What is an apostate?

by Mike Ratliff

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!

15 thoughts on “What is an apostate?

  1. Mike, to be an apostate means to fall away, or depart. How can a nonbeleiver fall away from the faith? He or she must have a measure of faith to depart from.

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  2. Mike, accordind to 2Pet3:17 and 1Tim4:1, Peter and Paul both warn that beleivers can fall from their state of grace. Paul states that some have now become enemies of the cross. Many other passages throughout the NT warn of us falling fron our present state. Heb 6,10. How do you respond.

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  3. I respond with Jesus’ Parable of The Sower or Parable of the Soils. Of all the soils there was only one that was “good soil”. Others appeared to believe but fell away because they had no root. They were religious but not truly saved. Here is a link to a post on this parable I wrote over a decade ago-> https://mikeratliff.wordpress.com/2006/01/23/the-sower-and-the-soils/

    By-the-way, in Calvinism we call this topic The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.

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  4. Mike, This is my last reply. Thanks for explaining your position on Calvinism clearly. A true understanding of our Lord’s responce towards apostacy, can be found in Heb 3, where his response to those sinning in times past, consistently applies to His warning to us in the present, to not fall away as they did in the wilderness.

    Finally, the entire book of Jude, details apostacy in times past, and present, with a warning., for us to be gentle with some, and others pulling them out of the FIRE.

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  5. Doug, I am not disagreeing with any of that, but the Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints clearly tells us that Christians sin and many of them may even look just like those you are talking about so, yes, we must do all we can to preach repentance. God will preserve His elect and He uses us, as you said, to warn through preaching and ministry to see what sin is doing to them, but in the end, it is God who saves His people and it is only through Grace that they are saved and it you are consistent with what the Bible teaches, repentance itself is a gift of God as well. Our job is to pray for the sheep and to warn them away from the false teachings and heresies that are rampant in our day. Those doing those evil things are the apostates I was referring to.

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  6. Mike, in Matthew 13:22, it says they “become” unfruitful, which implies that they had borne fruit in the beginning. I was thinking of how a bad tree can’t bear good fruit. Can you explain more about how these folks “become” unfruitful?

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  7. Neither new believers or unbelievers are fruitful. However, real believers, even new ones, will bear some fruit, but it is not as noticeable. Unbelievers who are in the visible church can fake it. They can “look the part.” They can appear like the real deal. It looks like they are fruitful, but that is only on the surface. When the rug us pulled out from under them and God puts the pressure on these will fall away or they will compromise and become unfruitful, that is, they start corrupting the Gospel, teaching heresy, etc. I believe that those I just described are the apostates I was attempting to describe in my post and are the ones you are referring to in Matthew 13:22. I will leave you with two examples. I had a pastor several years ago who used that passage in a sermon then used a person from his past as an example. This person went to seminary with my pastor, even became a pastor himself. However, he later rejected Christianity completely and became a reprobate. My pastor asked him how he could be such a solid looking Christian then do this. He replied, “I was just faking it.” The other example I want to use is a teacher in a former Church kept asking us to pray for his son. I got him alone and asked what was going on. He told me that his son used to be a leader in that church in the youth group and was a rising star, possibly even a candidate for seminary, etc. However, he got married and then rejected everything and became a complete Liberal, hating everything about Christianity. Again, this is apostasy. They look fruitful, but then they become unfruitful in our eyes, but in the eyes of God, they were never fruitful, what they were doing was never “of Him” because they were never “in Christ.”

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  8. Carol, a certain person has pointed out to me that my first reply to you did not directly address Matthew 13:22. Since he is a synergist and I am a monergist I doubt that any reply I would make would “satisfy” him. On the other hand, I thought my reply did address it. Here is the verse: 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 13:22 (NASB) What becomes unfruitful? Is it the man or is the Word? It is the Word of God that this man “received” when he “believed.” That is what the parable is about. Many hear the Gospel and receive it, but they are not regenerate. They have no root. Their first love is not Christ. It is this World or themselves. When God turns up the heat then they fall away. However, when real Christians hear and believe they are truly Born Again. They are changed and the Word they received continues to bear fruit in them as God transforms them as they become living sacrifices as per Romans 12:1-2. Be blessed in the Lord my sister.

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  9. Thanks Mike, for both replies. 🙂 Some translations say, “it” becomes unfruitful, others say “he” becomes unfruitful. Big difference! Can you apply some of your Greek expertise and nail down which it is for sure? Thanks!

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  10. Here is Matthew 13:22 from the NA28:

    22 ὁ δὲ εἰς τὰς ἀκάνθας σπαρείς, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τὸν λόγον ἀκούων, καὶ ἡ μέριμνα τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ ἡ ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου συμπνίγει τὸν λόγον καὶ ἄκαρπος γίνεται. Matthew 13:22 (NA28)

    Here is my translation:

    22 And the seed among the thorns being sown, this one is the one listening to the Word and the anxiety of the age and the deceit of riches choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

    The words “it becomes” translates the verb γίνεται or (ginetai). It is the third singular, present middle indicative of γίνομαι (ginomai). It means, “come to exist, come into being, become, be made, be born, happen, move, belong to, behave, be in a place, there was.” The grammar structure means that the “becomes unfruitful” happens as the statement is being made.

    I must say, I find Matthew to be most difficult of all the N.T. books to translate. His Greek is far more complex than that of John. Luke is somewhere between. Paul’s Epistles are not hard either. Matthew though… In any case, after doing this translation it is very clear isn’t it that there is no place for the Word of God in those who never repent and turn to Christ as Lord and Savior, receiving the gift of salvation while submitting themselves to walk with Lord Jesus the rest of their lives.

    I have seen and known people that our Lord is describing in this passage, both the rocky soil and the thorny soil. We receive them into our fellowships and they stay awhile, but then they are gone.

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  11. Thank you! So, “it” is definitely referring to the Word of God, not the person. The Word becomes unfruitful because the heart is hardened.

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