The Apostate

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.”

One of the first apostates in the history of the church was a man named 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 out Jesus for a pittance of silver, Judas filled the role of an apostate perfectly.

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”.

All characterizations of apostates reveal attributes of people who would be considered dishonorable. For many centuries being a “turncoat” would have been punishable by death or at the least a court martial or some other form of disgrace. The shame this would have brought upon a family or community might have extended for years.

Faith into Denial

Judas Iscariot, like many others who lived lives of apostasy were characterized by certain traits that identified them with a 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 His time of trial. What was it that set Judas apart from someone like Peter who became a leader of the church?

* Judas masqueraded as a follower of Christ. Once regarded as one of the 12 disciples who followed Jesus during His ministry, he was responsible for managing the funds that were donated and was therefore given responsibility. People would have looked to Judas as a person who was trustworthy.

* Judas’ decision to betray Jesus arose from greed. As evidenced by the ransom he received, the 30 pieces of silver were taken in exchange for betraying Jesus, Judas undoubtedly wrestled with a desire for riches. His role as money manager would have been a continual temptation to steal from the reserves. The greed exhibited at Jesus’ betrayal wasn’t a condition that occurred out of nowhere, it had grown over time.

* Judas’ betrayal was personal. The same method of greeting that was used by close friends or brothers was the method Judas used in his final act of rebellion. By the time Judas attempted to kiss Jesus, Satan had entered him and the culmination of mankind’s rebellion had reached its apex.

Luke 22:47-48 “While He was still speaking, a crowd arrived, led by the man called Judas, one of the Twelve. He approached Jesus to kiss Him, But Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Judas had made a conscientious decision to betray without concern for how deeply he wounded. The method Judas used was a revelation of not only his lack of love for Jesus but was a determining reason for why he was so susceptible to Satan’s influence. It wasn’t at the betrayal that Judas sealed his fate, this course had been set before. 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 is a difference 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. Ultimately Peter’s fear overcame his conviction. Later on the remorse Peter felt concerning his betrayal had turned into an assurance in God’s provision which remained with him until his death.

When examining the sin of apostasy, there are only a couple locations in the New Testament where the term apostasy is used. What can we glean from these verses might show us some details on how apostasy is formed.

Acts 21:20-21 “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law;  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.”

The pattern of the apostate becomes more clear.

* Apostates deny God’s order. The Lord has a pattern of righteousness that reflects His character. The method of obedience God places before us is a direct reflection of His holiness.

* 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 who 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 turncoats is to please themselves, not God. The love for themselves is evident to a discerning and 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 until we reach the end.

Our Responsibility

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 more than we ought. It’s helpful to have someone who we know is godly, who knows us well enough to help us grow. It can be really tough to hear criticism about ourselves, especially if we think we have it all together. 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 of the things of God through examination and revelation in other people’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.

According to scripture, it is impossible to renew some people to Christ. If someone is ever going to return to considering God’s grace, they must first hear the call they once heard before.

Falling Away

The “falling away” indicated a process of moving from close proximity to distancing from God. Once the decision to leave had been made, a divergence began. The progression from disagreement, to hatred, and then a full opposition toward anything of God was the slide toward rebellion.

Why is it impossible to renew the apostate back to repentance?

The turning away first bagan in knowledge. The apostate once drew near and gained understanding of what they have rejected. They listened, they partially partook, and they saw what was necessary…but they never took that final step of humility and repentance.

How can you present anything new to someone who has already heard it all? What convincing proof would you use to dissuade an apostate from continuing to pull away from God and then to draw near again and repent?

We must remember who calls the sinner in the first place!

John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

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.

God’s Work

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.”

Our hearts are often likened to soil—they may be fertile or they may be hard. How we receive the Word of God is dependent on the status of our hearts. Some may never progress beyond whatever it was that made their hearts hardened—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 finality of destruction.

God’s love for people never diminishes but the time of God’s favor will reach its conclusion.

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.”

Our Work

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 good and manifold love God has for you. I can tell you, knowing Jesus is both good now and it will be 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 faithful and you can give Him your worries—He can handle anything. Don’t fret over loved ones, just trust Christ that He loves them far more than you do and you will be led forth in peace.

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