Individual Apostasy

The following is from Donald C. Stamps, Life in the Spirit Study Bible, pp. 1962-3:

“The Greek words for apostasy appear twice in the NT in the noun form apostasia, (Acts 21:21; 2 Thes 2:3) and here in Heb 3:12 in the verb form aphistemi, (translated here as ‘departing,’ but in some other translations as ‘turn away’).  The Greek term literally means ‘standing away’ from God and refers to abandoning what one has previously believed and experienced in Christ.  It involves a disowning of Christ and departure from the body of Christ and the Christian faith. Apostasy is the consequence of a deliberate and volitional choice to ‘[depart] from the living God’ (3:12).

(1) Individual apostasy is possible only for those who have first experienced the blood of the new covenant in regeneration and sanctification, renewal through the Holy Spirit and relationship with Christ (cf. Heb 6:4-5; 10:29).  The Christian faith is primarily about relationship to God.  Thus the Bible speaks of God’s fatherhood and Christ’s sonship, and our relationship to God as His family and children (Rom 8:14-17).  Whereas logical systems of thought and natural law are cold, fixed and unrelational, salvation in Christ is personal, relational and requires our responsiveness.  God’s grace in His Son makes possible our relationship with Him and is sufficient for sustaining it.  In Jesus’ analogy about the vine and the branches (John 15:1-8), the believer (BRANCH) who remains in relational union with Christ (VINE) is secure and has life.  Should a believer because of hardness of heart ever choose to break this relational grace-union with Christ and thereby ‘depart’ that person may in the end perish eternally as an unbeliever (John 15:6).

(2) The Bible issues urgent warnings about this grave possibility, designed both to alert us to the deadly danger of abandoning our union with Christ and to motivate us to persevere in faith and obedience.  The divine purpose of these warning passages must not be weakened by the view that states, ‘the warnings are real, but the possibility of actual apostasy is not.’  Rather, we must see these warnings as speaking to the reality of our probationary period, and we should regard them with alarm if we want to be saved in the end.  A few of the many NT warning passages are: Mat 24:4-5, 11-13; Luke 12:46; John 15:6; Rom 11:17-21; 1 Cor 15:2; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 4:1, 16; 2 Tim 4:2-5; Heb 2:1-3; 3:7-19; 4:1, 6-7, 11; 6:4-9; 10:26-31; 12:25; 2 Pet 1:10; 2:20-22.

(3) Examples of actual apostasy can be found in Ex 32; 2 Ki 17:7-23; Ps 106; Is 1:2-4; Jer 2:1-9; Acts 1:25; Gal 5:4; 1 Tim 1:18-20; 2 Pet 2:1, 15, 20-22; Jude 4, 11-13; see article on The Age of the Antichrist, p. 1912, for comments on apostasy predicted to occur within the professing church in the last days of this age.

(4) The steps that lead to apostasy are as follows:

(a) Believers, through unbelief, fail to take the truths, exhortations, warnings, promises and teachings of God’s Word with utmost seriousness (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:13; John 5:44,47; 8:46).
(b) If the realities of the world become greater than the realities of God’s heavenly kingdom, believers gradually cease to draw near to God through Christ (Heb 4:16; 7:19,25; 11:6).
(c) Through the deceitfulness of sin, they become increasingly tolerant of sin in their own lives (1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5; Heb 3:13). They no longer love righteousness and hate wickedness (see Heb 1:9, note).
(d) Through hardness of heart (Heb 3:8,13) and rejecting God’s way (Heb 3:10), they ignore the repeated voice and rebuke of the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thes 5:19-22).
(e) The Holy Spirit is grieved (Eph 4:30; cf. Heb 3:7-8) and His fire put out (1 Thes 5:19) and His temple violated (1 Cor 3:16). He eventually departs from the former believers (Judg 16:20; Ps 51:11; Rom 8:13; 1 Cor 3:16-17; Heb 3:14).

(5) If backsliding continues on its course unchecked, individuals may eventually reach the point when no second beginning is possible. (a) Those who once had a saving experience with Christ but deliberately and continually harden their hearts to the Spirit’s voice (Heb 3:7-19), continue to sin willfully (Heb 10:26), and refuse to repent and return to God may reach a point of no return where repentance is no longer possible (Heb 6:4-6; see Deut 29:18-21, note; 1 Sam 2:25, note; Prov 29:1, note). There is a limit to God’s patience (see 1 Sam 3:11-14; Mat 12:31-32; 2 Thes 2:9-11; Heb 10:26-29,31; 1 John 5:16). (b) This point of no return cannot be defined in advance. Therefore, the only safeguard against the danger of ultimate apostasy is found in the admonition: ‘To day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts’ (Heb 3:7-8,15, 4:7).

(6) It must be emphasized that while backsliding is a danger for all who drift from the faith (Heb 2:1-3), apostasy does not occur without constant and willful sinning against the voice of the Holy Spirit (see Mat 12:31, note on sin against the Holy Spirit). The person whose heart is truly hardened by sin may then calculatingly choose to turn away from God (Heb 3:12).

(7) Those who genuinely become concerned about their spiritual condition and find in their hearts the desire to return to God in repentance have sure evidence that they have not committed the unpardonable sin or apostasy (Heb 6:4-6). Scripture clearly affirms that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:9; cf. Is 1:18-19; 55:6-7) and declares that God joyfully receives the prodigal who repents and returns to Him (Luke 15:11-24; cf. Gal. 5:4 with 4:19; 1 Cor 5:1-5 with 2 Cor 2:5-11; see also Rom 11:20-23; Jas 5:19-20; Rev 3:14-20; note the example of Peter, Mat 16:16; 26:74-75; John 21:15-22).”

Stamps, Donald C. (2003: Zondervan), Life in the Spirit Study Bible

Faith and Grace

The following is from Donald C. Stamps, Life in the Spirit Study Bible, pp. 1748-9:

“Our salvation comes as gift of God’s grace and is appropriated by the response of faith.  To understand the process of salvation, we must understand these two words.

Saving Faith.  Faith in Jesus Christ is God’s requirement for receiving His free gift of salvation. Faith is what we believe about Christ and our heart’s response of trust that causes us to follow Him as Lord and Savior (cf. Mat 4:19; 16:24; Luke 9:23-25; John 10:4, 27; 12:26; Rev 14:4)  

(1) The NT conception of faith includes four main elements:

(a) Faith means firmly believing and trusting in the crucified and risen Christ as our personal Lord and Savior (see Rom 1:17, note).  It involves believing with all our hearts (Rom 6:17; Eph 6:6; Heb 10:22), yielding up our wills and committing our total selves to Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the NT.

(b) Faith involves repentance, i.e., in true sorrow turning from sin (Acts 17:30; 2 Cor 7:10) and turning to God through Christ.  Saving faith is always a repentant faith (Acts 2:37-38; see Mat 3:2, note on repentance).

(c) Faith includes obedience to Jesus Christ and His Word as a way of life inspired by our faith, by our gratitude to God and by the regenerating work of the Spirit (John 3:3-6; 14:15, 21-24; Heb 5:8-9).  It is an ‘obedience to the faith’ (Rom 1:5).  Therefore, faith and obedience belong inseparably together (cf. Rom 16:26).  Saving faith without the commitment to sanctification is impossible.

(d) Faith includes a heartfelt personal devotion and attachment to Jesus Christ that expresses itself in trust, love, gratitude and loyalty.  Faith in an ultimate sense cannot properly be distinguished from love.  It is a personal activity of trust and loving self-giving directed toward Christ (cf. Mat 23:37; John 21:15-17; Acts 8:37; Rom 6:17; Gal 2:20; Eph 6:6; 1 Pet 1:8).

(2) Faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour is both the act of a single moment and a continuing attitude that must grow and be strengthened (see John 1:12, note).  Because we have faith in a specific person who died for us (Rom 4:25; 8:32; 1 Thes 5:9-10), our faith should become greater (Rom 4:20; 2 Thes 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3-9).  Trust and obedience develop into loyalty and devotion (Rom 14:8; 2 Cor 5:15); loyalty and devotion develop into an intense feeling of personal attachment to and love for the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1:21; 3:8-10; see John 15:4, note; Gal 2:20, note).  This faith in Christ brings us into a new relationship with God and exempts us from His wrath (Rom 1:18; 8:1); through that new relationship we become dead to sin (Rom 6:1-18) and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:5; 4:6).

Grace. In the OT, God revealed Himself as a God of grace who showed love to His people, not because they deserved it, but because of His own desire to be faithful to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Ex 6:9, note; see articles on The Passover, p. 112, and The Day of Atonement, p. 190).  Justice is getting what we deserve; mercy is being spared what we deserve; grace is being given what we do not deserve.  The NT emphasizes the theme of God’s grace in the giving of His Son on behalf of undeserving sinners.  God’s grace is multiplied to believers by the Holy Spirit, imparting forgiveness, acceptance and power to do God’s will (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:10; Phil 2:13; 1 Tim 1:15-16).  The whole movement of the Christian life from beginning to end is dependent on God’s grace.

(1) God gives a measure of grace as a gift (1 Cor 1:4) to unbelievers so that they may be able to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9; Tit 2:11, 3:4).

(2) God gives grace to believers to be ‘made free from sin’ (Rom 6:20, 22), ‘to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13; see Tit 2:11-12; see Mat 7:21, note on obedience as a gift of God’s grace), to pray (Zech 12:10), to grow in Christ (2 Pet 3:18) and to witness for Christ (Acts 4:33; 11:23).

(3) God’s grace must be diligently desired and sought (Heb 4:16).  Some of the ways (i.e., means of grace) by which God’s grace is received are: humbling ourselves before God (Jas 4:6, 10); studying and obeying Scripture (John 15:1-11; 20:31; 2 Tim 3:15); hearing the proclamation of the gospel (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:17-18); praying (Heb 4:16; Jude 20); fasting (Mat 4:2; 6:16); worshiping Christ (Col 3:16); being continually filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18); and participating in the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; see Eph 2:9, note on how grace works).

(4) God’s grace can be resisted (Heb 12:15), received in vain (2 Cor 6:1), put out (1 Thes 5:19), set aside (Gal 2:21) and abandoned by the believer (Gal 5:4).

Stamps, Donald C. (2003: Zondervan), Life in the Spirit Study Bible

The Corporate View of Election and Predestination: A Brief Introduction

The following is from Donald C. Stamps, Life in the Spirit Study Bible, pp. 1860-1

Election. God’s choice of those who believe in Christ is an important teaching of the apostle Paul (see Rom 8:29-33; 9:6-26; 11:5, 7, 28; Col 3:12; 1 Thes 1:4; 2 Thes 2:13; Tit 1:1). Election (GK eklegó) refers to God choosing in Christ a people whom He destines to be holy and blameless in His sight (cf. 2 Thes 2:13). Paul sees this election as expressing God’s initiative as the God of infinite love in giving us as His finite creation every spiritual blessing through the redemptive work of His Son (Eph 1:3-5). Paul’s teaching about election involves the following truths:

(1)    Election is Christocentric, i.e., election of humans occurs only in union with Jesus Christ. ‘He hath chosen us in him’ (Eph 1:4; see 1:1, note). Jesus Himself is first of all the elect of God. Concerning Jesus, God states, ‘Behold my servant, whom I have chosen’ (Mat 12:18; cf. Is 42:1, 6; 1 Pet 2:4). Christ, as the elect, is the foundation of our election. Only in union with Christ do we become members of the elect (Eph 1:4, 6-7, 9-10, 12-13). No one is elect apart from union with Christ through faith.

(2)    Election is ‘in [him]…through his blood’ (Eph 1:7). God purposed before creation (Eph 1:4) to form a people through Christ’s redemptive death on the cross. Thus election is grounded in Christ’s sacrificial death to save us from our sins (Acts 20:28; Rom 3:24-26).

(3)    Election in Christ is primarily corporate, i.e., an election of a people (Eph 1:4-5, 7, 9). The elect are called ‘the body of Christ’ (4:12), ‘my church’ (Mat 16:18), ‘a peculiar people’ (belonging to God) (1 Pet 2:9), and the ‘wife of Christ’ (Rev 19:7). Therefore, election is corporate and embraces individual persons only as they identify and associate themselves with the body of Christ, the true church (Eph 1:22-23; see Robert Shank, Elect in the Son, [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers]). This was true already of Israel in the OT (see Deut 29:18-21, note; 2 Ki 21:14, note; see article on God’s Covenant With the Israelites, p. 316).

(4)    The election to salvation and holiness of the body of Christ is always certain. But the certainty of election for individuals remains conditional on their personal living faith in Jesus Christ and perseverance in union with Him. Paul demonstrates this as follows. (a) God’s eternal purpose for the church is that we should ‘be holy and without blame before him’ (Eph 1:4). This refers both to forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7) and to the church’s purity as the bride of Christ. God’s elect people are being led by the Holy Spirit toward sanctification and holiness (see Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16-25). The apostle repeatedly emphasizes this paramount purpose of God (see Eph 2:10; 3:14-19; 4:1-3, 13-24; 5:1-18). (b) Fulfillment of this purpose for the corporate church is certain: Christ will ‘present it to himself a glorious church…holy and without blemish’ (Eph 5:27). (c) Fulfillment of this purpose for individuals in the church is conditional. Christ will present us ‘holy and without blame before him’ (Eph 1:4) only if we continue in the faith. Paul states this clearly: Christ will ‘present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel’ (Col 1:22-23).

(5)    Election to salvation in Christ is offered to all (John 3:16-17; 1 Tim 2:4-6; Tit 2:11; Heb 2:9) but becomes actual for particular persons contingent on their repentance and faith as they accept God’s gift of salvation in Christ (Eph 2:8; 3:17; cf. Acts 20:21; Rom 1:16; 4:16). At the point of faith, the believer is incorporated into Christ’s elect body (the church) by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), thereby becoming one of the elect. Thus, there is both God’s initiative and our response in election (see Rom 8:29, note; 2 Pet 1:1-11).

Predestination. Predestination (Gk proorizé) means ‘to decide beforehand’ and applies to God’s purposes comprehended in election. Election is God’s choice ‘in Christ’ of a people (the true church) for Himself. Predestination comprehends what will happen to God’s people (all genuine believers in Christ).

(1)    God predestines His elect to be: (a) called (Rom 8:30); (b) justified (Rom 3:24; 8:30); (c) glorified (Rom 8:30); (d) conformed to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29); (e) holy and blameless (Eph 1:4); (f) adopted as God’s children (Eph 1:5); (g) redeemed (Eph 1:7); (h) recipients of an inheritance (Eph 1:14); (i) for the praise of His glory (Eph 1:12; 1 Pet 2:9); (j) recipients of the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13; Gal 3:14); and (k) created to do good works (Eph 2:10).

(2)    Predestination, like election, refers to the corporate body of Christ (i.e., the true spiritual church), and comprehends individuals only in association with that body through a living faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:5, 7, 13; cf. Acts 2:38-41; 16:31).

Summary. Concerning election and predestination, we might use the analogy of a great ship on its way to heaven. The ship (the church) is chosen by God to be His very own vessel. Christ is the Captain and Pilot of this ship. All who desire to be a part of this elect ship and its Captain can do so through a living faith in Christ, by which they come on board the ship. As long as they are on the ship, in company with the ship’s Captain, they are among the elect. If they choose to abandon the ship and Captain, they cease to be part of the elect. Election is always only in union with the Captain and His ship. Predestination tells us about the ship’s destination and what God has prepared for those remaining on it. God invites everyone to come aboard the elect ship through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Stamps, D., (2003: Zondervan) Life in the Spirit Study Bible