Disheartened by the extraordinary dangers and difficulties of the war, a Roman army lost courage. Against their general's wishes they decided to retreat. Not willing to give in easily, the general appealed to his soldiers' love of country, their honor, and their oaths. He tried desperately to revive their courage. Although they trusted and admired him, they were not convinced. The army turned in desperate retreat. In a mountain pass where the soldiers had just finished clearing a gorge, the road was no more than a footpath between two gigantic rocks on one side and a cascading, foaming river on the other. The path between was only wide enough for a single file line of men to step.
As a last resort, the general laid himself down in the path saying, "If you will retreat, it is over this body you go, trampling me to death beneath your feet." No one advanced. The soldiers decided that they would rather face their fierce enemy than trample the leader they respected and loved. Hesitating no longer, they wheeled around to resume their march, deeming it better to suffer and even endure death than to trample under foot their devoted and patriotic leader.
Their fear and lack of foresight caused them to lose sight of their original goal and led them to near-apostasy. In a secular sense, apostasy is abandoning one's political party, principles, or cause. Ancient papyri documents show that the word was used politically regarding rebels. In the case of the Roman soldiers, for a moment all had abandoned the cause. We normally call this type of apostasy "desertion," "defection," or "abandonment."
Biblically, apostasy is rebellion against God or the abandonment of faith in God by those once enlightened by the truth. In the Old Testament it always relates to rebellion against God. In Israel, apostasy was a capital offense. One who sacrificed to another god was stoned to death (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). If an entire city was implicated, its inhabitants were killed, and the city and its contents were burned and reduced to rubble (Deuteronomy 13:13-18). Incitement to apostasy was also punishable by death (verses 2-12). Anyone who gave his offspring to another god was stoned to death (Leviticus 20:2-3).
In the New Testament apostasy picks up the added meaning of "defection from the truth." The Greek word apostasia occurs in only two places: Acts 21:21 as "forsake," and II Thessalonians 2:3 as "falling away." In classical Greek, apostasia is a technical term for political revolt, defection, or rebellion as in the Old Testament. Other words and phrases in the New Testament also express the idea of apostasy: "fall away," "lead away," "drawn away," "depart from the faith," "follow destructive ways." All refer to rebelling against God and rejecting the truth.
God's church is cautioned to beware of the danger of apostasy. II Thessalonians 2:1-3 records that Paul predicted the apostasy from the truth, and Galatians 1:6 contains Paul's amazement that it had begun so soon. A persistent danger to the church, falling away is prophesied to increase in the latter times. Paul warns us not to be deceived by any means and that the apostasy must come before the return of Christ. Though apostasy occurs constantly, not until recently has it happened so extensively in God's church.
I Timothy 4:1-2 warns that Satan's influence can lead to apostasy: ". . . in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons." False teachers encourage apostasy by seducing Christians from the purity of the word to other gospels. Peter tells us it was happening in his time: "[T]here will be false teachers among you. . . . And many will follow their destructive ways" (II Peter 2:1-3).
Apostasy is encouraged by false brethren. Today, some among the churches of God have their own agendas, promoting false ideas to the brethren and causing confusion (Galatians 2:4). A person who draws people away from the truth is self-seeking and full of pride. Peter also warns us not to be led away by such wicked apostates (II Peter 3:17).
Apostasy increases in times of persecution (Matthew 24:9-10). The persecutions of early Christians forced many to deny the faith and to offer incense to a heathen deity or to blaspheme the name of Christ.
Apostasy can be caused by temptation. The Parable of the Sower mentions how those without a solid foundation in the truth believe only for a while, and in time of temptation fall away (Luke 8:13). Happy with the truth at first, they become discontent when it does not fit their lifestyle.
Worldliness brings about apostasy. In James 4:4, James refers to anyone who is unfaithful to their covenant with God by neglecting their duty to Him and yielding themselves to the indulgence of their own lusts and passions. We, in effect, break our marriage covenant with God if we love the world more than we love Him (see I John 2:15).
Apostasy due to worldliness consists of setting our hearts on amusement and gratification, in conforming to them, and in making them the object of our pursuit with the same spirit with which the world seeks them. Without a staunch resistance to the world's enticements, it is just as easy for a believer to be a friend of the world as for an unbeliever.
Unfaithfulness or unbelief brings about apostasy. Faithlessness leads to an evil heart of rebellion against God. The author of Hebrews refers to this as "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12-13). He later writes, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Faithlessness, rebellion, and defection from the truth are forms of apostasy. When a person apostatizes, he tramples underfoot his Savior Jesus Christ, who died so that our sins could be forgiven (Hebrews 10:28-36). Faith, obedience, and loyalty to God make it impossible for the seed of apostasy to germinate and develop into rebellion. God encourages us to endure the bombardment of heresy and to stand firm, doing His will and not our own. The faithful listed in Hebrews 11 avoided apostasy by faith and obedience (Hebrews 11:33-40; 12:1-2).
We should, therefore, take to heart the advice found in Hebrews 10:36: "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." And so, as Christian soldiers, we can follow our Captain into battle against the enemy.
- Martin G. Collins
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