How Can Christians Recognize Apostasy?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Is there a way for a Christian to recognize apostasy in their church or in the teachings of others?  Can we use the Bible to reveal what is and what is not apostasy?

What is Apostasy?

The Greek word from which the word apostasy comes from is “aphistasthai” or “apostasia” and literally means “to revolt.”Apostasy has been defined by the secular world as an abandonment of the faith and one’s religious principles and biblical teachings. It could also be viewed as a disqualification by a church of leaders such as a pastor, deacon or elder and even a church board member or a church layman.  When someone or some teaching is declared to be apostate it is a declaration of that person or of particular teachings to have departed from biblical beliefs or the faith that was once delivered to the apostles and given to the church and form the essential doctrines.  Not all teachings are essential to the faith like whether a person believes in the rapture or not or whether a person or teaching holds to grey areas that are not addressed specifically in the Bible.

There are three forms in which this word can be applied to different people or situations:

  1. Apostasy is the abandonment or desertion of biblical teachings that are essential to salvation.
  2. An apostate is someone who has forsaken and fallen away from biblical faith and principles.
  3. To apostatize is when someone commits apostasy or the act of apostasy.

Apostasy is essentially the abandonment of the faith by someone.  Tragically, these apostates place themselves under the curse of God because as Paul wrote “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).  Paul had to deal with apostates in the Corinthian church as he wrote “if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Cor 11:4) and it is “no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14) for “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse” (Gal 1:9)!

Divorce as Apostasy

Interestingly, the word used in Matthew 5:32 where Jesus said “anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery” is “apostasion” or apostasy as an abandonment of, in this case, their lawfully wedded spouse.  This also occurs in Matthew 19:3 and in Mark 10:4 where the same word for divorce comes from the root of the Greek words “apolyo” and “apostasia”. Here divorce is seen as abandoning someone that they vowed before God to be joined with for life.  They have fallen away (apostasia or apostatizes) from the biblical teaching that marriage is for life and that no one or nothing should separate them until death they do part (Matt 19:6, Mark 10:9 ).

Apostasy in the Early Church

It didn’t take long after the church began for apostasy to set in because the Enemy always wants to subvert and pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica about the Lord’s Day to “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3).  The word “rebellion” is better translated as the Greek word indicates (apostasia) as apostasy so this verse would more accurately read “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”  Here is a key point.  Apostasy is lawlessness.  Any teaching that claims to be Christian yet teaches that we don’t have to keep Jesus’ commandments or the Ten Commandments is from an apostate teacher or pastor.  We know this because John wrote that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4c).  Who is the ultimate source of this apostate teaching?  It is “the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3c) or Satan himself.

Paul’s Warning of Apostasy

We have already read one warning from Paul that before the Day of the Lord comes, apostasy will occur in the church and we are seeing this today.  Paul warns Timothy again that “the [Holy] Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:1-5).  Once more we read of a Greek root word for apostasy where Paul writes that “some will depart (aphistēmi for “withdraw, remove” or  “revolt”) from the faith.”  The Greek root word for “depart” is “aphistēmi” or apostasy and who is this source of this revolt?  It is from Satan and which is “teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars” because they teach unbiblical ideas such as abstaining from marriage (which is held as honorable to God) and from certain foods (when “everything created by God is good”).

... even the Devil can appear to be a preacher of righteousness ...

… even the Devil can appear to be a preacher of righteousness …

Any time someone tries to teach you that Christians should only eat clean meats as mentioned in the Old Testament, you are listening to or reading apostate literature or listening to an apostate teacher because Jesus said “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15) and “Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean)” (Mark 7:18-19).  When God was telling Peter that salvation had now come to the Gentiles, who were considered unclean to the Jews, a voice from heaven spoke to him saying “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:13-15).

How to Recognize Apostasy

It is so much easier to recognize apostasy when you are regularly reading the Bible.  The more you read the Word of God the more that an apostate’s teachings just won’t sound right.  Anytime that someone tells you that you must do this, abstain from that, do not do this but do this instead, that should alert you that something that someone is teaching or has written is unbiblical.  No one is saved by abstaining from marriage, from not eating certain foods, from being told that breaking the law is not wrong, or that keeping the Old Testament Mosaic Laws is required.  You must understand the true source is the Devil himself who is teaching his own doctrines for there is nothing we can add to or take away from salvation since it is fully a work of God and not our own works (Eph 2:8-9) “For we are His workmanship” not our own (Eph 2:10). If someone tells you that you must add anything to your salvation in order to get saved or to be in a right standing before God, other than repentance and trust in Christ, they are lying.

Conclusion

Apostasy is growing in the world today and possibly even in most of the churches because you don’t hear much of a Bible-centered, cross-proclaiming, Christ-elevating, God-glorifying message anymore.  The gospel has frequently become man-centered, needs-based, happiness-oriented but Paul warns that they who teach such things have a curse from God on them (Gal 1:9) because they are teaching the doctrines of the Devil (1 Tim 4:1) and their lawlessness will catch up with them (2 Pet 3:17) and just before Christ returns there will be a great falling away (literally, apostasy) at that time (2 Tim 3:1-9).  Just recognize that the essentials of the faith cannot be changed (Rom 10:9-13; Acts 4:12), and even if it appears to come from an angel (Gal 1:8) even the Devil can appear to be a preacher of righteousness (2 Cor 11:14) but the Jesus they are teaching about may not be the biblical Jesus (2 Cor 11:4).  To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

Related reading: 10 Basic Christian Beliefs

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Miller June 26, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Jack:

In regards to the 10 Commandments, how should Christians view the command to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy? You have previously written that we are not obligated to Sabbath keeping, and I know the Bible states that Jesus is our true Sabbath rest, so could we possibly look at the commandment as “Honor Jesus and keep Him holy”? I hope this doesn’t seem argumentative, as it is merely inquisitive.

Thanks, and God bless!

Reply

Jack Wellman June 26, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Hello Mr. Miller. I should have been more clear…there is certainly nothing wrong with keeping a Sabbath on the Saturday but it is just that if a person cannot be saved unless they keep the Saturday Sabbath, I could see that as legalism. The Bible states Jesus kept the Sabbath because He taught the Jews and was a Jew Himself. I see no where in the New Testament that it is commanded…that is all that I am saying. Thank you sir.

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Inquiring Minds June 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm

@Jack, what an interesting question, because I keep the sabbath with my husband by choice and I enjoy having that day of rest and spending that time volunteering, sharing the gospel, visiting nursing homes, giving our care packs etc – “doing good.” I also dont eat shrimp, conch, lobster, pork etc. because my husband who follows the levitical diet does not. But the Bible also tells us that if someone deems one day holier than another they should not be condemned for that, and if someone believes something is unclean they shouldnt eat it (& vice versa), and shouldnt be condemned for it. I just believe that things like foods are personal between you and Jesus, but if Jesus kept the sabbath and did good on that day, I will continue to keep it and use it to volunteer and spread the gospel.

Reply

Jack Wellman June 26, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Yes sir, you are so right “Inquiring Minds.” As I told Mr. Miller, I should have been more clear…there is certainly nothing wrong with keeping a Sabbath on the Saturday or eating clean foods but it is just that if a person cannot be saved unless they keep the Saturday Sabbath or eat a diet of only clean foods listed in the Old Testament, I could see that as legalism if they need to do these things to be saved. I should have clarified that better so my apologies to Mr. Miller and to you sir or ma’am. Thank you for this reminder that we should not judge those who do keep the Saturday Sabbath holy and eat clean foods only. I do agree…that is a personal decision and I have no right to judge those who do such things.

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Jack H June 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Hi, Pastor! 😀 How are you doing in America? I have another question. Why did God declare pork unclean, then declare the opposite via his son Jesus?

Reply

Jack Wellman June 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Hello Jack. America needs revival in a very bad way…great could be her fall if she does not turn back to God. As for why pork was unclean and then declared clean by Jesus was I believe that Israel was to be unique in the world and she was to live by a standard set apart for God’s holy use and different from all those who dwelled on the earth. Under the Old Testament Law, even touching the meat of swine made one ritually unclean (Deuteronomy 14:8). This detail further insulated the Israelites from pagan practices. The Canaanites kept herds of swine and sacrificed them to idols. The connection between swine and pagan worship became so strong that the prophet Isaiah equated the sacrificial offering of pig’s blood with murder—both are called “abominations” (Isaiah 66:3).

Then there are the hygienic concerns related to the Law’s dietary restrictions. It is well known today that pork carries any number of diseases, and the meat requires stricter cooking techniques than other meats such as beef or poultry. In Moses’ day, there was no knowledge of microscopic pathogens, and the cultural norm was to eat raw or under-cooked meat (Leviticus 19:26). Of course, eating under-cooked pork would have posed a significant health threat to Israel, but God providentially protected them through the Mosaic Law. “If you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you” (Exodus 15:26).

Does this make sense Jack? Have a great weekend friend.

Reply

Jack H June 29, 2014 at 2:54 am

Yes, it does. Thanks! 😀 Oh, and just to interest you, I had a dream a few nights ago. It was nighttime and cloudy. The sky was red, the moon was as big as a wreckingball 15cms away, but the only things you could see of it were the craters. The sky was also slightly yellow in places too, and there were things in it that looked like paper folds. To top it off, there was a co-ordinate grid rotating around the celestial north pole. When I turned my eyes and looked again, it was dawn! The stars were out, but they looked like little moons. What do you think? 😀

Reply

Jack Wellman June 29, 2014 at 7:22 am

Jack, dreams are so random and unpredictable that we cannot make any objective statements or beliefs out of what is highly speculative and subjective. I do know that all we have in what God intended for us to know about Him and His will has already been revealed in the Word of God, the Bible, therefor we can depend on the Bible for anything God wants us to know and for those thing that we do not know about, God says the secret things belong to Him (Duet 29:29). Wish I could have been more help Jack.

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Jack H June 29, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Oh, right. Sorry about that comment. I don’t know what possessed me to do that, and feelings of stupidity have now set in. 🙁

Jack H June 27, 2014 at 4:27 pm

Additionally, the picture (depiction) of the devil disguised as a picture is really creepy.. O_O It helps to convey your point pretty well. 🙂

Reply

Jack Wellman June 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Jack my friend, you have done nothing stupid my friend at all. Please don’t worry about such things as theses are good questions that come up frequently and show me that you are hungering and thirsting to know more my brother. Don’t ever worry about comments…when I would worry is when someone never has any questions….you are loved brother.

Reply

Jack H June 30, 2014 at 2:09 am

Aw, thanks Pastor 😀

Reply

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