The Apostasy Vortex

From a scientific point of view a vortex is a circular, spiral motion in water or air that pulls things toward its center. The term is often used for topics that draw or pull people in and results in a challenging situation.

By Robert D Anderson (Own work) [GFDL (  via Wikimedia Commons

By Robert D Anderson (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Recently I taught a lesson on the Hebrews warning passages and the inter-related topics of eternal security, faith, and apostasy, which created a vortex within the classroom.

In this post I hope to outline three major views of eternal security and how they relate to enduring faith and apostasy.

Before we do that, we will need to make an assertion and then define three terms.

While Christians may differ on how one comes to faith, all would agree that salvation is conditioned on a person having faith (John 3:16, 36; 6:47).

whoever believes has eternal life. – John 6:47

The doctrine of Eternal Security holds that if a person has been genuinely saved, then that  person cannot forfeit salvation. They will receive eternal life. However, how eternal security relates to the related doctrines of apostasy, and enduring (or persevering) faith varies among proponents.

Apostasy is the deliberate choice of the will that a person, who has made a prior confession of faith,  makes, renouncing their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. This idea is seen in the Parable of the Soils.

They believe for a while, but in a time of testing fall away. – Luke 8:13b

The idea is also captured in 1 Tim 4:1 where Paul writes that “some will depart from the faith”.

Enduring Faith describes the faith of a person who stands firm in their belief until the end. Keeping the faith throughout ones life is considered a defining characteristic of genuine, saving faith. When a person does not hold onto their faith it indicates that they are not saved.

But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish,
but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls – Heb 10:39

We see enduring faith in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:7). Written as he faces execution, Paul rejoices for having kept the faith throughout his life:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;

I use the term enduring faith instead of perseverance of the saints. They are related ideas but the latter is often used to describe the doctrine that a truly saved person must have enduring faith because they cannot commit apostasy. Enduring faith is more broad, thus inclusive of that idea. It simply asserts that without enduring faith one is not saved.

How one integrates these three ideas results in three different views, summarized in the table below.

# View Enduring Faith Eternal Security Description
(1) Forfeit Salvation Y N A person can be genuinely saved and later commit apostasy resulting in forfeiting their salvation.
(2) Professing Faith Y Y A person who professes faith in Christ but later commits apostasy has shown that they were never truly saved.
(3) Free Grace N Y A person who professes faith in Christ but later commits apostasy is still guaranteed eternal life. They have only forfeited rewards.

Let’s examine how these views play out in an example. Let’s assume a person, Hymenaeus, is an unbeliever at time t0 on a timeline (see the diagram below). At some point in their life (t1) they make a profession of faith and have a walk reasonably consistent with their profession (tx). Later on in life, during a time of testing, they fall away, committing apostasy at time t2.

ExampleTimeLineRegardless of the view one has on eternal security, apostasy, or enduring faith,  Hymenaeus would be considered unsaved prior to time t1. During the period of time, marked tx, anyone who was asked the question: is Hymenaeus saved, would answer in the affirmative.

It is only when we are evaluating the entire situation from the perspective of the point in time labeled t3, that things start to get interesting. The three major views would assess the person at each time marker, based on the commission of apostasy, as follows:

# View Saved Prior to t1 Saved @ T1 &TX Saved @ t2 & TX
(1) Forfeit N Y N
(2) Professing N N N
(3) Free Grace N Y Y

As we can see there is considerable differences between the three views when they examine Hymenaeus from the later vantage point. This is because at that point each view must integrate how they understand the three doctrines of eternal security, apostasy, and enduring faith.

Views #1 and #2 both hold to enduring faith so they do not see Hymenaeus as being truly saved at t3 in light of his commission of apostasy.  Views #1 and #3 would both view Hymenaeus as being truly saved during the time period marked tx, but because they differ on the doctrine of eternal security they would assess him differently at time t3.

Views #2 and #3 both hold to eternal security, however they assess Hymenaeus’ earlier profession of faith differently in light of his commission of apostasy. Although proponents of view #2, like #1 and #3, would have assessed Hymenaeus as being saved during tx, they now conclude that he was never truly saved during that time because his faith did not endure.

Each view is challenged by Scripture

View #1 holds that a person can forfeit salvation if they commit apostasy. Those who hold this view must grapple with passages that suggest that once a person is truly saved they cannot renounce salvation and perish (John 10:27-30 ; Rom 8:28-29; Eph 1:13-14).

The 2nd view (#2), holds that a truly saved person cannot forfeit salvation, nor can they commit apostasy. A person, like Hymenaeus, who renounces their faith has only proven that they were never saved to being with. This view must contend with passages that suggest those who commit apostasy were truly saved (1 Tim 4:1; Heb 6:4-6; 10:29; 2 Peter 2:20-22).

Finally, view #3, holds that a truly saved person cannot forfeit salvation even if they commit apostasy. A person, like Hymenaeus, who renounces their faith is still in Christ and will receive eternal life. This view must engage passages that suggest enduring faith is required to inherit eternal life (1 Cor 15:1-2; Col 1:21-23; Heb 3:12-14).

How do you assess each of these views?

1 thought on “The Apostasy Vortex

  1. Pingback: Grace for All: Is Faith just a Moment in Time Decision? | Dead Heroes Don't Save

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