What is an Apostate?

Question from a Site Viewer
How would you explain an apostate? Would not Satan be the prime example of such? Scripture says that even the demons believe. And, if the demons are fallen angels, they would have been in the same position as the devil. They all believed and knew God. Yet, they chose, st some point, to discard their obedience to God to follow Satan. It seems to me that an apostate would be one who knew, believed, and followed God until at some point deciding to discard his faith, becoming active in denying the existence, sovereignty and work of God. Since one has free will/choice, I would think that I have the choice to deny my faith and jump out of the security of Christ’s hand. So, in essence, He does not lose me; I choose to lose/leave Him. I would have activated the separation. Then there is the argument that such a person was only someone who enjoyed all the benefits of the Christian faith and community without having been born again. Some say that an apostate is one who was never truly saved. I see this definition as a mocker . . . someone who pretends to be something he is not for the purpose of the demeaning of someone or something. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Tim’s Answer
You ask for an explanation of an apostate. Interestingly, that word is never found in the New Testament. Twice, in the New Testament, we have the noun “apostasia” which has been translated “apostasy” (Acts 21:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Our understanding of the word as spiritual apostasy makes good sense in the Acts 21:21 passage where the word is used as describing Paul’s departure from the Jewish faith, but the meaning of the word is less clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, where the issue exists as to whether the passage is referencing a departure from the faith or some other departure. In the Old Testament, the Greek word is found five times (Joshua 22:22; 1 Kings 21:13; 2 Chronicles 29:19; 33:19; and Jeremiah 2:19), in reference to spiritual transgression.

In the New Testament, the verb “to apostasize” is only found in the following passages:

  • Luke 2:37 (Anna did not depart from the temple);
  • Luke 4:13 (Satan departed after the temptation of Christ);
  • Luke 8:12 (devil takes away the seed);
  • Luke 8:13 (they fall away);
  • Luke 13:27 (God will say: “Depart from Me”);
  • Acts 5:37 (Judas of Galilee drew many people after him);
  • Acts 5:38 (keep away from these men);
  • Acts 12:10 (the angel departed);
  • Acts 15:38 (John Mark had departed);
  • Acts 19:9 (Paul departed);
  • Acts 22:29 (Paul’s examiners withdrew from him);
  • 2 Corinthians 12:8 (Paul prayed that his thorn in the flesh would depart);
  • 1 Timothy 4:1 (some will depart from the faith);
  • 2 Timothy 2:19 (let us depart from iniquity); and
  • Hebrews 3:12 (an evil heart that departs from God).

As seen from these uses, the word rarely is used to describe one who departs from God (only in Luke 8:13; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 3:12).

So, when we consider the meaning of the word “apostate,” we start with an understanding that such is not a Biblical word. Never is the word used in the New Testament and the cognate noun “apostasy” is never used of a departure from Biblical faith, unless one takes 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as such a use. And while the concept of departing from the truth is found in Scripture (see 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 10:38-39), those who depart are not called “apostates.”

The question you raise about whether such departures from the faith should be seen as the loss of salvation or the lack of ever having salvation is a great question. It is tied to the issue of eternal security. Does it exist or not? Better Christians than I strongly hold beliefs on both sides of this issue. I could give you a long list of verses that would seem persuasive on each side of this issue. I doubt if there is anything that I can say that would persuade someone to change their viewpoint.

And though I do not think it is possible for one who has been born into a family to become unborn, the bottom line for me is that if one departs from the faith, whether they ever were saved or whether they were saved and lost their salvation is of no import. It is the old adage that it does not matter how you happened to find yourself down at the bottom of a well. What matters is that you are now in a bad situation. For those who depart from the faith, what matters is that they are lost and need a Savior. I think of the parable of the prodigal son. He is one who could be described as an “apostate.” He departed from his father. But the Father’s heart was that he come home. And so it is with us. If we depart from the faith, it is the Father’s will that the wandering sheep be found and returned to the fold. James 5:19 and 20 tells us:

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will a save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

I love the picture of 1 Peter 2:25; we were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. All of us were apostates, if we want to use that term, but in God’s grace we have returned and He has accepted us back.

And I agree with your assessment that we have a role to play in our choice to follow or depart. Scripture repeatedly emphasizes this point. We need to be on the watch, lest our hearts be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). We need to pursue peace and holiness (Hebrews 12:14). We need to walk in love, as Ephesians 5:1 argues. We need to avoid drawing back (Hebrews 10:38-39). We need to continue in the faith (Colossians 1:23). We need to avoid becoming estranged from Christ (Galatians 5:1-4). These are choices we make, commands we are to follow, promises that we are to claim. These are matters God sets before us.

Also, as Hebrews 3:13 and James 5:19-20 state, we have a role to play in the decision of others to follow or depart. The response of our heart to the transgressions of others tells us a great deal about our own hearts. If we grieve and seek to restore, we reflect the heart of the Savior who came to seek and save the lost. If we become self-righteous and dismissive, we give evidence of our own need of revival. Love bears all things and seeks the best for those who have gone astray.

May the Lord Jesus guide you ever closer into His great heart.

a fellow servant,

tim

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