What on earth is God looking for? Wouldn’t you like to give it to Him?
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
YHWH’s words to the Israelites at the beginning of the 10 commandments. Though we are under the New Covenant and not the 10 commandments, God still deserves to be first. But is He? Do I have other gods before the true and living God? How would I know? Here are 6 questions to help you decide if you have something in the place of God.
(If you landed on this post without seeing the others in this series, let me explain what is going on here. Thursdays is my day to talk about God’s way for our congregations. Right now I’m in the middle of a series on the Jerusalem church and it’s success. This is the twelfth post in the series. I encourage you to check out the introduction to this series to know more about what is going on and to find an index of the posts in this series as they are put up. Enjoy.)
The Jerusalem Church was Devoted to God
The first great key of Jerusalem’s success was why they were even gathering together as a church to begin with. They were gathering because they were devoted to God. What they did was about God, not about themselves.
They didn’t gather for entertainment. They didn’t gather for social recreation. They didn’t become a part of the church for social status. If they did, they wouldn’t last long. Pretty quickly, the church was going to lose its social standing. Persecution would begin and being a Christian would no longer be popular or cause increased favor with the people. These Christians didn’t stay with the church because of its felt-needs based ministries. They didn’t stick around because of what it provided for their kids. These folks were part of this church because they were devoted to God.
On the day of Pentecost, they had been convicted that they crucified the Messiah. In that moment, they were left hopeless, helpless, and despairing. They cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” That wasn’t simply a logical question asking, “What must I do to be saved?” That was a despairing cry. “What on earth can we do? We’re doomed.” But surprisingly, Peter had an answer. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Can you imagine the shock among the Jews who understood what Peter meant. They could actually receive the gifts promised by the Holy Spirit through their father Abraham. They hadn’t destroyed their hope of salvation through the Messiah after all. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah intended to bring. Perhaps they had misunderstood what the Messiah really was. But they hadn’t lost all hope. God had provided a way.
No doubt, their devotion to God was born in the midst of this realization. If God had done this for them, despite their having nailed God’s Messiah to a cross and asked for his blood to be on their heads, to whom else would they want to offer loyalty and devotion?
Their Devotion Demonstrated
The devotion of these Jerusalem Christians was demonstrated in four ways.
#1 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to the doctrine of God; they were devoted to the apostle’s teaching.
It may be hard for us to imagine. Over the past 50 years, since the advent of television, we have become so entertainment oriented and emotionally driven. These Christians did not gather around the apostles because of their wonderful speaking style. They didn’t congregate to hear the apostles because of their comedic timing or their oratorical presence. They gathered to hear the doctrine the apostles would teach. They gathered to hear what God wanted them to do as expressed by the mouthpieces of Jesus Christ.
As the apostles once told Jesus, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Luke 6:68), these disciples knew the apostles were speaking words of life on the Lord’s authority. Where else would they go?
No doubt there is a place for entertainment. Even Jesus used entertainment as an illustration (Luke 7:32). But if we really want to have the success of the Jerusalem church, we have to be devoted to God’s will and God’s word. We need to devote ourselves to hearing it. We need to devote ourselves to accomplishing it. Why? Because God’s way works.
We need to be a thinking, reasoning people, who consider the teaching of the Lord. We need to be people who weigh the words of those who would speak on God’s behalf. We must not follow the path of our culture becoming mere passive receptacles of other men’s ideas that have been foisted upon us with emotionalism and oratorical skill.
Granted, in our entertainment based society, we may be able to produce churches with 10,000 members through our ability to entertain them. However, if we want to create disciples devoted to God, we have to focus them on the apostle’s doctrine. Otherwise, the church may look like Jerusalem on the roll book, but the members won’t look like Jerusalem Christians in their hearts.
#2 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s people; they were devoted to fellowship.
The Jerusalem Christians came from their own backgrounds. This was spiritually the opposite of the Tower of Babel. In that day, a people with a common goal were divided because of varying languages. On Pentecost, people divided by their languages were brought together by a common goal. This means the individuals had their own lives, their own livelihoods, their own plans and purposes. However, on Pentecost all of that was superseded by their desire to have forgiveness in Christ. Suddenly that meant a change in their community.
Now, instead of being Parthian Jews, Median Jews, Elamite Jews, Mespotamian Jews, and so on, they were disciples of Jesus Christ. They had a new community. They had a new sense of belonging. They got their identity from a new group. This was going to engender new traditions, new ways of thinking, new values, and especially new friends (or perhaps I should say new family).
Please do not be misled by the modern idea of fellowship. When we hear fellowship we immediately jump to potluck suppers and pick-up games of basketball. The Jerusalem church didn’t build a hall for recreation and call it fellowship. No, we see their fellowship in Acts 2:44-45. They were one now and they cared for each other as one. They were a community and they had all things in common. Some Christians even went so far as to sell their own land to care for Christians in need. Why not? They were family. Though, no doubt these sellers were local and the needy were likely from faraway lands, separated from their livelihood, they saw each other as “one of us.”
Further, we some sense of fellowship accomplished together as a congregation. They met in the temple daily with one another, praising God. That is, they jointly participated as a congregation in the work and worship of the Lord. But we also see some sense of fellowship that was not accomplished together as a congregation but pursued outside the congregational setting because they were members of the same community. They met in each other’s homes, eating together and continuing their praise of God together.
If we want to have the Jerusalem success, we have to learn this devotion to God’s people.
#3 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s mercy; they were devoted to the breaking of bread.
This is not saying the Jerusalem Christians were devoted to eating. This is not reference to what was going from house to house, taking their meals. No, this was the first reference to “the bread that we break” (I Corinthians 10:16). This refers to the Lord’s Supper. The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to this memorial.
Of course they would be. What better object of devotion than the greatest reminder of God’s love and mercy. These folks had become disciples, but they hadn’t become perfect. They were growing, but they still made mistakes and sinned. They needed a continual reminder of God’s mercy and love for them. They found that in the breaking of bread, the communion.
Each week (yes, I do believe they practiced this weekly), the Christians were reminded of their Savior. What special significance must this memorial have had for these Jewish disciples who had cried out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). They had meant one thing, but their request was being fulfilled in a completely different sense. They had meant it in violence and reproach, but for these, God was fulfilling it in reconciliation and glory. What special significance must this memorial have had for those few who had actually witnessed the sacrifice. They had seen the body given for them, the blood of the new covenant shed for their forgiveness.
When they partook they remembered what brought them together. It was not their ancestry. It was not their works. It was not their nationality. It was their Savior. They were sinners who needed God’s mercy, so they gathered together devoted to the God who offered it to them.
The Lord’s Supper must never simply be an “act of worship” to check off the list. It is not a sporadic celebration on annual “holy days.” It is a continual memorial. We must be devoted to it. If we let that memorial slip into the background of what we do as a church, we will lose sight of the very thing that makes us a church. We will lose sight of the very reason we are gathered together. We will lose sight of the very need that keeps us turning to Christ. If we will have the success of the Jerusalem church we must be devoted to God’s mercy, we must be devoted to the breaking of bread.
#4 The Jerusalem Christians were devoted to God’s power; they were devoted to prayer.
The Jerusalem Christians understood where real strength was. They understood where the power of forgiveness and victory resided. It resided in God. They were devoted to having God work in them and through them. Therefore, they were devoted to prayer.
Let me ask you, when you hear “devoted to prayer,” does that sound like they got together and did several different things but they always had an opening and a closing prayer? No doubt prayer was a center piece of all that they did. The 120, who had been waiting on the coming of the Holy Spirit, had laid the ground work for this. According to Acts 1:14, they were devoting themselves to prayer with one accord. What does that sound like to you? Does it sound like minutes in prayer or hours? Does it sound like prayer was something they did on occasion in their meetings or does it sound like they had entire meetings just for it.
Sadly, few churches today either understand or truly believe in the power of God and the importance of prayer. Most churches spend more time making announcements than they do praying together. But not Jerusalem. They were devoted to prayer. Their leaders were devoted to prayer. In Acts 6, the apostles refused to take charge of the widow’s care because it would hinder their praying. Wow! How would that go over today?
According to Ephesians 3:20-21, God will do far more abundantly than all we ask or think by His power working in us. But do we realize what that means? It means we need to ask and think big. Prayer must be one of our main devotions if we wish to have the success of the Jerusalem church. Through it we understand that our success is not dependent upon us but upon the strength of God.
The Jerusalem church was strong and successful. But that isn’t indicated by their numbers or their programs. That was indicated by their devotion. They were no whitewashed tombs. They were devoted to God, devoted to His will, His people, His mercy, and His power. If we will have their success we must learn to mirror their devotion.
Giving in to sin may not be as easy as you might think. Therefore, to help you learn how to fall back into that bed of comfortability easily, I have prepared the following 10 step plan to fall back into sin. If you take these steps, I guarantee you that sinning will once again become the norm for you.
1. Think you can run your life better than God.
Of course, I know you would never ever actually admit this verbally and out loud. However, if you really want to fall back into sin, this is the mindset you need to have. It will govern the other 9 steps you must take to fall back into sin. The greatest thing is, you don’t actually have to say it out loud. In fact, you can do this while you are still attending church and even looking good in Bible class by answering all the right questions with all the right answers. All you have to do is decide not to do what God says in His word. You can do it for any number of reasons. Maybe what God asks of you is too hard. Maybe you can’t see how it will make you happy. Maybe you are just convinced it is too old-fashioned. No matter the reason, if you just convince yourself what you want to do will produce better long term results for you than what God asks you to do, you are well on your way to falling back into sin.
2. Live in denial.
Who wants to honestly face their defects and flaws? We all know it was wrong of you to yell at your spouse last night, but why be honest about that? Just come up with some reason why in that scenario it wasn’t really all that wrong. It was probably your spouse’s fault anyway. Here is the great thing, you can do this and still keep up the saying of your prayers. Just don’t ever get specific in your confessions. Just ask God to “forgive me my many sins.” No one can prove you have to be specific. Besides being specific would mean you would actually have to look those sins in the face, own them and repudiate them. That is way too much work (remember step #1?). Another way to do this is to constantly look for everyone else’s sins and flaws. Trust me, you’ll find plenty and you can salve your conscience by realizing that at least you aren’t as bad as they are.
3. Quit assembling with the saints.
Surely religion is just about your personal relationship with God. Who needs a congregational family? Who needs a time to get together with other people to edify and be edified? Who needs to spend time with other people praising and worshiping God? Not you. You already know you can run your life better and you’re a good person and don’t need that repeated reminder. Besides, you’re smarter than most of those people and don’t get that much out of the preaching and classes anyway.
4. Isolate yourself from your godly friends.
Those people only want to judge you anyway. Why would you want to spend any time with them? They have just as many problems as you. They’re no better than you are. If you spend too much time with them, they might get you to thinking about some of those sins you have committed. They might call you on the carpet. Not to mention, it is just uncomfortable being around people who actually want to overcome their sins. They’re always talking about God and their Bible reading. If you hang out with them too much, they may figure out what is going on inside you and you just can’t trust those Christians to still love you when they find out what is going on inside.
5. Refuse to be accountable to anyone.
Only cults expect you to be accountable to someone, letting them know what you are dealing with and accepting their advice for how to overcome. You need to avoid partnering with someone for purposes of accountability at all costs. Granted, it may lead you back to sin, but at least it won’t let anyone else have undue influence in your life. That just gives too much power to another person in your life. Besides, no one has the right to know what struggles you face; that’s just between you and God. You’d think if He wanted you to talk to someone else about those things, He would have told you to confess your sins to other people somewhere in the Bible.
6. Keep all your stuff on the inside.
Nobody else wants to be burdened with your emotional and spiritual stuff. Besides, if you told them, someone somewhere would just end up judging you. So, don’t ever tell anyone, no matter how much you think you might be able to trust them, about what is going on inside your head. Never share with them the sins you have committed, the things that trigger your temptations or even just the emotions you feel. Don’t ever let anyone know what makes you sad, guilty, ashamed, lonely, angry or happy. Never let them know you are feeling any of those things right now. Instead, just keep it on the inside. If possible, figure out some way to escape those emotions like playing a video game, watching a movie, smoking a joint, drinking some liquor, raging, getting vengeance on someone, eating some ice cream, looking at pornography. See, if you play you cards right at this step, you’ll be jumping back into your sin and not even having to finish all 10 steps.
7. Revel in your entitlements.
Your life stinks right now because no one else is giving you what you expect from them and what you rightfully deserve from them. At all costs, you must avoid anything that looks like selflessness or personal sacrifice. Instead of serving others, simply complain about how no one is serving you. Instead of giving to others or taking the actions of love toward others, focus on all the ways others should be giving to you and aren’t. Focusing on these issues is the perfect way to start building up the justifications and excuses for why you went ahead and sinned even when you “knew better.” If you focus on this stuff enough, you will even be able to convince yourself that God not only understands why you went back into your sins, but He doesn’t mind and would probably have done the same Himself if He had ever lived in the world.
8. Quit reading God’s book.
You definitely don’t want to spend too much time reading your Bible. If you keep doing that, you might find things that help you keep from sinning. You might find the encouragement, comfort, strength, hope and faith to keep relying on God in the troubled times you face. You might learn about people who have faced exactly what you are facing and overcame by the grace and power of God working in their lives. This will, no doubt, be extremely detrimental to your plan to fall back into sin. So, whatever you do, don’t read that book. Just set it on your coffee table. Carry it with you to church (if you decide to go). But don’t read it.
9. Quit talking to God.
This is an absolute must. If you spend too much time praying, you might remember that the only way you can stay out of sin is to surrender your life to Him and let Him run it. That would be a real mistake on your path to fall back into sin. Additionally, if you keep praying you might realize you can get from Him all the things you are trying to get out of your sins–the peace, comfort, emotional support, help through pain, etc. Of course, if you feel the need to keep up with your Christian homework by saying your daily prayers, that can be okay. Just make sure you don’t actually share with God what you are feeling. Keep that tucked away on the inside. Just offer some trite phrases. Don’t think about what you’re saying, just come up with some forms and phrases you can repeat as necessary. “Dear God, thank You for Your many blessings. Forgive me of my sins. Be with the sick the world over. Bless the church. In Jesus name, Amen.” Something like that will accomplish both things. You can say your daily prayers without actually praying. This will work great to salve your conscience but let you go right back into your sinning.
10. Never talk to anyone about your faith.
If you spend too much time talking to folks about your faith in God, you might actually increase that faith. If you increase that faith, you might actually begin to think your sins won’t help you out as much as you initially hoped. If you recognize that, you may hop on the completely wrong path and just keep surrendering yourself to God. Above all, you don’t want to share what God has done for you in the past with other people because you might remember God’s way really does work when all the other ways have always failed you in the end.
As you can see, falling back into your sins really does take some work. I hope my list helps you as you strive to stay on the right path.