As we've surveyed issues relating to salvation, it seems clear that the gift of God in eternal life is not something that can be lost or stolen from the individual who repents and places their faith in Christ. Thank God, for this is good news indeed!
However, this does not appear to be the end of the story -- and there is a danger of "giving up" or "forfeiting" this salvation based on our own stewardship of the gift we have received (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Paul apparently recognized this danger in his own life when he states plainly regarding his "freedom in Christ":
23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:23-27, NASB, underline added for emphasis)
The word translated "disqualified" here (GK: adokimos) appears eight (8) times in the New Testament. It is important to carefully consider each of these passages:
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper (Romans 1:28, NASB)
In this passage, the word translated as "depraved" is the same as the "disqualification" that Paul seeks to avoid. If you consider the context of Romans 1, this passage describes the passive wrath of God whereby God hands those who knew God (Romans 1:21) but who decide to no longer acknowledge Him as God (Romans 1:28) over to this "reprobate" mind ... God allows them to walk away from what is right and to eat the fruit of their sinful life (Proverbs 1:31-32). This is a picture of apostasy (although the general argument of Romans 1-3 is intended to shut up the whole world under sin; see Romans 3:19).
The next passage containing adokimos in the canonical ordering of the New Testament appears in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (above). Next is 2 Corinthians 13:5-7:
5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-- unless indeed you fail the test? 6 But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. 7 Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved. (2 Corinthians 13:5-7, NASB)
Adokimos appears once in each verse: "fail the test" twice (13:5, 6); and "unapproved" (13:7). This is an extremely important passage because Paul seems to indicate a strong relationship between salvation and works (cf. James 2:14-26). Not that we are saved by our works, but that our works are evidence of our salvation and indeed even the test of a genuine salvation.
Paul is imploring the Corinthian church to examine the fruit of his (Paul's) life and the life of the so-called "Super Apostles" (2 Corinthians 2:17; 11:5, 13-15). By comparing the fruit (deeds) of their ministry and lifestyle, Paul is confident that the saints in Corinth will come to the proper conclusion that Paul serves the Lord in His grace, while the others who are seeking to stir them up and lead them astray merely boast in the flesh.
According to Paul, "doing" the right thing (enabled by the Grace of God) is the mark of an abiding Christian, and an examination of your life is appropriate for all Christians to see if we are truly in the faith we proclaim or if we are deceived.
Adokimos appears again in 2 Timothy 3:8:
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. (2 Timothy 3:8, NASB)
Unlike in the previous passage, adokimos is not the word translated as "depraved" but occurs later as "rejected" in regard to the faith. Here we see those who are actively engaged in deeds contrary to the will of God. Clearly, this "rejection" is not a good thing! What's scary is that this description describes people of a certain character that will arise in the last days (of which, we are currently in; see 1 Peter 4:7). Here's the context:
1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7, NASB)
Verses 2-4 describe character traits contrary to the fruit of the Spirit and contrary to those who have been re-born into the Kingdom of Heaven by the grace of God to know and serve the Lord. Notice this long list begins with "lovers of self" and ends with "rather than lovers of God." The scariest part is found in verse 5, which says that they hold "to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power". The character traits that are listed do not seem to describe any "form of godliness" that I am familiar with!
Paul seems to be describing to this young pastor (Timothy) the reality that there are many who claim with their mouths to love and serve the Lord Jesus, but who inwardly serve their own passions and pleasures. The exhortation from Paul to Timothy is to present himself as a workman unashamed (2:15), to serve as a godly example of someone whose life-fruit matches the claim to the activity of God's grace in his life (4:1-5), and to be a faithful servant/soldier of Christ (2:1-13).
Again, the idea of claiming with the lips to follow Christ is not enough ... to "pass the test" one must continue in faithfulness to Christ (which is only possible by the Grace of God; e.g. 2 Timothy 2:1). Failure to endure in the Grace of God, even if you endure in calling yourself a Christian, is failure to pass the test ("apostasy").
The next passage containing the word adokimos sums up the above point:
16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16, NASB)
Notice the explicit contrast between profession and deeds. In the above passage, adokimos is translated as "worthless" for any good deed.
The final occurrence of adokimos appears in Hebrews:
7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8, NASB)
Again, adokimos is translated by the NASB as "worthless" and this one's end is described with the horrific statement: and it ends up being burned. Notice that the condition is if it yields thorns and thistles. This is the mark of the "worthless" ground.
Compare this teaching to the words of Jesus himself in the gospels in the following passages:
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. (John 15:6, NASB)
A scary thought indeed. Again, the condition is that if anyone does not abide in Me.... What does this mean? Many opinions could be offered, but the Scriptures define what it means to abide in Christ:
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:56, NASB)
8 "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. 12 This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:4-16, NASB, underline added for emphasis)
the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:6, NASB)
The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (1 John 2:10, NASB)
The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:24, NASB)
Are you noticing a pattern emerging here? I hope so!
Many more examples could be cited -- but it's important to turn now to the most explicit passages about avoiding apostasy, which are found in the book of Hebrews. In this wonderful book, the author of Hebrews describes the danger of apostasy, the glory of Christ and the New Covenant, and the prescription for avoiding apostasy.
12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13, NASB).
We see in this passage a stern warning to the brethren (these are believers!) that they take care not to fall away from the living God! The encouragement is to remain in the body of Christ (the "Church") so that the body can encourage each other to continue on in the faith and not be deceived and hardened by sin.
1 Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2, NASB)
Shortly afterwards, the author of Hebrews commends believers to fear the possibility that they may fail to enter the rest of God, by failing to continue to believe the promises and Word of God. The nation of Israel serves as the example, as they often hardened their hearts against God after walking with Him part of the way. Because of their failure to continue to believe and follow Him they did not receive the promises.
The author of Hebrews continues to warn against apostasy, saying:
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6, NASB)
Not only is it possible to "fall away" (i.e. become apostate), but even more terrifying is the fact that once this has happened, one cannot come back! This is contrary to the Arminian view of falling out of grace, which can be remedied by repentance. Here, the text tells us that it is impossible for the apostate person to be renewed again to repentance.
It could be argued that the evidence of a repentant heart is demonstration enough that someone is not apostate, but Hebrews seems to answer this objection later:
15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; 16 that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17, NASB)
The seeking of repentance was evident in Esau, but it was impossible for him to return to his inheritance once it was given away. In the same fashion, the New Testament describes our salvation as our inheritance often -- we must take the example of Esau seriously and not make the same mistake he did of giving away our inheritance to fulfill the lusts of our flesh.
The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the provision of God of brothers and sisters to encourage us in our walk again in Hebrews 10:19-25. This passage describes the great privilege we have of entering God's presence through the High Priestly ministry of Christ, the responsibility we have to encourage one another to remain faithful to Christ, and the importance of not forsaking the assembly of believers (as is the custom of some). This passage is immediately followed by a terrifying picture of apostasy in Hebrews 10:26-39 (which you should read carefully and prayerfully).
The answer to avoiding this terrible reality of apostasy is to consider Jesus and the faithful brothers and sisters who have gone before us:
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3, NASB)
Since we have these faithful examples, once again believers are warned:
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25, NASB)
The good news is that God is also pleased to provide the strength we need to endure, it we will simply allow Him to do so:
20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. (Hebrews 13:20-22, NASB)
It is important to understand at this point that we must not fear "losing" our inheritance by falling into sin. All believers continue to sin (more than you even realize) while in the fleshly body (e.g. 1 John 2:1).
As sons, God lovingly disciplines us when we begin to go astray in order to bring us back to Himself (Hebrews 12:4-14). Because He is a loving Father, He lovingly disciplines us when we make mistakes or disobey in moments of weakness. Apostasy is something different and falls into a different category.
While it is difficult to know exactly where the line is drawn between apostasy and simple disobedience, the Scriptures do seem to provide another test (besides the "fruit" of our lives). Since God disciplines those whom He loves, it is clear proof of our right-standing with God (through Christ) when we fall into sin and fall under His discipline and conviction. What should make us very nervous is if we find that God has begun to hand us over to our sinful desires ... as this is the description of those who are adokimos from Romans 1:8 -- those who knew God but no longer see fit to acknowledge Him as God.
Apostasy is admittedly a very unpleasant subject. My encouragement to you as a believer is to consider how you are walking with the Lord (Ephesians 5:15-16) in light of the following truth in God's Word:
Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22, NASB)
Christianity and the salvation of our glorious God are serious matters. God is so serious about salvation that He poured out His wrath upon His own beloved Son and handed Him over to wicked men to be abused, despised and humiliated. He did this because of His great love for us (Romans 5:8; 8:32-35). Yet, we should not underestimate the severity of God -- He saved us for a purpose and we must walk with Him in His grace.
Have you died to self that you may live for Christ? We must. That is our call.
He is worthy of our unswerving obedience! If we believe the Word of God and the sacrifice that was made, we must not be casual with the presence of sin in our lives. Sin must be dealt with by submission to Christ and through His grace.
Although I don't claim to have an infallible understanding of this difficult theological issue, I do think that the heart of the matter comes down to our acceptance of Jesus as both Lord and Savior. In the New Testament, there are at least 162 different verses that explicitly refer to Jesus Christ as Lord (some of these verses more than once). Compare that with only around 14 verses in the New Testament that explicitly refer to Jesus Christ as Savior (some of these verse overlap, referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ). Both truths are important, yet the American church certainly seems to favor "Savior" over "Lord" while the New Testament does the opposite (more than 10 times the amount of verses calling Christ Lord than Savior!).
To reject the Lordship of Christ in our lives and to continue to live as if we are the "masters of our own domain and destiny" is foolishness. Christ is Lord of All or He is nothing to us. And if He is Lord, we can rejoice that He is also our Savior!
To conclude this post -- and this series on salvation -- I think it is important to point out what seem to be the biggest traps for apostasy. P. Scott recently preached a great sermon on the parable of the sower and the soils (sermon dated 1/8/12). In this parable, recorded in Luke 8:1-18 (and parallels), Jesus refers to four "types" of soil, which exhaust the possibilities for heart conditions for those who hear the gospel.
The first, hard soil, represents those who reject the message. The final three all make a profession of faith and walk with the Lord at least awhile. Only the final soil produces a harvest. In Luke 8:18, Jesus says, 18 "So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him."
The one who brings forth fruit, will receive even more than he or she can imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). However, the two other types of soil that begin and do not come forth to harvest ... they both think they have something that they don't really have (a genuine saving relationship with the Savior), and even what they think they have will be taken away.
Since we want to be careful how we listen (as this is the reason for the parable in the first place!), pay very careful attention to the things that Jesus says cause people to fail to endure until the end: persecution, life's worries, riches and pleasures.
Persecution. Life's worries. Riches. Pleasures.
These things distract us, test us, and seek to destroy our walk with the Lord. Be careful how you listen and do not allow these temporal things to choke out the life that is in you.
I've heard it said that, "You can't out-sin the grace of God." This is probably true, as God's grace is much bigger and much more amazing than we even realize. Be careful, though, that you don't choose sin over the grace of God.
The grace that is able to save you is able to preserve you and to free you from the power of sin in your life (see Part 2). For the Christian to continue in sin is to make "grace" something less than what it really is.
19 And His mother and brothers came to Him, and they were unable to get to Him because of the crowd. 20 And it was reported to Him, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You." 21 But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." (Luke 8:19-21, NASB, underline added)
Amen. Let it be so in our lives, Lord. For the praise and glory of your name!