There are many examples throughout the Bible of people who become deceived, who embrace the wrong things and end up on the wrong side away from God. How does that happen? Is it possible for ANYONE to become deceived? Even a righteous, Bible-believing follower of Christ? Since we are living in a time of growing darkness where more and more people who claim the title “Christian” are embracing non-biblical doctrines and beliefs, we need to understand not just how spiritual falling away happens – what the Bible calls “apostasy” – but how it can be addressed.
Read verses 1-3
Q: From what spiritual point does this all begin?
A: There is no one “who does justice, who seek truth”. It begins with the abandonment of God’s Word both in their relationships with others (no justice) and in their relationship with God (no truth).
Q: How would you describe the problem identified in v.2?
A: Their honor and acknowledgment of God goes only so far as their lips. It’s declared to be false by God because it does not come from their heart.
Q: What is the reason revealed in v.3 as to why God invokes discipline?
A: To induce His people to return to the truth, to living according to His Word.
Q: What is supposed to be the result of repentance? Is it enough to acknowledge and believe in God?
A: Acknowledgment and belief are not enough because that was the problem identified in v.2, that it’s just lip service. Biblical repentance is always visible by a return to God’s truth – His Word.
Read verses 4-6
Q: How are the people Jeremiah attempts to reach here different than in the opening verses?
A: He moves on from the “common folk” to those who are supposed to be the pillars of the community, so to speak.
Q: What was discovered about both groups?
A: Even though their socio-economic status may be different, they both suffer from the exact same problem: (1) they don’t “know the way of the Lord” (v.4, 5), and (2) they don’t know “the ordinance of their God”. (v.4, 5) They don’t have the truth of God in them in general (knowing His ways) or specifically (knowing His ordinances).
Point: Money and statue have no connection to the degree one adheres to the truth of God’s Word. All are held to the same standard, and likewise found falling short of same.
Q: What is the meaning of the wild beasts in v.6?
A: Certainly there are multiple layers of meaning, but two that relate to the context of Jeremiah and his going to the greater people of his day: (1) they represent the judgments to come over the whole of Judah from outside forces beginning with the Babylonians, and (2) they represent the internal results of having rejected God’s Word in that their own kings (lion), false teachers (wolf), and unfaithful priesthood (leopard) will turn and devour their own both spiritually and in taking advantage of the rest. It’s the dual message of spiritual destruction both from without and within.
Q: God uses two specific terms as the chief characteristics which identify those who reject His Word. What do they mean?
“Transgressions” can always be read as “rebellion”. It describes consciously choosing to reject God’s ways for one’s own.
“Apostasies” is taking rebellion a step further to completely reject God. It is always applied to someone who at one time had come into an intimate knowledge of God before rejecting Him, as opposed to a non-believer who never knew God to begin with.
Point: Continued rejection of God’s Word leads to rebellion, knowingly going against God’s ways in favor of another.
Read verses 7-9
Q: Why are the people – at this point in time – not deserving of God’s exemption from judgment?
A: They have not exhibited any signs of remorse, sorrow, or repentance. In fact, they have taken the blessings of God and devoted them to their own ungodly pursuits.
Point: This is one of the key indicators of apostasy: Devoting the things of God to the pursuit of one’s own desires while rejecting His.
Read verses 10-13
Q: What is the nature of God’s next step as described in v.10?
A: A kind of “pruning” to remove all the unspiritual branches so that only the few spiritual will remain.
Q: How does their continued behavior further erode God’s Word?
A: They continue to twist and re-interpret God’s Word to satisfy their own meaning, even to the point of justifying their own actions. Their declarations that their own actions are somehow exempt from God’s judgment is, in fact, a lie.
Point: The unaddressed rejection of God’s Word leads to rebellion, apostasy, and finally to embracing the opposite of the truth. It’s a process by which they’ve exchanged the truth for a lie. The even begin espousing the lie as the truth.
Q: What is the ultimate irony of the result of apostasy?
A: What they call a “word” from God, God Himself calls “wind”. Their behavior and choices have not just merely rendered God’s Word ineffective for them personally, but replaced it with something that is nothing more than an illusion, something complete ineffective.
Read verses 14-17
Q: So what is the logical result of rebellion and apostasy?
A: Coming to know God’s Word and then choosing to reject it results in complete destruction according to God’s judgment.
Point: God’s Word does either one of two things: produces righteousness where it is accepted, or eradicates unrighteousness where it is not. It either purifies an accepting person, making them fit for the presence of God, or purges them from God’s presence to make pure all that is before God.
Q: What is the common denominator to all the things which judgment will take away?
A: They’re all the multiplied blessings of this physical life, the things that one would hope grows into bigger and better things for them and their heirs. Their loss corresponds to the type of like spiritual loss that will be experienced.
Read verses 18-19
Q: What is the familiar biblical principle at work here?
A: You reap what you sow.
Q: Why do you suppose that biblical remnants are so small?
A: Probably because rebellion is so extensive that so few are left who are capable of learning the right lesson from it.
Read verses 20-29
Q: What are the defining characteristics of those God calls “foolish and senseless”?
They “have eyes but do not see”
They “have ears but do not hear”
This is because they have no “fear” – appropriate respect – of God.
Point: If you don’t truly believe God’s Word to begin with, either His promises of blessings for obedience or judgment for disobedience, you have no incentive to follow God’s Word. Spiritual blindness is caused not by having a special restriction by God to not see nor hear nor understand, but by a basic lack of respect of Him and His Word.
Q: How do we know that these who are “stubborn” and possessing a “rebellious heart” at one time were drawn to God but have now rejected Him?
A: According to v.23, they have “turned aside and departed”. Scripture repeatedly uses the teaching of staying on or straying from the path as maintaining or rejecting a right relationship with God. To have one’s feet at one time set upon the path means that at one time the people referred to followed God’s ways. Subsequently they have chosen to leave Him for another path.
Point: In v.24 this is also identified as the action of someone who does not “fear the Lord”. If you maintain the proper respect for God and His Word, you don’t stray from His path for another.
Q: What does v.25 identify as the things for which the rebellious and apostate reject God?
A: “Iniquities” and “sins”. Basically they are backslidden to the point that they want to wholly take up the old life they originally, albeit temporarily, forsook for Christ.
Q: How do the remaining verses describe the basic behavior of the apostate?
A: “They...excel in deeds of wickedness”. (v.28) Their appetite is focused on consuming others, at elevating and enriching their self at the expense of others.
Point: The apostate are identified with the very characteristics of Satan himself, pride and greed.
The don’t fear God.
They become spiritually blind.
They leave their walk with Christ for another.
They pursue the sins of the old life.
They seek personal gain at the expense of others.
Read verses 30-31
Q: How does this teach about the great apostasy to come which the Bible predicts for these Last Days?
A: There is a lack of accountability at all levels. It’s not just that there are false prophets, nor that there are just false teachers, but that they are encouraged by the people in general.
Point: One might say that the one side wants to deceive and the other wants to be deceived by their choice to reject God’s Word and pursue their own sinful desires.
It’s important to mention that no one can deceive you as long as you continue to be committed to an obedient relationship with Christ. It’s only when you decide to pursue sin that a deceiver’s words can take root and produce harmful results. The clear connection here is that personal sin leads to deception, not the other way around.
This is why it’s not enough to merely identify who is a false teacher or what might be a false teaching. Knowledge is never enough by itself to save. What is needed is sincere and moral repentance of sinful behavior from the heart. The problem is not simply rejecting God’s Word, but rejecting it in concert with the pursuit of sin. It’s an issue of the heart. This is why we must hold others accountable for sin and seek for the issues of sin to be addressed.
There is no revival possible without repentance accompanied by a commitment to cease from further sin.