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What Is Apostasy?

Apostasy is essentially a falling away, withdrawal or abandonment of Christianity. We’ll discuss where Scripture speaks about apostasy, the always saved vs. never was a Christian to begin with debate, and how to detect signs of apostasy.

Hope Bolinger
What Is Apostasy?

Apostasy in the Bible

People have been leaving Christianity since its start.

Before we dive into the question of whether people were believers from the start and fell away or were never believers to begin with, we have to highlight some verses that describe the act of apostasy.

  • John 6:60-66 shows many disciples leaving Jesus after they cannot digest some of his more difficult teachings. This was before the Holy Spirit indwelled in believers.
  • Galatians 1:6 describes believers who are eagerly abandoning Christ and their faith.
  • 1 Timothy 4:1 says many will fall away in the end times, going after the teachings of demons.
  • 2 Peter 3:17 warns us to stay on guard against false teachings that can cause us to fall away from our faith.

In these verses, we learn apostasy has always been a problem within the church and will continue to be an issue into the end days.

Always Saved and Just Fell Away Vs. Never a Believer to Begin With

The article alone cannot cover the breadth of the debate, not even close. In essence, this debate struggles with the question, “If a believer falls away, were they a believer to begin with? Were they saved and either lost their salvation or lost their way for a brief time? Or were they never Christians to begin with?”

Both sides to the argument have Scriptural support they’ll turn to.

- One may point to Hebrews 6:4-6 which may seem to indicate that if a person falls away from Christianity, committing apostasy, that they lose their salvation.

- Others may point to 2 Timothy 2:13 which seems to indicate God is still faithful even when we are faithless.

Some will bring up the question about what is belief versus saving belief? Even the demons believe, but that does not save them (James 2:19). Theologians often will point out differences in belief in the head and heart, showing how a cognitive belief in Jesus isn’t enough, it requires a deeper kind of belief (see debates about notitia, fiducia, and assensus on Ligonier.org). 

Part of what apostasy may stem from is a lack of a deep kind of belief, only having a surface level kind of faith (see the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23). That’s why many Christians will argue that those who leave the faith never had a true faith to begin with.

But that does bring up difficulties with Christians who appeared to be strong leaders in the faith. Did they truly have no real faith or are we missing something else in this debate?

Detecting the Signs of Apostasy

No easy answer exists for many of these questions. Scripture does, however, make it clear we need to study the Word without ceasing so as not to be swayed by teachings that could pull us away from our faith.

The following are some ways you can detect a fellow member of the faith falling away:

- They will twist Scripture or pervert the truth to fit an agenda

- They live a life counter to the ideals set in place for Christianity

- They’re often marked by pride, flattery, cause division, and are more focused on things of this world than things from above. For a more extensive list, check out this article.

Although we may have spiritual mentors and teachers who guide us in the faith, we have to remember salvation comes from God alone. Many will fall away in the end times, including some people who we believed to be strong Christians of great faith.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 400 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Photo Credit: Pexels/Nathan Cowley

Originally published September 05, 2019.