Apostasy in the Church


The Bible asks a question, 'Who can endure the great day of the Lord?'  This should create in us a reverence for the things of God and a holy fear for his plans, purposes and character.  The 'Day of the Lord' is the term used to describe the decisive act of God at the end of the age when Jesus re-enters human history to destroy evil and is depicted as both a great and a terrifying day.  The prophet Joel says:

The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command.  The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful.  Who can endure it?’ (Joel 2:11)

The faithful in Christ

In that day there will be those who, despite great trials, remain faithful to Christ and will as a result be saved (Matthew 24:13).  They will be those who, when the storm comes, have built their lives upon solid foundations (Matthew 7:24-27) and who ‘overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’ and who ‘did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death’ (Revelation 12:11).

The love of most will grow cold

However there will also be those, however, who succumb to the pressures of this age and renege on their commitment to follow Christ.  Jesus says in Matthew 24:10 that because of the persecution of Christians associated with the End-Times that ‘many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.'  In verse 12 he says that ‘Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold’.

Once saved always saved?

Despite this, there are those who believe that 'once saved always saved.'  They base this on scriptures like  John 10:28-30:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand.  I and the Father are one.

And 1 Cor 5:4-5:

When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

Whilst ignoring scriptures like Heb 10:26-31:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.'  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

And Heb 6:4-6:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

It is clear from these scriptures that it is possible to fall away from faith.  This issue remains a matter of some debate within the church.

A radiant church

What we can be certain about is that when Jesus returns he will do so for a ‘radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish’ (Ephesians 5:27).  Throughout history God has chosen persecutions and trials to achieve this end.  God says through Zechariah that ‘This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  They will call on my name and I will answer them’ (Zechariah 13:9).

Refining fire

This refining process is not just referred to by Jesus in Matthew.  We also read about it in 1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:3-4 and 2 Peter 2:1-3.  Whilst this refining process might at times be severe we should know that even the greatest trials cannot and will not dissuade the genuinely committed from following Christ (Matthew 24:22).

Growth in persecution

We should not necessarily associate the falling away of people from Christ with diminishing numbers of Christians.  We can see in places like China, for example, that even state sponsored persecution has not stopped an explosion of Christianity over the last 50 years.  We should also keep in mind that behind it all is the love of Christ and his desire for a bride of unequalled beauty.  His desire is to be united in intimacy and love with a church full of affection for him and will use even apostasy within the church to achieve that end.

The Bible asks a question, 'Who can endure the great day of the Lord?'  This should create in us a reverence for the things of God and a holy fear for his plans, purposes and character

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