August 11, 2019 Apostasy!

Apostasy

 

Scripture reading: Matthew 13:1-9.

 

Here is a parable that all believers are familiar with, the Parable of the Sower. The parable is misnamed, though, isn’t it? Because the parable isn’t about the sower at all. The sower is just incidental to the story. The parable is all about the soil. It is really the Parable of the Soils.

 

The first soil is the path. Birds came and ate the seed so that it never sprouted. In our Lord’s explanation of this he tells his disciples that the seed is the word of the kingdom. He tells us that the birds represent the devil. And, he tells us that the soil is the heart of the hearer.

 

There are two applications here for us. First, we want to make sure that our own hearts are not “the path.” We do not want the word stolen from our own hearts. And, our Lord gives one way to avoid this:

 

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.1

 

The result of having the word stolen from our hearts is because of a failure to understand it. Hence, we must be certain we understand the gospel and the kingdom of God.

 

The other application is for those to whom we share the gospel. But the lesson is the same. We do the best we can to make sure that those to whom we speak understand the gospel. Maybe foremost in this respect is to make sure that we do not present a forgiveness-only gospel. Rather, we explain that following Jesus means really following Him, not simply believing a set of facts.2

 

Then there is the soil of the rocky ground. When Jesus explains this he says:

 

 

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.3

 

Our Lord says the heart of rocky soil means a person “has no root in himself.” This does not mean that anyone has to have a good heart on their own. It cannot mean that because our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and deceitful, including yours and mine. In the natural human heart, every heart, dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). So, having “a root” does not mean having a good heart in and of ourselves, because the Scriptures are clear: there are no good hearts before regeneration.

 

To have a heart that has “a root’ in itself means that it has been regenerated – born again. What happens if this has not happened? What happens is that a person will endure for a while but then, when difficulty comes, they fall away. This difficulty or persecution is because of the word. That is, whenever they are faced with the truth of God’s word they receive tribulation, which just means trouble. This trouble can come from outside – the world or community at large – or, it can come from within the church.

 

Then the soil of thorns represents those who are choked out from the faith by worries, the desire for wealth, or the pursuit of pleasure (Luke 8:14).

 

There are three types of soil, then, that reveal apostasy. There is one type of soil that bears fruit. Jesus calls it the good soil. It is not good because of a natural consistency. It is good because the Lord has made it good. The good soil bears fruit in different measures. Not everyone produces a hundredfold. But everyone who has been born again will bear fruit. 

 

In this parable Jesus is warning us of apostasy. Apostasy will come. So do not be too surprised when you see it. There will still be some surprise because the plants that grow look just like the other plants. You cannot tell them apart until they whither, which means until they leave.

 

From our perspective it appears that they were saved. They receive the word with joy. So, we think that they have been regenerated. Some are good teachers, good authors, or good preachers. But all those talents are from the natural giftings and they have not been born from above.

 

There was Charles Templeton, an evangelist who preached publicly and went on tour with Billy Graham preaching the gospel in Europe in 1946. He was an evangelist for 12 years – from 1936 to 1948. It is safe to say that many thousands of people made professions of faith and began following Christ through his preaching. But he left the faith shortly thereafter and proclaimed that he no longer believed in God. He died as a self-described agnostic in 2001.

Most recently, another famous author and mega-church pastor has apostatized. We used his most well known book in a months-long devotion in our house. Joshua Harris is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book that criticizes dating and promotes purity and courting. It is a good book. It sold over 1.2 million copies! He authored the book in 1997 and from 2004 to 2015 he was the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Maryland. But in 2018 Harris disavowed the book and withdrew it from publication. Just a few days ago he divorced his wife of 21 years and announced that he is no longer a Christian. He just marched in the Vancouver “Gay Pride” parade in support of “the LGBQT community.”

 

The apostate Harris is an example of the rocky soil. The culture in its own support of sexual perversions and so-called inclusivism both marginalizes and persecutes those who stand for God’s purity laws as revealed in Scripture. Harris issued an apology of how the Christian community has not accepted LGBQT people. He was basically apologizing for God. You can see how he has renounced the Christian faith. He knew enough to know that you cannot stand with actions condemned by the Scriptures and, at the same time, profess faith in them. Whether he himself is a homosexual or just sympathetic to them I do not know. In either case, when the time of testing came (Luke 8:13) to be faithful to God’s word or bow to the culture, he bowed to the culture. Harris’ heart is rocky ground.

 

Another famous author is starting on the road to apostasy. I do not say that she has apostatized already, just that she is headed in that direction. Beth Moore has retracted her statements that homosexuality is a sin in one of her books.4 When asked about this, she refused to answer straightforward questions of whether she still considers homosexual acts as sin.5 It appears that she, too, is bowing to the culture.

 

What are we to learn from modern apostates and from this parable? Here is what we can take away:

 

  1. We must guard our own hearts. If someone like Joshua Harris can fall away then might not we also? Just considering how things appear then the answer is, yes; if he can, I can. The truth is that if one has been born from above then you will not fall away. Here is the rub: the human heart is deceitful above all things. You may think that you have been born again, but you could be wrong. Don’t you think that Harris thought that he was born again? Of course he did! But he was wrong!

 

Do not misunderstand me. There is such a thing as assurance of salvation.  One can know that they are saved. It is not contradictory to have knowledge of something but still recognize that I could be mistaken. The only absolute assurance is perseverance to the end of life – endurance to the end of life. We must keep the faith until we breathe our last breath.

 

Therefore, we must guard our hearts. The means by which we will experience endurance and glorification is by guarding our hearts.

 

    Watch over your heart with all diligence,

For from it flow the springs of life.6

 

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap;7

 

The main way that we guard our hearts is by holding to the truths of Scripture, never doubting God’s perfect, holy word. And, by fleeing sin, that is, keeping a clear conscience (so, when we do sin, we confess it immediately and call upon the Lord). These two things will guard our hearts. Indeed, this is what the apostle Paul prescribes for his protégé, Timothy:

 

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. 8

 

See that in verse 19 Paul says that because some did not hold on to their faith and a good conscience they shipwrecked. He even names the apostates: Hymenaeus and Alexander.

 

So, the first thing we must learn is to guard our own hearts so that we might not become an apostate.

 

  1. Second, we should not think because someone made a profession of faith, was baptized, and even attended church for possibly years, that they must be Christians. This is a sore temptation. It is exacerbated when people are our friends, when they have pleasant personalities, when they are family. All those things endear us to them and we do not want to believe that they either are apostates or are on the road to becoming one.

 

Didn’t Joshua Harris make a profession of faith? Wasn’t he baptized? Didn’t he attend church for years? Yes to all! Not only did he attend, but he was the Pastor for 11 years in one of the largest churches in his state!

 

Because some people are nice we don’t even want to think that their destiny is the Lake of Fire. But, I tell you, being nice is not what God requires. Being nice, being friendly, having pleasant speech are nothing but relative assessments when we compare one person to another or one person to a whole group. Atheists can be nice, atheists can be friendly, Buddhists have pleasant speech. None of those things matter! What matters is holding faith!

 

  1. Third, recognize that there are two kinds of apostasy. There is what we might call apostasy from apostolic teaching, that is, believing things that are contrary to revelation. Charles Templeton and Joshua Harris are examples of this. As are Hymenaeus and Alexander. It is a falling away from what was previously believed.

 

But there is also a falling away from practicing the faith. A person might still assent to the facts about Jesus being the Son of God, being born of a virgin, and being the Savior. But they stop living as a Christian. They may fall into outright sin. Or, they may live outwardly moral lives but the leave the church. This is still apostasy.

 

On the surface these two kinds of apostasy seem very different. One has to do with belief and the other with practice. But they are more similar than they seem. Actually, either one of these apostasies leads to the other. They start out different. But, after a certain amount of time one leads to the other. This is because what we believe affects what we do. And, what we do affects what we believe.

 

Consider the person who stops attending church for some other reason besides immorality. There are, of course, those who love their sin who claim to be Christians. Eventually, their sin will draw them away from the other members of the church because their conscience bothers them. I am not referring to those. The reasons why a person may stop meeting with the church are numerous. It may be disagreement with non-essential doctrines. It may be the style of worship. It may be that they were offended. The list is nearly endless.

 

Also, I do not mean that they simply place their membership with another local church. That is perfectly fine. I refer to those who simply stop meeting with the church altogether. Even though they may assent to the essential doctrines of the faith and even live morally upright lives, eventually they will be drawn away and will succumb to both disobedience and their faith (the things that they believe) will weaken. How so? First, because not meeting regularly with the church is in itself disobedience.

 

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 9

 

Second, the apostle John explicitly identifies those who cease attending the meetings of the church as those who were never truly born again:

 

19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us 10

 

He states it plainly. If anyone truly belongs to the Lord then they will continue to meet with other Christians in the meetings of the church. If they do not then this is proof that they were never part of God’s people in reality.

 

  1. The final thing that we can take away from apostates is that we can still benefit from their teachings or writings from before they fell away. This is because truth is truth. True things do not cease to be true simply because the one who spoke them later denies them. And so, those who came to faith through the preaching of Charles Templeton a half-century ago have no need to doubt their salvation. We can still use Harris’ books even though they may be hard to find now. We can still study and benefit from Beth Moore’s earlier books.

 

Let me end by avowing the most important of these lessons and what we can do. That is the first one: Assuring that we ourselves do not become an apostate.

 

I said that we must guard our hearts and that the primary way we do that is by holding to the truths of Scripture and not doubting what God has spoken. Remember that the very fist sin in the garden was through the devil getting Eve to doubt God’s word.

 

We hold to the truths of the Bible by reading and studying the Bible regularly and consistently. Set aside a time each day when you can do this.

 

In the same way, we must never neglect the meetings of the church. Make it your commitment to be at every Sunday morning meeting of the church. This should be your priority. Why? Besides it being a simple act of obedience to the Lord, the Lord Jesus is speaking to you through the church! He speaks through the message. He speaks through the worship – the singing of hymns and spiritual songs. He speaks through the prophecies and testimonies of the saints. If you miss the Sunday morning meeting then you may very well miss what the Lord is trying to say to you.

 

Further, your attendance and support of the local church is both an encouragement and an example to weaker brothers and sisters in the Lord. When they see you regularly, every time that they are here, then they are encouraged to be faithful, too.

 

Let us then take the Lord’s warning to heart. Do not find yourself one day as being along the roadside. Do not find yourself as rocky soil. Do not get choked by thorns. Let yourself be good soil. Being good soil is solely of the Lord. Yet, the Lord uses means! The means are the word of God and the living church of God. Run after these! Seek these! Hunger for these! Commit to these!

 

Footnotes:

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

See the message, The Whole Gospel, at: http://nsbcwinfield.com/april_15_2018_the_whole_gospel

3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 13:20–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

4 http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2019/07/06/beth-moore-sort-of-explains-but-not-really/

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/2019/07/09/more-moore-tim-staples-speaks-synergism-steven-anderson-and-the-rbs-phone-calls-thoughts-on-growth-and-change/

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Pr 4:23). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Lk 21:34). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 1:18–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:24–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 2:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.​​​​​​​