In Romans 1, Paul begins discussing signs that one is falling away from God. He describes at least some steps toward apostasy beginning in verse 21, and he does so in context of a larger falling away by an entire people. He describes the Gentile nations turning away from God and toward their own creations, but he begins by saying they once knew God. Each of us in this assembly would claim to know God, but the danger is that simply knowing is not enough. We might acknowledge God’s existence, but our actions betray a different master in our lives.
Seven Signs of Apostasy
- We fail to glorify God. In John 17:4, Jesus says He has glorified God by doing the work given Him to do. In our daily lives, are we glorifying God in what we do and say? Are we following the plan He has given us? John 15:8 records Jesus speaking that bearing spiritual fruit glorifies God, and I Peter 4:16 speaks of suffering that leads to glory. Finally, Romans 4:20 describes Abraham as glorifying God in his faith. In everything we do, no matter the difficulty, we have to faithfully reflect God in our lives and thereby glorify Him.
- We fail to give thanks to God. Socially, there are few traits that annoy us more than ingratitude. We are familiar with Luke 17:11-19 when Jesus heals ten lepers. However, only one glorifies God and gives thanks. I Thessalonians 5:17-18 reminds us to consistently pray and give thanks to our God for what He has done. If we are not grateful to Him, then that reveals a deeper lack of trust in Him.
- We rely on the world. In Genesis 6:5, God looks upon man and sees the continual evil that fills his heart, trying to satisfy himself with the things of this world. This is what the Ecclesiastes author would say is like grasping wind. Focusing on self takes my attention away from God’s plan, spiritual things, and those others I might influence through my behaviors. We cannot find true meaning and purpose without God.
- Our hearts grow hard. As God is removed from my heart, it becomes filled with the darkness and bitterness of this life. There are many things in this world that can bring us a measure of joy, but it is easy to allow the various problems to overwhelm our hearts. Bad news bombards us from every angle, and it can darken our hearts. In Matthew 13:14-15, Jesus quotes Isaiah regarding those who turn their hearts away from His teachings. When we do so, our eyes are closed, and our hearts are hard.
- We glorify self. In Romans 1, Paul speaks of those who became fools in God’s eyes while considering themselves wise. In Proverbs, the term fool is most commonly used as someone bound for destruction. He is hopeless. In I Corinthians 1:20, Paul asks of the wise, and he determines that mortal wisdom is foolishness next to God, and he also concludes that trying to find God by one’s own wisdom does nothing but separate that one from God all the more. To find Him, we must take our focus off of ourselves and point our thoughts toward spiritual things. Jeremiah 10:23 admits our need for God to direct our steps.
- We mold God after ourselves. In Romans 1, Paul may be directly referencing idolatry, but are we not guilty of the same when we try to fill our lives with something other than God – even a self-defined image of God? Without God, we have a void in our lives, and we will fill that void with something, godly or otherwise. II Timothy 3:1 begins describing a time of apostasy in which people hold a form of godliness but falling short of true obedience. To remain faithful, we have to keep our focus in the right place.
Apostasy is far more subtle than we sometimes define it. Paul warns us in Romans 1 of how apostasy grows, and we should be diligent in avoiding it in any form. If we keep God at the center of our decisions, our gratitude, our faith, and our lives, we can remain faithful in His eyes.
lesson by Tim Smelser