I was sitting on the front deck this morning, watching the world come alive, reading from Revelation 4 – 5 and 19 – 22, and contemplating the present reality of the glorified Jesus Christ, who he is, and what is still to come for this world and all who are in it.
Those thoughts led me to think about this past Wednesday when I taught on James 4:1-10. Verse four of that passage reads, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Part of our discussion that evening was what it means to be a friend of the world or a friend with God, and how it seems to be a line that we are prone to blur in our daily lives.
Friendship in the ancient world was an idea that included deep fellowship, loyalty, and the sharing of all things. James didn’t expect us to isolate ourselves from the world, and neither did Jesus, Paul, or John for that matter — but they all warned us about becoming friends with the world and its systems and values.
Just knowing that James describes each of us as being (at times?) spiritually unfaithful (adulterous) to God and warns us about becoming or even wanting to be friends with the world and enemies of God should cause us concern. I believe wholeheartedly in the perseverance of the (true) saints, but I also read in the Bible the warnings about apostasy and the need for endurance such as this one in Revelation 14:12: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.”
Here’s a real-world example from a letter we received this week from Grace to You:
Several months ago, we received a shocking, heartbreaking letter. It was from a long-time listener and supporter of Grace to You named Steve. His short note explained in stark, simple language that he has rejected Christ, turned his back on the church, and wants nothing further to do with our ministry. He wrote:
“Over many years I have been blessed to received free tapes, CDs, and books from your ministry. Thank you. At the time, I really appreciated them.
Now I no longer believe in the God of the Bible or in Jesus Christ. Ten years of full-time ministry proved to me that there is no God and that the God of the Bible does not care. I now reject Christianity and have come to peace. What was at first a great loss has now turned to joy, peace, and freedom. I did not leave the faith because of some extreme sin. I left because the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all a fantasy. I’m happy I now live in the real world.
I only feel guilt about the many people whom I led to Christ and exposed to the lies of Christianity. I’m not mad at Christians. I’m not mad at you. However, I am mad at myself for not being a more critical thinker. I won’t make this mistake again.
Again, thank you for the many years of “help” and “teaching'” you all shared with me. I do appreciate what you all are trying to do with the knowledge you have.
Please remove me from your mailing list. Save the money. Don’t waste it on an apostate like me. I was just giving your CDs away. But now my conscience no longer can tolerate the further spread of a false hope and disappointment.
Sadly, Steve is just one of many similar stories in the long history of the church. Practically every Christian who has been a believer for any length of time has at least one friend or loved one like Steve who has known the truth, seemed to embrace it, and then walked away. Jesus said it would be this way. In the parable of the soils, the shallow soil and the weedy soil both represent people who respond positively to the gospel at first but then fall away (Mark 4:16-19). . . .
[N]o one sets out to become an apostate — it’s never the result of one abrupt, drastic turn away from the Lord. Instead, apostasy is most often the product of a pattern of sinful compromises that harden and gradually steer a professing believer away from the truth.
Believers need to guard against those sinful patterns — we can’t be complacent or lazy when it comes to dealing with sin. A key part of the sanctification process is constantly identifying and eliminating sinful habits that cripple your faith and give temptation a foothold. We have to be vigilant and ruthless when it comes to self-examination — no transgression can go unchecked in the battle against sin.
So a question I’m currently asking myself is, “In what areas of my life am I at risk of becoming a friend of the world and an enemy of God?” Whatever those areas are, they are probably more like walking on a broad, slippery slope than falling over a cliff, which means the danger is subtle but still very real. And my prayer is that God will grant me and all the saints the grace to be among those who answer the call to endure by keeping the commandments of God and our faith in Jesus Christ.
Judging from the book of Revelation, I for one want to be among those who will forever worship around the throne of Jesus Christ, adding my voice to “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.'” (Revelation 19:6-8)