Conversations in Reformed biblical theology

covenant theology (5)

Apostasy

Is apostasy possible? Or is it only hypothetical, since the elect cannot fall away, and the reprobate cannot really have anything to fall away from? A strong accent upon the objective character of the covenant raises the issue. If Scripture and covenant theology place a great deal of weight upon objective membership in the visible Church, theological reflection is compelled to deal with the matter of those who fall away.

Paul says that those who seek to be justified through Torah have become “severed from Christ” and have “fallen from grace” (Gal 5.4). He also provides warnings against “receiving the grace of God in vain,” and even insists that he himself exerts effort, lest after having preached to others, he himself become disqualified (literally, “unapproved” - 1 Cor 9.27).

The Scriptures meet us where we are. We are not God; we cannot trace out the lines of eternal election or read hearts to see if there is some sort of ontological change worked in a person that shows that “regeneration” has occurred. All we have is the covenant and its promises and its warnings, through which Christ has come to us. And surely that is enough.

Apostasy must always remain a mystery, an anomaly. Rather than overanalyze it (similar to trying to determine how Adam, created perfect, could fall), we need to persevere in the promises by looking to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our (persevering) faith.

Bibliography

Disclaimer: inclusion of material in the bibliography implies neither endorsement of all views expressed in the material, nor that the author of the material endorses (or, if deceased, would have endorsed) the views of this web site. The criterion for inclusion of material in this list is genuine helpfulness to the discussion, not uniformity of viewpoint.

Dennis Bratcher: “The Concepts of Conditionality and Apostasy in Relation to the Covenant.”

J. Geertsema:  “Can We Break the Covenant?” One side of a publication-conversation Geertsema had with Herman Hoeksema regarding covenant-breaking.

Rich Lusk: “New Life and Apostasy:  Hebrews 6:4-8 as a Test Case.” (In The Federal Vision; Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner, eds. Monroe, LA:  Athanasius Press, 2004, pp. 271-299.)

Quotations

God indeed favours none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and . . . by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after His image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why He should not grant the reprobate also some taste of His grace, why He should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of His light, why He should not give them some perception of His goodness, and in some sort engrave His word on their hearts. Otherwise where would be the temporary faith mentioned in Mark iv. 17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence.

- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews at 6.5

He calls it the Spirit of grace from the effects produced; for it is by the Spirit and through His influence that we receive the grace offered to us in Christ. For He it is who enlightens our minds by faith, who seals the adoption of God on our hearts, who regenerates us unto newness of life, who grafts us into the body of Christ, that He may live in us and we in Him. He is therefore rightly called the Spirit of grace, by whom Christ becomes ours with all His blessings. But to do despite to Him, or to treat Him with scorn, by whom we are endowed with so many benefits, is an impiety extremely wicked. Hence learn that all who wilfully render useless His grace, by which they had been favoured, act disdainfully towards the Spirit of God.

It is therefore no wonder that God so severely visits blasphemies of this kind; it is no wonder that He shews Himself inexorable towards those who tread under foot Christ the Mediator, who alone reconciles us to Himself; it is no wonder that He closes up the way of salvation against those who spurn the Holy Spirit, the only true guide.

- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle to the Hebrews at 10.29