I’m excited to welcome back Hariton “Harry” Deligiannides as a guest blogger here at Do Not Be Surprised. Harry serves as an elder at Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston, MA. He already has blessed us with the articles, “Bible Study in a Morgue?” and “Whispers and Campaigns Do Not Preach the Word,” and I’m certain you’ll enjoy this latest article as well.
Apostasy and the Perseverance of the Saints
It had been 18 years since we graduated seminary together, so in 2010 I looked up my friend on Facebook to reconnect. After reaching out to him, his response was shocking.
“I have apostatized from ‘the church’ and put the Bible aside … I do not go to any church or ‘study group’ and do not plan to ever again either. The last thing I want is any teaching, preaching, instructing or supposed enlightenment from a well-intentioned born again believer. I studied, memorized and read enough Scripture to quote anyone into oblivion. And I have no intention to enter that ring anytime soon.”
This was a man with whom I studied to enter into the ministry. We prayed together. We read the Bible together. We took the same classes together. We talked about where and how we wanted to serve in the ministry. We spent time together outside of seminary class. We had formed a friendship, a close bond. Years later he had asked me to be best man in his wedding.
Then just earlier this year, I received a phone call from a friend of mine to tell me that our mutual friend had left the faith and gone back to the Greek Orthodox church and baptized his children there.
This was a man who years ago asked me, “Would you disciple me?” I worked with him very closely and invested time. We prayed together. We memorized Scripture together. We ministered together. Along with my wife, we ministered to him and his wife so much so that they were considering joining us in a church plant. And even though they had been involved in a church that taught the doctrines of grace, that God is sovereign not only in saving dead sinners, but also in finishing the work He began in them, they abandoned the faith.
Some of the most dramatic examples I’ve ever seen of the deceived disguised as Christians were people who had been my closest friends. The first was a high school classmate and teammate named Ralph. …We spent a lot of other time together besides work and school, passing out tracts and witnessing in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. He was the head of his church youth group, and I was the head of mine. He said all the right things and seemed for all the world to be on fire for Christ. But when he went off to college, he completely abandoned the faith. I was stunned.
In college I had a close friend named Don who was, I thought, a true spiritual friend in every sense. We were co-captains of the football team; he was class president and I was vice-president; we both taught Bible studies; our dads were pastors, and we were thinking about being pastors too. We talked a lot together about serving the Lord. But then he went off to Europe, got a PhD. in psychology, became a teacher and rock-concert promoter, and eventually was indicted, convicted, and sentenced for having students naked up in front of his classroom. He totally abandoned the faith.
Then I went to seminary,where one of my best friends, whose father was a dean, put a Buddhist altar in his house after he graduated. Here was someone who had prepared himself for a lifetime of preaching and teaching the truth of Scripture, yet whose whole life and ministry up to that time were revealed to be a deceptive lie.
Furthermore, a letter written to pastor John MacArthur’s radio ministry “Grace To You”, reveals the widespread apostasy.
Ten years of full time ministry proved to me that there is no God and that the God of the Bible does not care. I now reject Christianity and have come to peace. (Source)
At this point you may be asking yourself: What happened? Why did these apostatize from the faith? Was God’s Word proven false? What did it do to your faith?
Allow me to answer each of these categorically.
1) What happened?
In the case of my 2 friends, they both went through deep trials in their marriage that shook the foundation of the marriage. It reminded me how God uses trials to reveal the genuineness of one’s faith, or lack thereof. As 1 Peter 1:6–7 says,
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)
2) Why did these apostatize from the faith?
When there is apostasy, there are 2 possibilities, as R.C. Sproul delineates in his book, Grace Unknown.
We have all known people who have made professions of faith and exhibited zeal for Christ, only to repudiate their confessions and turn away from Christ. What should we make of this? We consider two possibilities.
The first possibility of that their profession was not genuine in the first place.They confessed Christ with their mouths and then later committed a real apostasy from that confession. They are like the seed that fell in shallow soil and sprang up quickly, then withered and died (Matt. 13:5-6). The seed never really took root.
The second possible explanation of those who make a profession of faith, give outward evidence of conversion, and then repudiate the faith, is that they are true believers who have fallen into serious and radical apostasy, but who will repent of their sin and be restored before they die. If they persist in apostasy until death, then theirs is a full and final fall from grace, which is evidence that they were not genuine believers in the first place.
3) Was God’s Word proven false?
In his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray writes,
In order to place the doctrine of perseverance in its proper light we need to know what it is not. It does not mean that every one who professes faith in Christ and who is accepted as a believer in the fellowship of the saints is secure for eternity and may entertain the assurance of eternal salvation. (emphasis added)
Well, then what does it mean?
Anthony Hoekema, in his book Saved By Grace, puts it this way,
Those who have true faith can lose that faith neither totally nor finally.
Or the Westminster Confession of Faith:
They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (Chapter 17, Section 1)
The Scripture is very clear that true believers will never ultimately fall away from the faith and deny the Master.
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor 1:7–9. emphasis added)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess 5:23–24, emphasis added)
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6, emphasis added)
On Philippians 1:6, Charles Spurgeon said,
Observe that the apostle affirms that this good work was begun by God. He was evidently no believer in those remarkable powers which some theologians ascribe to free will. (Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 95)
Notice that the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is true because of the very character of God Himself. He is the One who is faithful to preserve His own. He is the One who will sustain us to the end. He is the One who will keep the saints until the very end. He is the One who will complete the work of salvation which He began. He cannot do otherwise. It would be contrary to His nature.
If that’s not enough, there is more. The Word of God is unequivocal and unambiguous, leaving no doubt.
But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Tim 1:12, emphasis added)
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: (Jude 1, emphasis added)
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, (Jude 24, emphasis added)
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Pet 5:10, emphasis added)
Notice again that this doctrine is undergirded by the work of God Himself. He is the One who is able. He is the One who has called.
Ultimately what guarantees the saints will persevere is God’s sovereign election!
As R.C. Sproul has said in his book Grace Unknown,
Were the Bible to say nothing of perseverance, what it says about God’s electing grace would be sufficient to convince us of the doctrine of perseverance.
Salvation is all of God. Salvation is monergistic, not synergistic. It is monergistic (mono meaning alone and ergo meaning work) because it is the work of God alone. It is not synergistic (syn meaning together) because is is not the work of God together with the work of man. Man is not in joint cooperation with God. Why? Simply because man is spiritually dead in his sins and thus incapable (see my June post Bible Study in a Morgue). Therefore God must choose man for salvation. Man is incapable of choosing God. Actually, left to his own, without the work of the Holy Spirit, man will not choose God, but reject Him.
As Richard Phillips wrote in his book Saved By Grace:
We are like Jesus’ friend Lazarus in John chapter 11. He was dead and buried, and the one thing Jesus did not do was to wait for Lazarus to do something. (Richard Phillips, Saved By Grace, 35.)
4) What did it do to my faith?
I can assure you it did not weaken my faith but rather strengthened my faith. How so? Let us remember that the object of faith is God Himself. I trust in Him. Despite the apostasy, God is unchanging. He is the One constant when everyone else is wavering. It reminded me that God is faithful to complete that miraculous work of salvation that He alone began.
Encouraging is the story of how God used the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints to bring the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, to faith.
In Spurgeon’s own words,
I must confess that the doctrine of the final preservation of the saints was a bait that my soul could not resist. I thought it was a sort of life insurance – an insurance of my character, an insurance of my soul, an insurance of my eternal destiny. I knew that I could not keep myself, but if Christ promised to keep me, then I should be safe for ever; and I longed and prayed to find Christ, because I knew that, if I found Him, He would not give me a temporary and trumpery salvation, such as some preach, but eternal life which could never be lost. (Steve Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, 56–57.)