Have you left your first love?

by Mike Ratliff

1 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD,
“I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth,
The love of your betrothals,
Your following after Me in the wilderness,
Through a land not sown.
3 “Israel was holy to the LORD,
The first of His harvest.
All who ate of it became guilty;
Evil came upon them,” declares the LORD.’” Jeremiah 2:1-3 (NASB) 

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.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Matthew 7:13-23 (NASB)

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.

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:1-7 (NASB) 

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).

Several years 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 few days after I posted that 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.

Lastly, I would like to take this message and sync it with a message from our Lord that has eschatological implications.

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13 (NASB) 

The lamps in this passage are actually oil fed torches. The wedding was a night event and the torches were meant to light the procession to the feast. What is the analogy for the oil and the lamps and the light from the lamps for us in our day and time? Carefully read this passage.

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. John 15:1-6 (NASB) 

I have been working on re-editing the manuscripts for my old books Possessing the Treasure and Walking the Walk by Faith. As I worked through each chapter in each book I became stunned by the focus of those books. I wrote Walking the Walk by Faith back in 2004-2005. I wrote Possessing the Treasure in early 2005. Both of those books are about becoming a Spirit-Led believer instead of self-focused, immature, fleshly professing Christian that walks through each day prayer-less and ignorant of the will of God for how we are to walk through this life as Christians. Jesus commands us in John 15 to abide in Him. He also tells us why. I used this passage as one of many anchor points in both of those books. Why is it important for us to be one who is more like one of the wise virgins rather than one of the foolish virgins? What was Jesus talking about there? What does it mean for us to have that oil and keep our lamps lit? The oil represents the Holy Spirit. Keeping our lamps lit is being ready by being Spirit-led. That means we live our lives walking before the Lord as Spirit-led believers, praying continuously, abiding in Christ, walking through each day according to the Lordship of Christ. That means that all parts of our lives are under His Lordship. When we live this way, we will be different. When our Lord does return for His Church, who will be ready?  I want to be one of those whom He will find ready. I in no way want to be like one ofof those in Ephesus who lost their first love.

To be honest, I am convinced that we don’t have very much time left before that first seal is broken and our enemy, the Beast is empowered to declare war on the saints. Then 3.5 years later our Lord will return and take us home to be with Him forever. I long for that day. Do you know anyone close to you who is lost. You had better start praying for them and/or sharing the Gospel with them.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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