Monday, November 28, 2011

If We Deny Him: The Definition of Apostasy

by Keenan Lyon

If 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.

If We Deny Him: Examples of Biblical Apostasy

by Keenan Lyon

Contrary to the assumptions of some, the warnings were not given merely because there are no other motives by which believers may be motivated to persevere; for there are other motives, such as gratitude to God for His forgiveness and grace, increased joy through faithfulness, concern for the spiritual need of those who are influenced by our lives, and the promise of more abundant reward. The warnings were given, not to supply a lack of any motive for perseverance, but because of the existence of a real and deadly peril with which we must reckon.

That the peril of apostasy is real, rather than imaginary, is evident from the fact that the Bible records actual instances of it. Numerous examples are to be found in the Bible. We shall cite only some instances in the New Testament.

Jude warns his readers against the peril which constantly confronts them in the insidious activities of apostate teachers among them. In his description of apostates who "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness and deny the only LORD God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 4) and whose wicked careers and just condemnation "were before of old foretold" (prographo, to write or describe beforehand; see Eph:3:3) by Enoch (vv. 14,15) and others in ancient times, Jude declares that they are "trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots" (v:12; see John 15:1-6).

Jude's language is explicit. The word apothanonta (dead) is an aorist participle, rather than an adjective, and the verbal aspect of the participle must not be overlooked. Jude's description, literally is "twice having died." It is concerned with the past, rather than the future. The tragic circumstance, "twice dead," is the lot of men who, having once "passed out of death into life" through faith in Jesus Christ, have turned back to walk no more with Him, so becoming "dead in trespasses and in sins" once again. "Twice dead" can only refer to the fact that men who once were alive in Christ have again become spiritually dead by severing their union with Him "who is our life." Furthermore, Jude refers to the specific occasion and cause of their spiritual death: "They went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished [apolonto, 2nd aorist indicative middle, killed themselves] in the gainsaying of Korah" (v.11).

Like Korah and his company of old, who denied the unique authority of Moses and profanely usurped the functions of the ordained priesthood, the apostates whom Jude cites denied the unique authority of the one Mediator and the finality of His Gospel, as defined by Jesus and the Apostles. From Jude's comments, it is evident that their defection had its origin and development in their love of lascivious living and their practical repudiation of the implications of the lordship of Christ over the personal lives of all who would be His. They were therefore "without fruit" (John 15:1-5, 2 Pet. 1:8) and, as the inevitable outcome, were plucked up by the roots and became "wandering stars". Despite their inward spiritual defection, they still retained their outward affiliation with the believers, continuing to enjoy places of prominence and leadership. Through their spiritual defection, they had become men who had "slipped in stealthily" into positions of undeserved influence and honor. (To assume that Jude meant in v:4 that they had originally entered the church on the strength of empty professions which were false from the beginning and that they never had been other than mere hypocrites is to contradict the historical examples which he cites - the apostates in the wilderness [v. 5] and the angels who kept not their first estate [v.6] - and to deny his assertion that they "killed themselves" in their rebellion against the Lord after the example of Korah [v:11] and are now "twice dead." Furthermore, to adopt such such an assumption is to nullify Jude's urgent warning to believers to beware the peril of following the same tragic course as the apostates [vv. 20,21].

In his Second Epistle, Peter writes at length concerning apostates who, "denying [arneomai, disown, renounce] the Lord who bought them" (2:1), for love of "the wages of unrighteousness" (2:15), "have left the straight road and gone astray," becoming "dried-up springs" (2:15,17). There could be no greater tragedy. "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge [epignosis, full and true knowledge] of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein  and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way [hodos, road - "the straight road," v:15] of righteousness than, after they have known it, to turn back [epistrepho] from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2 Pet:2:20,21).

They who assume that Peter's reference to apostates as "dogs" and "sows" proves that they never were actually under grace do not likewise assume that Jeremiah's reference to the children of Israel in Judah as "a wild ass" proves that they never were "the sheep of His pasture." The shameful epithet was applied by Jeremiah (2:24) only after the people had forsaken the Lord (2:13; 17:13) and turned aside in iniquity and idolatry. Likewise, it is only after they "have forsaken the right way and are gone astray" that Peter likens apostates to dogs and sows. He could well have referred to them as "wild asses." But there were familiar proverbs about dogs and sows which so aptly illustrated their case. Let us accept the record at face value.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Christ-Centered Shepherding

The Call to Shepherd in The Way of Christ

“Pastoring” and “shepherding” are used interchangeably in the Bible. They communicate nurture and guidance. The call of a shepherd is to lead people entrusted to one’s care into gospel transformation that leads to spiritual maturity.
I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding. (Jer 3:15)
This short promise demonstrates that God chooses regularly to engage humans in the tasks of leadership.  A shepherding appointment by God implies capacity and competency.

The Capacity to Shepherd in The Way of Christ

This shepherding call speaks of a capacity to care for God’s flock with self-sacrificing diligence and compassion. It is not just “heart”, however, but “after my own heart” that matters. A good shepherd is one who sees what the Owner sees and does what the Owner does. He is a leader because he is a follower. He takes all his shepherding cues from the “Good Shepherd.” The shepherds whom God judges in the Bible are those who forget that the people in their care are not their own. This kind of shepherding capacity is rooted in a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel.

The Competency to Shepherd in The Way of Christ

This shepherding call speaks of a competency to care for God’s flock with “knowledge and understanding.” A shepherd needs God’s heart, but also a sharp, godly mind. The challenge requires deep reservoirs of discernment and wisdom. This kind of “knowledge and understanding” comes from an awareness of the mission and destiny of Christ’s flock which is gospel transformation.
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)
This kind of shepherding capacity is rooted in a mind that has been transformed by the Gospel.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1)
The Responsibility of Shepherding in The Way of Christ

As shepherds we have the responsibility to admonish, encourage and help those entrusted to our pastoral care.
And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
Admonish - To warn of consequences of continuing on the same path. To discipline. To allow brokenness to take place.

Encourage - To renew hope and healing. To minister comfort, and build up.

Help - Do with them; get involved actively.  Not just words. Needs accountability.

Unruly - Anyone who is willingly and knowingly rebellious to authority, moving off the path of God’s counsel and will.

Fainthearted - One whose heart is weak and hurting!

Weak - One who has no strength, skill or ability.

Be Patient - Accepting those that are unlike us, in preference, ability, and commitment.

All Men - Not only those who are easy to love.

Pitfalls in Shepherding
What happens when we fail to follow God’s Word in shepherding the souls entrusted to us? We become either a soul enabler or a soul crusher.
  • A soul-enabler is one who ignores one’s unhealthy behavior. One who fails to speak the truth in love. This often happens in an environment of license (false grace) or when a liberal gospel is preached.
  • A soul-crusher is one who reacts inappropriately instead of responding with loving discernment. This often happens in an environment of legalism (lack of grace) or when a moral gospel is preached.
It is difficult to open a person’s spirit once it is closed. A person whose spirit has been crushed will become rebellious because they will not trust you on anything.

What happens if you . . .

  • the weak
  • the fainthearted
  • the weak
  • the unruly
  • the unruly
  • the fainthearted
  • with anyone
A soul-transformer is one who correctly discerns the condition of the soul and facilitates gospel transformation. The goal of a shepherd is to be a soul-transformer. This happens in an environment in which a true, biblical gospel of grace is preached and incarnated.

Note:  It is often difficult to discern the condition of one’s soul because fainthearted or weak can often look unruly. A wounded person may react violently in self-defense, much like an unruly person would react violently in rebellion. For example, if you unwittingly step on a person’s broken toe you may well get hit. You get hit not because the person is unruly but because the person is wounded. Rarely, are you dealing with a purely unruly person. Oftentimes a person is unruly because they have been deeply wounded.  The reverse is also true. A person who is wounded can be wounded because of their own rebellion. A person who is weak (i.e. lacks interpersonal skills) can be wounded because of the lack of skill. The result is that a weak person can become bitter and angry as a result of one’s weakness. You must rely on spiritual discernment to know in what order you must deal with someone’s rebellion, pain, or weakness. A good guide would be to confront their sin with the truth of God’s Word (admonish), and then minister healing (encourage), and then equip them with the necessary skill (help). I will deal more specifically on how to administer this shepherding triad in forthcoming articles.

Gospel transformation and spiritual growth come when you can discern accurately where the Holy Spirit is at work and simply cooperate with Him. Only the Holy Spirit can change a person’s soul. You can’t change anybody! You simply need to align your shepherding or discipleship efforts with the working power of the Holy Spirit to accurately apply the Word of God to bring about gospel transformation. When you begin to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit you will see incredible spiritual fruit and growth in your ministry.

Biblical Shepherding Points People to Christ

Lead people to deal with Christ, not you. The most important aspect of shepherding is to lead people to the Great Shepherd—Christ.  We must lead people to God. Most people prefer anything to that. There will be a tremendous temptation on the part of most people to treat you as a surrogate for God when you answer the call to shepherd them. There will also be a temptation for you to allow them to do so. It is, after all, flattering to be treated in such a way. You must resist the temptation—you are nobody’s savior!

Gospel transformation takes place in our lives only when we deal with God. You must not allow people to treat you as their savior and go away feeling as though they have dealt with God when actually they have only dealt with you. You must ultimately shepherd them to believe the truth of God, to repent before God and to walk in the grace of God.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Preaching Christ Jesus

To preach "Christ" as the prophets and apostles announced him demands a knowledge of the coming Kingdom of God, for which he is the appointed, ordained One; and thus having a proper understanding of his covenant relationship to the Kingdom as "the Anointed One," we can the better appreciate him as "the Crucified One," though whose perfect obedience and sacrifice the requisite provisions are made by which the Kingdom of God can be most gloriously re-established under an immortal son of David; and by which we can become "heirs of the Kingdom."

Glorying in the cross of Christ and  exulting in the crucified One  as essentials in the redemptive process, we receive these, like Paul did, as important parts of the Gospel, but not as the whole Gospel, for without the divine purpose/plan exhibited in the Kingdom of God, the death of Christ Jesus would lose much of its significance. Paul by no means confined himself to the name and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ only, but showed, as his writings abundantly evidence, the relationship that these sustained to our obtaining the Kingdom of God, and to the Kingdom itself.

Let us remember that there can only be but one Gospel of the Kingdom of God and that is the one proclaimed by the prophets, preached by John the Baptist, Jesus, the seventy disciples, and the twelve apostles. Now that Gospel of the Kingdom of God is precisely the same one held by the primitive [1st century] Church; and its good news was dependent upon the covenants confirmed by oath to Abraham and king David; the predictions of the prophets; the declarations of Jesus Christ and his apostles; and the provisions made by God in Christ for the Kingdom.

There is really no difficulty in understanding what the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is, IF, we only allow the scriptures to speak in their naked, natural, grammatical sense, and receive that meaning so apparent upon its surface as did the early Church.

A definite Gospel of the Kingdom of God was proclaimed by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, the disciples, etc., and this is the identical Gospel that we should still hold fast to; sealed and attested by the death and resurrection of Jesus, confirmed by the predictions of postponement fulfilled before our eyes. Indeed, our hope is in the coming of Jesus Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom of God and take his seat on the throne of David at Jerusalem as God's anointed Messiah over Israel. May that day soon come!