Keep on keeping on.

keep on

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:  ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.7-13

In His address to the seven churches in His revelation to John, there is only one church which Jesus does not chastise and warn of coming judgment – and that is the Church at Philadelphia.  Jesus does not have something “against” them.  He still identifies Himself, and it is still relevant to the exhortation He makes, as in His message to the first five churches.  Jesus is self-declared as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  We know that Jesus is Holy: He is God, He never sinned, and He is set aside with a special role and purpose as Savior.  He is also true:  He created everything, He wrote the moral law, He defines truth and gave us truth by which we can be saved.  He also has the key of David:  this is a bit more obscure, a reference from Isaiah:

“Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he opens no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open.”

– Is 22.22

A key, throughout Scripture, represents authority.  We see it in reference to Hades, Hell, and death and also the house of David.  David was the second and arguably the greatest king of Israel, and thus for one to have the key to David’s house would be the key to David’s domain:  Jerusalem and Israel.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the ruler over the New Jerusalem and the Earth.  He is sovereign, and thus what He opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.  This is important because we must understand Jesus as the one who controls and guards entrance into eternity – either into eternal rest in the presence of Jesus on the New Earth, or in Hell.

But the Church at Philadelphia has an open door in front of them leading to eternal rest, and Jesus has opened it.  No one can close it.  Why?  Why is Philadelphia set to meet Jesus and the others are not?  Because they have kept Jesus’ word and they have not denied His name.  There are many who claim to follow Jesus, but truly do not.  They have either deceived themselves or they are deceiving others intentionally, and Jesus calls them of the “synagogue of Satan”.  Jesus will humble them before true believers.  He also promises the church to keep them from the hour of testing.  This is a tricky promise, as some have interpreted it to mean that the Church will be kept from the final tribulation.  In light of the full teaching of the New Testament, however, I believe it to mean the hour of judgment.  We will go through two judgments as believers, and the first is the separation of the sheep and goats – the believers and non believers.  At that moment, those who did not repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation will be cast into Hell.

Regardless of your interpretation of that Scripture, the point is simple and true that Jesus will save us.  We know that our deeds will be judged and we will be rewarded according to what we have done while on the Earth, and ultimately Jesus has opened a door into eternity for those who trust Him and obey Him, and He will protect us until we enter through that door.

Jesus them promises to come quickly and exhorts the Church to hold fast to their beliefs and their disciplines.  He paints a beautiful picture of the reward awaiting them, provided they continue in the faith:  they will be forever in the presence of God, they will be branded as His, and rewarded with life in the New Jerusalem.  Why does Jesus put in that small caveat?  Reward and consequence greatly affects everyone’s behavior.  If we had no judicial system and no police, people would be much more quick to do those things that we have forbidden by the law.  Our motivation should not only be the consequence, but we must also be aware of the consequence as we go about our decision making.

This is the Church we should seek to emulate.  It is balanced, they know and love Jesus and they apply that knowledge and love of Him into their daily lives by obedience to Him.  They are functioning well as a Church and they are standing up against the false prophets who would infiltrate them and lead others astray.  And they are fighting the good fight of faith which Jesus promises to reward.  Jesus Himself has no critique.  Let us seek to obey to the point that Jesus has no critique other than, “keep on what you are doing!”

You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

deception

There once was a missionary effort in a Muslim country where the nationals adamantly asserted, “To be from here is to be Muslim”.  The work was hard and slow as the small team scoured the region looking for anyone in whom the Spirit was moving, anyone who would believe.  After years, there were a few here and a few there who had believed, but the follow up and discipleship work was poorly executed.  Being secluded with a new faith and not even a Bible to read, these people were left extremely vulnerable.  Shortly thereafter, Jehovah’s Witnesses came in and led these new believers astray.  Years later, a new wave of missionaries came through and were surprised to find random Jehovah’s Witnesses in these remote areas, and only learned this tragic reality from their conversion stories.

Jesus taught a parable of different types of seeds that fall to the Earth.  Some fall on the hard ground and the birds eat the seeds before they can take root.  Some fall on rocky soil and grow up quickly, but are scorched by the sun because they are unable to take deep root amongst the rocks.  Some fall in the midst of thorns and weeds and are choked out.  And some fall on good soil and grow strong – producing fruit.  The hard soil into which the seed does not penetrate it is one who hears the Gospel and denies it – never understands it.  The rocky soil is one who hears the Gospel and receives it but has no depth of root or transformation, and when persecution and trials arise he falls away and abandons the faith.  The weeds represent wealth and/or worries of the world that consume someone and his faith withers away because of his love for and focus on the world.  Lastly, the good soil is one who hears the Gospel, establishes deep roots, and grows fruitfully (Matt 13).

The new believer who is deceived by a false religion like Jehovah’s Witness could be the young plant in the rocky soil or amongst the thorns.  He could be deceived by the promised pleasures of a false religion, or he could be tempted to fear the consequence of not following the false religion (be it persecution or spiritual consequences).  Either way, the lack of growth of the seed proves the seed to not be in the good soil.  If one remains in this state, Jesus says he will not be saved eternally.  We see this terrifyingly severe admonition in the fifth church Jesus addresses in His revelation to John, the Church in Sardis:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.1-6

The Church at Sardis had a great reputation.  People from all around took note of the good things that the church was doing, and/or the numbers that they were drawing.  Everyone thought Sardis was alive and thriving because of their outward success, but Jesus terrifyingly pronounces them to be dead.  The Church as a whole was preforming “good deeds” in their own power, and Jesus was not a part of it.  He bids them to wake up and to strengthen that small remnant within them who still had some Spiritual life, but are about to die.  They are about to be choked out by the weeds or scorched by the sun.

Jesus says to the Church, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God”.  This is not to imply that more good deeds and service will merit salvation, rather it is the truth that works must be the result of salvation and love (James 2.18).  We must have good works, if we do not serve God with our strength, our minds, and our hearts, we prove ourselves to not be saved(Matt 22.37).  He has created us to do good deeds (Eph 2.10).  But our deeds are only completed when they are driven by a love and respect for God through our humble reception of His grace which is our salvation.  This Church had heard the Gospel and twisted it so slightly that they looked extremely religious and holy to the outside world, but had neglected the inward transformation which God requires.  They were white washed tombs (Matt 22.37).

Jesus affirms, however, that they had heard the true Gospel, and he implores them to remember the foundation and to repent.  He warns them that if they do not repent, they will suffer eternity in Hell.  The stakes here are extremely high.  He again points out the fact that there are a few left in their midst who are alive, and Jesus promises to redeem them on the last day and to clothe them in white.  Their sins have been covered and washed clean, and they are clothed in white which represents their purity before God by the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus will be their advocate at judgment day and they will enter His rest.

This is a terrifying reality, as are all of the warnings Jesus gave to the Churches.  Jesus is addressing and warning the churches – and our churches – about eternity.  He is not speaking about preference, He is not speaking about our level of reward in eternity.  He is speaking about Heaven and Hell.  The stakes are most severe, and the consequences are of utmost importance.  If we deceive ourselves and follow the actions and deeds of the church without having been transformed from the heart, we are damned to Hell.  And Jesus says that churches can thrive in the eyes of the world and other Christians, yet be dead.

This is why Paul teaches us to continually be aware of the thoughts and motives of our hearts, and to be continually conscious of our salvation:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

While this may seem depressing and weighty, the consequence for not being diligent over our souls is eternal.  Compared to eternity, our lives on Earth is a vapor, like a breath that disappears on a winter’s morning.  We experience it slowly now, but in eternity we will be grieved that we did not slow down and examine our hearts.

Let us not find ourselves on judgment day to be dead.  Let us nurture that baby plant, removing the weeds and digging up the rocks that might thwart our growth.  Let us help our brothers and sisters in our church do the same, so that our churches will not only look good from the outside, but will be a thriving body which is recognized and honored by God.

Is there a false prophet in your church?

preach (1)

Yesterday my husband and I were discussing the various ways that a demon might act in order to lead people astray.  We see in Scripture that there are demons who cause people to act irrationally and cause others to be mute, suffer from seizures, or roam around without cause.  We also see that there are demons who enable people to see supernaturally and thus work as diviners and fortune tellers.  I think, however, that one of Satan’s greatest tactics in hurting the Church and leading people astray is through false prophets and religious teaching that is so close but just not the complete Gospel:  assuring someone of a false salvation so that they never encounter Jesus is the greatest deception.

The fourth Church that Jesus addressed in His revelation to John was the Church at Thyatira.  In this warning, Jesus defined Himself as the one “who has eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze”.  Jesus not only sees everything, but He is jealous for His glory and will ultimately and eternally cast into judgment (the lake of fire) anyone who does not repent of their sins and come to Him for salvation.  His feet are burnished bronze:  they will trample all of His enemies.  This self-description explains the wickedness that has infiltrated the Church:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.  And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.  But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.  Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.  He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONSAND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 2.18-29

The Church at Thyatira had excelled in acts of service.  They met Jesus, they were transformed by His gospel, and they were growing in faith, love and persevering through life’s trials.  And they were continually adding to their faith by greater deeds of service.  In their determination to serve and in their hearts of love they chose, however, to tolerate a false prophet and not remove her from their midst.  Church discipline and inter-personal accountability is extremely difficult and many who have the Spiritual gift of service and compassion struggle with the confrontation that is required to remove someone who is walking in sin or teaching a false truth.  This is exactly what we see happening at Thyatira.

Jesus had no more patience for this false prophet.  He says that He has given her time to repent – whenever we encounter someone in sin, we should be patient with them as we attempt to hold them accountable – but there will come a point when a person either chooses obedience or chooses sin.  And once that decision is made, Jesus promises to destroy such a one.  This false prophet had led many in the Church to immorality and to idol worship.  While this might mean actually participating in worship of a foreign god or creating images of Jesus and offering sinful sacrifices to it, they had been led astray.  Jesus promises to destroy her while she is alive and all of those whom she has led astray will suffer severe tribulation with her.

Jesus then says that others will see the judgment that has come upon this church and know that He sees the hearts and minds of people and judged accordingly:  rendering to each one according to his deeds.  They will be an example.

Jesus then proclaims to the rest, who have not bought into this false teaching, to keep on keeping on.  He praises their perseverance and conviction and promises that if they continue until the end, they will be placed in a position of authority and saved on the day of judgment.  Romans 9 teaches us that God has created some people as “vessels of wrath”, who were created for destruction.  He uses the imagery of a potter creating some beautiful pots for honor and some worthless pots for destruction (picture a chamber pot), and the imagery is continued in this prophecy given to Thyatira,

“To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.”

Those who persevere will be welcomed into eternal rest, will rule (over the angels, Paul teaches us, 1 Cor 6.3), and will watch as God destroys and sends into an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

False prophets are wicked and have already infiltrated the Church, John says (1 John 4.1).  That is why we must be a wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).  We must hear teaching and immediately evaluate it against Scripture and test it to see if it is from God (Acts 17.11, 1 John 4.1).  We must intentionally protect our churches, our families and our own hearts from false prophets who would lead us astray and into destruction by God’s righteous judgment.  We should never be a passive listener.  When you go to church, when you listen to podcasts, when you read devotional material, test it.  No one is infallible and no one is guaranteed to always teach the truth.  That is why we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us discern sin and righteousness (John 16.8).

We must be on guard because the devil is prowling around looking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8).  He is actively against us, and he has sent out false prophets who will entice us and lead us astray with the smallest untruth which can lead to our destruction.  Stand firm in the faith.  Know the Word and know God, and rest in His perfect Truth.

Do not make peace with sin.

balaam

The third church who received a warning in the revelation of John was the Church at Pergamum.  Again Jesus defines Himself as the judge over their weakness by the way in which He chooses to identify Himself.  He calls Himself “The One who has the sharp two-edges sword”.

“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

– Heb 4.11-13

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1.1-3), and He also wields the sword of the Word in judgment (Rev 2.12).  The written Word of God, the Bible, is the standard by which we will all be judged at the end, and Jesus will be that final and perfect judge.  He will judge with impartiality as to what was commanded in Scripture and the Gospel offered by His death and resurrection.  The Church at Pergamum was standing strong in the midst of persecution within the kingdom of Satan.  Satan has been given a level of power in the World until the end of the age.  He is called the “god of this world (2 Cor 4.4), Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world (John 12.31), the Devil himself understands that God has given him a level of domain (Luke 4.6), and John even says that the whole world lies in the power of Satan (1 John 5.19).

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:  ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.  But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.  So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it’.”

– Rev 2.12-17

So Jesus identifies Himself as the judge who has the power of judgment in and through the Word of God.  He commends the Church for maintaining the faith through persecution while suffering in the domain of Satan.  But then He makes a strange accusation, referencing a story from the Old Testament.  Balak was the king of Moab who was fearful of the Israelites who were taking over Canaan, the promised land.  He was desperate and asked Balaam, a diviner, to curse the Israelites so that they would not be able to defeat Moab.  God spoke to Balaam and warned him not to curse the Israelites because they were blessed by him, but Balak was persistent and continued to ask.  Balaam ultimately blessed the Israelites, enraging Balak and declaring their fate (Num 22-24).  Balaam, however, returned to the king and counseled him how to deceive the Israelites and to bring upon themselves the curse of God:  by tempting them with prostitutes and food which was unclean – having been offered to idols (Num 31.16).

Jesus used this story as an analogy to the sins being preformed and tolerated within the Church:  holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans.  As I noted with Jesus’ warning to the Church as Ephesus, it is uncertain what exactly the Nicolaitans were teaching, but the context both here and in the previous warning allude to having made peace with sin:  cheapening grace and allowing sin to continue and expecting Jesus to forgive, no matter what.  They were believed to be denying the Moral Law of Scripture based on the salvation offered by Jesus by grace alone through faith alone.

It is possible that the church was participating in idol worship and eating food sacrificed to idols, or it could be an analogy to other tolerated sins.  Irregardless, Jesus sternly warns the church to stop immediately what they were doing, or else He would judge and kill them with the sword of His mouth, the sword of His word.  Jesus promises that the one who obeys will receive manna from Heaven – He will provide a pure and perfect food, if He will stop eating the defiled food.  If we will stop pleasuring ourselves with the ways of the world and wickedness, Jesus will give us the joy that is unspeakable and full of glory.  Jesus gives true peace, true happiness, and true joy.  We will not find it in the things of this world.  But if we continue to look for it here, we will never find it in Jesus and will be judged eternally.

What are you allowing in your life today?  Have you made peace with sin, and thus robbing the ransom of Jesus of its glory?  Lay your sins down today, and turn to Jesus for Heavenly manna, for Heavenly joy, and He will give you a new name and He will welcome you into His kingdom.

Faithful Unto Death

jail

The second church Jesus addressed in the letters of Revelation was the church in Smyrna.  While at first the admonition does not sound as harsh as the condemnation of the Church at Ephesus, Jesus does give a qualifying stipulation to the Church at Smyrna regarding their admission into Heaven, which is quite sobering:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:  I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death’.”

– Rev 2.8-11

The Church at Smyrna was (is) facing severe persecution by which some will be cast into prison.  Jesus, because of their fate, defines Himself as “the first and the last, who was dead and has come to life” (v 8).  He does this to remind them of the fact that their salvation rests in the fact that Jesus walked the path which they are destined to walk.  He, in fact, walked a more difficult road of tribulation and death.  And in all of this He is sovereign, He is the first and the last – He is in control of all things.  Jesus is aware of the false prophets in their midst, just like He was over the Pharisees, and He knows that they have been faithful in the midst of the false teaching.

Jesus’ admonition, based on His sovereignty and His understanding of having walked through what they are facing, is to not fear and persevere until the end.  The New Testament teaches us a doctrine of salvation known as “the Perseverance of the Saints”, which essentially states that everyone who has been saved will persevere until the end, and unless one perseveres until the end, he has not been saved.

Jesus taught this plainly,

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.13

James echos Jesus:

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

– James 1.12

Paul also taught this truth:

“If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us…”

– 2 Tim 2.13

And the author of Hebrews:

“For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end…”

– Heb 3.14

We also see clearly that some will infiltrate the Church, utilized by the devil to create discord and problems, but they are false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing.  We will ultimately know these by the fact that they do not continue with the faith or they will stray so far from the Truth that they will become evident:

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

– 1 John 2.19

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

– Matt 7.15-20

This is an extremely difficult doctrine to grasp.  Some people, throughout the generations since Jesus’ ascension have suffered to the point of death for the sake of their faith, and some have had little to no persecution.  The early church suffered greatly under some of the Roman Caesars, and the church actually split over this doctrine.  Some people gave in under the persecution, and denied Jesus verbally.  Some people avoided taking a stand and hid.  While others claimed Jesus and suffered greatly.  Some of those who never denied Jesus and survived considered those who did deny or who avoided taking a stand as false believers and desired to excommunicate them from the Church.

We see the provision made for Peter, who denied Jesus three times and was restored, and thus need to be able to test the fruit of those who might falter in a moment of weakness.  But we also see the clear teaching that there are many who will be proven to be false prophets and false believers, and we need to be able to discern them when possible.

Thankfully, God looks on the hearts of men and He alone has the final judgment over the sincerity or validity of one’s faith.  We also know that it is God who gives us faith and God who is working out our salvation in our lives:

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

“…if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.”

– 2 Tim 2.13

But let us take the admonition of Jesus seriously.  He commanded us to be faithful until death, and if we do so we will receive the crown of life!  We will be given eternity in His presence.  We may suffer persecution, we may be put in jail.  We may have to make a bold claim of faith in the face of an enemy of Christ, and if we do so, we will follow in the footsteps of Jesus and immediately be with Him in eternity.

You have left your first love.

candle

We are all quickly approaching death’s door and our entrance into eternity.  We have been given a heavy, yet essential book to help us evaluate our live and our goals as we work towards that end, and that is the book of Revelation.  The Apostle John was sentenced to a life of exile on the Island of Patmos and while he was there, Jesus gave Him a vision of the end times and commanded him to document it for our understanding and growth.  In the vision, Jesus revealed seven churches and their positions before Him.  Each one of them has an example and warning by which we must learn if we desire to be welcomed by Jesus into eternal rest on that last day.

The first church which Jesus addressed was the Church at Ephesus.  Jesus praised the people for their perseverance through trials and for their commitment to true teaching.  But Jesus had a very real issue with the church, one that would cause them to not be allowed to enter into His presence eternally:

“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; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.  But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  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.  Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  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.”

– Rev 2.2-7

“You have left your first love.”

This Church loved good theology.  They were taught by the Apostle Paul, they grasped the deep and difficult teachings of the faith, they had chosen to embrace following Christ’s example of suffering, and they were persevering through persecution and trials.  But they were doing all of this on their own strength, not out of a love for Jesus.

When they first heard the Gospel, they loved Jesus.  They embraced the reality of their sinfulness, they realized the burden Christ bore on the cross and in the tomb, and they were converted out of love for Him.  But then things became academic.  They began following the moral law of God out of self-righteousness rather than from a passion to honor Jesus.

Jesus does indeed want us to obey Him.  He makes it abundantly clear that those who love him do keep His commandments, and that you cannot love Him if you do not keep them.

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”

 – John 14.23-24

Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

 – Luke 6.46

Obeying His commandments, however, is not what brings about our salvation.  It is faith alone, by grace alone, which results in a love for Him which compels us to obey.  When we love someone, we want to honor them and please them.  When we love Jesus, we want to honor Him and please Him.  We see the price that He paid on the cross and we desire to respect and cherish His sacrifice, and not belittle it.

Imagine you are a parent, and your daughter is taken hostage.  You receive a ransom note in the mail.  The price is beyond what you can afford, so you cash out your retirement, you sell your house, your cars, and even your wife’s wedding ring.  You ask your friends to chip in, and you finally come up with the dollar amount, and you take the cash to the drop point.  As you wait, you see your daughter pick up the money, turn back towards to kidnappers and when she reaches them, she puts her arm around one of them and they walk off together.  She was a part of the scheme, and she has denied you, taking everything you had and disgraced the ransom you paid by keeping it and embracing the wicked.

We cannot do that with Christ.  He paid our ransom from sin.  We cannot accept His ransom and continue in sin, we must leave the ransom and flee to Christ.

If we are not running after Christ and living in obedience out of love, it is just a charade.  Our hearts are wicked in attempting to earn our salvation on our own strength.  And Jesus will turn us away.  He forewarns us of this type of situation:

“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?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness’.”

 – Matt 7.22-23

Jesus did affirm the Church at Ephesus in that they were hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, whom He also hated.  While it is not certain what exactly the Nicolaitans were teaching, many believe that it was the antinomiansism of 1 Cor 6:  the denying of the Moral Law of God based on the doctrine of salvation by faith alone through faith alone.  Essentially they were disgracing the work of Jesus on the cross by believing they could do and act however they wanted:  their actions did not matter because Jesus had already forgiven them.  But Paul said, and Jesus said, we must obey Him.  We must submit to Him as Lord of our lives.  This parallels with the actions of the Church at Ephesus, that they were outwardly obeying, though inwardly were neglecting their relationship and love for Jesus.

This was a positive factor for Jesus, but it was still not enough.  Jesus urged them to repent, or else their lampstand would be removed.  Their church would crumble and they would not enter into eternity with Jesus.

Are you still walking in love for Jesus?  Or has your faith become a system of obedience and laws?  Do you have habits which you follow like reading the Bible and going to church?  Or do you daily get face-to-face with Jesus and love Him?  Do you go to Church to worship and honor Him?  Jesus is not impressed with our habits and self-righteousness.  He promises us that unless we are more holy than the religiously devout  priests of His day, we will not enter into His rest eternally (Matt 5.20).  But we can have His righteousness by hiding ourselves in Him and loving Him.

Turn your affections to Him today.  Love Him.  If you have strayed from your first love, return to Him.  That is His greatest calling on us.

Preach the Gospel [to yourself] every day.

Jesus

One of the most influential teachers in the history of Christianity is Marin Luther.  He spearheaded the reformation of the church by defying the Pope and proclaiming the heresy of indulgences (purchasing favor with God by money).  He was born to a nominally religious family, baptized as an infant into the catholic faith, and raised with the highest education so that he could become a lawyer.  After nearly being struck by lightning, he called out for help to Saint Anna and promised to become a monk if he survived, and later felt obligated to fulfill that vow.  He thus dropped out of law school and entered an Augustinian monastery.  He was drawn to philosophy and was troubled over the afterlife and spent much of his time trying to understand and prepare Himself for eternity.  He described his time in the monastery as a time of deep spiritual despair:

“I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.”

After two years he was appointed to the priesthood, and then he began teaching theology, spending his entire career at the University of Wittenberg.  While he was there, he became convicted of the Gospel found within the Scripture – that faith is by grace alone through faith alone, and that the catholic church was not only a wrong application of the Scriptures, but that through deceiving the public with ideas like indulgences was actually a false prophet.  Luther went so far as to declare the pope the antichrist.

Luther had a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and making the Bible accessible to everyone.  While hiding for his life in exile, he translated the entire New Testament from Greek into German so that people could read the Word on their own and know Christ personally.  He also preached the Gospel for the salvation of people, every week at church, because he perceived that his congregation was not grasping the weight of it and being transformed.  But most influentially, in contrast to today where pastors and leaders are continually falling into sin, Martin Luther lived a life devoted to Jesus Christ and wrote (as an example for us) that he needed to preach the gospel to himself every day.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day.

If you grew up in the church, the story of Jesus dying on the cross and raising again three days later might be very familiar to you.  Occasionally there are efforts made to renew the reality and grotesque nature of the cross like “The Passion of the Christ” which came out some eleven years ago.  And while we teach the story and the Gospel to our children so that they can recite the key points as toddlers, we must always remember that our eternity rests in this single historic event.  Were it not for Jesus and the cross, we would be left dead in our trespasses trying to earn our salvation and appease God through sacrifice and ritual.

The Gospel is the pivotal point in history, to which all things before it pointed and on which all things after rely.  We must never grow tired of the Gospel.

If we would follow Martin Luther’s example of preaching the Gospel to ourselves every day, we would avoid many of the temptations and sins of the flesh.  If every morning we would remind ourselves that we are sinful and worthy of death and damnation before God, we would hate our sin and run from it.  If we would wake up considering that Jesus gave His life and unity with God so that we could be forgiven, we would praise Him and worship Him with our entire being throughout the day.  If we would remember that He offered forgiveness and relationship with God by His life, death and resurrection, we would be quick to die to ourselves and to forgive one another their offenses because we would understand that no offense we have suffered is as great as our offense against Jesus.  If we would remember His resurrection and promise of eternity, we would live with a focus on eternal treasures and not for those which moth and rust destroy.

Do you believe the Gospel?  Does your hope rest fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ?  Are you dying to your flesh, and living for eternity?  If not, preach the Gospel to yourself today.  Instead of using the normal Roman’s Road or gap presentation which offers salvation to anyone who would believe, put your name in those verses and phrases.  For the wages of my sin is death.  But God so loved me that He gave His only begotten son.  If I will call upon the name of the Lord I will be saved.  Now, these promises are given to the world and all who believe – do not twist the scriptures to believe that this is primarily about you (because it is primarily about God and His glory).  But it is indeed the greatest act of love that Jesus laid down His life for you and for your eternity.  Therefore, preach the Gospel to yourself today, let it humble you and transform how you make decisions.  Let it set your focus on Jesus and eternity.

“But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend.…If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ’s benevolence and work for you.”

– Martin Luther