Sin is crouching at the door.

door blood

In the beginning, God created man and woman.  He placed them in a Garden called Eden and they lived there happily with God, without any experiential knowledge of sin.  They did have intellectual knowledge of sin, having been given a command not to eat the fruit off of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and also the consequence for doing so.  But having not yet disobeyed, they could remain in God’s presence and were not yet separated from God.  We do not know how long Adam and Eve remained in the garden, but we do know that they ate the fruit and were kicked out.

They had two children, Cain and Abel, and Cain felt challenged by his brother being jealous that Abel found favor with God.  We see that God was not please with the type of offering that each boy made to God, but with the heart behind it, and thus God came and directly confronted Cain about his attitude:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”

– Gen 4.6-7

Unfortunately, Cain did not listen.  Out of his jealousy, Cain lured Abel to a field and killed him.  One generation into the existence of mankind, and we have the very first murder – brother against brother.

God’s statement to Cain is profoundly simple.  Sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for him – and for us.  We must master it.  This is the theme of Scripture.  This is the theme of the history of mankind.  We have a problem, and it is our sinful nature, and we must master it, be freed from it, be forgiven for it.

The remainder of the Old Testmanet teaches us, however, that we are completely incapable of mastering it on our own strength.  We can never make ourselves good enough to remain in God’s presence again, because His standard is perfection.

This is the very reason that Jesus came.  He came as an act of love, but the reason He had to come was because of our sin.  Every sin has to be punished, because God is just and righteous – He cannot overlook any sin and just sweep it under the rug.  So Jesus died to pay our debt of punishment for sin, that we can be forgiven and welcomed into God’s presence without sin.

After wiping our records clean, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to empower us to fight against sin.  We cannot glorify God in our actions on our own strength and conviction, we need His strength to push us along and enable us.  Thus the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives to convict us not only of sin, but of righteousness.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

We must be careful to balance our attitude towards sin, however.  It is a restless evil, and it will destroy us.  Hebrews tells us that if we continue sinning after we come to Jesus for salvation, that we are not saved but still on our way to Hell (Heb 10.26).  Thus we must recognize that the reason Jesus came was to pay our debt, and we gratefully receive his pardon and respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to change us and quit sinning.

If we set out to earn God’s favor by changing on our own strength, we will fail because we can never reach perfection.

But we must change as an act of worship, reverence and respect for God and His salvation.

Many today err on the side of legalism, trying to earn God’s favor, but many more err on the side of our “religious liberty”.  When Jesus rose from the dead, He fulfilled the Law and therefore some of the ceremonial laws which were established to set the Hebrew people apart as God’s chosen race were fulfilled and therefore no longer need to be kept.  This is what Paul calls our freedom.  We incorrectly apply this reality to ourselves, however, and abuse Jesus’ death on the cross by continuing in sin and making excuses for ourselves.  We must hate those things that God hates, the mark of the believer is one who is being transformed into God’s image, which means conquering sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not deceive ourselves into resting in grace and continuing in sin.  Grace exists to free us from the sin that lurks at the door waiting to destroy us.

Let us be diligent.  Let us be aware.  Let us fight the good fight, and not allow sin to destroy us.  Let’s submit the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit anew, today!

To strive or not to strive, that is the question.

Strive

There is a teaching in popular Christianity today that basically goes like this,

“It’s all grace, so quit striving.  You cannot earn God’s love.”

This is an extremely dangerous half truth.  Yes, it is a glorious truth beyond description:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

– Eph 2.8-9

We are utterly sinful and unable to earn salvation by any merit of our own.  That was the entire purpose of the Old Testament Law:  to define sin and show that there is no human being who can keep the Law perfectly.  God has defined what perfection is, and we are incapable of doing it or attaining it.  Therefore we deserve damnation.  But God gives us a free gift of faith, which we do not deserve (grace), and it is not based on any thing that we will do or not do.  It is based on God alone.

But there is a tension in the Christian life of which we must be aware.  Jesus Himself said,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

Jesus promises rest.  When we are in Him, we can have peace and comfort to know that our eternity is secure.  We can enjoy His presence.  We can trust Him.  This is the glorious result of grace.  But yet, He also solemnly commands us:

Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

– Luke 13.24

Strive.  Work.  Be diligent.  Many are going to seek to get to Heaven and fail, therefore work hard at it!

Now, many who are found in this “grace camp” will tell you that your actions make no difference, that it is the Holy Spirit at work in you to complete your salvation, quoting this verse:

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

– Phil 2.13

But that does not mean we are off the proverbial hook.  We are not Christian fatalists who believe that the clock is in motion and therefore we have no responsibility for our actions!  We cannot assume that since the Holy Spirit is at work in us, that He will make us holy apart from our efforts in the battle.  Jesus said we must fight.  And if we read the whole of Paul’s admonition, we observe more fully this tension:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.12-13

Obey!  Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  Why?  Because God is the power enabling you to work out your salvation.  You cannot work out your salvation, you cannot obey, you cannot strive unless God is giving you the strength, conviction and will to do so.  It is human nature to desire to avoid pain and trials.  Hell is not desirable, and many will try to avoid eternal damnation by a variety of ways.  Some will even attempt to obey the Bible in their own strength.  But we can only love God and keep His commandments through His strength.  Therefore we must strive to love Him, and strive to die to our flesh.

Now, some might say that we should only strive to love God.  If we keep Jesus in our cross hairs, then everything else will fall into place.  Again, this is a half truth.  Jesus did indeed teach that the greatest commandment is:

‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

– Matt 22.37

And he followed that up with the second greatest commandment:

“The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

– Matt 22.39

He concluded that the entire Law is built upon these two commandments (Matt 22.40).  But notice that these are two separate commandments.  Loving your neighbor as yourself is not part of loving God with everything you have.  You can only love your neighbor by loving God, but they are, actually, two separate commandments.  We also learn in Scripture definitively what the deeds of the flesh are, and the deeds of the Spirit, and we are to put to death the deeds of the flesh:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

– Gal 5.19-25

“…for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

– Rom 8.13

We are not passive agents in this life.  God has enabled us to strive, and we must strive.  But we see the fruit of our striving and have rest, knowing that the fact that we are striving is the proof that our salvation is secure.  If you are not striving, putting to death sin and deeds of the flesh, then the Spirit is not at work in you, and it is likely that you are not saved.

“…for the tree is known by its fruit.”

– Matt 12.33

Scripture even takes it one step further:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

– Heb 12.1-2

Not only should we fight against sin, we should lay aside any distraction that keeps us from running at full strength.  Does the TV suck up much of your evenings?  Does a video game keep you from praying?  Does your intramural sports team compete during church hours?  These things are not sinful, but they are distracting and can dominate our time and keep us from fighting well.  We are instructed to run so as to win, not just run or dilly dally or meander.  Athletes regulate their food, their training, their rest.  Are you regulating your time and energy Spiritually?  Or are you just coasting?

When we do sin, we are not losing our salvation.  Jesus stands before God to intercede for us and declares our sin “paid for” as we stumble through life.  But we must strive to not sin, we must strive to glorify God in our lives, and we must strive to put away those things that distract us.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”

– 1 John 2.1

So let us not cheapen grace by making room for sin in our lives and thinking that it does not matter.

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.

– 1 Peter 2.16

And rest in the peace and comfort that Jesus provides.

But please, if anyone tells you that you do not need to strive, that you do not need to make an effort to die to your sin, that you do not need to intentionally serve God, remember what Jesus said:

Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

– Luke 13.24

Jesus said strive, and He is the one who knows the way to Heaven.  Your striving will prove that the Spirit is at work within you.  Fight the good fight, do not try to coast.  Rest in His peace and fight for righteousness.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

fear

The Bible is full of tensions and and truths that we must study and try to understand in our daily walks with the Lord.  Mutual responsibility (God’s sovereignty and our accountability), the coming of the Kingdom of God (Jesus has brought salvation in part, but it will be completed in fullness when He comes the second time), and the like.  But one that regularly leaves people in different camps is how we best relate to God:  Is he almighty judge?  King?  Or father?

Scripture teaches all of these truths, and to try to pick one out as better than the other or as our primary method of relating to God is dangerous at best and detrimental to our faith at worst.  If you think of Jesus as your “homeboy” as the tee-shirt suggests, you are in grave danger of disrespecting the king of the universe.  Jesus will not be snowboarding with you on the New Earth, He is king and judge and will reign from His throne (Matt 19.28).  But if you only think of Jesus as the eternal judge, you miss out on His tender, loving side by which we know we have been adopted as sons and we can crawl up in His lap and call Him “daddy” (Rom 8.15)

Should we fear God as the king, and as the judge?

Yes.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matt 10.28

And, No.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

– 1 John 4.18

There is a tendency in our culture to choose to elevate grace above all other attributes and gifts of God.  God’s grace is indeed glorious and deserving of our praise.  It is by grace alone that we have any hope for eternal salvation (Eph 2.8-9).  But we must be diligent, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, not to cheapen grace.  God’s grace is not an excuse for us to live however we want, we must be diligent to fight sin in our lives (Rom 6).  It is by grace that we are forgiven, but we cannot crawl up in God’s lap if we have unrepented sin in our lives (Matt 5.22-24).  He cannot and will not look on wickedness (Hab 1.13), and if we go on sinning after we receive salvation we prove ourselves to not be saved (Heb 10.26-27).

But yet, it is by grace alone that we are saved and we can not and will not earn favor with God by obedience.  We only love because God loves us, forgives us and welcomes us into His presence, and when we understand God’s love, we are not to fear Him.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

– 1 John 4.16-20

Consider this today, that the king of the universe who will judge all without partiality and without leniency has offered you salvation through the life, death and resurrection of His son.  He will adopt you as children, but the proof that we have been adopted is our obedience.  Love Him.  Know Him.  Call Him father, daddy even.  But do not become so comfortable as to think that He will excuse you and accept you irregardless of how you act.  Prove yourself to be His follower by loving and obeying Him.  Everyone who encountered any heavenly glory immediately fell to the ground and covered their eyes in fear.  We will have the same reaction on that day when we meet Him.  But He will welcome those who have abode in Him as beloved children.  Wrestle with the balance of love and fear.  Do not let one win out over the other.  God deserves to be revered and respected as well as loved and cherished.  Seek His face today.

Just do it.

be holy

Does it matter what I do?  The pendulum of misunderstanding Christ and salvation is cheap grace on one side and legalism on the other.  We are all familiar with the debate.  Either we have experienced a Church that preaches Hell, fire and brimstone and we are afraid of God and His judgment, or we have experienced a Church that preaches grace and freedom and we think God is a big warm fuzzy genie in the sky who accepts us no matter what we do.  The authors of Scripture painstakingly try to communicate the truth that God is balanced and just in exhibiting both wrath and grace.  He forgives us, no matter what we do, provided we repent.  We must fear and love Him.  We must obey and commune with Him.  He is God, the eternal judge who sends the unforgiven to Hell for eternity and He is also the loving Father who welcomes those who are found in Christ into an eternity of rest.

God is extremely concerned about what we do.  He is concerned about it in the fullness:  our motivation, our intention and our actions.  If we do the right thing with the wrong heart, it is wrong.  To do the wrong thing with the right heart is wrong, too.  In order to please God, we must do the right thing, with the right heart.

But what does that mean?  It means that our actions begin with our hearts.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

Our hearts are wicked.  They desire pleasures and comforts.  They desire to be the lord and god of our own little worlds.  We want what we want, and everything we naturally do is for our own best interest or pleasure.  When we come to faith in God, He has to replace us on the thrones of our hearts.  We should weigh every decision, goal and choice in light of God’s glory and praise.  Scripture teaches us that we should put God first and others second.  We are last on the list of priorities in terms of serving.  Our hearts must be aligned to the heart of God.

Then, once our hearts have been adjusted, our actions follow.  If we love God, we seek to know Him.  And the way that we get to know Him is through His Word.  We read, we pray and ask the Spirit to reveal to us things in our lives that need to change and we ask Him for strength to obey.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.”

– James 1.22-24

James teaches us that just reading the Word is not enough.  We should have time with the Lord every single day.  We should examine ourselves, our attitudes, our hearts and our activities, and then we must act on what God has to say about it.  Simple self examination is not enough!  Just reading the Word is not enough.  It must transform us.  James says that those who only read or hear delude themselves.  If you get up every morning and read your Bible, but it finds no place in your heart and you do not change, then you are deluded.  You do not know God.

Our actions matter.  God transforms our hearts, and when God has transformed our hearts, our actions will be changed.  Obedience is the result of a transformed heart that has put God on the throne.  We will know one another by our fruit (Luke 6.44).  If one does not obey Scripture and value it as the primary authority, he has not been transformed.  If one obeys, but does not know, love and value God, he has not been transformed either.

Let us beware of the extremes on the grace pendulum.  Let us not discredit grace in our zeal and let us not ignore judgment in our passion.  Without one, the other cannot exist.  Ask God today to transform your heart and let that be the catalyst for your obedience.

Grace is not leniency.

grace

If you grew up in the Church, you had this conversation sometime (or multiple times) in your youth group and formative years:  What is the difference between grace and mercy?  We are taught the mantra:  Mercy is not getting what you deserve and grace is getting what you do not deserve.  In short, mercy is not having to go to Hell and grace is getting to go to Heaven.

On an elementary level this is true.  It is an easy way to teach children the basics of salvation and God’s character.  It is, however, greatly wanting.  This definition, if left to stand, grossly under-defines and explains the work of God in salvation and His holiness.  Why?  Because God does not, can not and will never excuse or over look sin.  No sin.  No white lie, no justifiable “gray zone” crime, nothing.  This definition of grace could lead one to understand leniency;  a benevolent judge or ruler that simply forgives or pardons a sin.  Yes, there is an understanding of guilt, but the forgiveness is cheap, and no one pays the consequence for the infraction.

This, however, is not the forgiveness of the Bible.

“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

– Ex 34.6-7

God is slow to anger, but he will never leave the guilty unpunished.  He does not overlook sin.  How, then, does one get forgiven?  Jesus himself paid the penalty, took the judgment, died in our place.  God poured out His wrath for sin on Jesus, and it is only if we are united with Christ in Spirit that our verdict can be, “Time Served”.  We may not just say, “Yes, I want Jesus’ death to cover my sins, too” and continue living our lives however we want.  We must cling to Him, love Him, be changed by Him.

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.”  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

– Heb 10.26-31

If we go on sinning, living our lives expecting grace to cover for us, Scripture says that there is no longer forgiveness.  If you walk into a situation, know what God has said about it, and choose to sin – choose that which God hates and forbids – with the expectation of forgiveness, there is no forgiveness.  This insults the spirit of grace.  The Greek word for “insult” can also be translated as “enrage”.  We often speak of grieving the Holy Spirit in regards to sin, but we rarely consider the fact that God hates sin and is angry at it and because of it.  If we choose sin, especially after having heard and received the Truth, it makes Him angry!  This is why Jesus said,

“Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”

– Matt 10.15

The city of which Jesus was speaking was any city that heard the Gospel and did not receive it.  Any person who hears the Truth of Jesus and chooses sin or another religion will suffer more on judgment day, and throughout eternity, than that city which was burned by fire from Heaven for its debauchery and wickedness.  Yes, the people of Sodom will suffer eternally, but greater is the sin of rejecting Jesus than all others.

The Spirit of Grace is sensitive, it is parental, it is kind, it is wonderful, and yes, it can be grieved (Eph 4.30).  But He can also be insulted and enraged if we claim to know and love God, and trample Jesus’ atonement on the cross by continuing to sin.

Let us understand the truth of Grace, that God does not offer us a cheap pardon, but the most costly of pardons.  Jesus Himself paid our punishment so that we may live.  Let us not disgrace Him by nailing Him back onto the cross for a momentary pleasure.  Let us honor grace by loving and obeying Him.  Never walk into a situation thinking, “God will forgive me for this”, “I will repent later”, or even, “Forgive me God, as I commit this sin”.  Because Scripture warns that such an attitude cannot be forgiven, and we may find ourselves incapable of repentance.  Grace is indeed amazing, because of the price it cost.  Let us not receive it lightly.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

hypocrisy

I remember vividly the first time I realized that Scripture documents historical narrative in the New Testament.  The Old Testament, we all know, tells the history of Israel.  But often we tend towards the New Testament for instruction, for theology, for teaching about how the Church should function.  The Gospels and Acts tell the story of Jesus and the disciples planting the first few churches, and then the rest of the New Testament are letters telling those churches how to act, right?

Yes!  This is true!  But we pick up tidbits of the story line through those letters; just like when we write letters (or emails) today, we mix in stories with our thoughts!  And one particular story is causing me much reflection today.  When Jesus had his disciples, there were three who were his inner circle:  Peter, James and John.  If you have spent any time in the Scriptures, you know that Peter was the dynamic leader of the group.  He was the outspoken one, the one who spoke quickly and often put his foot in his mouth.  He was also the first one to preach and stand up to the Jews and religious counsel after Jesus returned to Heaven and the Holy Spirit came.

But when [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.  The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to [Peter] in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

– Gal 2.11-14

Peter, the leader of the Church, the “rock” as Jesus called him, the one to whom God gave the vision and the first mission to take the Gospel to the Gentiles by declaring them clean, fell into the temptation to refuse to eat with the Gentiles because the Gentile Christians were not observing the Old Testament dietary laws.  In the book of Acts we are told the story of Peter receiving a vision that God declared all food and all people clean, and called him to go and preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his family, a man to whom God had given dreams about salvation.  And Peter went!  He was the first one to be led and to branch out preaching and taking the Gospel to non-Jews.  And yet, the Jews were so influential that when Peter went to Antioch – a Gentile city – and met with the church which was primarily not Jews, he was tempted and fell into hypocrisy.  He fell into a heresy that God Himself had refuted to him in a vision.  And his failure was so dynamic that the rest of the Jews followed him.  Even Barnabas, “the son of encouragement” was fell into this hypocrisy and sin.

Paul confronted him.  In front of everyone, Paul noted that Peter had been eating with the Gentiles until “certain men from James” showed up Peter was eating with the Gentile Christians and had no problem with them.  But their false Gospel drew him back into his old way of thinking; that he still must adhere to the Jewish dietary laws.

Peter.  The dynamic leader of the Early Church.  Messed up the Gospel.

If that does not give you hope, nothing will!  How often do we believe the claims of the Gospel that nothing can earn us merit with God, that we should obey Him out of love and reverence, but yet when we fall into our own temptations and sin blatantly or establish legalistic tendencies for ourselves trying to maintain our standing with God?  Do you beat yourself up if you forgot to read your Bible one day?  Do you judge other Christians for non-Biblical guidelines that you have layed out for your own life?

Peter did it too.

But thankfully Peter had Paul to call him out.  Peter and Paul rarely interacted with one another.  Peter was appointed as the apostle to the Jews while Paul was appointed as apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews) (Gal 2.8).  But thankfully we see this interaction and we know that Peter repented because after this exchange he wrote his letters (1 and 2 Peter), which preach the same Gospel.

Everyone makes mistakes.  Everyone at times warps the Gospel in his mind.  Sometimes we are too lenient towards sin and sometimes we are too legalistic.  It’s normal.  But be humble when your friend points it out in your life and return graciously to the beauty of the Gospel that we cannot earn our salvation and keeping rules will not merit us worthy before God.  And repent when we are tempted to continue in sin because “God is gracious” and will forgive us. Yes, He will forgive, if we truly repent and turn away from our sin, we may not continue in it.  But we are all – just like Peter – a work in progress whom God is sanctifying and changing.

You have left your first love.

first love

“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.”

– Rev 2.2-5

Some of the most clear and definitive teaching we get from Jesus about the nature of salvation and God’s expectation of us as believers comes from the first few chapters of Revelation.  One of today’s hot topics is legalism vs cheap grace:  the legalist attempts to earn salvation through deeds and the cheap grace adherent defames Christ and disgraces salvation by continuing in sin for freedom’s sake.  But Jesus says both the heart and actions must be right. More specifically, the actions must be right because the heart is right.  Jesus praised the Church at Ephesus for their obedience and perseverance:  They were standing firm in the midst of persecution.  They also did not put up with sin or false teachers, they well maintained the integrity of doctrine and Scripture.  That is infinitely more than any of our testimonies – none of us have suffered persecution in the manner that they did.  But yet Jesus says that they are in danger of losing His blessing because they have left their first love:  Him.

They loved the mission without loving the master.  They buckled down and pushed through without growing weary, but forgot to rely on Jesus and persevere in His strength.  They fought for pure doctrine without praising Jesus because of the glory of the Truths contained therein!

This is more than simple legalism, however, they persevered through persecution.

So what was Jesus’ admonition?  “Repent and do the deeds you did at first“.  Repentance is exemplified in our actions.  You cannot repent from your sins without literally stopping them.  You cannot repent from a past sin without mourning it and making retribution.  You cannot repent without change.  But changing does not mean that you have repented.  What are the deeds the Ephesians did at first?  They repented and their actions of obedience were driven by love for Jesus and desire to honor Him.  I can abstain from lying or stealing for my own glory or I can do it for Jesus’ glory.  Or I can do it because it’s just simply the habit that I have developed.  It could have started out of love for and dependence on Jesus, but after a while it just becomes a habit.  That is what it means to leave your first love.  To forget Jesus.

Have you forgotten Jesus?  Do you rely on Him to not lie?  Do you rely on Him to tell the truth?  Do you rely on Him to not gossip?  Do you rely on Him to preach the Gospel?  Or have you developed habits?

There may come a time when you have to repent of habits.  Not because the habit is inherently bad (i.e. not stealing or telling the truth), but because we no longer do it out of dependence on Him and love for Him.

Return to your first love today.  Glorify Him with your words, actions, deeds and heart.