"They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (1 John 2:19)
John is saying here that people who 'backslide' and then fall away from the faith entirely, a symptom of the end times by the way, never really were saved to begin with. "They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him," (Titus 1:15).
For many professing "ex-Christians", it starts with apostasy, something Paul said there would be plenty of in the last days.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim 4:1-3)And before the person started falling away, in came sneaky heresies they began listening to:
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)So the progression is: profess Christ by mouth... but since there was no visible fruit to show the state of grace they were claiming on the inside, they were never really saved; fail to walk closely with Jesus by procrastinating in discipleship, bible study, prayer, and/or worship, furthering the distance between themselves and Jesus; listen to or promote destructive heresies that either they knowingly or unknowingly begin to believe, start doubting Christ's sufficiency; doubt more, and then slide to full blown renunciation and end up in a state of atheism. Peter says "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first." (2 Peter 2:20)
For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
Notice the words that both Jude and Peter use to describe the heresies what will infiltrate the church in the last days; "secretly" and "crept in". The heresies don't come into the church by way of aggressive men bellowing a 'new doctrine' to the delight of followers who joyfully jump their pews and run out the door to his new church. They come sneakily, secretly, subtly. And no wonder, "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made..." (Genesis 3:1) so satan isn't going to capture hearts with bellicose attitudes or flagrantly detectable bad doctrine. Many of the preachers and teachers will not even openly pronounce their heresies, they will be secret within their heart and only after a while, introduced slyly. Jude's words "crept in" also indicate something that also isn't readily detectable and is subtle at the start.
These teachers will have a big, white smile, open their lecture with a warm joke, and tell you that Jesus was a good, moral teacher and that you deserve the best life now. They will never tell you that your best life is later and that Jesus didn't come to be a moral leader but to seek and save the lost- And that you are lost. Others will tell you that we are all one universal consciousness, we are our own gods, and then, they will give you a car. They will tell you that if you believe in Jesus, He will make your life better, while you are seeking Him from comfy ampitheatre watching a techno-sermon with a cappuccino in your hand. Seeker-sensitive churches are false on its premise because in Romans we learn that no one seeks God.
The end result of a Christian in name only - that is, one who claimed Jesus but never really believed - and is one who is at risk of being tempted by destructive heresies, and ultimately of apostasy. What comes next is atheism.
Atheism is a natural cul-de-sac in the road away from the cross. Gotquestions.org writes:
"At the same time, it takes just as much faith to believe in atheism. To make the absolute statement “God does not exist” is to make a claim of knowing absolutely everything there is to know about everything and of having been everywhere in the universe and having witnessed everything there is to be seen. [I]t cannot be proven that God does not exist. It takes just as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a theist."
Which, I suspect, could be one of the reasons Peter said it makes a person worse off from what they were before. Whereas a person before was a perhaps being drawn by the Spirit, after apostasy settles in and atheism rears its head, a person is well and truly now in the dangerous pits of despair, misplacing their burgeoning faith in Something for a faith in Nothing that will last forever.
An interesting article appeared in Maine Family Policy Council's online publication, The Record:
"While there may be a diversity of opinion about the nature of God, no one in state government has stepped forward to doubt His existence. Atheism remains a strong taboo in political circles, in part because of the widely-held belief that faith in God is the mainstay of civil society. Eight state constitutions explicitly forbid atheists from holding public office. Tennessee’s state constitution gives the clearest statement in this regard:"
"No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state."
"The controversial belief that atheists are untrustworthy has ancient roots. Plato wrote that disbelief arises from either sensuality, or from a conceited belief in one’s own wisdom. He warned that those who do evil deeds think one of three things: First, that god does not exist; second, that if god does exist, He does not care what people do; and third, that god can be otherwise appeased by good deeds."
"The opinion of John Locke was also severe with regard to non-believers in public office. Locke wrote that atheism undermines the foundations of civil society. “They are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.” "
"For centuries, Christian doctrine held that not only atheists, but irreligious people in general, could not be morally good. To quote one expert in Christian ethics: “Therefore, the irreligious man is not a morally good man since he neglects to perform his essential duties to God. Besides, a man who shuns his duties to God will be prone likewise to shun his duties to his fellow man.” "
It all starts with destructive heresies, ungodly men creeping in unnoticed. And why aren't they noticed? Because Christians today all too often fail to be familiar with the real thing, foregoing bible study, quiet time, prayers, and worship, so that when the counterfeit shows up, being only subtly different from the Truth, it goes unnoticed. What today's Christian needs is larger doses of the above, not smaller. As times get tougher and stress makes a person weary, as work loads increase and family strife abounds, people fall away from the paving stones of a faith that lead toward the cross. This process separates the Christians In Name Only from the true believers. Are you worried about your salvation? Are you unsure? Has there been no visible fruit in your life for a while? You are at risk. Repent. Take it to the cross, and make sure you are saved. Apostasy is a 'subtil' thing, as subtle as satan. Has he crept into your heart?