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.