Signs of Apostasy

Paul, in Romans chapter 1, walks us through a process that inevitably leads to apostasy. We recently looked at the dangers of apostasy from the book of Hebrews, but how does such unfaithfulness creep into our lives? In verses 18-24, after speaking to the power of salvation in God’s word, Paul writes about the plainness of the divine in the world around us. He reveals, however, that people gave up the glory of God to place the divine in the objects of Creation. Apostasy crept in, and it can overtake us today as well.

Verse 21 establishes that, at one time, all people knew God. We can look around us and see a greater power at work. We can see the hand of a higher power in the order and magnitude of our universe. Verse 20 calls us without excuse for failing to recognize God’s power over this world in which we live. We can know God, and we can know what He wants for us. This intellectual knowledge of God, however, is not enough to prevent apostasy.

Sliding Toward Apostasy

Many more will acknowledge the existence or possibility of God than will actually follow Him. We cannot rest easy simply in professing the existence of our Father, for, like those in Romans 1:21, we can know God without glorifying Him as such. In John 17:4, Jesus prays about His efforts to glorify God in doing the work of God. I Peter 4:14-16 calls on us to glorify God in our service, even in the face of persecution and suffering. Romans 12 calls on us to live sacrificially to glorify God in service. My place is not to seek honor for myself in this life but to submit to the work of the Lord and glorify Him in this service. Philippians 1:27 puts it this way: “…let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…”

Also in Romans 1:21, Paul speaks of those who fail to give thanks to God. Ungratefulness leads to unfaithfulness. Luke 17:11 tells the story of Jesus healing ten lepers who meet Him on the road, but only one – a Samaritan – comes back to thank Jesus. A Christian’s life must be characterized by thankfulness. I Thessalonians 5:18 calls on us to give thanks in all things, and James 1:17 reminds us that our blessings come from above, coming down from the Father. How often do we remember to show gratitude for answered prayers, for the numerous blessings we have, for God’s preservation of us?

Romans 1:21 furthermore speaks of vain thinking leading to apostasy. Back in Genesis 6, prior to the flood, God is grieved by the fact that every thought of mankind is turned toward evil. We are what we think. Romans 8:5 says we are after the flesh or the spirit depending on what we occupy our thoughts with. In Colossians 3 and Philippians 4, Paul calls on his fellow Christians to set their minds on pure and worthwhile things. We need to be careful of eliminating God from our thinking, which will eliminate Him from our lives.

Paul says all of this will harden hearts in Romans 1:21. Remember Matthew 13:13, when Jesus is asked why He speaks in parables, He references the people’s closed eyes, closed ears, and hardened hearts. They present themselves as a people who do not want God’s healing, and we can likewise be so stubborn. Romans 2:5 then warns that hardening our hearts invites God’s judgment upon us.

Conclusion

Little by little, we can push God out of our minds and out of our lives, and, like Romans 1:22, we elevate self and debase God. I Corinthians 1:18-25 tells of God’s wisdom seeming foolish to our earthly thinking. We profess ourselves to be wiser than God when we look at His word and think we know better. We think we know how to live this life without God, but Jeremiah 10:23 reminds us that it is not in us to direct our own steps.

When we deny God, we open a void in our lives. In Romans 1:23, those people exchanged the glory of God for idols. Instead of those carved images, we seek to worship self. We elevate our reasonings. We justify our investment in secular matters. We refuse to submit in our pride. When we do these things, we squeeze God from our lives, and we begin to fall away. We can prevent this crisis, though, simply by humbling ourselves and submitting to His plan for us. Instead of exchanging God’s glory for that which is corruptible and fleeting, we can take hold of His power unto salvation and draw nearer to Him in faithfulness and love.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Warnings from Hebrews

The book of Hebrews was written to people who are likely second-generation Christians who are still struggling with the tensions between the traditions of Judaism and the teachings of Christianity. Many had, currently or at one time, relatives who would have seen Jesus as a false teacher. They would have had family and friends reject them, and the temptations would have been great to slip back into the traditions of their past. In this light, the Hebrew writer includes five warnings in his epistle to these struggling Christians.

Neglect

Hebrews 2:1 encourages them and us to give all the more earnest heed to the teachings of Jesus and His inspired apostles, confirmed by signs and wonders from God, lest we drift away in neglect. Hebrews challenges us to ask ourselves how we plan to escape judgment if we neglect and reject so great a salvation, a salvation planned from the foundations of the world.

John 20:30-31 concludes that the miracles and signs recorded in that gospel are for confirming our faith. Like those steps overviewed every time we get on a plane, have we heard God’s word so much that we filter it out? Ephesians 2:8 reminds us of the role grace plays in our salvation. While we were sinful, vile, and disobedient, God sent His Son as an unmerited gift of propitiation. God has given us a gift in salvation and eternal life in His Son, and the Hebrew writer makes sure we understand that we should not neglect so great a gift.

A Hardened Heart

In Hebrews 3, the author repeatedly quotes the 95th Psalm, saying, “Today, if you hear His voice…” He calls on us, in verse 12, to take care we do not develop an unbelieving heart, and he uses the next several verses to help us overcome unbelief – exhort each other, share in Christ, hold confidence, even to fear failure. We need to be aware that it is possible to harden our hearts and miss salvation.

We may simply choose unbelief, but I Corinthians 10:6-13 warns us to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, lest we be overconfident in our faith and slip into arrogant disobedience. This is why the Hebrew writer warns us against becoming hardened to God’s word, for it can happen without us realizing it.

Immaturity

No one likes being called immature, and, when we most dislike it is when we are most guilty of it. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author does just this. He admonishes his readers for being too spiritually immature to understand some things they should. He goes on in chapter 6 to then encourage maturation, so they and we do not fall away despite having tasted of the heavenly gift.

When we are not growing spiritually, skepticism, indifference, and apostasy may find room to creep in. An arm kept in a cast for several weeks quickly becomes smaller and weaker than the arm being used every day. Growth takes effort on our part, and it is something we should be working toward every day.

Falling Away

In Hebrews 10:26-31, the author addresses the dangers of deliberate sin, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Again, these are things his readers are familiar with from Moses’ teachings, but now it is being applied to rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, a sacrifice sealing a covenant greater than the one brought by Moses.

Refusal

The author uses the illustration of Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17, who refused to acknowledge the worth of his family birthright. This is compared to our own spiritual birthright, standing before the holy mountain, and we are warned, in verse 25, to not refuse the one who speaks to us now (Jesus Christ according to chapter 1:1).

Conclusion

In Jeremiah 44, after God calls on His people time and again to listen to His word, the prophet makes a final appeal. In verse 16, though, the people state they will not listen. Rather than refusing the word of grace, we should receive it gratefully, knowing the promises and gifts that come from our God who delivered Him.

God’s word can work in our lives if we avoid turning our back, hardening our heart, and closing our hearts to it. His word can change us from sinful creatures without hope into sanctified children with the hope of eternity. No one can force us to soften ourselves to His word, though. It has to come from within. We need to heed these warnings just as much as those second-generation Christians, holding to our faith despite anything that might try to take it from us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Faith, Hope & Expectations

Do you get what you want, or do you get what you deserve? How many times have we heard the expression, “I knew that was going to happen!” We have other frustration statements we use, and many of these express an expected negativity in our lives. What makes a difference between good and bad expectations? How does our faith and hope affect our expectations, and how are these reflected in those expectations?

Hopeful Expectations

Faith, hope, and love are all elements that are supposed to fill our lives, and all of these imply a trust in our God. I Thessalonians 1:3 speaks of these three in terms of action and attitude. These work together, and they will affect the expectations we have in our lives. Faith relies on hope in God and His promises, expecting Him to deliver on those promises. I John 3:3 speaks of a hope we have fixated upon God, and I Peter 1:13 encourages us to hope in the grace of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 11:5-6 reveals some more details about the Enoch we are briefly introduced to in Genesis 5:24. He is described as having never seen death, and this is the direct result of his faith – the hopeful expectations he placed on God. II Corinthians 5:7 simply states that faith guides us, and Paul goes on to express His expectation to be delivered by Christ and present with God, an idea also reflected in Colossians 1:5.

James 1:5 speaks of us entreating God for wisdom, but verse 6 speaks to the expectations we should have when praying to God. We are to pray with the expectation that God will listen to and answer us. Our cynical expectations keep us from Him.

Triumph in Faith

Hebrews 11:1-3 gives us a definition of faith, and this definition includes expectations – hopeful expectations that may contradict what we see in this world. Then, the author goes on to describe several examples of people acting upon hopeful faith. Abel is cited as one acting upon faith based on his sacrifice to God, and Noah took action to prepare for an event he had no physical evidence on which to base expectations.

In verse 8, the author speaks of Abraham who left his home to seek a land he had not seen. Abraham expected to be led despite his ignorance of the destination. He had faith that God would work good in him. Romans 8:28 reflects this confidence, and the preceding verses encourages to have hopeful expectations and trust in God.

Ephesians 3:20 describes God as being able to deliver beyond anything we can imagine. So often, we set our expectations for God, for others, and for ourselves at such a low level, we can’t help but have those expectations fulfilled. Our expectations can only be enhanced by what we tell ourselves to expect. Edification starts within ourselves. I Peter 5:8-9 describes a devouring power, seeking to consume our souls, but faith resists this power. It gives us the hope to lift ourselves above those snares.

Conclusion

Our faith and hope motivate the expectations in our lives. We can set our bar high, or we can set it low. However, if we set it on God, we know that He will help us achieve our goal of being with Him.

lesson by Mike Mahoney

Remarkable Reproductions

In Florida, there used to be a Billboard on U.S. 119 with a picture of the Mona Lisa and the logo, “Remarkable Reproductions.” It was an ad for an art studio that specialized in creating low-cost facsimiles of famous pieces of artwork. You could have something that was close to the original, but was close. You had to settle for poorer quality, value, and workmanship, but it served as a passable substitute for the original.

As Christians, we comprise our Lord’s kingdom, and Matthew 16, beginning in verse 13, we read of Jesus asking his apostles what others and themselves think of Him and His identity. When Peter confirms Christ’s deity, Jesus reinforces his statement and speaks of the building of His church or assembly. They would be a people called out of the world to assemble before Jesus.

Seeking the Original

When we consider the numerous groups claiming to follow Christ with all of the inconsistencies and contradictions, it is easy to see how people can become disenchanted with the idea of organized religion. In this, what should we be looking for – the original or remarkable reproductions?

We cannot walk into a reproduction shop and expect to find something of the same worth, workmanship, and quality of the original. In Matthew 16, Jesus identifies the church as His to possess, and Acts 20:28 describes it as purchased by Jesus’ blood. Christ knew the cost he would pay for His church, and it is beyond any value we can place upon it.

I Corinthians 3:10 records Paul warning us to be careful how we build upon the foundation of Christ. He speaks to the workmanship of our ministry. When it comes to the church, the only foundation it can have is Jesus Christ. If any man is at the center of a congregation, it will falter. In I Corinthians 1:10, Paul appeals to Christ’s authority in asking the members of that church to avoid divisions among them based on individuals they identified with. Galatians 1:6-10 warns us that anything not from Christ is not truly the gospel.

Returning to Matthew 16, Jesus speaks to the quality of His church in verse 18. He states that no power – physical or spiritual – that will destroy His kingdom. The writers of the New Testament call it an eternal kingdom. In Matthew 7:20-23, Jesus speaks to the quality of fruits brought forth by those who claim to be spiritual, and, in this, He speaks of some who are close but still do not accurately follow the pattern He set forth.

Conclusion

When it comes to originals in the art world, there is only one, and the same is true of the Lord’s church. If we are doing things outside Christ’s authority, whether in practice, organization, or beliefs, then we are no more than a lesser-quality reproduction. Ephesians 1:22-23 speaks to Christ’s headship over the church, and that church is described as His body. We have one head and one body. Ephesians 4:4-6 reinforces this concept of inner unity. Christ did not establish and die for a divided and scattered body. They were united in cause and faith. They wore His name in unity – more than a label or a tag.

If something is not from Christ, it is from man, and it is not of the original. It is a forgery where our ideas and values are substituted for God’s. It may not always be the convenient or easy thing to do, but we should be settling for nothing less than the original. This is not a label of elitism or self-righteousness. Rather, striving to follow the original pattern should inspire an attitude of humility, laying aside our own pride to do things God’s way rather than our own way.

lesson by Tim Smelser