I don’t remember the first time I heard someone use the term apostasy (in fact, probably the first time I remember reading it was during my first trek through the Bible when I hit Jeremiah 2:19 and Hosea 14:4). But from the moment I first heard the term, I was curious about what it really meant and what could drive a professing believer to commit this act.
In his recently release book, The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus’ Life Mean for You, R.C. Sproul offers a very careful explanation of apostasy. He writes:
Apostasy is not the same as paganism. Pagans are people who have never professed faith in Christ. Apostates are people who have made a profession of faith in Christ, but who have fallen away from the truth of the gospel. Churches can become apostate, going from a confession of faith that is godly, biblical, and true to an embrace of pagan concepts and behavioral patterns. When a church repudiates its confession in this way, it is not a valid church anymore. It is apostate. Likewise, people in the visible church who have made a public profession of faith, only to deny it later, are apostate. (Kindle location 2708)
At its most basic level, apostasy is the denial of the one to whom we owe allegiance. When we deny or neglect the work of Christ on our behalf, and instead pursue and embrace concepts, beliefs and behavior that are utterly contrary to the gospel, we are guilty of apostasy. This is no small thing. Indeed, it should cause us to consider what it is we really believe.
If we profess to trust in the finished work of Christ, and yet we continually and unrelentingly pursue self-justification and self-glorification, what is that if not apostasy? If we profess to believe that Christ’s righteousness is sufficient to cover all our sin and yet live in a state of fear that God’s out to “get us” if we’re not good enough, no matter how many times God Himself encourages us to believe contrary in His word (cf. Rom. 8:1), what is that if not apostasy?
And yet, there is hope for those tempted by the shiny exterior of apostasy and the practical denial of the gospel. And it’s found in a simple line in Jude’s epistle:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy… (Jude 24)
This is what I love about the gospel and Jude’s application of it in this verse. When we realize the implications of such things as apostasy, and worse when we see others falling under its power, we are right to tremble. Yet we know that for those who are truly His, there is will be no final apostasy, no matter how enticing the folly may be for a season. Jesus is able to keep us from stumbling—and more than that, He will do it, just as He will “present [us] blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”
That is good news, isn’t it?