Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just read 2 Timothy 3:1-6, which says that a massive turning away from God will occur in the last days. I have been wondering if the Bible has anything to say about whether or not Christians will turn away too?
Unfortunately, most Christians don’t recognize that there will be a large-scale betrayal of Jesus by Christians, or “Apostates,” in the last days. Of course, many Christians will stay true to Jesus as evidenced by the martyrs described in Revelation chapter five.
Apostate is the Greek term for “falling away,” which describes those who start with Christ and then turn away for any number of reasons.
The book of Jude is often called, The Acts of the Apostates. It describes the betrayal of Christ by these “Christians” in the last days. I refer to them as “Christian Killers,” because they also become extremely hostile to those who remain faithful to Christ… persecuting and even martyring many.
Who are these Christian Killers?
First, Christians who fall away from Christ don’t like the God of the Bible, so they make up a god they can like.
The tendency is for every culture to make gods in their own image. We see these gods everywhere in the United States.
American religion was founded upon the Puritan ideas of judgment, damnation, and hell for sinners. Certainly, this concept has faded away in the Christian church in America.
But let’s get more recent.
Before World War II and on into the decade of the 40s, Jesus was the unquestioned Savior and Lord, worshiped by the faithful.
In the 1950s, people saw Jesus as family-oriented. He was the man in the gray flannel suit who was there to make every person successful with a mix of psychology and religion.
In the 1960s Jesus’s image was transformed into a long-haired, bearded young man—a radical who loved peace and not war.
In the 1970s, the so-called “me decade,” people turned inward to discover themselves and the image of Jesus became a faded picture.
In the 80s, Jesus was a conservative Republican.
In the 90s, He became the sympathetic listener to everyone’s hurts and problems.
From the year 2000 through the year 2018, Jesus has disappeared in a secular setting and become irrelevant to many. Persecution of Christ-followers is increasing even in this “free country.”
Please, allow me to make three observations about falling away from God.
First, once we cease to believe in the God of the Bible, we will feel free to design a god of our own choosing.
Let me show you some APOSTATE THINKING that is creeping into American Christianity.
Seventy-six percent of all Americans believe in heaven, but only 15 percent believe in Jesus’ teaching about hell (G. Barna). But Jesus mentioned hell in Luke 16:23, saying, “In hell, where the rich man was in torment.”
Many believe that if a person is generally good or does enough good things for others during their lifetimes, they will earn a place in heaven. However, the Bible declares that no one is righteous in God’s eyes; salvation is by grace alone (Romans 3:10; Acts 4:12).
Others teach that all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being. However, the Bible teaches that here is no other name under heaven whereby men may be saved (Acts 4:12).
Still others believe that all people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs. However, the biblical teaching is that only those who believe in Christ will be saved (Romans 3:21-26).
Apostates make up their own custom-designed religions they perfect “cafeteria” or buffet spirituality.
As they go down the “line” they pick and choose a little bit of what they want to believe from a number of sources. Everyone picks out the sweets. No one wants the vegetables.
Second, once we think that we are free from God’s scrutiny, we will feel free to ignore his standards.
Many cultures throughout history and even today have clear-cut ethics and values that they teach their children.
Several decades ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered the 10 Commandments out of the public schools. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not institute anything to replace them.
The draftees of the Constitution had an underlying assumption that people would live and behave properly as long as they were accountable to a “higher being.” Our Constitution is not designed to work well in a secular society where people are loosed to live with no ultimate accountability… a characteristic of Christian Killers.
Third, we cannot lower God’s standards in the hope that if the terms are easier, more people will come to Christ.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor during World War II, was martyred in a German prison. During his time of torture, he wrote, “There is cheap grace and there is costly grace. Cheap grace is the kind of grace that costs the person nothing. It leads to hell. Costly grace, on the other hand, will cost a man/woman everything they have” (my paraphrase).
Bonhoeffer continued, “When Jesus calls a man or a woman, he bids them to come and die.”
Across our nation, churches are ignoring or defending sin in the name of tolerance. The Gospel is soft… following Christ is a suggestion rather than an ultimatum. And when “Christians” bred into these beliefs don’t like what Scripture says, they dismiss God’s very words out of hand.
“Come and die” doesn’t play in our culture… and I believe that many of those who call themselves Christians will become apostates during the last days. They will betray Christ to save themselves. They will become Christian Killers.
What do Christian Killers in today’s churches look like?
The book of Jude gives us several recognizable characteristics:
Christian Killers are grumblers.
Christian Killers complain about the way God is caring for them. They imagine themselves to have a better plan than God. God hates this apostasy!
The antidote to grumbling is to recognize and submit to God’s plan at work.
Christian Killers are fault-finders.
Whereas grumbling is directed against God, faultfinding is directed against His followers. Faultfinders usually start with one, but they soon recruit others.
The antidote to faultfinding is to encourage at least one person every day.
Christian Killers change allegiance.
Becoming a Christian means that a person changes allegiance and decides to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes.” These men and women are going back on their initial commitment to Christ. They push away the God of the Bible and find another master to follow—themselves.
The antidote to changing allegiance is total surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christian Killers proudly set themselves up as superior to others.
They portray themselves as being smarter, wiser and often privy to mysteries and knowledge that others don’t have… which is a lie.
The antidote to personal boasting is to pray to see ourselves from God’s perspective.
The big question is, “Are Christian Killers really Christians?”
Perhaps the simplest answer regarding the nature of Christian killers is found in Matthew 13. Let me simply paraphrase this parable of Jesus:
The Sower sows the gospel; it lands on hard sidewalk and the birds eat it up.
Then the Sower cast seed on rocky ground; it took shallow root, but the hot sun burned it out.
Then the Sower cast seed on weedy ground; unfortunately, the seat sprouted, but the cares of the world choked it out.
Finally, the Sower cast seed on good ground. The seed took root, grew, and produced much fruit.
First, sidewalk seed was eaten up by the birds and never even sprouted. These obviously are not Christians.
The rocky and weedy soils both sprouted but died out and produced no fruit.
The obvious question here is, “Do these soils represent people who started strong for Jesus and then fizzled out and fell away? Were they Christians or not?”
There is no doubt about the good soil. It grew and produced much fruit. These folks are obviously Christians.
How do we know? Jesus said, “He/she that endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
Personally, I believe that the second two types of people described in the paragraph are apostates, or Christian Killers. They never truly accepted the Gospel and trusted Jesus Christ. They were never Christians in the first place.
I hope that I’ve helped to answer your question with information that may prove helpful.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Churchin Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.