Revelation 3:1-3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
We often ask the question, “How did that happen?”
In the summer of 1976 a serial killer terrorized New York. He called himself the “Son of Sam.” When David Berkowitz was finally arrested police discovered a diary where he wrote of his anger and leanings toward violence. One year prior to the start of his killings he started over 1400 fires in New York. Soon the fires weren’t enough and the voices he heard drove him to begin killing.
People wondered and asked, “How did this happen? How did this person get to this point?”
It happens every time we hear of horrible behavior. We all wonder how a person’s life could become so out of control to do such things. As bad as these things are, they pale when compared to the atrocities people can commit against God.
Too many of us have memories of others who were faithful one time, but now they are unfaithful to the Lord and the Church. Something happened along the way and they drifted, until they were completely removed from faithful service.
What happened? How did it happen?
Certainly we know poor choices were made. We’re reminded of Lot and his choice to move toward Sodom…eventually finding himself living within its city limits. How foolish? But like Lot we often find ourselves making choices because they seem financially wise.
Maybe we’re reminded of Samson and his youthful loneliness. Dissatisfied with the girls of his own people – God’s people – he made the choice to allow his eyes to wander toward the girls of the pagan gods.
Or perhaps we’re reminded of Peter’s choice during the trial of Jesus. Brash, bold and seemingly unashamed of being with Christ, on this cold night he made the choice to disassociate himself from the Lord.
Or we might be reminded of the little scene of Simon, the converted sorcerer.
Acts 8:18-24 “Now when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee. For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. And Simon answered and said, Pray ye for me to the Lord, that none of the things which ye have spoken come upon me.”
Unfaithfulness is a wide range. It can be short-term where a person makes a stupid choice in the blink of an eye, such as the choices made by Simon and the one made by Peter on that cold evening when the Lord stood trial. It can be long-term where a person makes a series of stupid choices that lead him further and further away from God, such as the one made by Lot or Samson.
To be fair, faithfulness has examples, too. They too can be brief, fleeting moments or long-term commitments.
Mark 10:17-22 “And as he was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good save one, even God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor thy father and mother. And he said unto him, Teacher, all these things have I observed from my youth. And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But his countenance fell at the saying, and he went away sorrowful: for he was one that had great possessions.”
A seemingly fleeting moment. His going away sorrowful would lead us to conclude he didn’t care for what Jesus told him was necessary. Did he obey it? We’re not certain, but we don’t see a man who allowed the truth to take root on this occasion.
Contrast that with another fleeting encounter that had a different outcome thanks to the choice made by the hearer.
Matthew 4:18-22 “And walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left the nets, and followed him. And going on from thence he saw two other brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they straightway left the boat and their father, and followed him.”
Four men are given an invitation by the Lord: Peter, Andrew, James and John. These fishermen follow Him straightway. They’ll commit their lives to serving Him, leaving their very livelihood.
What’s the difference between the rich man who came to Jesus evidently seeking the Truth and a group of fishermen who weren’t seeking anything? How did these outcomes happen?
Both sides of the issue are worthy of our study: how to make wise choices and grow closer to God and how people make foolish choices that lead them away from God.
This morning, for a little while, I want to take a look at how unfaithfulness can happen. We all hope to remain faithful until death. If we’re to do that we need to learn the signs that might indicate we’re not standing where we ought to. We need to know how unfaithfulness happens so we can avoid it in our own life.
When we examine the scriptures we see three distinct things that happen as people slip from faithful service to God.
The first of these is a change in our heart or mind toward God’s authority.
We’re all familiar with the question asked of Peter at Pentecost, “Brethren, what shall we do?” It’s important for us to understand why that question was asked. In the verse prior to this question, we have the answer…
Acts 2:36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.”
Peter clearly states two truths: (a) God made Jesus Lord and Christ; in other words, Christ has the authority and it’s given to Him by God, and (b) you crucified Him.
Without establishing divine authority Peter could have never converted this audience of the gospel. All people who would surrender to the gospel must understand where the authority is in their life.
Matthew 28:18 “And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.”
Whenever a person becomes a Christian, they submit to the authority of the gospel. They submit to God’s authority through Jesus Christ. They come to understand that they cannot direct their own steps and achieve Heaven.
Romans 6:16-18 “Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness.”
These verses boldly declare obedience in following the Lord. Obeying Satan is evidenced in sinful conduct. Obeying Jesus is evidenced in righteous behavior dictated by the Gospel. Each time a person surrenders to temptation they erode their spiritual determination and put themselves at risk for long-term unfaithfulness. The frightening fact of sin is that it can cause us to think our short-term infidelity will not cause long-term unfaithfulness. That’s a great deception of sin.
Colossians 2:6, 7 “As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
By “walking him him” we show ourselves faithful to the Lord. That’s quite a contrast to the way some want to live – secret Christian lives. No, it’s no that we throw our Christian lives in the face of people, but by the way we live is an outward display to the world that our allegiance is to Christ. It shows in the way we speak, the way we behave, the way we dress, the compromises we refuse to make, the honesty we display, the way we deal with others and thousands of other things associated with our lives.
1 Peter 3:15 “but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear:”
“Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13)
Peter altered this statement by Isaiah by substituting “Christ” for “Lord.” To sanctify Christ is to give Him due reverence and honor. Christians hold Christ in the highest honor. Seems only reasonable since we wear His name and claim to follow Him.
This sanctification isn’t limited to our hearts, but that’s where it must begin. The person who fails to recognize God’s authority through Christ has no chance of being righteous.
Having a heart bent on obeying Christ is necessary if we’re going to walk or keep walking with Jesus. And it begins and ends with the realization that Christ has divine authority in our lives.
Wise vs. foolish. It’s an ancient battle. We learn of the parable of the virgins waiting for the bridegroom and clearly see wisdom in action versus foolishness in action. We learn of the parable of the talents and again, we see the foolish choices made by the one talent man versus the wisdom of the others. None of us pride ourselves in foolishness.
Ephesians 5:17 “Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Foolishness is being ignorant of God’s will. Foolishness is refusing to follow the Gospel Truth. It’s wisdom to understand the Truth of the Gospel. It’s wisdom to follow it.
For God’s people, the Scriptures are the divine pattern for our lives. We treat it with respect knowing that God’s authority over our lives is made complete by our surrender to do what God wants. While people of the world seek to do what they determine is best, we give Christ that power in our lives to give us guidance through the Bible. So, our decisions are made based on what we learn in the Gospel. God isn’t making our choices, but He’s helping us know which choice is best because we examine every choice in our life under the light of the Gospel or God’s Will.
It’s a matter of authority. It’s also a matter of choice and our will, or determination.
John 7:17 “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself.”
“If any man willith to do his will” is a key phrase. Our following the Lord is more than intellect. Certainly, the gospel appeals to our rational man. That is, there is ample evidence supplied by God to prove that His Word is true and real. But, when it’s all boiled down it really comes down to our choice or will. God allows us to rebel. He permits us to disobey.
James 2:19, 20 “Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren?”
We’re in trouble if we ever reach the point where our faith is no better than that of the devils. What kind of faith do they have? Well, I can tell you what kind of a faith they DON’T have…obedient. Christ is not the rule of their life. Christ is not the divine authority in their lives. Sure, they believe he exists…just like lots of people. But they don’t follow Him or obey Him. They are not submissive to His Will.
This morning, if you find yourself failing to avoid temptation as you should then you’re slipping spiritually. Your short-term unfaithfulness will lead to long-term unfaithfulness. It’s the sign of a person who is neglecting to put Christ in His proper place of authority. It’s one reason how people reach a state of infidelity to the Lord and His Church.
The second marker of unfaithfulness is a change in our conduct.
1 Kings 11:1-10 “Now king Solomon loved many foreign women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which Jehovah said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go among them, neither shall they come among you; for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not perfect with Jehovah his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth(ASH-TA-RETH) the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, and went not fully after Jehovah, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the children of Ammon. And so did he for all his foreign wives, who burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. And Jehovah was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from Jehovah, the God of Israel, who had appeared unto him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which Jehovah commanded.”
It’s hard to imagine that Solomon’s devotion to Jehovah would erode to the point where his practices would change this drastically – the point where he would build places where idolatry would happen.
A person or an entire congregation can do what God instructs. That’s not a guarantee that faithful service will continue. We look at the congregation in Corinth and find a church that once did what was right in observing the Lord’s Supper. Something happened along the way. Somewhere along the way they changed their practice. They started doing things differently.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22 “But in giving you this charge, I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you. When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper: for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not.”
It is clearly possible for churches or people to alter things that don’t matter to God. God is indifferent to numerous things. This morning, there is no scriptural evidence that God cares about the color of your suit or dress. There’s no scriptural evidence that God cares about what time we assemble, so long as we assemble on the Lord’s Day.
Our practices as followers of Christ are determined by the Gospel. While we may alter our practices because we argue, perhaps correctly so, that there is nothing wrong or unscriptural about the change – it’s a certain fact that changes to unimportant things result in changes to important things.
Did the Corinthians plan on taking their change so far? Did they ever think the day would arrive where they were no longer observing the Lord’s Supper? I don’t know, but I doubt that was their intention or plan. Somewhere along the way they began to change things until the changes grew and escalated and they found themselves unfaithful.
Solomon found himself in the same shape. The only way to remain obedient to God in our practices is to fix our minds on the Gospel pattern and avoid following the religious world or others.
2 Corinthians 10:12 “For we are not bold to number or compare ourselves with certain of them that commend themselves: but they themselves, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding.”
Brethren, it’s important in our personal lives and in our lives together as a congregation that we remain steadfast in following the Bible pattern. Our conduct and behaviors must stay true to the gospel. Whenever we find our behavior deteriorating and changing away from the Truths we’ve known, truths based on God’s Word, then we should be on guard because our faithfulness is slipping.
When our practices change it’s always due to the fact that we’ve neglected to recognize God’s authority through Christ. So we see the two are closely associated. And we see where divine authority slips, divinely authorized practices will also slip.
Our conduct and behaviors must be established by God’s Word.
Thirdly, changes in terminology are indicative of losing faithfulness.
1 Kings 12:25-30 “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill-country of Ephraim, and dwelt therein; and he went out from thence, and built Penuel. And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now will the kingdom return to the house of David: if this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem, then will the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah; and they will kill me, and return to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.”
Jeroboam worried about the religious circumstances in the country more than anything else. He decided to take the country into idolatry. He did what many false teachers do; he attacked because he saw the widespread tolerance and knew he could get the people to follow his plan. Jeroboam quoted Aaron following his making the golden calf at Sinai in Ex. 32. “Behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” In essence, he was saying, “Look, these golden images are the gods that brought you out of Egypt, just like Aaron said in the wilderness.” Of course, they evidently failed to remember that God struck 3000 Israelites dead for their idolatry in the wilderness. Jeroboam was telling them that this wasn’t some new religious practice. He was merely returning to some old symbols used long before David and Jerusalem. Some argue that Jeroboam was really trying to serve God, just doing it in a fashion not pleasing to God. No, Jeroboam knew exactly what he was doing. He was purposefully leading the people to idolatry. He was just being very clever in doing it.
It’s important to note what he did NOT say. He didn’t attempt to convince them they were not following Jehovah. The people might be less shocked at worshipping the God of Israel under an image, than if they had at once been asked to worship Baal; but it made way for that idolatry.
And so it is with people today. Things are slipped in under disguise. They don’t appear as rebellious as they really are. Sin is effective in that way.
It doesn’t matter how radical the changes in our practices might be, we want to keep on saying we’re true to God and we’ll keep using the terminology that reflects biblical teaching.
Isaiah 5:20 “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Eventually, some get to the point where they’re willing to forget the effort. Soon they’ll outright acknowledge what they believe or disbelieve. It becomes clear they’ll no longer be bound by the Scriptures. And the terminology changes. The speech changes.
You’ll likely hear phrases like, “I don’t believe God cares how we do it.” Or, “I believe God cares about what’s inside a person, not what they wear.” Or, “We have to look at the Scriptures in light of today’s world.”
Sadly, this stage is typically the last thing to change whenever people reach the point of unfaithfulness. The other stages have preceded this phase and so people have already made up their mind that they will not follow the Lord.
Jeremiah 6:16 “Thus saith Jehovah, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls: but they said, We will not walk therein.”
It begins with a mind made up to rebel against the divine authority of God through Christ Jesus in the Church.
The sad fact is that the mind made up to serve self is deceived believing nothing is actually wrong because the steps are small and the actions taken aren’t major. In reality, loyalty to God is being lost. Devotion to righteousness is diminished.
As practices changes, they are small at first. Whether it’s the lack of prayer in daily life, or the lack of faithful attendance at worship services…a person’s life is made weak because faithful service isn’t quite what it once was.
Weakness sets in and temptations are not spurned as they should be. Instead, a person finds themselves giving in to the call of the flesh and self. But, people convince themselves that things are really not that bad. They’re not as far along in rebellion as they think because they still talk the talk and think of themselves as faithful. They’re wrong – deluded to believe a lie because they’re not dedicated to looking at themselves in the mirror of God’s Word.
Sad, but true that once people reach the final stage they are facing reality. They no longer put on the pretenses of faithfulness. They have a strong viewpoint and will readily state it – even if it’s in stark contrast to the Bible pattern. At this point the lies are bold and the statements are brash.
Genesis 3:4 “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:”
The person or congregation that departs from the faith may not have completely departed from any allegiance to God, but they’ve become unfaithful even so. There are many areas along the road to infidelity…some are further along that road than others. Some have only begun the journey, while others are seasoned travelers along the way. The truth is that the journey will carry us further away from God if we don’t reverse our steps and go back to faithful service with the full realization that God is the authority of our life. And for those who have not charted the course toward unfaithfulness we must be on guard lest we make a mis-step that would carry us away.
1 Corinthians 10:12 “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
2 Corinthians 13:5 “Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know ye not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed ye be reprobate.”
Ever present is the possibility that we can slip from faithfulness to Christ. It’s not likely to happen quickly. It’s much more likely to happen slowly over time. That’s why it’s so important for God’s people to lean on the book, on each other, on their local congregation and on prayer to God.
Typically, our neglect will be the birth of our infidelity. Our neglect at reading the gospel. Our neglect at study. Our neglect at worship. Our neglect at doing what we know is right. Our neglect at putting the focal point on what God wants.
Before long we’re serving ourselves – doing what we want to do and chasing things of the world.
Colossians 2:5-12 “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. As therefore ye received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and builded up in him, and established in your faith, even as ye were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ: for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in him ye are made full, who is the head of all principality and power: in whom ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
We are protected by being built up and rooted in Jesus Christ. We do that in the local congregation. We don’t do that by ourselves. We do it in the family of God by being what we ought to be at home, in our private lives AND by being where we ought to be in local service to God in the Church.
At Fossil Creek we talk often of remaining true to the pattern. We talk of working hard to make sure everybody reaches heaven. That’s not the hot air of local teachers or elders. That’s the voiced determination of a group of people who have made up their mind to do whatever is necessary so we can remain faithful until death. That’s where the prize is found…faithful until the very end.
James 1:12 “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been approved, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him.”
Revelation 2:10 “… Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.”
Delivered by Randy Cantrell on a Lord’s Day morning
in January, 2005 at Fossil Creek