Return to Your First Love: Transformed by the Knowledge of God
Hello, my name is Kyle, and I am a recovering church basher.
I feel I need to begin a post like this with that simple confession. After all, what you are about to read is all about growing in love, and while the primary focus is on loving God, it is impossible to separate loving God from loving His church. Therefore, I am not proud of the confession I am making, as I know my less-than-constructive criticisms of the church have broken my Lord’s heart on numerous occasions.
Let me be clear. I truly believe that some of my frustrations over the years have been justified. You might even call it a “holy discontentment” resulting from the way we, as followers of Jesus, have settled for less than the “life more abundantly” that He promised us. That said, I still can’t help but feel remorse for throwing mud on the bride that Jesus loves so passionately.
The reason I feel the need to tell you this before diving in is twofold.
First, if you are a church basher like I have been, I want to gently encourage you to stop it right now! Repent and ask the Lord to allow you to see the church the way He does. While we are far from perfect, the Lord is able to see what it is we will become as a result of the finished work of Christ. God sees what it is that He has already made us to be. Our hearts, minds, and lifestyles simply have some catching up to do!
Second, if you have never found yourself with even an inkling of the “holy discontentment” I mentioned, I encourage you to take some time to look around and make some difficult evaluations. While we must be careful of the comments we make regarding the church (the church is the people, remember?), the institution that we have come to accept as “church” is not only imperfect, but it is also not justified, sanctified, or redeemed. It not only deserves, but also requires, our strictest scrutiny.
Somehow, in the two thousand years of church history, we have often come to accept buildings, programs, services, service projects, cookouts, camps and concerts as “church.” While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, I fear that we have been somewhat blinded to the reality of what should set a community of Christ followers apart from the rest of the world. While Jesus has called us out of the world to be countercultural, we have instead settled for notching out our own “Christian” subculture that can exist easily in the context of mainstream, secular society.
There is one thing, and one thing alone, which separates us from the world around us, and that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—God dwelling in and among us. Shouldn’t that be enough to capture our attention and command our energies?
Do we really need the bright lights and smoke machines (again, there is nothing inherently wrong with either)? Shouldn’t our fellowship times include more than grilling hot dogs and tossing horseshoes? Don’t we have more to offer the world than just our vain attempts to be “cutting edge” and “culturally relevant?”
More importantly, don’t we owe it to the One who created us and loves us completely for it to be “all about Him” in reality, and not just in a cute mantra we recite in our prayers and worship choruses?
Is it possible that, like the church in Ephesus, we have lost our first love in our pursuit of good deeds, hard work, and excellence in ministry? To the degree that we have, we are in severe danger. It is critical that we make an honest, prayerful evaluation of our lives, both personally and corporately, and then make the necessary adjustments, lest Jesus come to us quickly and remove our lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5).
My sincere desire is that all of us who desire to be disciples of Jesus would recapture our first love and embrace the simple (yet often difficult) commands He makes:
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Mark 12:30-31, NKJV
I believe wholeheartedly that God is restoring these great commandments to first place in the life of His church. He will have it no other way! In fact, I believe that Jesus was speaking prophetically about His church at the end of the age when He shared these commandments with His listeners. When He says, “You shall,” He is not only saying, “This is something that you should do,” but He is also saying, “This is going to happen. You shall, in due time. I guarantee it!”
What an incredible reality—the One who gives the commandments is the same One who gives the grace and ability to fulfill them!
Many of us have allowed ourselves to be distracted and lulled to sleep, and the only thing that will awaken the sleeping giant is a recapturing of the knowledge of the One who has called us out of darkness and into the light. We are so tempted to give our attention to lesser things, and when we do, the result is a church devoid of power and passion.
Moreover, those of us who have worn ourselves out by trying to break free from our slumbering states have most often focused on treating symptoms rather than curing the deeper cause of our illnesses. In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer states:
The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Striving to be free of sin is noble, but it will never provide us with the strength we need to endure. Serving the poor in our communities is admirable and necessary, but without the knowledge and power of God at work within us, we can do little more than simply give handouts. Working harder and ministering more effectively is not (and never will be) the answer.
The cure to all that ails us is found only in knowing and loving God.
The Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would experience “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that [they] may know Him better” (Ephesians 1:17). As a church that has lost its first love, we too must have an encounter with His Spirit so that our hearts may be brought to life and we may be “strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
In short, our reason for existing, and the only way we will ever have an eternal impact on the world around us, is found in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to produce love for Jesus. Out of the overflow that comes from experiencing this place of intimacy, we will be empowered to truly love and serve those around us (you might be interested in reading “Loving People: How to ‘Show Off’ Your Passion for Jesus“).
However, before we can really offer the fullness of our love to God, it is essential that we grasp, at least at some level, the reality of His incredible love for us (for more on this, check out “Because God First Loved Us: The Gateway to Holy Passion“). After all, John, Jesus’ beloved disciple, tells us, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are empowered to love God and to love others only by first understanding and walking in the love God has for us. So it seems to me that this is the best place to begin.
I invite you to journey with me as we rediscover the knowledge of God and grow in love for Him and those around us—that is, if you don’t mind associating with an imperfect, recovering church basher.
May the grace and peace of the Father be yours as you grow in your knowledge of and love for Jesus.