Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
The hebrew term for apostate is ‘Shobeb’, it simply means to “turnback”. This is where you see terms like backslider, turncoat, or even traitor used as other descriptions. In the greek, we see the root of it in the term ‘Apostasia‘, meaning “defection”, “departure”, “revolt” or “rebellion”.
None of the terms described above conjures up attributes of someone we would consider honorable. Given the right setting, calling someone a “turncoat” could have been punishable by death or at the most, a court martial or some other form of disgrace.
One of the first apostates in the history of the church was Judas. If there ever was someone who defined a turncoat, Judas would be it. To be the one who turned his back on the Creator of all life who sold Him out for a pittance of silver, Judas filled this role of an apostate perfectly.
Judas Iscariot, like many others who lived lives of apostasy were characterized by certain traits that identified them with this pattern of denial. Judas wasn’t the only one who abandoned Jesus at the time of His greatest need, Peter denied Jesus three times during that fateful time of trial. What was it that set Judas apart from someone like Peter who became a leader of the church?
- He masqueraded as a follower of Christ. Judas was regarded as one of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus during His ministry. He was responsible for managing the funds which were donated to Jesus and was therefore given much trust. People would have looked to him as a model of Christ.
- Judas’ decision to betray Jesus came from greed. As evidenced by the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received in exchange for betraying Jesus, he undoubtedly wrestled with the desire for money. His role as money manager probably posed a continual temptation to steal from the reserves. The greed exhibited at Jesus’ betrayal wasn’t a condition that occurred out of no where, it had grown over time.
- The kiss of betrayal was particularly sinister. The same method that was used by close friends or brothers was the method Judas used in his final act of rebellion. By the time this kiss occurred, Satan had entered Judas and that moment was one that was a culmination of thousands of years of rebellion.
There is a differentiation that should be noted when looking at Peter’s denial versus Judas’ denial. Peter had a heart for following Jesus, he simply didn’t have the strength to see it through. His fear overcame his conviction. We see later that the remorse Peter felt concerning his betrayal had turned into an assurance in God’s provision which remained with him until his death.
Judas on the other hand made a conscientious decision to deliberately betray without concern for who he was hurting. The method Judas used was a revelation of not only his lack of love for Jesus but a determining reason he was susceptible to Satan’s influence. John 13:27 “And when Judas had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus said to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
There are only a couple locations in the New Testament where the term apostasy is used. What can we glean from these verses that might show us some details on how apostasy is contrived.
Acts 21:21 “Now they have been informed about you, that you teach all Jews among the Gentiles apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise the children nor to walk in the customs.”
- Apostates deny God’s order. The Lord has a pattern of righteousness that reflects His character. The method’s God places before us are a direct reflection of this pattern.
- Apostates lead others away from God. The initial turning away by someone who has spent time with the Lord and then decided to rebel is one that begins first in the heart. The actions of the betrayer are soon revealed, but while leading up to this moment the person reveals signs of hatred well before it becomes obvious. Listen to them long enough and you can hear the disapproval in their voices, their desire to rebel, their disagreement with God’s leading, and eventually a dark and evil break from any association with Him. A dark heart is difficult to conceal.
- Apostates may look good at first, but their intentions are found out. These people are what the world sees as hypocrites. They may enjoy the camaraderie of fellow believers, the music, and even the order of certain church services, but their hearts were never in it. They can play the game and look the look, at times they may even be given honor for their achievements, but the way they receive this honor is through pride. The intentions weren’t to glorify God but themselves.
- Apostates are all about themselves. Pride is an earmark of these charlatans. They enjoy the best place at the table, they enjoy the accolades of men, and they receive praise for service without acknowledging God’s intervention. The intention of the turncoat is to please themself, not God. The love for themselves is evident to a discerning and the wise leader who will not sit idly by without addressing the issue.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 “No one should deceive you in any way, because it is not until the apostasy shall have come first, and the man of lawlessness shall have been revealed–the son of destruction,”
We know that in the last days of the church age we will witness a rebellion toward the things of God. The pandemic has culled many from the church who were really never a part of it. Likewise, the opposition toward the things of God will only grow darker and we progress toward the end.
First off, we should always look at ourselves in the mirror and do a self-evaluation to make sure we have not been fooling ourselves into thinking we are genuine. At times this type of self-evaluation is best determined by someone who we know as godly, who knows us well enough to comment. It can be really tough to hear criticism about ourselves, especially if we think we are doing well. In the long run, good honest evaluation is very helpful, especially if your heart’s desire is to grow in Christ. 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you actually fail the test?”
Secondly, when we see warning signs in someone that is living a lie and yet we say nothing to them, we only become spectators in their demise. This form of correction requires a foundation of prayer, followed by a loving approach meant to correct toward righteousness, not to destroy the person. Scripture is the method of truth we should use in bringing correction. 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,”
Thirdly, when someone has made a decision to betray Christ, no amount of argument is going to dissuade them. They have partaken of the things of God and they know what it’s like to see Him move in people’s lives. They have tasted how good the Word of God is through examination and revelation in other’s lives. They have been enlightened to God’s Truth. They have heard it taught and they have probably read some scripture. They understand the heavenly gift which is in Christ’s blood, given for us. They may have even tasted of the goodness of the Lord by Him intervening in their lives. Anything we have to say from this point on is just redundant jargon they have heard a thousand times before and have now rejected.
Hebrews 6:6 “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
This “falling away” indicates a process of moving from close proximity to distancing themselves from God. Once the decision to leave has been made, the divergence begins. There will be a progression from disagreement to hatred and then a full opposition toward anything of God.
Why is it impossible to renew the apostate back to repentance?
The turning away requires first an acquisition of knowledge. The apostate draws near and gains understanding. They listen, they partake, and they see the need for repentance…but they never take that final step.
How can you present anything new to someone who has already heard it all? What convincing proof will you use to dissuade an apostate from continuing to pull away from God and draw near again to repent?
We must remember who calls the sinner in the first place!
We don’t call sinners…the Father does.
Our responsibility to sinners is to represent Christ. We take the message of the gospel and deliver it with as much clarity as we can. Our job is to give the one who is sensing God’s call, understanding of what that call entails. We are called to live like Christ, love them like Christ, and speak what Christ tells us to speak. He does the leading….we follow.
How can the Lord show an apostate anymore than He has already shown them? If the backslider in heart has heard the call of God and even partaken of God’s goodness, there is no greater goodness God could reveal to them.
Hebrews 6:7-8 “For land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is tended receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.”
We are likened to soil. Our hearts may be fertile or they may be hard. How we receive the Word of God is dependent on the status of our hearts. Some can never progress beyond whatever it is that has made them hard. Whether it is their past or their current position, the hard heart only produces disease. Allow the curse of sin to progress far enough and it will lead to the fires of destruction.
God’s love for people never diminishes but He does know when it’s time to cleanse the land.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord does not delay the promise, as some esteem slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”
Do you know of someone who has fallen away? Maybe this person is one who is at that crossroad of belief, not sure if they are willing to commit themselves to God’s path of repentance. Maybe this person is you. I hope you can see beyond the haze of indifference and recognize the goodness and manifold love of God for you. I can tell you, knowing Jesus is good now and it has a hope that is good forever….it is a win-win situation.
For those you know who have fallen away, be patient with them and pray…pray…pray. Don’t argue with them or restate the gospel to them every time you see them, it will only drive them further away. Model Christ to them and if they have questions, answer them as patiently and lovingly as you can.
Know…that the Lord is Sovereign and simply give Him your worries. He can handle it. Don’t fret over loved ones, just trust Christ that He loves them far more than you do and He will lead you in peace.