Monday, June 5, 2017

Perseverance and God's Warnings Against Apostasy

A house built on sand
God warns His people against apostasy in many places in Scripture, both in the Old And New Testaments. For example, in Jeremiah 2:19, He said to Israel, "Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of Me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts." And in Hebrews 6:4-6, that writer tells us, "in the case of those who have once been enlightened... and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance."

Those are serious warnings. I think no one would deny it.

The problem comes when Arminians cite such verses as supposed proof that a true believer can fall away from the faith. I oppose that assertion as both unbiblical and destructive of any Christian assurance. It turns the Christian life into agony and terror: Am I saved today? What about tomorrow?

Biblically speaking, that assertion by the Arminians is exactly that, an assertion, and no more. It is opposed by so much more of Scripture. Consider the words of Jesus Himself: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:27-30).

But what about the apostasy references above, and ones like them? Notice the difference between the subjects in the two groups of verses. In the apostasy verses, God addresses the failures of the professing believers. But in the words of Jesus from the Gospel of John, the eye is not on believers, but on the power and love of Jesus.

The difference is the object of faith, whether in my own good works or in Jesus, the only-begotten God. Consider another verse, one that is more explicit than the two I cited above: "When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die" (Ezekiel 18:24). Here the prophet defines the apostate, something that neither Jeremiah nor the writer of Hebrews did above. The apostate person is one who was confident in his own righteousness, and then falls from his own moral status (compare the rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-22, and the Pharisee in the temple, Luke 18:11).

The Apostle John makes this distinction even clearer: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge" (I John 2:19-20). He, too, refers to two discrete groups of people. "They" went out, i. e., committed apostasy, because they were never truly part of Christ's body. But "you" are held by the Holy One, i. e., Christ. 

Apostasy is not something that can happen from Christ, because it doesn't depend on the believer, but on Christ. Rather, it is something that can only happen to the hypocrite, the one who holds up his own righteousness, and depends on that, only to find it a foundation of sand (Matthew 7:26-27).

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