08 October 2019

Quitting Jesus.

APOSTASY ə'pɑs.tə.si noun. When one leaves a religion.
[Apostate ə'pɑ.steɪt adjective.]

About half the pagans I meet say they used to be Christian. They grew up Christian, or at least grew up in church. Some of ’em even think they’re still Christian—though their nonchristian beliefs indicate they’re obviously pagan. Whatever their churches taught, they no longer follow. They left that behind. They went apostate.

I know; a lot of folks think “apostate” is a bad word. It’s really not. It comes from the Greek ἀφίστημι/afístimi, “step away.” Lots of us step away from things. I used to ride a bicycle everywhere; I’ve since discovered I prefer walking, and gave away my bicycle. So I’m an apostate cyclist. (Nothing against cyclists though. Whatever works for you.)

In the case of apostate Christians, they left Christianity. In my experience most of ’em no longer consider themselves Christian, nor consider Christianity to be valid. A minority quit God and went nontheist. Or joined another religion, like Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Wicca. But most are simply pagan: They believe in God, but reject “organized religion,” by which they mean church… and everything the church teaches, like who Jesus is, and who Jesus says God is.

Why’d they leave? The usual reasons.

  • They had the crisis of faith. But nobody guided them through it, or their so-called guidance consisted of “Quit doubting and just believe really hard.” Well, they couldn’t, didn’t, and left.
  • When they had the crisis of faith, Christians didn’t step up… but nontheist friends, or friends of other religions, did. So they believed those guys, and left.
  • They never did believe. They grew up Christian, but went through the motions of Christianity because their parents, leaders, or peers pressured ’em to. Once they got away from those people, they got away from Christianity, and stayed gone.
  • Cheap grace: They believe God’ll let ’em into heaven no matter what they believe. So it doesn’t matter if they believe nothing. Or aren’t religious at all.
  • They expected or demanded God to come through for them in a certain way. He didn’t. So they’re pissed at him, and aren’t coming back to him.
  • They’d like to be Christian. But all the Christians they know are a--holes, and they simply can’t affiliate with such awful, immoral people. Anything’s gotta be better. So they try to follow God in their own way. (Which isn’t easy without a support system.)

And a number of ’em insist they have their own ideas about what should constitute Christianity—which of course don’t mesh with orthodoxy. But technically such people aren’t apostate, ’cause they didn’t leave Christianity; they’re what we call heretic. Whole different category.

Perseverance of the saints.

PERSEVERANCE pər.sə'vɪr.əns noun. God’s grace attached to us in such a fixed, permanent way, we always make it to heaven.
[Persevere pər.sə'vɪ(.ə)r verb, perseverant pər.sə'vɪr.ənt adjective.]

We’re not saved by our good works, right? We’re only saved by God’s grace. He and he alone, by his power and no one else’s, paid off our sins, called us to repent, rewarded our faith, sealed us with his Holy Spirit, and preps us for his kingdom. It’s all God. Not us.

So if we can’t save ourselves by our good works, stands to reason we can’t un-save ourselves through our bad works, right? Hence a lot of Christians believe in perseverance—or as it’s called nowadays, “once saved, always saved.” If God really did save us, it’s a done deal.

Christians who believe in perseverance, often do so ’cause they believe in limited atonement—the idea Jesus only died for some people, Mt 10.45 and not the whole world like the scriptures state. 1Jn 2.2 And if Jesus didn’t actually save everybody, it means there’s a chance—a real possibility—there are “Christians” among us whom Jesus didn’t actually save. ’Cause Jesus even said so.

Matthew 7.22-23 KWL
22 “At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master, didn’t we prophesy in your name?’
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many mighty things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you, you lawbreakers; get away from me.’”

This, perseverants claim, is why there are apostate Christians. Apostates were never really Christian. Thought they were. Even saw miracles, had God-experiences, and everything. But it appears God was only stringing them along. Their “salvation” was based on wishful thinking and misinterpreted emotion, not real acts of God. That’s why they eventually gave up on Christianity and went astray: It was never real.

So they insist if God really saved us, if Jesus really died for us, we’re never ever gonna fall away. It’s a done deal. God’s grace is unstoppable. And they have other proof texts to support their view:

John 10.28-29 KJV
28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
1 Corinthians 1.8-9 KWL
8 Jesus will also confirm you till the end, blameless on the Day of our Lord, Christ Jesus.
9 Through our faithful God, you were called into relationship with his Son,
Christ Jesus, our Master.
Philippians 1.6 KWL
…convinced of this: The one who initiated the good work in you,
will continue to do it till the Day of Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 1.5 KWL
…who are watched over through your faith by God’s power,
to a salvation ready to be revealed at the last minute.

You might notice I quoted the King James Version, instead of my own translation, in the John passage. That’s ’cause a literal translation of verse 28 totally undermines the perseverants’ view.

Most of the time, translators follow the KJV’s lead of “they shall never perish.” That’s not actually what the original text has. It’s not a future-tense verb, but a subjunctive, “maybe-tense” verb. It’s οὐ μὴ ἀπόλωνται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα/u mi apólonte eis ton eóna, “never might they destroy themselves in the age.” It’s why I translate it thus:

John 10.28 KWL
“I give them life in the age to come. They shouldn’t destroy themselves in this age.
Nobody will snatch them from my hand.”

For no, nobody’s gonna snatch us from Jesus’s hand. He’s gonna do everything he can to make sure we’re saved, and stay saved, prepared for his kingdom. It is a done deal. That is, unless we ourselves leap out of his hand. God’ll do his part, but if we bail on him… well, he’ll actually let us go.

Those folks who say “We can never lose our salvation”: They’re absolutely right. We can’t lose it. We’re never gonna accidentally flub things so bad, God throws up his hands and says, “Well, you’re damned now.” That’s really what makes Christians so anxious about perseverance: We’re afraid we might unintentionally wind up in the hot place. Whoops, committed the unpardonable sin, and so much for grace.

The scriptures make it clear: Salvation isn’t lost, but abandoned. We don’t lose it; we leave it. Deliberately. Intentionally. We’re fully aware of what we’re doing—and its consequences. We might not believe the consequences, or care. But people don’t become apostate by accident.

Hebrews 6.4-8 KWL
4 Can’t be done: Those who were once given light,
tasted the heavenly gift, became partners with the Holy Spirit,
5 tasted the goodness of God’s word, and the age to come’s powers 6 —and fall away.
To restore them to repentance again, crucifying and humiliating the Son of God for them:
Can’t be done.
7 The earth, drinking the rain which often falls on it,
produces the proper grass for those for whom it was plowed.
It possesses a blessing from God.
8 Yielding up thorns and thistles makes it worthless, almost cursed.
Its end result is burning.

God wants to save us, and grants us grace. But we can reject his grace. Absolutely shouldn’t, but can. Same as all the Hebrews whom God saved from Egypt and promised Canaan. He tried to give ’em his promise, and they refused it and died in the wilderness. He let them refuse it. Coulda forced it upon them; didn’t. Because he wants us to follow him, like a sheep follows a shepherd; not drag us around on a leash, like an unwilling dog.

He let many of the Jews reject Jesus. Then broke ’em off and and grafted gentiles in their place. Ro 11.19-20 And it’s awesome that he’s blessed the gentiles this way—but these same gentiles had better not assume they’re a done deal, because God could break ’em off the same as he did those Jews. Ro 11.21-24 Not that he wants to! Again, he wants to save everyone. 1Ti 2.4 He still wants to save the Jews. They’re still his chosen people. Ro 11.28-29 But if you knowingly step away from him, God’ll let you go.

Does this mean we can never come back to God if we leave Christianity? Well, Romans indicates we still can, ’cause the Jews still can. Ro 11.23 But Hebrews has that word ἀδύνατον/adýnaton, “not doable,” which I translated “can’t be done,” and the KJV “impossible.” Still, God’s been known to do the impossible for fun.

“Not doable” doesn’t mean God can’t do it. Far be it for us to put limits on God. Knowing him, it’s more likely “not doable” means this is something which isn’t meant to be done over and over and over again. Don’t waffle on your commitment to Christ! Don’t say the sinner’s prayer one day, then live like a pagan the next; go back to church for the holidays, then go back to paganism the ordinary days. Be consistent. Follow Jesus. Stop “crucifying him anew,” as if every time you repent he’s gotta die for you all over again. Especially after we’ve had the sort of God-experiences the author of Hebrews listed. Such things should erase any doubts we might have about whether we have an authentic relationship with the living God. When God’s working in our lives like that, when we’re producing the Spirit’s good fruit, how can we doubt he wants us saved?

…Well, unless we wrongly assume our perseverance is a done deal, whether we follow God or not. Those’d be the folks whom Jesus will someday call “lawbreakers.” Mt 7.23 They didn’t love Jesus enough to obey him. Hence they produce the sort of fleshly works which reveal they have no real relationship, and aren’t gonna inherit his kingdom. Ga 5.21 God held up his end, but they’re in rebellion, which they’re trying to disguise as Christianity. Really, they’re not gonna be all that surprised when Jesus sends them away at the End. They wouldn’t enjoy his kingdom anyway. They were hoping for loud celebrations and material wealth. There’s gonna be way too much love and selflessness for their taste. Hard to fathom, but they’ll actually enjoy the fire more.


I used to believe once saved, always saved. I still believe, in most cases, “ex-Christians” were never actually Christian in the first place. I’ve seen ’em in action.

Back in high school, a lot of the kids in my youth group had no relationship with Jesus. As you could witness every Sunday morning as we sat together in the back of the church auditorium. They goofed off while the rest of us sang the worship songs. They took naps while the rest of us listened to the sermons. They pretended to be good Christians while the adults were around, and behaved like pagans whenever adults weren’t looking. Some of their parents were likely horrified when they went apostate in their young adulthood. But we Christian kids totally saw it coming. In their hearts they were already out the door.

Still, the reason I believe there are such creatures as ex-Christians is ’cause I’ve met some. They used to believe. Whole-heartedly. Saw and did miracles. (Still struggle to explain why they weren’t really miracles, which is what they now claim. Their usual go-to is “The people wanted to be healed so bad, they healed themselves. It’s all psychosomatic.” Yeah, like psychosomasis cures cancer.) They strongly object to those people who claim they were never really Christian: As far as they’re concerned, they were really Christian. It’s just now, they’re not.

The once-saved-always-saved crowd totally dismisses ex-Christian testimonies in favor of their belief in perseverance. They don’t wanna believe it’s possible to quit Jesus. They want their salvation to be a done deal. And it is a done deal; God’s never gonna bail on us! He 13.5 But they don’t even want their own free will to be a factor. They’re hoping God has overridden it, and saves them regardless.

Problem is, this ironically means they’re now no longer sure God will save them regardless. ’Cause if they do quit Jesus—as they gotta admit they can—it therefore means their perseverance, which they claim they’re so very certain about, was never real. It was all fake. All a self-delusion. One God let ’em believe, for his own secret evil reasons. For all they know, that’s what their “salvation” consists of at this very instant: They’re predestined for hell, but think they’re not.

I’m not a fatalist. I don’t believe an ex-Christian’s apostasy means they’ve doomed themselves. God’s still almighty, and can still save anyone he wants. God has saved people who quit Jesus, only to turn to him again in their later years. Plenty of Christians turned their crisis of faith into atheism, only to give up their atheism ’cause they ran into God again. C.S. Lewis is probably one of the more famous examples of this. He’s far from alone.

Why would God give ex-Christians another chance, if apostasy means they’ve doomed themselves? Why would God pretend they have another chance, if really they don’t?—unless he’s secretly evil, and no he’s not. He calls everyone to repent. Ac 17.30 Including apostates. So we shouldn’t give up on ’em either.