All of us, as Christians, share a common experience that is rather difficult that we don’t often talk about. That experience is that we often know people that we thought were believers, that we thought were Christians, that later turned out not to be. In fact, most of us, if we were to think through our life, probably know several people like this and some may even hit close to home and be rather heartbreaking.

Apostasy is a real problem in the world today and has been true for God’s people for generations.

In my own life, I grew up with a youth pastor in my church that seemed to love the Lord Jesus and teach us the Bible; and then later he left the faith, renounced Christianity, and went off in a completely different direction. That was a very heartbreaking experience for me as a young man. I know we all could share stories like that.

Definition of an Apostate

There is a category for that in the Bible. When someone who seems to be a Christian and who’s part of the church ends up leaving the church, that person is what we call an “apostate.” Apostasy is a real problem out there in the world today and has been true for God’s people for generations. Christians often struggle with what an apostate is. “How do I think about this? What categories do I put it in?”

I often tell start by telling people what an apostate is not. The first thing to realize about an apostate is that they are not just a non-Christian. The world is filled with non-Christians, people who don’t know Jesus and who aren’t saved. An apostate isn’t just an unbeliever out there. Also, an apostate is not just a struggling Christian. There are many people who are Christians and who love Jesus that have periods of backsliding and periods of struggle and even periods of disobedience. Think about King David in the Bible, but no one would call him an apostate.

An apostate seems to be a believer, and then later repudiates their belief in Christ.

What is an apostate? An apostate is someone who’s inside God’s covenant community, is part of the visible Church, whose professed faith in Christ, seems to be a believer, probably partakes of the Lord’s Supper and is a member of that congregation, and then later consciously and intentionally repudiates their belief in Christ and leaves the covenant community. That is what an apostate is.

Can I Lose My Salvation?

People get confused by that because they think this means that you can lose your salvation. The answer is no. Apostates are not people who were Christians and then stop being Christians. Apostates were never Christians to begin with and only later did it become apparent that they weren’t Christians. Here’s the upshot of the whole thing for us: God uses the stories of apostates to warn his people. Time and time again he says, “Don’t end up like that person. Don’t prove later to find yourself to be a non-Christian. Stay the course; persevere.”

That doesn’t mean people can actually lose their salvation, but God uses those warnings and uses the examples of apostates to encourage his people to stay true to the faith. This is something that we’re always going to face in the church, but thankfully we can trust that we’re in God’s hands, and when we’re in God’s hands, no one can be plucked out of the hands of the Father.