Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Reality of Apostates (Part 1)

God has used the book of Jude in a very profound way in shaping my philosophy, vision, and burden for His church over the past (almost) three years. And I recently revisited the book and looked at verses 17-23 and what it has to say about apostates, whether they be teachers or not. Even though I studied this book in a fair amount of depth only a few years ago, I must say that God’s Word has again proven to be a deep reservoir of truth that I have yet to skim the surface of.

First of all, it is important to start off with the same definition of apostates or apostasy. Apostasy is defined as “a total desertion of or departure from one's religion, principles, party, cause, etc.”1 or “1 : renunciation of a religious faith, 2 : abandonment of a previous loyalty”2. So when I use this word, I am referring to those individuals who, at one time, either confessed the truth of Scripture while claiming to be followers or they have at least been confronted with the truth of Scripture and rejected it. Also, an important thing to note is that based on my understanding of Scripture, is that apostate people were never saved, and unless apostates repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone for salvation, they will be condemned because of their sin.

“But, dear friends, perseverance is not the lot of the few; it is not left to laborious preachers of the Word, or to consistent Church-officer it is the common lot of every believer in the Church. It must be so for only thus can they prove that they are believers. It must be so, for only by their perseverance can the promise be fulfilled, "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved" Mark 16:16. Without perseverance, they cannot be saved; and, as saved they must be, persevere they shall through divine grace.”3

When looking at these verses in Jude, the first thing that I noticed is that Jude admonishes his readers to remember what the apostles had taught concerning these things that he is writing about (v. 17). This is, I think, an important part of Jude’s writing. His whole book is a call to reminder, not a discourse on newly revealed truth. The other two places where Jude specifically calls his audience to remember something that they know or had been taught can be found in verse 3 where he says that we are to contend for the faith that had already been handed down, and in verse 5 where he reminds his readers of God’s previous judgments of apostates. In order both to give some context to the verses at hand as well as to give some Scriptural arguments as to why I have defined apostates in the way that I have, I’ll look at Jude’s call to remember in verse 5.
5 Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 5-7)

The first group called to mind here are the Israelites and the story of their Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites who were involved in this event witnessed the plagues that were sent upon Egypt, the parting and crossing of the Red Sea, they were led on their journey by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, they were fed with Manna and Quail sent from God, and yet when they came to the very doorstep of Canaan, they were found to not have faith in God’s ability to deliver the land to them. In fact, only two men from that whole generation that had experienced the miraculous works of God, Caleb and Joshua, were allowed to enter the land. Jude explicitly says that the people that God destroyed in the wilderness were those “who did not believe.” Now, I don’t believe that all of the Israelites who perished in the wilderness were apostates, but as a nation and a generation, they were apostate because they had seen and believed (to a point, anyway), but failed to believe when it came time to enter the land.

The second group called to mind here are some fallen angels. I say “some” fallen angels because Jude refers to these angels as being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day”. Simply skimming the gospels and the book of Acts will show that there were many examples of demons that were free and active in the world. Also, Peter refers to Satan as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), not as a captive in bonds. Jude seems to be referring to a particular group of fallen angels who “did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode” and, in a similar way as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, “went after strange flesh”. Based on this information, it seems best to me to look at the account in Genesis 6 to see what Jude is referring to.
2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

6 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore {children} to them. Those were the mighty men who {were} of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:2,6)

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the title of “sons of God” is commonly used to refer to angelic creatures. The book of Job seems to make this tie when both the sons of God came before the Lord and Satan came among them to present himself before the Lord (Job 2:1). It seems to me that the way to understand both the Genesis 6 account as well as Jude 6 is that fallen angels indwelt or possessed men in a certain way that when these men produced offspring, they were unique and a vile abomination in God’s eyes. That is why the Jude’s statement that the accounts of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and of these fallen angels was “in the same way” and they both “indulged in gross immorality”.

So it was these fallen angels, though there could have been others since then too, who suffer the fate described here by Jude. And the reason that these angelic beings could be classified as apostates in the same way as the children of Israel who died in the wilderness is that these angels were witnesses of the manifest glory and awesome presence of Almighty God before they fell in sin. These two groups that Jude references here first are, quite possibly, the quintessential example of the extent that an apostate can be a partaker in the things of God and yet be lost.

Finally, Jude comes to the apostates at Sodom and Gomorrah. One of the things that I found interesting is that these cities and their inhabitants would qualify as true apostates even though they were destroyed for their sin of homosexuality. The reason that the inhabitants of this area qualify as apostates is that God’s supreme demonstration of His wrath and His grace that had ever occurred up to that point on the earth had been displayed witnessed in the flood of the earth and the salvation of Noah and his family. The Interesting thing is that the Bible seems to indicate that Noah himself had only died about 40 years before the destruction of those cities, and that Shem (perhaps even Ham and Japheth) died 110 years after the destruction of these cities. So the inhabitants were apostates because they were the descendants of the people that God saved out of the flood. And more than that, those same people who had been saved were alive and able to testify to this through the life of these cities.

We can learn one very important lesson from the examples given here. Just because you or I witness or experience some miraculous work of God, that does not inoculate us from the real possibility of potential apostasy. It doesn’t matter how close we are in proximity to God’s manifest power and glory, simply being near Him and the displays of His power will not save us.

The only thing that will inoculate a person from being an apostate is if that person is born again, made a new creature by the working of God Himself. Some would argue that the modern day embodiments of people who I would call apostates are only backslidden and carnal Christians, but they are true and saved Christians. I don’t think that I could disagree with this sentiment more. You see, when I was growing up and I heard the word “backslider” used, I understood it to be referring to Christians who were having a tough time being consistent in their devotional and prayer life. But what I have come to realize that it now (and may have meant back when I was a child, I don’t know) refers to someone who at one time or during a season in their life had prayed the sinners prayer and had gone to church or a bible camp, but now they have very little (if any) visible sign of being a Christian and only vague platitudinous statements of belief that have no impact on their lives that are lived in a debaucheries, drunken, and worldly-minded manner, whether to a greater or to a lesser degree.

Man is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and it is not of any work of man. However, it seems clear from the Scriptures that form that point on, we can know that we are saved, but not based on a feeling or looking at an experience that we have had, but by obeying the Word of God. Sure, feelings do accompany our salvation, but feelings alone are not what we should put our stock in because many will be deceived having felt and believed that they were saved. John’s sums up the reason for his first epistle when he wrote,
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
(1 John 5:13)

What things had john written, both in his epistles and in his gospel, that he is referring to?
"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)
“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)
“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;” (1 John 2:4)

Paul makes the same point in his letter to the Philippians, and he makes it clear that it is God who is enabling and working through you to allow you to obey His commandments.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)
12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12,13)

And finally, Jesus, in many of His parables and illustrations, made distinctions between those who were truly born of God and those who were imposters or pretenders. Whether it is the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-17), the parable of the four soils (Mark 4:1-25), the living and dead branches coming off of the True Vine (John 15:1-11), the narrow and wide ways (Matthew 7:13,14), or the parable of the two foundations (Matthew 7:24-29), in all of these accounts, Jesus indicates that both parties believe (or at one time had believed that) that they are in the camp of the redeemed, but one is and one is not.

Believing that you are saved in spite of the fact that your life is not producing fruit is foolish. If you are at a point in your life where the pattern of your life is not one that is producing fruit, don’t get hung up on the fact that you think that you were saved at a young age, repent of your sins now and throw trust completely on Christ, read His Word and obey it. Later, once you have been growing and maturing, then you could look back and address the question of when you were saved. But now is the time to trust in Christ, repent of sins, and grow. This is not a one-time action that a Christian does. The same things that accompany the initial saving work of the Holy Spirit in our justification (repenting of our sins and pro-actively trusting in Christ) are the same things that continue throughout a Christian’s life.

1 "apostasy." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 02 Aug. 2007.

2 “apostasy.” Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary.

3 "Enduring to the End" by C. H. Spurgeon

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