I’ve spent a portion of my last few years praying for and grieving for a friend who once claimed Christ as his own, but over the years abandoned his faith in Jesus. He went from being active in his faith to hating Christianity, the church, and all it stands for. And it all came to fruition when he made a single decision. He told me about it over dinner one night. “You know, I don’t believe the Bible is God’s word anymore.” From that point he lost his love for Jesus and his life since then has become a religious mess. In fact, he has since become one of the most hateful people I know. How could this happen? Though our sins have been forgiven there are times when Jesus may hold things against us. Surprised? This truth is found in Revelation 2:4,14 and 20 when three times Jesus says to churches, “I have this against you…”
Considering the grace and forgiveness of the cross, what could Jesus hold against us? There are five things listed in his letters to the Asian churches: false love, false teaching, false prophets, a false life, and a false perspective. And one of these is something from which all of them can spring.
Jesus said to the church at Ephesus: “You have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). False love is often not recognized. We can be busy doing what we think are Christian things, religious things, but have no devotion to Jesus. Whether you are part of the Christian Right or Christian Left, we can easily forget the things in scripture weightier than our social agendas. We become concerned with doing the right things rather than knowing and expressing the right person.
False teaching is the second one. To Pergamum Jesus said: “You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:14-16).
When we lose our love for Jesus it becomes easy to succumb to false teaching. When Jesus isn’t at the center of our faith, we entertain other ideas that creep in and sound right, but in actuality draw us away from pure devotion to Christ. I had another friend who could talk and talk about religious ideas presented in books like I and II Enoch and other pseudepigraphal works, but it changed his perspective and contributed to wrecking his family.
False teaching is often promulgated by false prophets. To Thyatira Jesus said: “You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (2:20).
False prophets always mix elements of truth with falsehood. Often it can be so subtle that it goes unrecognized. Some of the worst false prophets of our day come out of the prosperity gospel movement because they are seen by millions of Christians as charismatic leaders seemingly anointed by God. Their teachings have become so popular that the threads of their theology even extend into churches and leaders who are not part of their fold but whose ideas have influenced them to some degree. False prophets take our eyes off of Jesus and craftily refocus our eyes on them. Paul condemned this in I Corinthians 1.
To the church of Sardis Jesus condemned a false life: “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God” (3:1-2). Central to Jesus rebuking this church was the idea that Sardis did not hold onto the teachings of Jesus they first received. This is critical to our faith. The false life is the life that forgets the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and replaces it with our own, such as the false teaching taught by false prophets, and as you will see, it changes our perspective. This is a church of which Jesus says when he comes he will “Come against you” (Revelation 3:3).
Finally, Jesus’ statements against the churches culminate with his words to Laodicea about their false perspective: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (3:16-17).
This is a church that has gone beyond losing its love for the Lord. It is a church that lives without him. It is a self-sufficient church, a church of its own standards and its own principles, and its own agendas, but it has nothing to do with the real Jesus. It is a church still in its sin. It thinks it has everything it needs and wants, and is blind to its own spiritual poverty. This is the ultimate destination of churches that lose their love for Jesus and succumb to false teachings, false prophets, and false lives.
From Whence It All Comes…and Fixing It
If I had to say which of these more logically leads to the others, or is the most important failing, it would be the first one, losing our love for the Lord.
Holding fast in love for Jesus is the safeguard against all kinds of theological and perspectival errors. Before his crucifixion Jesus warned his disciples with these words: “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me” (John 14:21). “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:24). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10).
Are you beginning to notice a theme? It is the beginning of my friend’s fall from grace. Abandoning the scripture is the same as abandoning Jesus—and your love for him.
In I John, John continued to build on this important theme of love for Jesus being the center of our devotion to God and the thing from which our theology and practical expressions flow. “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). Those who claim Christ, but who never develop love for him supremely, fall pray to these false deceptions. John says of them, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us” (I John 2:19). Remember, abiding in Jesus’ word is a proof that we love him. “Let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father” (I John 2:24). “Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth” (I John 3:18). Chapters 4 and 5 build on this theme until it crescendos in I John 5:4, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” Is it any wonder that Jesus concludes his challenges to the seven churches by promising a blessing to, “He who overcomes” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21). How do we overcome? By supremely loving Jesus and obeying his word.
Falling prey to false teaching, false prophets, false perspectives, and a false life begins with a lessening of love for Jesus Christ. Ignoring or not holding scripture true is the first sign that we have a love problem. Getting back that love begins with recommitting to the fundamentals, the first of which is holding fast to God’s word.