by Keenan LyonIf we endure, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us. 2 Timothy 2:12
What does a man write who, facing the prospect of imminent death, sits down to write to a dear friend? "I know whom I have believed," wrote Paul to Timothy, "and am fully persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12).
Paul was supremely confident. "The time of my departure is at hand [and] I am now ready to be offered up. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also who have loved his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Writing as one who had "fought, kept, and finished" and now was ready to depart, Paul was deeply concerned that Timothy should look well to his own faith and ministry, as he himself had done. And so he exhorts, "hold fast... keep... endure... flee... follow... continue... watch..." Especially must Timothy be alert because of the certainty of the increase of apostasy as the age wears on. "Bad men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, misleading others and misled themselves. But you, on your part, must continue to abide by what you have learned and been led to rely upon, because you know from whom you learned it and that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures which can give you wisdom that leads to salvation through the faith that leans of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:13-15).
That the Scriptures warn men against the peril of apostasy, no one will deny. Many have assumed that apostasy is possible only for men who never actually have entered into a saving relationship with God. Their thesis is unacceptable, however, for the following reasons:
(1) it is contrary to a specific principle clearly enunciated in the Scriptures;
(2) it is contrary to the meaning of the word itself; and
(3) it is contrary to the significance of the warnings in the light of context.
1. Their erroneous thesis concerning apostasy stands in direct contradiction to a specific principle affirmed numerous times in the Scriptures, perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in our Lord's declarations to His disputants: "If any man wills to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). "Why do ye not understand my speech? It is because you cannot hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will to do... If I say the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God hears God's words: you therefore hear them not [in the sense of understanding] because you are not of God" (John 8:43-47).
If any man will do ... i.e., if it be any man's will to do His will. The force of the argument lies in the moral harmony of the man's purpose with the divine law so far as this law is known or felt. If there be no sympathy there can be no understanding. Religion is a matter of life and not of thought only. The principle is universal in its application. The will of God is not to be limited to the Old Testament revelation, or to the claims of Christ, but includes every manifestation of the purpose of God. For this reason, because of the power of hearing (v. 43) depended on inward affinity, the Jews could not hear, because of theri unbelief they were not of God.
The Scriptures uniformly affirm that men who are not motivated by a true desire to obey the will of God cannot, under such circumstance, come to a true apprehension or sincere persuasion of divine truth. They "hear" without hearing and "see" without seeing (Mat:13:12-15). Face to face with light, they remain in darkness - for one reason alone: they do not will to obey the truth. They may have some sort of approximate intellectual understanding; but they can have no real apprehension or persuasion of God's truth apart from a sincere will to obey Him. The thesis that apostasy is the act of men who have come to a sincere apprehension and persuasion of the truth of the Gospel without a corresponding desire and intention to obey the truth is diametrically opposed to a specific principle clearly affirmed in the Scriptures.
2. Again, their thesis is contrary to the meaning of the term. The English word apostasy is derived from the Greek noun, apostasia. This is defined as "a falling away, defection, apostasy; in the Bible from the true religion." The word appears twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:21, 2 Thes:2:3). Its meaning is well illustrated in its use in Acts 21:21, apostatian didaskeis apo Mouseos, "you are teaching apostasy (defection) from Moses."
A kindred word is the synonym apostasion. This is defined as "divorce, repudiation." The context is clear from Matthew 19:7 and Mark 10:4, biblion apostasiou, "a bill of divorce." There is also Matthew 5:31, doto autei apostasion, "let him give her a bill of divorce." The use of apostasion by Demosthenes is "defection, of a freedman from his patron." The definition of this word is that of repudiation.
The meaning of the verb aphistemi (2nd aorist infinitive, apostenai) is, of course, consonant with the meaning of the nouns. It is used transitively in Acts 5:37, apestesen laon opiso autou, "drew away people after him." Intransitively, it means to depart, go away, desert, withdraw, fall away, become faithless, etc.
Apostasy, according to New Testament usage, constitutes defection, revolt, withdrawal, departure, and repudiation. An apostate, according to New Testament definition, is one who has severed his union with Christ by withdrawing from an actual saving relationship with Him. Apostasy is impossible for men who have not entered into a saving relationship with God. (See Luke 8:12,13. Unbelief is found in both verses; but it is mere unbelief in v. 12, whereas it constitutes apostasy in v. 13).
3. Again, their thesis is contrary to the significance of the many warnings against apostasy, as defined both by language and by context. The warnings against succumbing to the ugly peril of apostasy are directed, not to men who have not as yet obeyed the Gospel, but to men who obviously are true believers. Read and consider the following passages: Mat:24:4,5,11-13; John 15:1-6; Acts 11:21-23; Acts 14:21,22; Col:1:21-23; 1 Cor:15:1,2; 1 Tim:4:1,16; 1 Tim:6:10-12; 2 Tim:3:13-15; 2 Tim:4:2-5; James 5:19,20; 2 Pet:1:8-11; 2 Pet:3:16-18; Jude 19-21; 1 John 2:23-25; Heb:2:1-3; Heb:3:1, 6-8, 12-14.
Let us consider the warning in Hebrews chapter 10 in detail. The warning against "sinning wilfully after we have received the full knowledge [epignosis] of the truth" (v. 26) is addressed not to unbelievers who are halting short of faith, but to "brethren" who "have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way" (vv. 19,21), and who "have a high priest over the house of God" (v. 21) - men who need only to "hold fast the confession of hope without wavering" (v. 23) and to continue "the assembling of ourselves together" (v. 25) for mutual encouragement in the faith, as they "see the day [of Christ's coming, v. 37] approaching." The readers to whom the warning is addressed are "brethren" who already "have done the will of God" (v. 36) to the present moment, and who need only to "cast not away your confidence" (v. 35) in Christ. They already are believers who now "are not of those who shrink back so as to perish, but of those who by faith preserve the soul" (v. 39).
The writer exhorts them: "Let us keep on drawing near [proserchometha] with a true heart in full assurance of faith. ... Let us keep on holding fast [katechomen] the confession of hope without wavering ... let us keep on considering [katanoomen] one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the asembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but encouraging one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
The writer follows his vigorous exhortation with an immediate urgent warning: "For if we [not they, as some seem to imagine] sin willfully after we have received the full knowledge of the truth...." In such tragic circumstance, men who actually had been sanctified by the blood of the covenant (v. 29) would be equally as guilty of apostasy (and that graver!_ and deserving of greater punishment than those who rebelled against the law of Moses, who died without mercy. The writer urges his brethren therefore to "keep calling to remembrance" (anamimneskesthe, present middle imperative, durative) the early days following their conversion, when they gladly suffered persecution and loss for Christ, setting their affections on "a better and an enduring substance in heaven" (vv. 32-34). Let them now "cast not away your confidence" (v. 35). "For you have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, you may receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that comes will come, and will not tarry" (vv. 36,37).
But he must warn them again: God has said in His word, "Now the just shall live by faith: but if he draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (v. 38). The subject in both clauses is the same - the just man, the man who is justified by his faith; and the sense in which hupostellesthai is here used is that of not keeping faith, wavering in faith, forsaking the path of faith and the community of the faithful. The just man, the man accepted before God, lives by faith; but if he loses his faith, and faithlessly draws back from the right path, his acceptance is forfeited. That such apostasy is possible even for those who have been truly justified, i.e., for Christians who have had more than a superficial experience of divine grace, is one of the main points of instruction in this epistle. To teach this lesson, the clauses of the prophetic utterance are inverted. The second, as it stands here, is a warning as from the mouth of God Himself, a warning in a high prophetic tone. But the writer, as twice before, resumes the language of comfort and encouragement after words of the saddest foreboding. He proceeds, with pastoral gentleness and wisdom, to encourage the fainthearted and establish their wavering by rousing their Christian confidence, and associating himself with them as exposed to the same dangers, and courageously defying them.
Ver:39. But we are not of backsliding to perdition, but of faith to the gaining of the soul ... The persons meant are not Christians in general, but the writer of the epistle and his readers. Our way, he says, is not that cowardly shrinking back from Christian faith and confession which the God of prophecy has denounced as so infinitely hateful to Himself, and which leads to destruction (apoleia, antithesis of zoe and soteria), but a steadfast, abiding faith and reliance which bases itself on the zesetai of the prophetic promise - has for its end the salvation of the soul.... The man who keeps his faith unto the end, he saves his soul, wins it back from the pit of destruction which threatened to devour it, and so may be said to gain and possess it for the first time as now truly his. [See Jesus' words to His disciples, "In your patience, possess (ktaomai, gain, win) you your souls" Luke 21:19.]
Other passages could be cited. But the above passages establish the fact that the warnings in the Scriptures against succumbing to the peril of apostasy are addressed, not to men who have not as yet believed and who have nothing from which to apostatize, but to men who definitely possess saving faith and are in the state of grace.