Have You Left Your First Love? | thebereancall.org

T. A. McMahon

Among the many things that separate biblical Christianity from every religious belief system, two truths stand out to me as wonderfully significant. The first is that our infinite God and Creator has communicated directly to us, His created finite beings, through His Word—the Bible. The second is that we are told throughout His Scriptures that not only can we know about Him, but we can also have a personal, intimate relationship with Him. Every born-again Christian knows this to be true because God said so and because it has been his or her own experience as believers in Jesus Christ.

The very concept of those biblical truths is astonishing to people who follow the world’s various religions. Why? For one thing, those followers are given insufficient information about the gods they are to worship, and therefore they can never develop a personal relationship with them. Some teach that their gods can’t be known but only experienced in a completely subjective way. This removes any objective means of discerning whether or not what is taught about their gods is true. Moreover, the spiritual information is produced and received through completely subjective means, such as intuition, experiences, hunches, altered states of consciousness, inspiration, guesses, speculations, feelings, etc.

Let’s think about the personal relationships we have with our spouses, parents, or children. These will be formed based upon how well we really know the individuals involved and the kinds of experiences we have with them, i.e., whether they are good or bad. If we have little close contact with them, we probably won’t have much of a relationship. No matter how weak or strong our relationships are, however, they must also be defined by truth—in other words, are we certain that our knowledge of a person is accurate?

As related to the Lord, all of these issues are answered by the God of the Bible. From Genesis through Revelation we read of our God, our Creator, communicating and communing with His creation! John 14 describes the personal relationship a believer has with the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit): “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you and shall be in you. . . . He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. . . . If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” And “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto to you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (John:14:17, 21, 23; 1 John:1:3). Compare that with all the religious belief systems throughout the world. There you will find neither true relationship nor fellowship!

Jesus, who is God manifested in the flesh, has revealed to us exceeding knowledge of the Father throughout His Word: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John:14:9). That knowledge is found in page after page throughout the Scriptures. And His revelation is absolutely true, as Jesus declared in His prayer to His Father: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John:17:17). John the Apostle underscored the importance of the truth revealed in God’s Word when he declared: “And he [John] that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John:19:35).

Although the Bible tells us that everyone who puts his faith in Jesus Christ begins a personal relationship with Him, that relationship can be subject to many hindrances. Refraining from the continual reading of His Word inhibits a growing relationship with Jesus among those who profess to be Christians and is a major problem today. To develop an intimate relationship with Jesus we must read the Scriptures, throughout which He is revealed in depth. It’s in those details that we can discern whether or not the Jesus we are following is the biblical Jesus.

The sad truth is that although much of the world and its religions pay homage to Jesus, it isn’t to the biblical Jesus. Many professing Christians, as well as truly born-again believers, are unwittingly following a counterfeit Jesus Christ. Those who have never come to know Jesus through a spiritual rebirth cannot know Him (1 Corinthians:2:14), but what of those who entered into a true relationship with Him at one point? The writer of Hebrews (2:1) warned the believers in that epistle that they should be careful not to let what they knew about Jesus “slip.” Jesus admonished the believers in the church at Ephesus for slipping away from Him—their “first love” (Revelation:2:4). 

The consequences of departing from our love for Jesus, no matter how slight, will not only result in a diminishing relationship with Him, but Jesus himself warned that unless one restores that love relationship, inevitably the lampstand or light that one has obtained through Scripture, whether individually or collectively as a church, will cease (Revelation:2:5). 

In Matthew 24, Jesus warned that at the time of His return, there will be great deception, which will involve many “false Christs” who will “deceive many” (4-5, 22). As we consider this prophesied “great deception” and observe the times in which we now live, is it possible that we’re approaching such a day, especially regarding “false Christs”?

Let’s begin with the most influential medium in the world today: movies. Every one of the theatrical productions that feature the character of Jesus are presenting a counterfeit Jesus. Although I’ve addressed my concern about this in numerous articles, talks, a DVD, and a book (Showtime For The Sheep?), here are a few brief but very critical points to be considered: 1) How can a man-made visual representation of “God manifested in the flesh” accurately portray the biblical Jesus? 2) How can an actor portray Jesus, who declared, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John:14:9)? 3) The Bible states that man is not to add to or subtract from the Scriptures (Deuteronomy:4:2), which is something that must be done to create the visual translation for a biblical movie. The additions come from the screenwriter, director, cameraman, actors, etc. 4) Any visual image of Jesus is one that has been conjured up by man and therefore must result in “another Jesus” (2 Corinthians:5:16; 11:4), a counterfeit Jesus Christ.

Tragically, countless numbers within Christendom, including some of its highly influential leaders, have supported films that attempted to translate the Bible visually. This not only presents to the world a Bible that has been wrongly interpreted by a screenwriter and a Hollywood “Jesus” (i.e., a false Christ), but it continues to distort the truth even among those who consider Him to be their first love.

I once was having breakfast with some fellow believers, one of whom brought along a Muslim friend. During our conversation with this delightful man, he gave a beautiful testimony of his love for Jesus that I’ve rarely heard among Christians. We were all thrilled at his emotional declarations. But as the conversation continued, I was prompted to know more about this Jesus whom he loved, so I asked him to tell us about him. My initial question was whether or not his relationship was with Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. His answer was simply, “No, Allah has no son.” He merely reflected what the Qur’an teaches about Isa, or “Jesus.” Sadly, this dear man’s relationship was not with the biblical Jesus.

Among Satan’s many tactics are his attempts to influence the world to hate Jesus (John:15:25). At the same time, he promotes a counterfeit Jesus that the world likes. These “Christs” would include the culture-friendly Jesus, the “buddy” Jesus, the wealthy Jesus of the prosperity-driven false teachers, and the “Joel Osteen Jesus,” who is all about making people feel good about themselves. The Adversary’s scheme is also to undermine the deity of Christ by making him just like us—or by elevating humanity to godhood just like Jesus, the lie that the Antichrist will foster.

Counterfeit Christs are also found throughout Christendom. A billion-plus Roman Catholics worship a false Jesus. One symbol of him that is found in nearly every Catholic Church is a crucifix, which is a cross with a body hanging on it. The body is still portrayed as being on the cross because the Catholic “Jesus” didn’t pay the full penalty for the sins of mankind. Catholics must complete the expiation of their sins through temporal sufferings here on earth and later in purgatory before they can enter heaven. Furthermore, that sacrificial act of Christ is continued on Catholic altars throughout the world, where bread and wine is transubstantiated into the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus and then immolated (sacrificially killed). That Jesus can save no one.

All cults have a counterfeit Jesus. However, some denominations that are not regarded by many as cults still believe in another Jesus. The United Pentecostal Church has a Jesus who alone is God, rejecting his position in the plurality of the Trinity. Seventh-day Adventism has a Jesus who is also Michael the Archangel and who is in heaven continuing the work of redemption through what the SDA church calls “the investigative judgment.” The denominational Church of Christ rejects salvation by faith alone in the finished work of Christ by requiring baptism in order to be saved. That’s not the teaching of the biblical Jesus, who declared to the thief on the cross (who had had no opportunity to be baptized): “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Numerous other churches that have their roots in the Reformation and have retained some of the dogmas of the Catholic and Orthodox Church teach baptismal regeneration, i.e., the necessity of baptism in order to be saved. That continues to be a fundamental belief within Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Episcopalianism, and Methodism (although there are some local churches within those denominations that do not adhere to baptismal regeneration).

What then of a person who holds to the biblical doctrines essential for salvation but adds to his belief baptismal regeneration? If that person truly believes that he has no hope of heaven without being baptized, he has rejected both the finished work of Christ and Jesus himself. A relationship with the biblical Jesus under those circumstances is a relationship with a false Christ. For others, who perhaps remain within a denomination that holds to baptismal regeneration even though they themselves do not, their relationship with Jesus may be questionable at least, but not their salvation.

Scripture warns us that “the time will come when they [the church] will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy:4:3). This indicates that as we draw closer to the return of Christ for His bride, fewer and fewer believers will know and adhere to the instructions of Scripture. That certainly will include their knowledge of and relationship with Jesus. If I’m not clear on the character and characteristics of the biblical Jesus, which are presented as absolutely true, I’m potentially susceptible to accept another “Jesus.” A false relationship with Jesus could very well result in hearing His words, “I never knew you” (Matthew:7:23).

One troubling and very aggressive teaching within Christianity is Calvinism, and my concern in particular has to do with a Calvinist’s relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m convinced that most people who refer to themselves informally as Calvinists would not agree with the definitions of the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints) held by some knowledgeable and very committed Calvinists. Most such Christians consider themselves to be Calvinist because they believe in eternal security, which, in fact and practice, Calvinism does not affirm.

That misunderstanding of Calvinist doctrine may be to the benefit of believers who call themselves Calvinists. How so? Well, regarding the character of Jesus and His payment for sin on the cross, was His atonement limited to only the elect? A yes or no answer reflects what one believes about Jesus and therefore one’s relationship with Him. If one believes that He did not die for everyone, when He did, they don’t follow the biblical Jesus. If one believes that humans are so totally depraved that they have no ability or will to turn to Christ for His free gift of eternal life—they follow another Jesus. Did the Jesus with whom one claims to have a relationship predestine one to everlasting life with Him, while others, who were not predestined to salvation, are left to suffer in the Lake of Fire for all eternity? The point here is that ignorance of what Calvinism authoritatively teaches about TULIP may keep many of those who regard themselves as Calvinists from the distortions of the Jesus of Calvinism.

Those who truly know Jesus through their spiritual rebirth have from the outset entered into a blessed personal relationship with Him. That relationship is both unique among all the world’s religious beliefs and exceedingly wonderful. Letting that relationship depreciate in any way is similar to letting our joy of the Lord slip away.

Jesus admonishes the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2 for having left their “first love,” a fact that had adversely affected their relationship with Him. To what degree for each individual we aren’t told, although they are collectively warned to turn back to Him. That admonition is for every born-again believer. We all need to evaluate where we are in our relationship with our Lord. From the very beginning we need to grow in that relationship by being diligent in the daily reading of His Word and pleasing Him by doing what it says. 

“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John:2:28).