This departure comes in different forms. It may be an outright rejection of biblical truth, walking away from all that has been presented to them, but there is also a subtle form, which can be even more concerning. It’s this: continuing to attend church, Bible conferences and Bible studies, yet remaining cold in heart. Sitting close to the heat of the Gospel and yet refusing to be set on fire by it. Both of these forms of departure are evident among those who have been raised near the Light, brought up in homes with a Christian influence, yet choosing to keep the Light at arm’s length.
Near the Light but Missing its Power
In the first half of 2 Timothy 3, Paul warns Timothy about the sort of wicked people that will be found in the “last days”. The list is sobering, but possibly the most alarming description is found in verse five: “having a form of godliness but denying its power”.
This “form of godliness” reminds us of the Pharisees whom Jesus called out when He was on earth. In Matthew 23 He likens them to “whitewashed tombs”, appearing to be beautiful on the outside, but the contents of which are dead bones and uncleanness.
Jesus said of them: “you . . . outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28). They possessed an outward form of godliness, being familiar with the law and wearing all the right clothes, and claimed to know and serve God, and yet, inside they were spiritually dead. There was no power in their lives, because they were “lovers of self” (2 Timothy 3:1 ESV), and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (v.4).
I wonder if the same statements could be made of many who have been raised near the Light today. They have come to know about the Gospel, the very medicine which can save them from the lethal disease of sin and free them from its chains, and yet have not internalised its life-altering truth. It hasn’t cleansed from the inside out; they have become content to leave the medicine bottle on the shelf – close enough to grasp if needed, yet far enough away to leave them unchanged on the inside. Isaiah’s words could be applied to them: “these people draw near with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (Isaiah 29:13).
Though, taken in context, the verses above relate to those who are not true believers, there is surely a challenge here too for Christians who may have lost their first love. Though we may have believed the Gospel and experienced something of its power to save souls, how often does the thrill and allure of the world ring loud in our ears, tempting us into a numbed state of knowing the Truth but not letting it daily influence our desires and inform our decisions?
Or maybe there have been discouragements, as formerly respected individuals have fallen into sin and set a destructive example, causing us to question our faith as we witness such hypocrisy. Moreover, at times family or church members may have set a pattern of mediocrity in Christian living which has confused and frustrated us as we look on.
The Christian Gospel is truly good news. It is the greatest news, the only way in which we can have our hearts cleansed and be declared righteous before a holy God. Christians, young or old, we have heard and believed these precious truths, but have they transformed our hearts? Or have we rather fallen into a form of “comfortable” Christianity which denies God’s power? How often do our lives display an outward veneer of godliness, and yet lack lasting power when it comes to overcoming indwelling sin, the crippling fear of man, or our resistance to share the good news with those who do not yet know Christ? Could Isaiah’s words almost be true of us? How sobering if that is the case.
If the tide is to be turned from the haemorrhaging that is so prevalent in our churches, we Christians cannot contentedly sit through church services, at the same time allowing ourselves to be blinded to the Truth and preoccupied with the world’s desires, exemplifying the same religious hypocrisy as the Pharisees. Rather, there must be a determination in us to cultivate a real and genuine relationship with God, a mind “stayed on [Him]” (Isaiah 26:3), so that He becomes our greatest treasure. Romans 8:11 emphasises the means by which this is possible, and the hope that is available to the believer who knows the Gospel but feels a lack of power: “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you”. There is unmeasurable and unbounded power available to each believer, made possible through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! This power, which raised Christ Jesus from the dead, can enable the truth of the Gospel to take hold, bringing transformative change to every area of our thinking and witness.
What a tremendous gift it is to know the Light, and to have internalised the saving medicine of the Gospel. Yet, we should take care to examine ourselves, asking for the Holy Spirit to reveal where we have wandered from the Light, and those areas in which our hearts have grown cold and apathetic. Then we must strive to open our eyes to see those around us who have been raised near the Light but are still in darkness, having chosen to keep the Gospel’s transforming power at a distance, so that we might warn them of their danger. But let us also look out carefully for those in God’s family, young and old, who need to be encouraged with us towards a mutual passion for the Gospel we have believed, urging a lost world to look up and see the One who has “called [us] out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).