I’ve been a Christian long enough to have seen many people fall away from the faith. Some have been well-known ministers or speakers who built large organizations or churches before falling into outright unbelief or into impenitence for serious sin. Others have been close friends who have decided to abandon their profession of faith along with their spouses. Still others have been former students in Bible studies and Sunday school classes who embraced worldly values and never darkened the door of an orthodox, gospel-preaching church again even if they claimed some sort of Christian allegiance.
Usually the apostasy comes with such suddenness that it seems as if it happened overnight. As circumstances unfold, however, it normally becomes clear that this was no sudden change. Sometimes it began with a male friend spending lots of time alone with a female friend who was not his spouse, confiding in her about his marriage struggles. In other cases, the individual started entertaining doubts about God’s Word and made no real attempt to find answers. Failing to gather regularly for corporate worship alongside God’s people started the slide into faithlessness in other instances. I could list different circumstances that led up to the apostasy in other situations. What they all have in common, however, is how they show that apostasy wasn’t a decision out of the blue. It was the culmination of many steps, the first several of which likely went unnoticed. Apostasy is normally not a sudden fall off a mountain of faith into the valley of unbelief. More often than not, people tiptoe into apostasy.
What, then, shall we do? Paul shows us the way. First, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). When we see people leave the faith—and the New Testament tells us repeatedly that we will—the solution isn’t to think, “That’ll never happen to me.” The answer is to thank God for His preserving grace and to ask Him to make us persevere in faith. We need not live in fear that the Lord won’t preserve us, for He glorifies all whom He justifies (Rom. 8:29–30). But one of the ways He preserves us is in and through our prayers for perseverance and our confession of utter dependence on His grace.
Second, we must heed Paul’s admonition to keep a watch on ourselves and on our doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). These words, while having a special application for pastors and elders, help keep us from sliding away from Christ. Are we repenting regularly from sin? Are we seeking to justify acts that we know to be wrong? Are we seeking to align our beliefs with Scripture? If we find ourselves stuck in a sin, are we asking fellow believers for help? Are we being vigilant against even a hint of impropriety? These are the kinds of questions we should ask to keep watch on ourselves and our doctrine.
Praying for ourselves, keeping watch on our moral lives, and paying attention to our doctrine—this is how we avoid tiptoeing into apostasy.