Biblical faith refers to the essential spiritual bond or relationship between a saved person and God: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). If we truly believe in God we should recognise and accept Him for who He is, i.e. the Almighty, Triune God who created everything and in His omnipotence sustains His creation. We should also accept the fact that we are sinful beings who can only be forgiven and renewed by His grace through faith. We must have a saving faith in God as eternal life is only imparted to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sins. Having accepted Christ as Saviour our faith in the Lord must be strengthened by daily abiding in Him, walking in the Spirit and prayerfully studying His Word.
Believing intellectually that God exists and that His Son, Christ Jesus, is the Saviour of the world, will be of no avail if our acceptance of this fact neither affects us spiritually nor changes our lives. The devils also believe in the existence of God and they tremble (Jas. 2:19). We must have a living faith through which we accept, honour and serve Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Together with our faith in Him we commit ourselves to honour and serve God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. That is true faith. All those who do not practise faith in this manner are described as unbelievers whose minds have been blinded by the false god of this age – Satan (2 Cor. 4:4). Even if such people believe in idols they still are, from God’s point of view, regarded as self-deceiving infidels since they do not believe in the true God.
Unbelief is associated with the rejection of the Triune God’s position as Supreme Ruler and Saviour. The big adversary of God is Satan, who was initially the illustrious angel, Lucifer. God says of him: “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you (Ezek. 28:12,13,15; cf. Isa. 14:12-17). Lucifer became arrogant and wanted to exalt himself above God in order to become the ruler of the universe in God’s stead. In so doing his faith in God as the Supreme Ruler was destroyed and he became God’s enemy. Through his actions the faith of a third of the angels in heaven was also destroyed, thus transforming them into blasphemers and adversaries of God. They became part of Lucifer’s renegade kingdom and wilfully participated in his rebellion against God.
Lucifer and his large following of fallen angels were cast out of heaven, where after they occupied the space surrounding the earth as their new habitation. As Prince of the hostile kingdom of darkness Satan devoted himself to the destruction of God’s creation by causing disorder where order previously prevailed. That is the only obvious explanation why “the world that then existed” perished and was flooded with water (2 Pet. 3:6; cf. Gen. 1:2). On the first day of the creation of “the earth which now exists” (2 Pet. 3:7; cf. Gen. 1:3), God created light to dispel the darkness. The sixth day was the climax of God’s creative work when He created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27).
Thereafter Satan and his kingdom continued with their plans to destroy the natural world. With the help of their godless allies their main target now was human beings created in the image of God. Satan strives with all his might to prevent fallen humanity from restoring their broken relationship with God through repentance and faith. Wherever relationships established in faith exist between God and His people he relentlessly attacks the faith of these believers. The main methods used are spiritual deception as well as negative experiences aimed at undermining, weakening and even destroying people’s faith in God. Such astounding success has he achieved with these efforts that all dispensations in human history have ended in large-scale apostasy. According to biblical prophecies future dispensations will also end in apostasy or unbelief among the majority of mankind. The seven dispensations are the following:
1. The dispensation of innocence in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve had no knowledge of good and evil. They walked in the garden, had a trusting relationship with God and believed what He had told them. With great cunning Satan deceived Adam and Eve into rebelling against God by disobeying Him. He disguised himself as a snake and sowed the seeds of unbelief in their hearts. God had commanded them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, warning them that they would surely die if they did (Gen. 2:17). Satan deceived Eve by alleging that she and Adam would not die when eating the fruit but instead become all-knowing and immortal like God (Gen. 3:4-5). These are the same lies still being proclaimed today by the New Age Movement: humans can discover their own divinity and through reincarnation they will become immortal.
Satan’s lies had far-reaching consequences when Adam and Eve’s relationship of faith in God, who is the giver of life, was broken. They immediately died spiritually and physically they became mere mortal beings. Instead of obedience to God they now became subservient to a foreign god – the devil. By this means they acquired a fallen nature which was also inherited by all their descendants (Rom. 5:12). This original sin accounts for the fact that all people are born as sinners. If they are not regenerated by Christ they remain under the control of the god of this age, thereby heading for eternal death (Rom. 5:13-19).
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their unbelief, and the dispensation of innocence ended in a great tragedy for all of humanity.
2. The dispensation of conscience. God enabled fallen humanity to distinguish between good and evil through their conscience. They could communicate with God through prayers and sacrifices, thereby establishing a relationship with Him. They had the ability to make moral choices between good and evil lifestyles. The Lord said to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). However, the inclination to sin got the upper hand. All people, Noah and his family being the one and only exception, degenerated into a lifestyle of total infidelity and apostasy. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). People were so utterly corrupt that they became perpetual enemies of God, evoking His anger. Scoffing at prophetic warnings through Noah’s preaching they hardened their evil hearts even further.
The unbelief and moral depravity with which this dispensation ended gave rise to a major intervention by God in which He poured out His wrath upon the wicked and destroyed all of them: “And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark” (Gen. 6:13-14). Already at this early stage of human history it was obvious that God does not judge the righteous with the wicked, as Noah and his family escaped the judgements.
3. The dispensation of human government after the Flood. This stage of human history was characterised by the forming of peoples with independent rulers. They had the choice whether to serve God or not. By their own choice they all developed into heathen nations who worshipped idols. By building the tower of Babel they endeavoured to establish a heathen world government under the leadership of a king who deified himself. God defeated their effort by the confusion of languages, after which event the different peoples (or nations) continued with their idolatry and unbelief in the true God.
The Lord revealed Himself in this spiritually dark situation by calling for Himself a special people from among the heathen nations, who were to be a holy and separated people. They were called Israel. Unfortunately they did not live up to their spiritual calling. During a severe drought they were forced to move to Egypt where they apostatised and became the slaves of the heathen Egyptians. Nowhere in the world was there any group of people left who still believed in God and served Him.
4. The dispensation of the law. The Lord introduced a new dispensation by delivering Israel from Egypt so that they could serve Him as a holy and independent people in the Promised Land. He gave them His law and also guided, strengthened and blessed them through the priestly service in the tabernacle. He gave clear instructions to Israel not to mix with heathen nations seeing that they would spiritually defile themselves with the idolatry of these nations.
Tragically, Israel’s long history in the Old Testament was mainly characterised by apostasy, disobedience to the law, unbelief in the true God, and the worshipping of idols. God often surrendered them to their enemies, and at one stage allowed them to be taken captive by the Babylonians for 70 years. Despite all the chastising, Israel often backslid into sin and unbelief; consequently they rejected and even killed some of God’s prophets. Because of their hardened hearts God sent no further prophets to them during the long period of 400 years after Malachi. The Chosen People of God had lapsed into spiritual darkness and unbelief.
5. The dispensation of the church. With the birth of the Messiah a great light shone upon a people who walked in darkness. “That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world. He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:9-11). With the coming of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament a major revelation of God and His kingdom occurred. Many people came to faith in Christ through the preaching of the gospel and the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting people of their sin. Because of Israel’s unbelief in the Messiah, the great commission was given to preach the gospel to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. In this way the worldwide church of Christ was established.
The extended revelation of God’s kingdom in the New Testament coincided with increased knowledge of Satan and his kingdom. The struggle between these two kingdoms took on a new dimension as the devil strives with every effort to prevent people from having faith in Christ as their Saviour. The faith of those who have already accepted Christ is severely attacked in an effort to corrupt, weaken or even destroy it. Because of this intensified battle, active resistance against Satan and his subversive works is called for.
Many of the early believers, at their own peril, did not comply with this command. Paul said to the Corinthians, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you put up with it well” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). The Galatians also deviated from true faith by trying to combine law and grace. Apart from faith in Christ they also subjected themselves to the law by observing the Sabbath and having themselves circumcised. Paul said, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). He strongly denounced any effort to proclaiming false gospels, declaring those who do so as being accursed (Gal. 1:8).
Believers know from their own experience that the faith of Christians is relentlessly attacked by Satan. If they don’t resist the devil these demonic attacks can have devastating effects on their spiritual lives. Paul admonished Timothy to have “faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19).
Because of large-scale deception the early Christian church became unfaithful to the Lord, adhering to various false doctrines (cf. Rev. 2 & 3). The light of the gospel was extinguished and spiritual darkness set in, leading up to the thousand years known as the Dark Ages. This period (the 6th to the 16th centuries) is often referred to as Satan’s millennium since it was characterised by the widespread spiritual deception perpetuated by the Vatican. During this time there were only small groups of persecuted evangelical Christians, e.g. the Waldenses in Italy, who took refuge in caves high up in the mountains against the so-called ‘holy armies’ of the pope.
After the Church Reformation in the 16th century many of the Protestant churches followed the Roman Catholic idea of a state church with powers to persecute and even execute heretics. The true Christians (e.g. the Anabaptists) also suffered under them. It was only in the 18th and 19th centuries when great revivals took place in which missionaries came forward to preach the gospel everywhere in the world. The 20th century was again a time of widespread falling away in the world – not because of materialism and the human-centred ideologies of socialism and humanism only, but also by the proclaiming of false religious doctrines. The falling away gained momentum and now, early in the 21st century, is taking on unprecedented proportions. Some of the false teachings, like those promoted by the Word of Faith Movement, are taught in the name of the Holy Spirit and are accompanied by strange manifestations. It is in view of this kind of deception that the Holy Spirit Himself warns against end-time falling away as being part of the devil’s programme to gain full control over people: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Apart from doctrinal errors, falling away from faith can also be the result of indulging in sin: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12-13). Such people do not “hold the beginning of [their] confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:14).
When members of a congregation backslide for whatever reason, they become estranged from Jesus Christ and His love. To such congregations He says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). The Lord Jesus also warned His first disciples against backsliding: “Abide in Me, and I in you… If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4, 6).
In light of the widespread falling away which the Bible predicts for the last days it is obvious that the world is heading for a situation similar to those which occurred at the end of previous dispensations. The Lord Jesus warned that the time shortly before His second coming would be like the times of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30). During those times the true believers were such a small minority that they could not be a decisive factor in the character of society and were unable to curb the proliferation of evil. The Lord then intervened and removed the believers to a place of safety before judging the wicked.
We are in a similar situation today since the minority of evangelical believers can no longer ensure the observance of Christian principles in society. Christian constitutions, Christian education, Christian morality, and the biblical administration of justice with fitting penalties for criminals are all disappearing institutions in our society. These are replaced by immoral, lawless, corrupt, violent and utterly depraved institutions and lifestyles which, being worse than even those in the times of Noah and Lot, are the worst in human history. In our case the Lord will also remove the small group of true believers, this time by way of the rapture, and then pour out His wrath upon the wicked during the ensuing tribulation period.
6. The dispensation of the Antichrist’s rule. The Antichrist will be revealed directly after the rapture, when the dispensation of his seven-year long reign on earth will begin. At the onset of this period there will be no believers on earth, which accounts for the fact that the whole world will follow the Antichrist in amazement and also worship him (Rev. 13:3-4). Soon after his revelation though, 144 000 Jews will be saved, and through their testimony many other people from all nations will believe in Christ as their Saviour (Rev. 7). The Antichrist will be empowered by Satan to impose the kingdom of darkness upon all people. Halfway through the tribulation he will declare himself to be God and order the execution of all who refuse to accept his number and worship him (Rev. 13:15; 20:4). According to Revelation 6:9-11, Christians will die as martyrs during this time. It was with reference to this situation that the Lord Jesus asked: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Not only will this dispensation end in world-wide apostasy but also in a demonic-inspired effort to kill the true Christ when He comes again. Satan knows that Christ will return to earth after the seven year tribulation when He will set His feet on the Mount of Olives. Demons will be sent out to mobilise all nations for this confrontation. John says, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty… And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (Rev. 16:13-16). Their main objective with the mustering of these forces is also described: “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:19-20).
7. Dispensation of the Millennium. Jesus Christ will return to the earth to judge His enemies who will be gathered together under the leadership of the Antichrist and the false prophet, and also to bind Satan in a bottomless pit for 1 000 years (Rev. 19:19–20:3). At that time He will save the remnant of Israel and the nations as they will have bitter remorse for their sins of not having believed in Him as the Saviour of the world: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30; cf. Zech. 12:10-11).
The Lord Jesus will rule the world from the restored throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-17; Rev. 19:15). His saints will also share in His government by ruling as kings with Him (Rev. 2:26-27; 20:4). The saved Israel will be the Lord’s special witnesses who will evangelise the world during this dispensation (Isa. 27:6). They will be highly regarded by all nations (Zech. 8:23). Although the first generation of people after Christ’s return will all be saved, their children will still be born with sinful natures and will therefore have to be evangelised.
As incredible and unlikely as it may seem, a mere form of godliness will in course of time during the Millennium set in and give rise to widespread unbelief. This will be the direct consequence of people not being truly born again and crucifying their old sinful nature. The devil as the deceiver of the world (cf. Rev. 12:9; 20:3), together with all his evil spirits will not be able to actively deceive people into committing active deeds of rebellion against God. Everyone will enjoy the advantages and benefits of that special time in world history. Nevertheless they will still be potential victims of the devil when he is unbound and gets the opportunity for deceiving them.
When Satan will be released from the pit after 1000 years to once more tempt humanity in order to reveal the hidden thoughts and desires in their hearts, the majority of them will immediately fall victim to his deceit and shall wilfully participate in the last big rebellion against God and His kingdom: “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:7-10).
Conclusion: From all the examples of apostatising during different dispensations throughout the ages we learn that true believers were always a small minority. Today there are also many people who desire to be on the narrow way but who simply do not succeed to enter through the narrow gate. The Lord Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). So many people who wish to become Christians are not really prepared to repent and break with their sins. It is impossible to enter through the narrow gate with a baggage of unconfessed sins.
Confess and forsake all your sins, then you will be able to enter through the gate of true repentance. After having done so you must also trust the Lord for the second work of grace, which is sanctification. This will enable you to persevere on the way of the Lord to the end and to be of service in His kingdom. The Lord does not only want to make us believers with a testimony of salvation, but also to be effective disciples in His kingdom. To this end you need to be built up in your most holy faith (Jude v.20). Then and then alone will you remain standing and be victorious while fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
In Jude 1:3 we are exhorted “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The saints are those people who turned from the depraved world to God, entered into a relationship of faith with Him, accepted His forgiveness and deliverance, and from then on walk on His way of righteousness. Satan fiercely attacks all believers – not only in their personal lives but also in their efforts to convince others to come over from the kingdom of darkness to the Lord’s marvellous light. These attacks continued throughout the ages and are intensified in the end-time because the devil knows that only true faith will keep people from accepting and worshipping the Antichrist as universal messiah. We must resist these attacks while earnestly contending for a biblical faith in the midst of the great falling away. Read the review in Hebrews 11 of Old Testament heroes of faith who achieved great things for God’s kingdom. Never even consider joining the deceived compromisers of our time who are departing from the faith.
Stand firm in the Lord in an apostate, God-rejecting world where we are called to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Do not focus on the troubled waters through which you have to navigate your way, but keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). We should be motivated and encouraged in our faith by the sure promise of our eternal destiny.
The end-time revelation and total control by the Antichrist as the foremost infidel and man of sin will not allow true Christians any right of existence on earth during his rule. We will be taken away by the Lord, only to return again later with Christ when the Antichrist and his powers will be destroyed in the battle of Armageddon.