by Mike Ratliff
The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 2:1-3 ESV)
Christian, think back to those early days of your walk with the Lord. Your entire value system seemed to be turned upside-down. You loved God and your devotion to your Saviour was the most important thing in your life. Old sins had no power over you. You were full of joy and wanted only to serve the Lord Jesus with your all. At the same time, you also discovered that your relationships changed. You could love others with a deeper and more sincere love that was active and compassionate. Would this describe your relationship with the Lord Jesus and all those around you today?
All in Christ must grow in grace. We must mature by learning more and more of God’s truth and applying it to our lives. We must serve Him in capacities that require His grace and power in order for us to do them. This builds faith and brings glory to Him. We must also endure the fires of sanctification. Some sins, which cling closely to us, are very difficult to mortify and if we were adults when God saved us, our flesh has a long history of domination in us and it can be especially hard to deny. In fact, the battle to overcome it can be quite brutal. These things can take a toll on us, but if we diligently fight the good fight then our devotion to our Lord and Saviour will not diminish or become clouded.
On the other hand, many professing Christians never seem to have to go through any of that. In fact, they and their leaders are part of a cultic form of Christianity that proclaims genuine Christians should not suffer in any way and, in fact, should be wealthy, healthy, and free from trouble.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:13-23 ESV)
This should be quite sobering to all of us. These our Lord spoke of here are not genuine Christians at all even though they think they are because of their “good” works. However, our Lord speaks of these folks as bearing bad fruit that is evidence of their disingenuousness. This will be evident to all with discernment from God. Many believe they are genuine Christians because of their religiosity and even call Jesus, “Lord, Lord!” However, our Lord calls them workers of iniquity and tells them that He never knew them.
Then there are Christians who do have a history of loving the Lord and serving Him with their all, but who are now on cruise control.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1-7 ESV)
These are genuine Christians, however, the Ephesians fervor for Christ had become cold, mechanical orthodoxy. Instead of communing with God as a vital part each day, they had become simply religious as the motive for their good works. They did good works for which our Lord commended them, however, He also made it clear that their doctrinal and moral purity, their undiminished zeal for the truth, and their disciplined service were no substitute for the love for Christ they had forsaken. He went on to tell them that if they did not repent of this that they would cease to be a church (their lampstand would be removed from its place).
The Greek word John used in this passage that is translated here as “love” is ἀγάπη or agapē. This is benevolent love. This love is the motive for doing good works. The Ephesians, when they first believed, loved the Lord Jesus and this love was expressed towards Him and towards others. Their motive for doing all of these good things was this love. However, something had happened that changed this motive from their love for the Lord and others to a love for their religion and their works. Our Lord tells them that they have “fallen” from what is good and right into a sinful heart condition. The words “you have fallen” is one Greek word, which is ἐκπίπτω or ekpiptō. This verb is in perfect tense, indicative mood, and active voice. The Ephesians fall is complete or finished. They do not partially love Jesus as the motive for their religiosity while loving their works a little. No, their fall into empty religion is complete. That is what this Greek verb form tells us.
I believe that we are all in danger of taking for granted our love and devotion for the Lord Jesus. It is so easy to be religious for religion’s sake or for the motive of being socially accepted or for any other motive other than a pure holy love for our Lord Jesus Christ from a grateful heart. How do we guard against falling into this my brethren?
We have covered this subject a great deal in many posts. What we must never forget or take for granted is the miracle of our salvation. When we stop being grateful for our salvation by taking it for granted then we have left the love we had at the first. The symptom of this is a loss of fervor for devotion and communion with God. Instead, we serve in Church and all that goes with that for religion’s sake. How do we keep this from happening? We live our lives as living sacrifices and pursue to be joyful, abiding, spirit-filled believers (Romans 12:1-2;John 15;Ephesians 5).
Not long ago I wrote an article about the movie “Fireproof.” I wept during many parts of that movie because of the obvious works of grace being portrayed in it as people believed and repented. Yes, the movie was low budget and the story could have been deeper, et cetera, but to my wife and I, its message is exactly what most married couples need to see and understand and practice. A couple of days ago I read a review of that movie written by a professing Christian. He hated the movie. He complained about all of those superficial things and never once commented on the obvious message of the gospel and the difference between a self-centered marriage and a Christ-centered one. This critic’s complaint was that Christian movies should be more artistically oriented and appeal to the “higher” things in life rather than sin, salvation, repentance, et cetera. It was as if I was seeing into the heart of one who either had left the love he had at the first or he was one of those our Lord spoke of in Matthew 7 who called Him, “Lord, Lord,” but were not genuine.
Where is your focus? Are you being religious for any motive other than your love and devotion for the Lord Jesus? If so, there is a problem. This is serious business my brethren. I experience many “attacks” on what I teach here from both groups, the tares and those who have lost the love they had at the first. The first group are so obvious in their attacks that I almost prefer to deal with them than those who love their orthodoxy more than they love the Lord and express that in unloving accusations that reveal hearts devoid of the joy of the Lord. Examine yourselves my brethren. Repent of what God shows you and learn to love others from a joy filled heart full of love for the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!