What is an apostate?

20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:20-22 (NASB)

The Bible very clearly teaches that Christians should examine themselves quite often in order to see what their spiritual condition is. Genuine Christians are not perfect people. Neither are they always full of happiness, in perfect health while having plenty of money in the bank. No, the fact that all believers are called to be humble, poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart and many other things that are growing in their character means that they will spend much of their time in the fires of sanctification.

It is during these times of pruning that believers are in the greatest danger of becoming despondent, discouraged, and even depressed if they have not learned to view their circumstances correctly.

Despite what many in the Easy-believism or Universalism camp teach, there are people who profess Christ who are not genuine. They are not regenerate nor do they have the Holy Spirit because they are not in Christ. Genuine Christians abide in Christ. They remain. They may go through the worst tribulation imaginable, yet they remain attached to the Vine. However, when tribulation descends on the disingenuous professing Christians they do not endure because they have no root in themselves. The world and the deceitfulness of riches cause some to fall away. These are not genuine believers.

19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 (NASB) 

The English word “apostate” describes one who has renounced their religious faith. It implies that he or she is a defector. Many apostates make no public profession of their defection from Christ yet they are because their allegiance is to another Jesus, not the genuine Christ of the Bible. What are the traits of an apostate so that we may recognize them? Is that possible? Our Lord’s brother, Jude, wrote a book bearing his name that we find in the New Testament. It contains just one chapter. We find the purpose of this book in vv3-4.

3 Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 1:3-4 (NASB) 

As we define apostasy and who apostates are we should also be encouraged to contend earnestly for the faith so let us begin. Jude lists the attributes that are common traits of apostates. Some will have them all while others will have fewer. We have already seen the first three attributes in v4 where Jude tells us that apostates are ungodly, morally perverted, and have denied Christ.

The Greek Word that is translated as “ungodly men” is a combined word that means “without worship.” It describes one who is godless and without fear and reverence of God. It does not mean irreligious, but one who actively practices the opposite of what the fear of God demands. Therefore, we must come to grips with the fact that professing Christians can be apostate.

The phrase, “turn the grace of our God into licentiousness,” describes people involved in “unrestrained vice” or “gross immorality.” This means they have shameless lifestyles while irreverently flaunting God’s grace by indulging in unchecked and open immorality.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Romans 6:12-15 (NASB) 

This brings to mind those demanding the freedom to live any way they desire while insisting on being regarded as genuine Christians. This is a demand by apostates.

The last trait from v4 is, “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The Greek word Jude used for “Master” is “despotes.” It is translated as “Lord” in other parts of the New Testament. It means “master of slaves.” The Greek word Jude used for “Lord” in v4 is “kurios.” It means “Lord and Master.” What is he saying in this phrase? The apostates disowned Christ as sovereign Lord (despotes) and disdained any recognition of Christ as “Lord and Master” (kurios). They did this by their wicked behavior. All apostates pervert what the Bible declares is true about our Lord Jesus Christ.

8 Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. Jude 1:8 (NASB) 

From this verse we learn the next four traits of an apostate. Apostates are dreamers who defile the flesh, are rebellious, and revile holy angels. Apostates are dreamers. This is referring to a confused state of the soul or abnormal imagination, producing delusions and sensual confusion. The Word of God is fuzzy to them because they are numb to it. Because of that, they are in the process of being beguiled and deluded. They fantasize wicked perversions because they are spiritually blind and deaf to reality and truth from God’s Word. The implication here is that these people were falsely claiming that their dreams and visions were from God. Because of this “dreaming” or “emphasis” on claiming their works are works of the Holy Spirit, they end up defiling the flesh in their rebellion. This reviles holy angels because they attribute their wicked works, which they call good, to “helping spirits.”

To “defile the flesh” refers to the fact that apostates have few, if any, moral restraints resulting in immoral lifestyles. In their rebellion they reject all authority, civil and spiritual. In their demand for “freedom” and “tolerance” they end up rejecting the Holy Scriptures and denying Christ.

10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Jude 1:10 (NASB) 

Apostates speak evil. This Greek word for “revile” means to “blaspheme.” They have a brash, bold, egotistical infatuation with imagined power and authority. They blaspheme about Holy things from their evil imaginations in their ignorance. Apostates are intellectually arrogant and spiritually ignorant because Satan has blinded them. Also, they are not regenerate so they do not have the spiritual ability to understand spiritual truth. When confronted with Biblical truth, which condemns what they are calling good, ironically, they rail against those who are giving them the truth, calling them arrogant and ignorant. Because of their apostasy, they are in the process of being spiritually destroyed.

16 These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. Jude 1:16 (NASB) 

Apostates are grumblers. The only other place we find this Greek word in the Bible is in the Septuagint, which is the Greek version of the Old Testament. It is found in Exodus 16:7-9 and Numbers 14:27,29 to describe the “murmurings” of Israel against God. Therefore, we know that apostates are self-focused people who grumble against God because they perceive that He is unfair. As a result, they are complainers. This means they are “fault finders.” They are finding fault with God and His ways. When confronted with doctrine they try to pick it apart in their rebellion while stating that they just need Jesus, forget all of this condemning doctrine. They are self-seeking people, which is how the New Testament often describes the unconverted. They are unregenerate people trying to be Christians on their own terms. They may be good speakers or writers, but their words are empty and lifeless with no spiritual value. They draw many people with their message, but it contains no divine truth. They flatter people by telling them what they want to hear. How popular is the Word-Faith message or the feel-good message of Joel Osteen? How about that of Rick Warren? Haven’t these people developed their own version of the Gospel that appeals to the unconverted by removing the Law from it as well as the offense of the cross?

17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” Jude 1:17-18 (NASB) 

Apostates are mockers of God’s coming judgment. They deny that they will be touched by it. They have attained such high spiritual status that God will accept them on their merits. This mocks the cross as well. Aren’t some denying the necessity of the cross and the atonement through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ? Whoever teaches things like that are apostates.

19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:19 (NASB)

Apostates cause divisions. They may accuse those who confront their apostasy as being divisive, but it is their false teachings that fracture the church. In their arrogance, apostates tell their hearers and readers that they have the highest spiritual knowledge. However, they are sensual in that they are attracted to the most debased levels of life. When professing Christians try to prove that it’s okay to be fleshly rather than holy and pure they appeal to Human Reason that they equate to spiritual knowledge. They are worldly minded rather than spiritually minded and they resent anyone telling them the truth from God’s Word, which condemns what they are doing. Lastly, they do not have the Holy Spirit. They are not genuine Christians because without the Holy Spirit in a believer there is no possibility of spiritual life.

Now, what must we do with this? We must examine ourselves. We must pray for God to look deep within us then show us what must be repented of and killed. We must learn to walk before the face of God as Spirit-filled believers with wisdom and discernment. When we encounter apostates we must do so in the power of the Holy Spirit in our humility and obedience to God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Mike Ratliff

Possessing The Treasure