 1:4. Those who use these two passages as support for conditional election (the Arminian position) have to read content into the passage that it neither says nor implies. Interestingly 1 Peter 1:1-2 is actually fatal to the Arminian position; let me explain. Peter there says that those to whom he wrote were “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood…”, i.e., you were chosen…that you may obey. In other words, Peter said that their ability to obey, i.e., to exercise saving faith (see the use of “obey” in 1:22; 2:8; 3:1) was due to the fact that they were chosen (i.e., literally “chosen unto obedience” [to the gospel]). According to Peter’s statement here the logical cause and effect relationship between election and faith is that election is the cause, and faith is the effect; Arminian theology requires precisely the opposite, i.e., foreseen faith as the cause and election as the effect. You might have noticed that on page 201 in my book, Major Bible Doctrines, I listed this passage as the first reason given for unconditional election.

    Thanks again Kathy for asking these important questions. You’re digging deep!


  6. Greetings Kathy,

    Thanks for your comments and questions. First, let me say that while my doctrinal beliefs are much closer to Calvinism than to Arminianism I do not subscribe to some of the Calvinistic beliefs to which you referred. I agree that a person is regenerated upon the exercise of saving faith, not before. I believe that God loves all men and women and does not desire any to be lost (John 3:16), so clearly he does not elect any unto perdition (in spite of the hyperbolic statement to which strict Calvinists appeal in Romans 8:22). I also believe that Christ’s death is sufficient for all, though certainly it is efficient (accomplishing salvation) only for those that place their faith in him.

    However, I believe the Bible to teach that all men left to their own depraved natures would reject Christ because in his fallen state man is not morally neutral, as free-will theology teaches, but hostile to God (Romans 8:5-8). Thus if a man or woman is to be saved God must do a work to overcome that hostility before he or she can come to faith in Christ. That work is referred to in scripture as “election” (which happened in eternity past), and then “effectual calling” (in the course of time). Election, in and of itself, doesn’t save anyone; in order to be saved a person must exercise genuine faith in Christ. Election is simply God’s decree to do whatever it takes to bring a particular individual to faith. This gives rise to a couple of important questions: 1) Can God ensure that a person makes a particular choice without usurping their will? 2) If God loves all men and election is necessary in order to get a hostile sinner to the place that they will exercise faith in Christ, then why does God not elect everyone?

    As to the first question, “Can God ensure that a person makes a particular choice without commandeering his or her will?”, the answer is: “Yes”; in fact any parent of a small child will attest to the fact that if you’re sharp enough you can get most any kid to do what they wouldn’t normally choose to do with the right inducement. How many children have cleaned up their messy rooms by an offer of some privilege, ice cream, or whatever their favorite dessert might be? In such a case did the parent usurp the child’s will, or did they simply make them freely willing? Clearly God can bring about whatever factors need to happen in the life of a hostile sinner to bring them to a faith they would not otherwise have chosen. (I think perhaps this question is more easily dealt with than the next.)

    As to the second question, “…why does God not elect everyone,” the answer is more complex. Is it possible that when Adam sinned, the redemption of the total human race was not possible? (There are things that even an all-powerful God cannot do, like lying, failing, creating square circles, or saving man apart from Christ’s atoning death.) Maybe once Adam sinned the only way to redeem humanity was through the “sacrifice” of the greater portion of humanity. We don’t know this to be true, but we also don’t know it to be untrue because God has nowhere revealed why he elected some to life and not others. How do we know that God, who knows all possible outcomes, didn’t elect as much of Adam’s fallen race as was possible (given the reality created by the fall)? I realize that contemplating this possibility is uncomfortable, but there are some unavoidable realities that make us uncomfortable. For example: Did God know before he created man that man would fall into sin and that billions of souls would inevitably end up in Hell? Of course he knew, he’s omniscient, yet he created man anyway! For those who believe the Bible that’s an uncomfortable, yet indisputable fact. My point is: just because a doctrine might make us uncomfortable, or because we can’t reconcile it with our rather limited understanding of God, doesn’t mean it can’t be true. In such matters we are left to simply trust, by faith, in God’s character as revealed in his word, that whatever he has done is good. So, the real question isn’t “Am I comfortable with such and such a picture of God,” but “What does the Bible say?” I think for one who carefully considers man’s total depravity from Romans 8:1-11, especially verses 5-8, and God’s election from Romans 9:1-30, especially verses 6-24, it should be abundantly clear that God has elected some based upon his choice alone for reasons he has not chosen to reveal (perhaps because we are not ready to understand). I realize this answer is incomplete due to the fact that scripture is silent on the question of “why,” but I hope it helps to open some new pathways for thinking about this complex subject.

    One last note: The Bible does refer to “free will,” mostly as it relates to a particular type of offering in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve, prior to their sin had a completely free will; they could have chosen to disobey God and sin, becoming by nature “sinful,” or they could have chosen to obey, a righteous deed, becoming by nature “righteous.” All of Adam’s descendants also have a “free will,” but not as Adam and Eve had, for they (we) are all born in sin, hostile to God (Romans 3:23; 5:12-21; 8:5-8), and can only do that which is consistent with our fallen nature. Think of it this way: imagine a box labeled “sin nature,” now imagine the word “righteousness” outside that box. When Adam and Eve sinned they put themselves and their decedents inside that box (Romans 5:12-21). While unsaved men can certainly make free choices within that box they are not completely free, for in their natural, sinful state they cannot choose to do righteousness. How do we know this? 1) Because the Bible says so (see the references above); 2) because, though many have tried, none other than the Son of God, who was born without a sin nature, has been able to live a perfectly righteous life; and, 3) because righteousness is done out of submission to the will of God, something a rebellious sinner who is hostile to God can’t do (again, Romans 8:5-8).

    Again, thanks for the questions and comments!


  7. One more thing: I read pages 198-205 of your book “Major Bible Doctrines”. I notice that you did not really explain the meaning of those Scriptures that speak about the fact that predestination/election are based on God’s foreknowledge. You simply dismissed these scriptures without a concrete explanation of their meaning. For example, 1 Peter 1:2 says: “Elect ACCORDING to the foreknowledge of God the Father . . “. This verse means what it says and should not be dismissed without a proper explanation! Every single word in this verse is inspired by the Holy Spirit for a reason. It says we are the elect of God according to the foreknowledge of God. In other words, God has elected us according to [on the basis of] His foreknowledge. The word “according” simply means “based on” or “on the basis of”. So, God elected us on the basis of what He knew beforehand about us.

    Many blessings to you.


  8. Calvinism says it is God who “makes the human will make its choices”. It says no one has a desire to come to Christ until they are first regenerated and “the Father and the Holy Spirit cause the renewed sinner to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.”

    If Calvinism is true, God mocks the vast majority of mankind. He calls, “Come unto me” to those who can’t respond because He doesn’t cause them to come. Yet He will send them to the Lake of Fire for not coming, even though He could have caused them to come! The literally hundreds of times in the Bible that God calls men to repent and weeps over Israel through His prophets are a further mockery. And He damns forever in the Lake of Fire for not believing the gospel those who can’t believe unless He regenerates them and gives them the faith—and yet He refuses to do so? Is this the “God” in whom you believe? I hope not.

    Of course, God is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases, and we cannot complain. But He assures us that He loves the entire world (John 3:16) and would “have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). Indeed, “God is love” (1 John:4:8,16). But this Calvinist God damns multitudes He could save. The biblical God does all He can to bring all men to Himself, but each one must choose. Of Israel, He laments, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” (Isaiah 5:4). Jesus wept, “How often would I…and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34).

    The word “freewill” appears 17 times in the Old Testament. Calvinists deny free will. They say that only those whom God causes to repent and believe the gospel will do so. Only after He has “regenerated” the sinner can God supposedly, by “irresistible grace”, give him faith to believe. But the Bible says, “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

    Calvinism says we must be regenerated before God can cause us to believe. The Bible says we are regenerated by believing the gospel: “being born again (‘regenerated’) . . . by the word of God…which by the gospel is preached . . .” (1 Peter 1:23-25). John writes, “that believing ye might have life [i.e., be regenerated] through his name” (John:20:31). The Bible teaches a new birth through believing the gospel. Calvinism teaches that “regeneration” comes by an act of God before the sinner even believes the gospel. That is clearly not biblical.

    Calvinists say that God loves all men—but has a “different love” toward those for whom Christ didn’t die and does not want in heaven and thus will not regenerate. That is hardly love.

    Does God really want all mankind to be saved (as the Bible says) or just a select elect? Did Christ die for all (as the Bible says) or just for a select group? These are vital questions that deserve our attention. The answers to these questions are very clear from the scriptures.


  9. Greetings Carl,
    Thanks for your comments. Sorry I had to leave off some of your material due do to its very long length, but I did read it all. There are some decisions in life where we don’t get a “do over.” (I’ve made some of those unfortunate choices in my life from time to time.) However, the real issue I see is that you believe that man is saved, ultimately, because of his own free choice, and therefore reserves the right to change his mind. I disagree. I think the Bible is very clear that anyone who is saved is saved by the will of God, not man, in fact, that is the principle truth taught in Romans 9:11-24. If you would like a more complete explanation of this position, see my book: Major Bible Doctrines (the download is free), especially pages 198-205. Again, thanks for the time and effort you put into your comments.


  10. The doctrine of Eternal Security is a heretic doctrine which falls apart when subjected to proper scriptural scrutiny.

    The critical questions we need to ask ourselves are: can a person who is genuinely saved decide to change his mind later? Or does he lose his right to choose upon becoming saved? After an experience of genuine salvation, can the individual change his mind? Do we give up our power of choice when we are converted? Does salvation consist of one grand, holy moment of decision, or must we continue in the saving grace of Christ after that decision? Can God take defiling sins into His holy kingdom? Fortunately, the Bible has hundreds of beautiful, clear texts to answer these questions and to disprove the doctrine of eternal security.

    Adherents of the “once saved, always saved” or ‘Eternal Security’ doctrine seem to believe that God opens the door for only a once-in-a-lifetime decision and then closes that door forever. It is as though God says, “I’m going to give you only one decision about changing over from your doomed condition. Once you decide to be saved, you can never choose to be lost again. When you accept Jesus as your Saviour, it will be the final choice you will ever make about your eternal destiny. If you change your mind later and repudiate your decision, it will be too late. No matter how deeply and sincerely you desire to be lost and repent of your repentance, you cannot escape from eternal life. No amount of bitter rebellion, deliberate blasphemy, or iniquitous living can change that once-for-all decision to be saved. I will not allow you any further choice after you accept Jesus as your Savior.” Basically, this is the belief of a large segment of Christians who advocate the doctrine of eternal security. This doctrine is one of the greatest heresies ever! Through it, the devil leads many to hell.


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