How are Christians to handle professing Christians who prove they are apostate?

by Mike Ratliff

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 2 Peter 3:1-4 (NASB) 

How should those of us who are in the light of God’s truth live in these last, apostate days as so much of what calls itself “Christian” is anything but? In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, we have just such an instruction. Chapter 3 can be broken down into two distinct parts. Part one runs from v1 through v9 and addresses the apostate nature of those who oppose God’s truth. Part two begins in v10 and runs through v17 and addresses how the man of God should live in an era dominated by wicked men who profess to be Christians. As we study these letters of instructions, it is imperative that we never forget that false teachers, preachers, prophets, and leaders have always plagued the Church. False doctrines are allowed by God to arouse His people to address them and lead the godly remnant out of that darkness into the light of His truth. Our doctrines have been primarily developed through perilous times such as ours. God uses the fires of persecution and tribulation to refine His people and grow them unto Christlikeness. Therefore, let us walk according to the godly instruction of the Apostle Paul given to us in his Spirit-inspired words.

1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 Timothy 3:1 (NASB) 

1 Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε, ὅτι ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις ἐνστήσονται καιροὶ χαλεποί· 2 Timothy 3:1 (NA28)

The word “realize” in v1 is the Greek word γίνωσκε. Interestingly, Paul’s usage of this verb is in present tense, indicative mood, and active voice. This denotes a command to do something “in the future” which involves continuous or repeated action. This verb means, “to know experientially” instead of intuitively. In other words, this is a command to Timothy and us to not be in the dark and ignorant of what is going on as large parts of the visible Church starts to circle the drain in their apostasy. We are to look and discern what is going on by asking God for wisdom and discernment daily as we read and listen to what these false preachers, teachers, and leaders say as well as observe what they do. This is a vital part of how we are to live a Godly life in the midst of the apostasy for to live it we must be obedient and that includes standing firm and rebuking those who teach what is false.

The word “last” is the Greek word ἐσχάταις. It means, “the extreme, most remote.” When it is used in reference to time, it means the last, generally that which concludes anything. When used in reference to “this age,” which precedes “the age to come,” it is used to define the conclusive character of the final time. In other words, it is referring to that time and era prior to the return of the Lord Jesus. How does he describe this “time?” The word “difficult” is the Greek word χαλεποί. This is an interesting word. This word is also translated as “perilous.” Here it is used to define the “time” that is called the “last days.” This word, χαλεποι, is used to describe the savage nature of two demon-possessed men in Matthew 8:28. The image Paul is giving Timothy and us in this verse with these words is that the savage, dangerous “times” or “eras” or “epochs” will increase in frequency and severity as the return of Christ approaches. The strength of the delusion that incites or entices professing Christians to become mockers and apostate enemies of the truth will become more and more apparent in gathering strength as the end nears (Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 12, 24; 2 Peter 2:1,2). I believe we are seeing this very thing.

2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 2 Timothy 3:2-5 (NASB) 

2 ἔσονται γὰρ οἱ ἄνθρωποι φίλαυτοι φιλάργυροι ἀλαζόνες ὑπερήφανοι βλάσφημοι, γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς, ἀχάριστοι ἀνόσιοι 3 ἄστοργοι ἄσπονδοι διάβολοι ἀκρατεῖς ἀνήμεροι ἀφιλάγαθοι 4 προδόται προπετεῖς τετυφωμένοι, φιλήδονοι μᾶλλον ἢ φιλόθεοι, 5 ἔχοντες μόρφωσιν εὐσεβείας τὴν δὲ δύναμιν αὐτῆς ἠρνημένοι· καὶ τούτους ἀποτρέπου. 2 Timothy 3:2-5 (NA28)

The phrase “lovers of self” is one Greek word, φιλαυτοι. This word describes those who love themselves to the point of conceit and selfishness. When our Lord described those who save their lives instead of losing them for Him, He was showing us what these people are really like. He or she loves their life so much that they will do anything to save it. This level of self-love excludes the proper love for the Lord and, therefore, those who are φιλαυτοι are never surrendered to Christ as their Lord. They do not take up their crosses and follow Him. This would be exactly the opposite of their unregenerate character. What about those “lovers of money?” This is also one Greek word, φιλάργυροι, which is aptly defined as avaricious or covetous. These two definitions make it clear that the enemies of God’s truth are focused on the temporal, the here and now, and what fulfillment they can get from it. We are commanded to be in the world, but not part of it. Those who oppose the truth and are the same ones who stand in opposition to the preaching of God’s truth as The Truth, are totally sold out to the temporal and since they are not regenerate, they are totally defined by the flesh, no matter how religious they are.

Carefully read the vv2-5. I would like to look at the last description in v4, which says, “lovers of pleasure (φιληδονοι) rather (μαλλον) than (η) lovers of God (φιλοθεοι).” This is a contrast between two extremes.   The word μαλλον describes something that is more than something else to a greater degree. The word φιληδονοι describes a love of sensual pleasure while φιλοθεοι describes a love for God. Therefore, those who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” are the impenitent who claim to be Christians. They claim that it is okay to remain in their sensual sins because they were forgiven at the Cross, but our Lord Himself said that His disciples are those who must deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Him. Therefore, what Paul is describing here are professing Christians who are not regenerate. They are not disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ no matter how much they claim to be. They are enemies of the truth even though they have the appearance of godliness they live a lifestyle that does not exhibit the regenerational miracle of salvation by the power of God. Paul commands Timothy and us to avoid (αποτρεπου) such (τουτους) men, that is, we must αποτρεπου, which means, “turn oneself away from,” τουτους (such) people, that is those who match the description Paul just gave.

Paul goes on to describe the futile nature of τουτους people in vv6-9:

6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. 9 But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also. 2 Timothy 3:6-9 (NASB) 

I would like to focus on v7.

7 πάντοτε μανθάνοντα καὶ μηδέποτε εἰς ἐπίγνωσιν ἀληθείας ἐλθεῖν δυνάμενα. 2 Timothy 3:7 (NA28)

These people Paul is describing are always (παντοτε) learning (μανθανοντα). This sounds good doesn’t it? I mean, I love to learn. I love study and digging out the truth and teaching it to those who can see and hear. However, Paul qualifies this in his description of those we are to turn away from. They are never (μηδεποτε) able (δυναμενα) to come (ελθειν) to the knowledge (επιγνωσιν) of the truth (αληθειας). Here we have a precise description of the “intellectual” leaders of the emergent movement in all its forms. These are well read men and women who make sure that those who read what they write and hear what they say know how deep they are in the knowledge of men, but according to Paul, these also never are able to come (ελθειν) to the knowledge (επιγνωσιν) of the truth (αληθειας). The word for “knowledge” here, επιγνωσιν, means “full discernment” or “acknowledgement.” Therefore, these intellectual and well-read false leaders are always learning, but their grasp of the truth (αληθειας) is never realized.  In this context, Paul is speaking of the knowledge of God’s truth as opposed to the verity that man believes is the truth.

We must continue living in this age where the Church is under full attack from these people who reject God’s truth in place of man’s. We are commanded to remain and be salt and light in the midst of this so how do we do it?

10 Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! 12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 (NASB) 

We are to walk by faith in patience in the love of God as we love the brethren. We are to be steadfast no matter how severe the persecution. Yes we may suffer, but as Paul says in v11, “the Lord rescued me.” He will do the same for us according to His will and plan. Our treasure is in Heaven so even if we are killed, we will be with our Lord. He tells us in v12 that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (διωχθησονται) or “will suffer persecution.” We must not become discouraged when the dogs and wolves attack. I remember when I was attacked by several at once over a devotional I had posted on CRN a several years ago. I posted it on a Sunday afternoon after I had preached two sermons at a church in northern Missouri that morning. I confess that I was surprised and somewhat amazed at the viciousness of their attacks. They used the reasoning of the world. They called me names. They attacked my character. They accused me of things that I will not repeat here. Through it all, I had the support of the entire CRN discernment team, but these attacks were very personal and their words hurt. The truth was on trial and if we had not stood firm, it would have been overwhelmed by the vicious attacks of those who hate the light.

We must be prepared to defend the truth and to do that we must become completely grounded in God’s Word and the godly doctrines within. That is what these dogs and wolves lack. They discount the Bible as the Word of God. They reject Sola Scriptura and, therefore, they have no firm foundation. They are always learning, but they never come to a knowledge and understanding of the truth. They will attack us and to serve God in the midst of this, we must never stoop to their tactics. We must always respond from God’s Word and use it as our plumb line. If we do not do this then we will be easy pickings for those bent of their “new reformation.”

Soli Deo Gloria!

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