Question: Is an “apostate” one who was never a believer to begin with? Or is it the way the dictionary defines it: a person who abandons/rejects a faith he previously actually believed in?
Response: We are in the midst of widespread apostasy. By that term we mean: departure from “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” for which we are to earnestly contend (Jude 3). I believe that apostates include two types of people:
1) Those who have knowingly turned completely from Christ and no longer even pretend to be Christians; and...
2) Those who still claim to be Christians but have departed from the faith, e.g.:
a) Those who deliberately twist the Scriptures, perverting the gospel “to draw away disciples after them” (Acts:20:30) or who endorse false teachers (though they know better) because they want to share their fame and power (Jude 16) —or who simply want to be “positive” so as to “offend” no one.
b) The naïve, who are genuinely deceived by false prophets/teachers.
Most of the epistles involve correction of false doctrine and practice that was already in the church in those days. It is the mushrooming, widespread incidence of the apostasy in number 2 above among those who claim to be Christians that I believe Scripture points to as a specific sign of the last days just prior to the Rapture.
When asked, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”(Mt 24:3), Christ identified apostasy as the foremost sign of the last days, i.e., religious deception, which He mentioned three times:
Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Mt 24:4-5) And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many (v. 11) For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect (v. 24).
Christ’s warning made several things clear: 1) The major sign of the nearness of His coming would be religious deception by professing Christian leaders; 2) A central feature of the deception would be false prophets showing “great signs and wonders,” which, though convincing, would also be false; 3) The repetition of the word “many” indicated that this religious deception would be widespread, apparently worldwide; 4) The words “Christs,” “prophets,” “signs and wonders,” and “elect” indicated that the deception would be among professing Christians, i.e., those inside the church.
The first reason that Jude gave as to why we must “earnestly contend for the faith” was the fact that “there are certain men crept in [inside the church] unawares...ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
But what is the faith, a departure from which marks one as an apostate? Some might say that as long as a person believes that Christ died for his sins, was buried, and rose the third day, he is saved. But that declaration doesn’t explain the full gospel. As defined by Paul, the gospel declares the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ according to the Scriptures (1 Cor:15:3-4). Surely that involves who the biblical God is, who the biblical Christ is, what the biblical problem between God and man is, the biblical and only means of man’s forgiveness by God, and the eternal consequences for those who reject the biblical gospel. None of these is a peripheral point of doctrine to be ignored or compromised. To do so would be a departure from the faith into apostasy to proclaim a false gospel.
Just as Israel, to whom God sent His prophets to warn them of their apostasy and its dire consequences, would not listen, so it is today with many professing Christians. Glad to follow any pied piper and unwilling to hear the Lord, they dance merrily on to judgment.
Time on this earth is drawing to a close. Let us determine to remain true to and earnestly contend for “the faith once delivered unto the saints.” And may we rescue many before it is forever too late.