Dr. Richard’s article on Christian leaders defection and our response reshared and cont’d from PART I.
The clincher for me on the issue of eternal life is the very meaning of eternal in that life. If eternal life can be lost for any reason at all, it is not eternal by any definition. In addition is the question of proportionate contribution. To the extent to which one contributes to salvation, to that extent it can be undone. Contribute much to it, undo it easily. Contribute a little bit, undo it eventually, with one too many sins. Contribute nothing, and simply receive it as a gift of God’s unconditional grace and unmerited favor, and only the Giver can undo it. Faith is not an efficient cause of salvation. And since faith is only the instrumental means to salvation, it is powerless to create, source, give or return God’s unilaterally orchestrated salvation.
Does this eternal position lead to spiritual defection in belief/behavior? Actually, both positions on salvation security could lead me to spiritual defection, but not necessarily so. If I can spiritually defect and lose salvation with the option of being saved repeatedly, what prevents me from using (or abusing) that option repeatedly? If I cannot lose salvation, and thus intensify my defective belief and rebellion, the Bible still speaks of earthly and eternal losses: lack of spiritual vitality, joy, holiness and fellowship; loss of physical health or physical life; and the denial of future reward of royal reign (2 Tim. 1:12).
While none can snatch me out of God’s hand, I can choke myself to death by trying to wiggle out of His hand. God’s life grip becomes a death grip in the defector’s life. Any and all sin is terrifically serious and of infinite weight, which is why it took the infinite worth of the death of God’s Son to cover it. 5. Is an apostasy of the regenerate possible? This last question never goes away. If we mean, is it possible to change sides and turn traitorous, yes. We have ample history in Jesus’ disciples and Paul’s coworkers. It is also a sign of the departure from biblical faith and practice in the last days, the latter times (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 3:3), where we find ourselves in difficulty (2 Tim. 3:1). Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Look up a list of former Christians and evangelicals, and you will find apostates aplenty.
Now who is an apostate? Not a mere backslider into moral debauchery, or one who relapses into former beliefs because of socioeconomic persecution. No one holds to the truth perfectly in faith and practice. In fact, a believer can become hardhearted toward the Savior. Since spiritual birth, like physical birth, happens at a point of time—a moment of crisis rather than a process—to ask a process question of a crisis event leads to category confusion. A process can be made up of a series of crises, but a crisis is not made up of processes. So, a daily conversion from unbelief to belief is part of the present process of a past point of salvation. While the past aspect of regeneration cannot be undone, the present can go awry—and therefore we have need to spiritually grow. Thus, a hardhearted believer is not an apostate.
Instead, an apostate is one who publicly announces and intentionally renounces belief in who Jesus is and other previous beliefs and actions done for Jesus and in Jesus’ name; the apostate advocates a contrary faith. The Jury and the Mat Our options then are clear: An apostate is either regenerate or unregenerate. By apostolic pattern, a regenerated apostate is to be disciplined and excommunicated from the church. A person’s high-risk behavior may result in premature death, but his spirit is preserved (1 Cor. 5:5). Our works may be burned at the final assessment, but we ourselves are saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15). Should we repent, publicly, we can be received into fellowship—and if quickly, potentially into public leadership. Peter, the example of the believer apostate, was reinstated by Jesus Himself. Sinful disaffection was not considered a desertion since he did not join a group opposed to Jesus to publicly voice a new allegiance.
Here’s the “bad” news for regenerated apostates: The baby is carried by the mother despite its denials of belonging. It is never severed from the mother’s loving hold. However, if an apostate continues to deny the Christian faith and advocates another faith till his last breath, he was never regenerated, despite all his ministry efforts. Judas presents an example of the unregenerate follower. The Lord, too, talked about those who called Him “Lord, Lord,” who prophesied, exorcized and worked miracles in His name, but Jesus never knew them (Matt. 7:21–23). The baby was clinging to the wrong mother, even claimed to belong, but the mother had not known this baby nor claimed the baby as hers. It would have been better, as with Judas, never to have been born (Matt. 26:24). Like scheming false prophets who secretly bring in destructive teachings, an apostate denies the Master who bought him (2 Pet. 2:1).
Presently, from a human point of view, the jury is out on all potential apostates. I pray that Jesus will prevent and forbid me from ever taking a path of apostasy, even temporarily. In terms of the two earlier mentioned brothers, the church pastor and worship leader, I would dare to think them brothers and consider them as dishonorable vessels in the household of faith until their death. They have chosen to go out from us and have become the subjects of tears and scorn mixed with invitations to return to the fold and derisive debarring—all rightly so. I fall on the softer edge of waiting for them. The welcome mat is out to all apostates. One kissed dating, his wife, and the Faith goodbye, but God hasn’t necessarily kissed him goodbye.
It’s best to prayerfully contend for the faith of the defector and denier since we don’t know their end date or state. Click To Tweet Jesus has asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who despise us (Matt. 5:44). Even as we publicly contend for the Faith (Jude 3) in view of a deserter’s doubts about hell, evil and miracles, we leave open their return to fellowship with Christ until their final breath. Paul assures us, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Tim. 2:13).
If defectors repent from apostate belief and reprobate behavior, not knowing when their end will be, they mimic the prodigal who realized better (Luke 15:17). If deniers renounce their apostate belief and the renunciation of their faith, and reaffirm their love for Jesus, they are reinstated into a new spiritual trajectory by Christ, whether we like or trust them or not. They must return and press on to maturity. Until then, like the writer to the fledgling and wavering believers of Hebrews, we apply warnings as a persuasive means to maturity. Come back from squandering your salvation and being judged. Let us both press on to maturity. “This we shall do if God permits” (Heb. 6:2–3), since we are “convinced of better things” (Heb. 6:9) concerning you.
If deserters keep crucifying the Son of God afresh and holding Him up to contempt (Heb. 6:6) till they breathe their last, they were never regenerated in the first place. Their ministry did give life to some, but their departure stumbled many a young believer and confused many more. Indeed, they had called Him “Lord, Lord,” in their fruit-bearing years, but He answered, “I never knew you.” The Jesus they once claimed to know in public ministry had never known them in saving relationship. Here is the decisive test question for apostates: While we acknowledge that you have publicly announced and intentionally renounced your faith in the Christian faith, did you believe in and once receive the Lord Jesus as the Only God who saved you from your sins and gave you eternal life? If a firm negative, he was never a confessor, only a professor, at best representing the third, thorny ground in the parable of the soils (Luke 8:4–8, 11–15). The Lord never knew him even though people benefited by his work. He is an unregenerate apostate.
In apostolic conclusion, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they are all not of us” (1 John 2:19, emphasis added). In military parlance, the defector revealed his real allegiance and his network catalyzed his apostasy. The defector’s “faith” was a defective one. He had not believed in the Jesus of the Bible.
The biblical Jesus is the ongoing litmus test and the christological fundamental of the five foundational “alone” principles of an evangelical faith: in Christ alone, on Scripture alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, and to God’s glory alone. Without Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God, there is no Savior. If a firm positive, then we ask, “Though you are presently against Jesus, are you open to reconsidering your decision against Him?” If again a “yes” to this clarifying question, we consider you a renegade and reprobate but are not willing to write you off as an unregenerate apostate.
As those equal in sin and at the cross, we humbly await your return as salvageable, and will not wish a premature death upon you. Do not please die in your sin of unbelief. The Lord Jesus asks these central questions to each of us, the same two questions that went out to Peter, a believing, but temporary apostate: “Who do you say that I am?” Before our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, Peter’s personal confession about the Christ as the rock on which Jesus builds His (not our) church is revealed by heaven.
Sadly, Peter’s serious denials as the rooster crowed reflect what we are capable of in temporary unbelief and misbehavior. Peter had been sifted like wheat by a Satan who is strategically, powerfully and constantly active against God’s servants. “Do you love Me more than these?” Here we have our Lord’s post-crucifixion and resurrection invitation to Peter: With less self-confidence and more self-diffidence, this time without competition or comparison with fellow disciples, Peter’s unequivocal reaffirmation of love provides for his spiritual reinstatement and ministry responsibility (John 21:15–17).
Jesus’ latter invitation goes out to all who have betrayed Him with a goodbye kiss, so they might “kiss [do homage to] the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled” (Ps. 2:12a–c, ESV). There will be a future day when the Son kisses the unrepentant, unregenerate apostate goodbye. Fortunately for any and all of us who are repentant, “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 2:12d, ESV).
I bless thee that thou wilt keep the sinner thou hast loved, and hast engaged that he will not forsake thee, else I would never get to heaven. I wrong the work of grace in my heart if I deny my new nature and my eternal life. (“Assurance,” The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions p. 92)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Ramesh Richard serves as the founder and president of RREACH; general convener of the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers 2016; professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary; and founder and chairman of Trainers of Pastors International Coalition. He holds a ThD in Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Delhi.
Read previous articles from Dr. Richard here.