Apostasy is the sad reality that can cause difficulties for the doctrine of perseverance. We all know people who have fallen away after making a profession of faith and, at least from what we can see, have never returned to the fold.
This falling away from the faith is the very definition of apostasy, and it has been a problem for ages. For example, we have already considered Hymenaeus and Alexander, two men who made shipwreck of their faith during apostolic times (1 Tim. 1:18–20).
Clearly, it is possible for professing Christians to abandon the Lord. Determining whether faith-possessing Christians can commit final apostasy, however, requires that we answer two questions.
First, is the falling away temporary or final? Someone who appears to have denied Jesus has not necessarily fallen permanently. Just as we all know people who apparently never returned to Christ, all of us have also known people who were restored to faith after falling away for a season. Peter is perhaps the best-known New Testament example of this phenomenon (John 18:15–27; 21:15–19). When we look at the Old Testament, we see that it was many months before David repented over his sins of murder and adultery (2 Sam. 11:1–12:15a). Both individuals demonstrate how a person who seems to have fallen away may not have actually become an apostate.
Second, is the person who seems to have fallen permanently someone who possessed faith or someone who only professed faith? Remember that many people claim to be saved without really being one of the Lord’s people. Several New Testament passages indicate that those persons who commit final apostasy professed faith without possessing it. First John 2:19 is clear that members of God’s family do not fall away permanently.
These questions should remind us of our limitations. Only God can truly see the heart. Some people profess faith falsely. Others who seem to have fallen away will eventually be restored. At Jesus’ return there will likely be some surprises when we see who really trusted Him and who did not (Matt. 7:21–23).