Continuing our study of the eternal security of the believer, otherwise known as the perseverance of the saints, we will consider today the phenomenon of people who appear to be believers but then walk away from the faith. Since we believe Scripture teaches that all who truly believe in Christ are justified and will never fall away finally so as to be cut off from salvation (Rom. 8:29–30), what is happening when we see people abandon their profession of faith? After all, many of us have known or will know someone who appeared to be a genuine believer but then renounced Christ.
Falling away from the Christian faith is known as apostasy, and there are examples of this reality throughout church history. Even the Apostles had to deal with individuals who abandoned their profession of faith. We can think, for example, of Hymenaeus and Alexander, two men who made shipwreck of their faith during Paul’s ministry (1 Tim. 1:18–20). Certainly, these examples prove that it is possible to renounce one’s profession of faith. But do they demonstrate that Christians who actually possess faith can commit final apostasy? Let us consider two important matters that will help us answer this question.
First, we must consider whether the falling away that we see is actually final. After all, Scripture gives us examples of people who fell from grace only later to repent and return to a life of discipleship. Just think of the Apostle Peter, who denied Christ and then was later restored (John 18:15–27; 21:15–19). If early church tradition is correct, he even was martyred for his faith under Emperor Nero. King David, similarly, had a great fall into adultery and murder, but he later repented and was forgiven (2 Sam. 11:1–12:15a). In both cases, the man who fell was ultimately restored to a right relationship with God and His people.
Second, we need to understand the difference between professing faith and possessing faith. Remember that many people claim the name of Christ without ever actually trusting in Him for salvation. First John 2:19, for instance, explains that those who fall away finally abandon only a profession of faith. They were never one of us; that is, they never possessed living faith in the Savior.
Only God can see the heart, so we should not be surprised that some people can make a good show of faith without truly believing in the name of Christ. Not all who profess faith in Christ really believe in Him, and those who fully fall away never had true faith.