“The solemn fact is that none of us can tell the difference between the beginning of backsliding and the beginning of apostasy. Both look the same. So what are the tell-tale signs of this sickness unto death? Are there early symptoms that might alert us to our spiritual danger?”
(Sinclair Ferguson – Ligonier Ministries) I can still recall the conversation although it took place more than three decades ago. A shocked friend asked, “Have you heard that Sarah is no longer a Christian?” …
What was so alarming to my friend was that Sarah had been one of the most influential, and apparently fruitful, members of her Inter-Varsity group. What would those who had been influenced by her witness to Christ say, or do? Would they be shaken to the core and now doubt their own Christian faith? After all, the person who had pointed them to Christ no longer trusted Him.
On occasion, we wonder if an individual really has been converted. And sometimes we have an inexplicable, ill-defined sense that something is missing. But we cannot read the heart. Even so, we hear of friends—whose faith we never doubted—turning away from Christ.
Apostasy is the old, vigorous word to describe this abandonment of Christ. The New Testament church was familiar with it. It was a major concern of the author of Hebrews. That is why he wrote the often-discussed words of Hebrews 6:4–6:
Those once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the coming age—if they fall away cannot be renewed again to repentance.
Some in the early church thought that the phrase “cannot be renewed” meant that those who stumbled could not be received back into fellowship. But our author does not have the penitent in mind. Rather, he is thinking of those whose hardness of heart blocks the way to the Cross and proves irreversible.