What exactly is the sin of apostasy? Does it mean that a genuine Christian can actually lose his or her salvation? Or does it mean something else? Are there such people who once professed faith in Christ, but over time became so rebellious and hardened by sin that they fell away from the faith thus proving that they never possessed saving faith in the first place. The book of Hebrews provides some strong warnings against the sin of apostasy.
Hebrews 3:12–14 reads, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
The writer warns his audience to “take care” or “pay very close attention” that they not have an unbelieving, hardened, rebellious, calloused heart that will eventually lead to falling away from God. The Greek word for “falling away” is “apostasia” where we get the word apostasy.
Apostasy is defined as this: It is the hardened, rebellious, disobedient, prolonged unbelief that leads to falling away from the gospel. There are a few things we need to clarify: (1) Apostasy does not mean that one loses his or her salvation; instead, it means that one never had it in the first place and was proved out over time. (2) Apostasy is not the committing of one particular sin like adultery, theft, or murder, but the prolonged, habitual, hardened, stubborn unbelief of rebelling against God as an entire lifestyle. (3) The final destiny of one who falls away is not heaven, but suffering eternal conscious torment in hell.
The primary way a person can prevent this damning drift into apostasy comes in daily Christian exhortation or encouragement. We need other believers around us and in our lives to challenge us, confront us, and speak the truth in love so that we will stay focused on Christ. One of the tell-tale signs that you are drifting away from God is that you no longer see the value of being part of a church family on a consistent basis. You have isolated yourself away from any godly relationships that can influence you for maturing in Christ.
If we don’t expose ourselves to this daily encouragement from others we face the risk of having hardened hearts that have succumbed to the deceitfulness of sin. This word for “hardened” (skleryno) in classical Greek was originally used as a medical term to describe the hardened swelling of a bone. In current medical usage, we have a similar phenomenon called “atherosclerosis” otherwise known as the hardening of the arteries. This condition occurs when cholesterol and fat collect and calcify in the arteries causing a narrow restriction which eventually prevents the healthy flow of oxygen to our major organs. Too much “sclerosis” or hardening can eventually lead to either a stroke or a heart attack. Just as bad cholesterol can cause the hardening of arteries, the deceitfulness of sin can cause the spiritual hardening of our hearts.
In spiritual terms it denotes a moral apathy whereby people are desensitized to sin. They no longer feel any shame or embarrassment at immorality. They are no longer bothered by their own sinfulness since these things have become their lifestyle. Nothing shocks them. Persistent, habitual sin has a deadening affect on the human heart.
Apostasy starts with a slow hardening of the heart and insensitivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This hardened heart has the wool pulled over its eyes by the deceitfulness of sin.
Sin can be so devious because it presents to us a lie that God’s word cannot be trusted and that there must be some better alternative rather than to obey Him. The reason why sin is so deceiving is because it falsely promises immediate, yet temporary pleasure, but no real lasting joy. It promises the thrill of cheap substitutes instead of the lasting satisfaction of faith in Christ.
A genuine Christian will not commit the sin of apostasy but will endure to the end holding fast to the confidence of the gospel as evidenced in verse 14. If one continues into the future to hold fast the original confidence to the end, then it will really prove out that he or she was truly saved in the first place. On the other hand, if you don’t hold your original confidence to the end by persevering in faith, then you won’t be a sharer in Christ and it will prove that you never were saved in Christ in the first place.
Apostasy is a damning sin because it is a total rejection of Christ. No one who claims to be a Christian wakes up one morning and suddenly decides to become an “apostate.” Instead, it is a slow, gradual, drift over time where the heart becomes harder, the conscience more calloused, and the sensitivity to the things of God numbed. If you merely profess faith in Christ but you have never actually possessed faith in Christ through repenting and trusting in Him, then make sure you’re saved today. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart—which if not dealt with seriously may eventually end up in full blown apostasy.