Holding onto the truth (part 1)

The Apostle John gives his first century readers three hallmarks to be sure they are true Christians:

They will obey God. (see ‘Our Holy Heritage’ and ‘Kill sin before it kills you’)

They will love God and other people. (See ‘Gripped by love’ and ‘Love is…’)

They will hold firmly to the truth.

John challenges 21st century Christians with these tests too. Of course none of these traits can make us right with God. Only Christ’s death as our substitute can do that. Nor will we ever manifest these hallmarks perfectly this side of eternity. But these three marks are external proof that we have been born of God. They are visible signs that we are growing up spiritually as the Holy Spirit does his work of sanctification in our lives. We will be looking at John’s third hallmark today and next week—Holding onto the truth.

Spot the fake

When Banks train their staff to spot counterfeit notes, tellers are made to handle authentic money over and over again. They are taught to study the colours, texture, weight and images of the bills carefully. By being familiar with the real thing, they are equipped to spot the counterfeit. So too with God’s people. We need to be so steeped in the truth laid out plainly in God’s Word, that we instantly spot strange teaching when we hear it. New Testament writers and Jesus himself made it clear that false teaching will come from within the church (2 Peter 3:17Mark 13:22). Only Christians who are tethered to Biblical truth will stand firm against the many “winds of teaching” which can toss us back and forth (Eph 4:14). John calls all Christians living in “the last hour” not to be naïve or gullible, but to hold onto the one true gospel and know the real Jesus for themselves. That is how God equips us to spot the counterfeit.

Our text for the next two weeks is 1 John 2:18-27:

18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life. 26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

Remain in Him

John is reiterating what Jesus already said (John 15:4;5;6;71 John 2:27b). It is the open secret of the Christian life: If we are to grow up and bear fruit as Christians, we must remain in Christ, like a branch in the mother plant. “Remain” is from the Greek meno, meaning to abide, dwell, continue, be present, to wait, to stand. It implies a consistent, constant, close attachment to both the person of Christ (the Word), as well as the written Word of God, which contains the full story of redemption history from cover to cover.

What you have heard from the beginning

John says we must see that what we have heard from the beginningremains in us (1 John 2:24). We are to guard this truth  as if it were a treasure that God’s enemy is doing his best to destroy…which he is. After all, eternal life hangs in the balance (1 John 2:25).

That is why John warns Christians about false teachers who lead God’s people astray (1 John 2:26). False teaching is a lie directly from the lips of the enemy and is only combatted when ordinary Christians know the truth for ourselves.

That is why those who teach or influence Christians carry a great responsibility. They answer to the Lord Jesus himself. Their overarching role is to equip God’s people to serve Christ and to build up the body of believers to be unified in their faith and to live in a personal relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. Why? “So that we will longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:11-14). We need leaders to fearlessly speak God’s truth into our lives to anchor us in the turbulent times in which we live.

A warning to the gullible

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that nothing has changed. “Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:8-9). We must not be sidetracked. Our culture of tolerance invites us to feast on a buffet of ideas, but there is only one true gospel and one name by which we can be saved (Gal 1:6-7Acts 4:12). We cannot obey God or love our neighbour if we do not know and love the truth. Like the first century Gnostics who spoke under the banner of Christ, there will always be teachers who add extras to the gospel of grace (Heb 13:9). False teachers will always feed their own appetites before serving our Lord Jesus. They will sow division and confusion rather than unifying and building up. “By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people” (Rom 16:17-18). False teachers will continue to speculate about the future and obsess about myths, genealogies and meaningless talk that do not advance God’s work (1 Tim 1:4-6).

Paul paints a startling picture that resembles our own generation:

“For there will come a time when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3).

It is true that half hearted worshippers will love inoffensive teachers who dilute the truth. Looking around at the visible church today, nothing has changed since the first century. John tells ordinary Christians that we must be so familiar with the truth passed down by Jesus and the Apostles, the message we first heard, that we are not dazzled by diversions (1 John 2:25-26). Teaching is not a matter of innovation but of constant reminding of the truth.

Every Christian’s birthright

Truth is not a novel insight. Nor do only a select few with ‘special anointing’ have access to it  “All of you” and “all things” are comprehensive terms (I John 2:2027b)). Jesus said that the Spirit will lead into truth all those who belong to Him, not just an elite few (John 16:13). The Spirit’s anointing is every Christian’s birthright (2 Cor 1:21Eph 4:7-8). It is subjective proof that we are God’s children. That is why John can say with confidence; “All of you know the truth” (1 John 2:20). The Spirit inside us will warn us when we hear something that jars with the truth and we must pay attention to those uneasy promptings. It is a heart knowledge.

But our knowledge of truth is also based on the objective reality of the real Jesus of history, the Son of God who existed from the beginning, who came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem, fully man yet co-equal with God. We learn the truth about his life, death, resurrection and ascension in the eye witness accounts of the New Testament. We see shadows of Him throughout the Old Testament. We are told the truth of the war that is raging now between the armies of heaven and hell in this era called ‘the last days’. And we are assured of the final consummation when Jesus returns as Judge and King of the new heaven and new earth. The Bible is a true account of history and God’s extraordinary plan to save the world through his Son. It is this precious truth that gives us the hope of eternal life (1 John 2:25). We are stewards of this truth to pass on to future generations.

Stewards of truth

There are no short cuts to being good stewards of truth. We must engage with our Bible and steep ourselves in its truth from beginning to end. We must tremble at God’s word as we seek to handle it properly (Isa 66:2), especially if we have influence over others. We must not twist the plain truth of the Bible to support our own agenda. We must have a plan to read Scripture for ourselves and not just listen to what other people say about it. We must choose a local church which faithfully teaches the whole counsel of God’s Word, not just the bits the preacher fancies.

All Christians are God’s holy people and priests to proclaim gospel truth to a confused world (1 Peter 2:9). We desperately need clarity on what this truth entails. We have the Holy Spirit’s anointing (1 John 2:27) to understand the Bible and apply it. God’s Spirit and God’s Word act in tandem in our lives. We will easily become unbalanced or deceived if we pit the Spirit and the Word against each other, or if we focus on one without the other. Someone wrote this true statement:

“All word and no spirit, we dry up. All Spirit and no Word, we blow up. Both Word and Spirit, we grow up.”(Unknown author)


Lord Jesus, help me to see you as you really are, to savour your greatness, your beauty and your worth. Help me to treasure the gospel and to truly love people enough to share the truth with them. Help me to hold onto the truth, not because I want to be right or to win arguments, but because I want other people to know Jesus as their own Lord and Saviour. Father, help me to love you with all my heart, soul and might. Then I will be able to love my neighbour as myself and will obey your commands and serve you with a glad heart. Thank you for the true gospel of grace by which I am saved through faith in what Jesus has done for me on the cross. My precious Saviour, keep me mindful of your undeserved grace every second of day, so that my life will show the perfect tension between grace and truth– as yours did when you walked on this earth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Join us next week for part 2 of “Holding onto the truth”.

Here are three Bible-centred resources that are anchoring our family members in the turbulent waves of our times (click on the links to find out more):


The Bible Explore Bible Devotional App (The Good Book company on App store or Google play). https://www.thegoodbook.com/explore-app


(The Explore app contains daily Bible readings with questions to help you engage with the Bible text, comment to get you thinking, and ideas for further reading, prayer and application. It includes the Bible text so that you can open up the Bible wherever you are, whenever you can. Explore is written by trusted Bible teachers with a passion for getting God’s word to work in people’s lives. Contributors include Timothy Keller, Mark Dever, Mike McKinley, Christopher Ash, Graham Beynon, Tim Chester and Stephen Witmer.)

Truth For Life app. Alistair Begg’s daily Bible-teaching ministry. https://itunes.apple.com/za/app/truth-for-life/id387699558?mt=8

(Begg’s daily 20 minute messages are easy to download and listen to later when stuck in traffic during load shedding and to make the gym more tolerable!)


The Gospel Coalition US and The Gospel Coalition Africa websites.

(These have many trustworthy contemporary articles, blogs, discussions and sermons to help Christians apply truth to life.)

Love is…

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love each other. Whoever does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).

No shades of grey

John has no shades of grey when he describes true disciples of Jesus:

We are dead to sin and alive to Christ.

We walk in the light, not the darkness. Obedience is our first mark of distinction (See Our Holy HeritageKill sin before it kills you).

Our second trademark is that we will love God and each other because God is love. We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:810; see Gripped by love).

Love cannot save us, but love demonstrates that we are born again. It is visible proof that God’s invisible Spirit is changing us day by day. It is the practical expression of living in submission to Christ, our ‘Bridegroom’ and the ‘Vine’ that produces good fruit in us moment by moment. The more we love God, the more we will love the people He has made in his own image.

For me, love does not come easily or naturally. It is sometimes hard for me to know what love requires in each relationship and situation. I am naturally self-centred, task driven and prefer to be alone than in community. I thank Jesus that He is not just my example but my sin-bearer! And I thank my home groups for teaching me the joy of living and loving in community. But we live in a world that has distorted the idea of love, turning it into a flexible, sentimental thing that can be moulded by our own desires and imaginations. ‘Love’ is something that is tossed aside when something better comes along. ‘Love’ is trumped by our dreams and goals. We have truly made love in our own image. Today John challenges us with God’s unchanging truth of what love is:

Love is… self sacrifice.

Love is… action not words.

Love is… laying down our lives for others.

Let us pray that God’s Spirit would change us profoundly, moment by moment, to enable us to practically love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

1 John 3:11-23; 4:20-21

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The message you have heard from the beginning.

We live at a time when people disdain the old and uncritically fawn over the new. John is speaking to Christians living in an age of Gnosticism similar to today’s ideologies. False teachers were offering a mystical door to salvation. The Athenian mindset of John’s day was obsessed by new ideas (Acts 17:21), spiritual experiences and special knowledge and revelation. But John reminds them that Jesus is the God-man who came to earth in real space and time. His physical body died and came back to life. Jesus is now with his followers by his Spirit. The message of Jesus and the apostles is down-to-earth. It has no shades of grey or mirky shadows. It is the truth that ‘was from the beginning’– not hearsay but first hand knowledge (1 John 1:123). Faith in this Jesus, whose narrative is told in the eye witness accounts of the New Testament, is the only basis for fellowship with God the Father. Like the true Jesus, true love has no shades of grey.

The spirit of Cain.

To show us what love is, (and is not), John reaches back to the book of Genesis for a man in the second generation of humankind—Cain. Cain is contrasted with Jesus (1 John 3:1216) and John challenges us to ask ourselves who we are emulating. Are we allowing rebellion against God and jealousy to take root in our hearts, bearing the thorns of hate and murder, like Cain? Or are we living in full submission to God, giving our lives away out of love for each other, like Jesus? We may be shocked at the idea that we can be like Cain who murdered his brother, but remember Jesus’s words that anyone who hates his brother is a murderer in his heart (Matt 5:21-22). It is useful to re-read how Cain came to murder Abel in Genesis 4:1-16, and the warning God gave him before killing his brother,

“But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7).

God, who knows Cain’s heart, warns him to guard it. But Cain does not master his desires. He shows a settled refusal to soften his hard heart. His envy of his brother gives rise to hatred, and hatred manifests in murder. The Bible talks of envy as coveting. In Cain’s case, breaking the 10th commandment, “Do not covet” leads him to murder his own flesh and blood. Joseph’s brothers show the same progression from envy, to hatred, to selling Joseph as a slave. Humanity in 2019 is no different from our ancestors in Genesis. The heart is the wellspring of life and all our outward actions flow from it (Prov 4:23Matt 15:18).

In his classic True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer makes the point that all sin originates in the 10th commandment, “Do not covet.” Exodus 20:17is the heart condition which leads us to break the other 9 commandments. Schaeffer shows how our proper human desires easily turn into coveting (P205):

Desire becomes sin when it fails to include love of God or men… there are two practical tests as to when we are coveting against God or men; first, I am to love God enough to be contented; second, I am to love men enough not to envy… and this is not only envy for money, it is for everything….Natural desires have become coveting against a fellow creature, one of our kind, when we have a mentality that would give us secret satisfaction at his misfortune.”

We must search our hearts often with these two tests: Contentment and Envy. Coveting is inward rot that spills its poison into our outward actions and words, as it did in Cain’s life. I know in my own life that coveting leads to ingratitude, anger and many other sins in my own life. Love and coveting cannot co-exist. We are either led by the spirit of Cain or the Spirit of Christ.

The Spirit of Christ

Christ’s love always travels from the heart to the hands and feet of those ruled by His Spirit. Like the good Samaritan, a Christian who is Spirit-led cannot look away when someone is in need or distress (1 John 3:17Luke 10:25-37). It is easy to love ‘everyone’ in a vague, generic kind of way, but much harder to love someone in particular. It is easy to avoid someone in need than to get up close and personal, to see and hear them, to share their suffering (Luke 10:33). It is easy to be moved and to feel pity, but it is another thing to give up our time; to bandage up someone’s ‘wounds’; to use our car, our home and give up our money (Luke 10:34-35). Most of us will not die martyrs as Jesus did, but we are still called to lay down our lives for each other, especially for believers (1 John 3:16John 15:12-13).

Of course we cannot meet every need or save the world. Jesus himself did not heal everyone. But love comes from the conviction that every life matters to God. Love starts with small things. That may mean laying down just a part of my time and energy to connect with a brother or sister in need. Love is holding loosely to our comforts, our schedule, our dreams, our money and our desires so that we can care for people (1 John 3:17-18). Love may mean giving away a whole chunk of our lives as we look after an elderly parent or sick friend, or raise an adopted child. Love means never standing in the way of another’s holiness, nor taking what does not belong to me sexually from another person. Love treats every person with dignity, while racism embodies the spirit of Cain. Love is being thoughtful and not irritable or resentful. Love does not want what someone else has (1 Cor 13:4). Love does not have a need for special attention or recognition (1 Cor 13:4-5). Love patiently bears with people rather than quarrelling and gossiping ( Cor 13:7). Love makes peace and is not rude (1 Cor 13:5). Love does not sow division, pick fights or take revenge (1 Peter 3:9Rom 12:17). Love believes the best even when people disappoint us. Love is not a matter of word and talk, but of action and truth (1 John 3:18).

The Biblical definition of love is down to earth: We cannot claim to love an invisible God if we do not love the real flesh and blood people around us. We demonstrate our love for God by practically and sacrificially loving each other. This is not a new message on love. Love fulfills the Old Testament Law and prophets (Rom 13:8;9;10) and has always been God’s greatest commandment (Matt 22:40). It is not only good doctrine and faithful preaching of the word that draws people to Jesus. It is also the sweet witness of love in our church community that convinces people that the gospel is true.

Love is not self determinism. Love is self sacrifice.

(Read Jen Oshman’s book review, Girl, follow Jesus)

The world at war.

John says we should not be surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3:13). If Cain represents the world and Abel symbolizes faithful believers, the way of the world is to covet and drag others down in order to pull oneself up. Just as Cain hated Abel for his righteousness, many people feel threatened by Christians who don’t strive and jostle for position. Light exposes darkness. The world hated God’s prophets, Jesus, the apostles and faithful Christians throughout history.

Love, light and life will always be at war with hatred, darkness and death.

Rather, we should be surprised if we always have the world’s approval and acceptance. The world’s love is not something to be envied. The question John asks us throughout his letter is this: Which side are you living for?

Live it out!

CS Lewis and John Stott give some no-nonsense, practical advice about loving each other. Let’s put these principles into action:

  • “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” C.S Lewis. Mere Christianity.
  • “It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him, and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures.” John Stott
  • “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS. Lewis, The Four Loves

Gripped by Love

We are born lovers. It is written into our DNA as human beings. It’s not a question of whether we love, but whom we love. The object of our affection will grip our heart, no matter what we say we believe or think. Whoever holds the key to our heart will determine how we will live and die. The Apostle John says that being filled with love is the second proof of being ‘born of God’. The first proof is that we obey God (see Kill sin before it kills you). John tells us that there are two opposing forces that vie for our love. Like light and darkness, they cannot be fused and have nothing in common.

Either we will love God or we will love the world.

1 John 2:15-17:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation* for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…

16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…  19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Living and loving through Jesus

1 John 4:19 was the first Bible verse I ever learned by heart: “We love because He first loved us.” My toddler version was: “I wuv God ‘coz he first wuved me,” and I repeated that verse like a parrot because it made me feel good. God’s love is personal to me. It has made all the difference to my life, and has, over time, shaped crucial decisions and the places I seek security and joy. Every time I bump my head against sin and become aware of how lost and weak I am in myself, God’s love shines warmer and brighter as I realise just how undeserved his grace is. My Saviour’s love has freed me up to love people without worrying if there will be anything left over for me. I know He loves me today as much as He will love me on the day I take my last breath. He will love me in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in wise moments and in stupid ones! And death will never part us.

According to John, God’s love is what every child of God can “come to know and believe” as a fact, not just a theory (1 John 4:16). We are supposed to experience it as a reality for ourselves, because God has shown his love to us in a way that we cannot dispute (1 John 4:9-10). Because the holy God of the universe laid down his life for ours as a propitiation* for our sins, we can stake our life on this love. Even when it feels as though God is silent or has forgotten us. Even in the darkest dead-end streets of life, we can depend on it—without a shadow of doubt.

The acid test

For many years now I have led women’s Bible studies attended by ladies from a range of denominations, personalities and cultures. This week I have been with my children at university and attended my daughter’s student cell group. Beyond superficial differences in age, style and denomination, there is one quality that always arrests me in a community where God’s Spirit is alive and well: There is a tender affection for the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians who are growing and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit are eager to serve and obey God more, not out of duty or fear, but from a place of deep love and devotion. Even when they are struggling with life and have honest questions about their faith, they talk of Jesus in a personal, excited way as if He is precious and lovely to them. They are deeply offended if His name is dishonoured. For those who understand the gospel of grace, it is only natural to be completely devoted to the person who has rescued you from the precipice of disaster and death. And it is only logical that when you are gripped by God’s love, you will be moved by it to love others. It is a matter of cause and effect for Christ’s Beloved, as indeed we are if we are born again and know God (1 John 4:7).

Giving our hearts away

But even if we are God’s beloved, it is also easy for us to slip into a stale, stagnant faith over time. Love for God will always grow cold when we give the key of our heart to the world. Love of the world chokes our affection for Jesus. I do not know which is the chicken and the egg, but one thing is certain: if we are setting our hearts on things of the world, we cannot love God at the same time (1 John 2:15). These loves are always incompatible, because what the world delights in is not what our heavenly Father delights in, and vice versa (1 John 2:16). John gives you and me a serious reality check:

This world is not going to last, nor anything in it. Getting cozy with the world is like embracing a phantom in a fog.

If we are gripped by love of the world, we will stumble about aimlessly, eventually losing our way and wasting our life on stuff that is passing away—like vapour that slips through our fingers.  The world has a very short shelf life and we will have nothing to show for our investment in it. By contrast, living a life to please God is making an investment that lasts for all eternity (1 John 2:17). I am not a good shopper, and whenever I have spent longer than an hour at a shopping Mall, these words of Wordsworth’s poem ring like an alarm bell in my mind!

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Three ways we give our hearts away

How exactly do we give our hearts away and “lay waste our powers”? The apostle John says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15).  John is not speaking about loving nature or creation. In fact, the beauty of the universe restores us and should draw us closer to God, the Creator of everything (Ps 19:1-6). We do not give our hearts away or waste our time when we enjoy the blessings and cherish the people God has given us in this world. But John defines what he means by loving the world in 1 John 2:16:

Lust of the flesh and desire of the eyes is thirst for pleasure in things God has not designed to satisfy us. Selfish lust will always oust love, which is other-centred. Desire of the flesh and eyes is an inward-focussed striving or craving to have our needs met by whatever we have set our heart on– something which we do not have but yearn for. We give our heart away to what we desire most (Matt 6:21).

Pride of life is boasting (even silently) in things we do have– talents or things we have achieved, earned or acquired. When we give our heart away to pride, we stop loving God and others, and start serving ourselves instead. As long as we live for our own glory, we will always fear losing what the world has given us. Money can be a powerful symbol of self glory in a divided heart. That’s why Proverbs 62:10 gives us a wise warning, “If riches increase, set not your heart on them.” And the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

When love grows cold

Loving the world always results in a cold heart towards Jesus. Our devotion to Him will become lukewarm and we will soon make excuses to avoid reading the Bible, praying and spending time with God’s people. It is hard enough to serve Jesus in a hostile world, but if we cling to the world’s trappings, we will lose our distinctive ‘saltiness’, becoming useless disciples (Matt 5:13). Flirting with the world is called ‘idolatry’ and is seriously offensive to God. We can no longer worship God with a full, blazing heart, in spirit and in truth. James puts it bluntly: Friendship with the world leads to enmity (hostility) with God (James 4:4).

So what should we do if our heart is growing cold towards Jesus? The only remedy is to acknowledge the false love (idol) that grips our affections and to ‘burn the ships’, seeking God’s face for forgiveness and renewal. We cannot overcome love of the world in our own strength, but Jesus says that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). If we are in Christ and God’s Spirit is breaking the power of sin in our lives, we too can overcome (1 John 5:4). But we cannot be complacent. We need to turn our eyes to Jesus and do whatever it takes to rekindle our love for our Saviour, just as we would work on a marriage where love has grown stale. We are not slaves to our feelings, but must act in love and obedience to God, and wait for our feelings to follow:

Prioritise time with the Lord, go for a long walk with Him, talk about what He has done for us, remind ourselves of our first spark of love when we were born again. Stay accountable and confess our sins to Christian brothers and sisters. In this way, we do not give the world a gap to woo us. Intimacy with God is something that is built over time, laying down one small brick of love at a time. Intimacy grows through feeding our appetites godly food and placing ourselves in the three channels of grace God has provided to keep our affections alive to Him: 1. Daily reading of Scripture. 2. Prayer. 3. Meeting with God’s people (see David Mathis’s book titled The Habits of Grace).

Who of us doesn’t struggle daily with  desires of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life? But we will only loosen the world’s grip on our heart through a more powerful devotion to Jesus, who is infinitely greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Do you love me?

Christian ministry is dangerous without this powerful devotion to Jesus, the Saviour. That’s why our risen Lord asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?” Before Peter is commissioned to feed the church, he is not asked, “Do you believe me?” or “Will you obey me?” Or “will you serve me?”  Love is the foundation of our faith and our ministry. “Do you love me?” is the most searching question Jesus asks every Christian, since each of us has been sent into the world as His ambassador.

We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The love that grips our hearts will make the world of difference. Is it the love of Christ… or the world?

Live it out!

  • What do you think of most of the time? Turn now to Jesus and ask Him to be the centre of your thoughts, your focus and your desires.

Sing this wonderful hymn to remind yourself of your Messiah, “who holds forever those he loves.” Is He worthy, by Andrew Peterson.

* Meaning of propitiation – the act of placating the wrath of God through Christ’s atoning death on the cross. “The prefix pro means “for,” so propitiation brings about a change in God’s attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favour with Him.” (see https://www.ligonier.org/blog/two-important-words-good-friday-expiation-and-propitiation/)