The word apostasy means a falling away from a position that has already been reached. When a person becomes apostate, he has rejected the faith that he once professed; he has fallen away from the faith. Is it possible for a person who truly believes to fall away? Paul seems to answer when he says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” And in Matthew 7:21–23, Jesus speaks of those who profess faith in Him and even call Him Lord, but in the end He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me,” because they did not bear spiritual fruit. Also, in 1 Timothy, Paul tells his friend that there are those who make shipwreck of their faith.
What can we make of all these passages that seem to be implying that a person who believes in Christ can indeed lose his salvation? Jesus seems to lean in this direction with His parable of the sower, when He speaks of the seed taking root and even thriving for a season, but then being choked by the concerns of this world and dying. Is He speaking of a true believer who has lost his salvation? Or is He speaking of someone who only professed faith but whose heart was never really changed; whose profession of faith, when put to the test, was found not to be real?
Can a Christian fall to such a degree that he loses his salvation? David was in sin for more than a year before Nathan confronted him and brought him to repentance. Peter denied Christ publicly, but then was convicted of his sin, mourned over it, and was restored by Christ. Peter and Barnabas seemed to have lost their focus on the doctrine of the Gospel and its inherent core of justification by faith alone until Paul confronted them about it, as he relates in his letter to the Galatians. Obviously a Christian can fall into sin, but how far does he have to fall before he is written off as an apostate?
While it is the church’s duty to punish those who are in sin, and even to excommunicate them from the body of believers, it is impossible for man to read the heart. When a professing believer falls into sin, he might be someone who has made a false profession or he might be a backslider who will be restored later. But there is one thing we will learn in our study on eternal security: if a profession of faith is true, that person will never become an apostate.
If you know someone who is a professing believer but who is in sin, there are two things youshould do. Pray for that person to repent of his sin as David did before Nathan. You might evenneed to be the one to confront him. Second, hold your judgment as to his state in Christ. We arenot given assurance of salvation for others.