Remain “Solid in the Faith”
“The inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith.”—1 Tim. 4:1.
1. Should we be unduly shocked if someone falls away from the faith?
ARE you profoundly shocked and unduly disturbed when you see or hear of a Christian you know yielding to doubts, cooling off and perhaps even becoming rebellious to the point of deserting the Christian congregation and trying to draw others away with him? If so, you may be comforted in knowing that, sad as such occurrences may be, the Scriptures forewarn us that they will happen.
2, 3. (a) What does the word “apostasy” mean, and who was the first apostate? (b) What did a course of apostasy bring upon Israel and Judah?
2 The word “apostasy” comes from a Greek term that means “a standing away from,” “a falling away, defection,” “rebellion, abandonment.” The first one to fall away from the true worship of Jehovah was Satan the Devil. He was therefore the first apostate. (John 8:44) He caused the first human couple to become apostates. (Genesis, chapter 3) Very early in the history of Israel there was a “falling away” or ‘turning aside’ from true worship. We read:
“Even to their judges they did not listen, but they had immoral intercourse with other gods and went bowing down to them. They quickly turned aside from the way in which their forefathers had walked by obeying the commandments of Jehovah.”—Judg. 2:17.
3 Later, many of the kings of both Israel and Judah became apostates and led the nations they were ruling over into a course of apostasy. God first punished the northern kingdom of Israel, saying: “Against an apostate nation [Israel] I shall send him [Assyria].” (Isa. 10:6) And just before the destruction of Jerusalem, capital of Judah, by the Babylonians, Jehovah stated: “From the prophets of Jerusalem apostasy has gone forth to all the land.” (Jer. 23:15) Apostasy or falling away from the true faith certainly brought no blessings to Israel and Judah.
Apostasy Among the Early Christians
4. What warning did Jesus give against apostates?
4 Early on during his earthly ministry, Jesus warned his followers against apostates. In his Sermon on the Mount, he said:
“Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading off into life, and few are the ones finding it. Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them.”—Matt. 7:13-16.
5. What did Paul say about apostates?
5 Twenty-five years later, Paul warned the Christian elders of Ephesus: “I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) In the last of his inspired writings Paul named a few of such first-century apostates. He warned Timothy: “Shun empty speeches that violate what is holy; for they will advance to more and more ungodliness, and their word will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of that number. These very men have deviated from the truth, . . . and they are subverting the faith of some.” “Alexander the coppersmith did me many injuries . . . be on guard against him, for he resisted our words to an excessive degree.”—2 Tim. 2:16-18; 4:14, 15.
6. What are some of the identifying features of typical apostates?
6 If we analyze these warnings given by Jesus and Paul, the following identifying features of typical apostates emerge:
(1) Deviation from the truth
(2) Twisted, empty speech
(3) Efforts to subvert the faith of some and draw away disciples after themselves
(4) Hypocrisy (‘wolves in sheep’s covering’)
(5) Recognizable by their fruits; they ‘advance to more and more ungodliness’
Such telltale signs were meant to enable the early Christians quickly to identify apostates and to ‘be on guard against them.’
Apostasy “in Later Periods of Time”
7. When did mass apostasy occur, as foretold by what scripture?
7 The apostasy that was “already at work” while some of Christ’s apostles were still alive became prolific “in later periods of time,” that is, after their death. The five telltale signs became increasingly apparent from the second century on and reached a climax in the fourth century. This mass apostasy was due to occur before the “presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the day of Jehovah.”—2 Thess. 2:1-12.
8, 9. (a) What warning did Peter give concerning the last days? (b) Would these “ridiculers” and “law-defying people” be exclusively outside the Christian congregation?
8 But other scriptures make it clear that even during “the last days” of the present system of things, cases of apostasy would occur within the true Christian congregation. The apostle Peter wrote:
“In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his?’ . . . You, therefore, beloved ones, having this advance knowledge, be on your guard that you may not be led away with them by the error of the law-defying people and fall from your own steadfastness.”—2 Pet. 3:3, 4, 17.
9 Peter was not merely warning his brothers against “ridiculers” and “law-defying people” in the world. Christians have always been well aware of danger from that quarter. Peter was also speaking of the danger of being “led away” by some within the Christian congregation who would become “ridiculers,” making light of the fulfillment of prophecies concerning Christ’s “presence” and adopting a law-defying attitude toward “the faithful and discreet slave,” the Governing Body of the Christian congregation and the appointed elders.
Causes and Effects of Apostasy
10, 11. (a) What is one important cause of apostasy? (b) What are some parallel meanings of the Greek word translated “to doubt,” and how does the apostate set himself up as a judge?
10 Among the various causes of apostasy, one of the foremost is unquestionably a lack of faith through doubt. (Heb. 3:12) Interestingly, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology supplies the following information on the Greek verb that is often translated by “to doubt”: “Diakrinō, make a distinction, judge, . . . ; doubt, waver. . . . In some [New Testament] passages doubt appears as a lack of faith and thus as sin (Rom. 14:23). . . . In Rom. 4:20f. doubt comes close to disbelief. . . . Doubt is thus a lack of trust in the act of God which he has still to perform and which men are to await. . . . In the NT the doubter sins against God and his promises, because he judges God falsely.”
11 Thus the one who doubts to the point of becoming an apostate sets himself up as a judge. He thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the “faithful and discreet slave,” through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes. He develops a spirit of independence, and becomes “proud in heart . . . something detestable to Jehovah.” (Prov. 16:5) Some apostates even think they know better than God, as regards his ordering of events in the outworking of his purposes. Two other causes of apostasy are therefore ingratitude and presumption.—2 Pet. 2:10b-13a.
12. What are some of the effects of rebellion and apostasy?
12 As to the effects of a course of apostasy, one immediate result is a loss of joy. The apostate becomes hardened in his rebellious ways. Another is he fails to take in the spiritual food provided by “the faithful and discreet slave”—this leading to spiritual weakness and breakdown of spirit. Contrasting the happiness of his loyal servants with the sad condition of apostates, Jehovah stated prophetically:
“Look! My own servants will eat, but you yourselves will go hungry. Look! My own servants will drink, but you yourselves will go thirsty. Look! My own servants will rejoice, but you yourselves will suffer shame. Look! My own servants will cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart, but you yourselves will make outcries because of the pain of heart and you will howl because of sheer breakdown of spirit.”—Isa. 65:13, 14.
13 After having yielded to such works of the flesh as “enmities, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects,” apostates often fall victim to other fleshly works such as “drunken bouts,” “loose conduct” and “fornication.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Peter warns us against those who “look down on lordship” by despising theocratic order, who “speak abusively” of those entrusted with responsibility within the Christian congregation, and so ‘abandon the straight path.’ He says that their “final conditions have become worse for them than the first.”—Read carefully 2 Peter, chapter 2.
How to Avoid ‘Falling Away from the Faith’
14, 15. How can we avoid presumptuousness?
14 We have seen that one of the basic causes of apostasy is a lack of faith through destructive doubt, and that the word translated “doubt” also means “to distinguish.” The apostate makes himself a decider of what is true and what is false, of what is “good and bad” in the way of spiritual food. He becomes presumptuous.—Compare Genesis 2:17; 3:1-7.
15 So to avoid falling away from the faith, the Christian should beware of a lack of faith, “the sin that easily entangles us,” and “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1; 3:12, 19) Paul gives us this advice: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Cor. 13:5) Paul is not inviting us to have doubts about “the faith,” but to question ourselves, as to whether we are living up to the faith or not. Such honest self-examination should fill us with modesty and humility, thus protecting us from the independent spirit and presumptuousness of the apostate.
16. (a) What other pitfall should we avoid? (b) What twofold lesson can we learn from the Beroean Jews?
16 To avoid falling away from the faith, we also need to guard against ingratitude. We should be thankful for the abundant spiritual food we are receiving through the “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45) This does not mean that we should not convince ourselves of things as we go along. In this respect, a twofold lesson can be learned from the Beroean Jews. To be sure, they ‘carefully examined the Scriptures daily as to whether these things were so,’ but they were also “noble-minded” because “they received the word [being preached to them by Paul and Silas] with the greatest eagerness of mind.”—Acts 17:11.
17, 18. What should we be able to distinguish, and what advice does Paul give on this?
17 Such grateful eagerness to learn will help us to cultivate love and acquire accurate knowledge, together with full discernment. These Christian qualities will, in turn, enable us to distinguish between things of major importance and those of lesser importance. Is some point we have trouble in understanding really important? Does it affect the truly important things we have learned with the help of the “slave” class? Is it worth stumbling ourselves and perhaps others? Does it prevent us from bearing Christian fruitage?
18 Paul counsels us: “This is what I continue praying, that your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ, and may be filled with righteous fruit, which is through Jesus Christ, to God’s glory and praise.”—Phil. 1:9-11.
‘Snatching the Doubters out of the Fire’
19. (a) What other distinction needs to be made? (b) What further upbuilding counsel does Jude give?
19 Since we have been warned that “some will fall away from the faith,” we should be ready “to put up a hard fight for the faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones.” (1 Tim. 4:1; Jude 3) But a distinction needs to be made between trouble-making apostates, as mentioned in 2 Peter, chapter 2, and Christians who become weak in faith and have doubts through lack of accurate knowledge. Jude makes this distinction. After warning against “murmurers, complainers,” who “are admiring personalities,” and against “ridiculers,” who “are the ones that make separations,” he says: “Keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view. Also, continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire.”—Jude 16-23.
20. How should doubters be helped, but what if they refuse help and “fall away from the faith”?
20 Yes, such doubters need to be shown that they are in danger of being consumed by destructive doubts. Their Christian brothers, and particularly the elders, should endeavor to help them, snatching them, if at all possible, out of the “fire” that could destroy them spiritually. As to those who refuse such patient, loving help and who really “fall away from the faith,” we should not be unduly disturbed. With the apostle John, we will say: “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.”—1 John 2:19.
“Solid in the Faith” to the Very End
21, 22. (a) What encouragement does Peter give toward remaining strong in the faith? (b) What must spiritual Israelites and the “great crowd” continue to do in order to realize their respective hopes?
21 There can be no doubt that Satan would like to see all of us ‘fall away from the faith.’ So Peter counsels us:
“Take your stand against him, solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world. But, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Pet. 5:8-10.
Yes, those of spiritual Israel, who have been called to reign with Christ in “everlasting glory,” must remain faithful in “the hour of test,” if they wish ‘no one to take their crown.’—2 Tim. 2:10; Rev. 3:10, 11.
22 Their companions, members of the “great crowd,” also realize that they must remain “solid in the faith” if they wish to “come out of the great tribulation.” (Rev. 7:9, 10, 14) Both those Christians who have the heavenly hope, and their companions whose hope is to live forever in the restored paradise on earth, are determined to continue faithfully preaching “this good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) The fine expansion in many parts of the world, down to this year 1980, is proof to them that Jehovah’s blessing is on his organization, and that there is still work to be done. They therefore heed Paul’s counsel: “Let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.”—Gal. 6:8, 9.
23. What gives all of us “strong encouragement” to remain “solid in the faith”?
23 As we see the things foretold for “the last days” taking place before our very eyes, we have strong confidence that “the great tribulation” and the dawning of God’s righteous new order are right at the doors. The marvelous blessings that lie just ahead for us, either in heaven or in the earthly paradise, give us “strong encouragement” to remain “solid in the faith” to the very end, in order to “lay hold on the hope set before us.”—Heb. 6:17-19.
“But you, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view.”—Jude 20, 21.
[Box on page 19]
Lack of faith
Spirit of independence
[Box on page 19]
Loss of joy
Lack of spiritual nourishment
Works of the flesh
[Picture on page 21]
“Save them by snatching them out of the fire”