"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary." Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love.”
Revelation 2:2-4 NKJV
The seven letters to the seven churches of the book of Revelation are often called the “report cards” to the churches by Jesus Christ. I’m sure most of us can recall a time where the arrival of a report card produced feelings of anxiety and sometimes trepidation because we were unsure of what it would reveal. It has occurred to me in the past few years that although Jesus makes it clear in these letters what He expects from the Church, very few churches today examine, or even care whether or not they are following the blueprint Jesus laid out.
One of the things I learned early on in pursuing a career in coaching is the importance of not only identifying, but prioritizing faults that need correction in order to tackle the most important problems first. It is with that in mind that I truly believe Jesus does the exact same thing in these letters. If so, the very first mistake, as well as the most important fundamental necessity of the Church, is covered in the letter to Ephesus. Although Jesus has some very nice things to say to the church about their efforts, it is tempered by the words, “Nevertheless I have [this] against you”. Those words alone should strike fear into anyone reading them, and I am certain that the church today should take note for many would agree this is the same mistake all too many churches are making; “you have left your first love.”
What was their “first love”? Virtually every commentator or teacher I have ever read or heard speak interprets this to mean that they had forgotten the excitement which resulted in making sharing the gospel with an unbelieving world their primary goal. They were busy doing everything else that makes for a healthy body, yet they had lost the initial excitement of first love that made them want to share the Gospel of Christ with others. Do you remember what it was like when you first became a believer? Didn't we all want to shout out and share the joy with everyone we met? That is our “first love”, and one we should never forget.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NKJV
I am sure many of us are familiar with this verse, especially at this point in time when many are saying the end of the age is upon us and the return of Christ for His Church is imminent. It is used often to describe what will occur within the body of Christ as many believers turn away from what the Bible teaches and follow a false gospel created and engineered by Satan himself. As hard as this might be to believe, it might help us to better understand why believers could be so easily led astray by identifying the real culprit in this deception. By that I mean, although we tend to focus on the individuals themselves, who or what is leading them astray? Sadly and unfortunately, my conclusion was; the Church itself.
If we look at the definition of falling away as used in this passage, this is what we find; apostasia; a falling away or defection from the truth. Of course, this leads us to the question we have all heard at one time or another, especially if like me, you took a philosophy class in college. That question is; “what is truth”?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 NKJV
Personally, I love the simple answers in life. This is certainly not the answer many people I have encountered wanted to hear, but it is, nonetheless, an answer straight from the God of the universe. So my first question of any church is this; do you teach this truth? Unfortunately today in many churches, especially those who lean towards the emergent church model, this is something you will never hear from the pulpit. The focus is all about service and works and being involved, but nothing about first acknowledging your need for salvation and accepting the sacrifice Jesus Christ made for your sins.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Romans 1:16 NKJV
Sadly, the vast majority of churches today teach what I have termed the “gospel of the moment”. That is, they teach whatever they feel the congregation wants to hear in order to fill the seats with happy, contented people. Sadly, it is not as if God did not warn us in advance that this would happen. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warned of this problem in advance and explained that people would turn away from the truth of the Gospel and instead embrace the lies of the evil one.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NKJV
In all of his letters, Paul makes it plain that the truth of which he is speaking is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for gospel is “euaggelion”, which translates as; “gospel, the glad tidings of salvation through Christ”. The truth is, there is only one way for mankind to be saved from eternity in Hell and spend it with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Heaven above, and that is by accepting the salvation offered by His sacrifice on the cross for our sin. On the day of Pentecost, after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples, Peter makes it very clear when talking to the High Priest and his advisors that there is only one true Gospel, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NKJV
The power of the gospel of Christ was so powerful that even these who had crucified Him were forced to admit that something they could not explain had indeed occurred.
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. Acts 4:15-16 NKJV
When Paul and Silas were put into prison in Philippi, a miracle occurred when God produced an earthquake which caused the doors to open and their chains to fall off. When the jailer was about to kill himself, he was stopped by Paul and responded by asking this question;
And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:30-31 NKJV
Notice that Paul’s answer to him was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not some of what you might hear in many churches today which teach a different “gospel”. When Jesus was explaining the gospel to Nicodemus He said this;
Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 NKJV
Jesus went on to tell him that to be born again is to be born of the Spirit, which is what happens when we choose to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV
What is the truth of the Gospel of Christ? That God loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die on a cross for our sins. What is required of us is to simply admit we are sinners, and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin when He died on the cross. This is what it means to be born again, and it is a gift given to us free of charge, the only requirement being we must receive and accept it.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV
What is truth? Simply the gospel of Jesus Christ! My question for you today is, are you fighting for the truth? Does your church teach the gospel of Christ? Does your pastor teach, just as Jesus did, that we must be born again? Do you hear the message that mankind are sinners in need of salvation? Have you heard lately the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved”? If not, I would suggest that in order to fight for the truth, ask these questions of your church. Copy this study and give it to your pastor or the elders with the question, “why not”?
If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, I encourage you to do it right now. Simply ask God to forgive you of your sin, and believe that His Son Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sin, and you will be “born again” and “have everlasting life” just as Jesus said. This is the truth of the gospel. Do you fight for it?