Paul, after demonstrating that religious people are just as sinful as the lost world, answers the question, “What advantage do we have?”
Basically, “If my religion hasn’t earned me any favor with God, what was the point to that?”
Paul answers the question by stating that our advantage was that we were entrusted with the word of God, the Bible. Then, in a theological eloquence that could only be inspired by God Himself, demonstrated God’s grace and salvation of us, in spite of our sinfulness.
The scariest verses of the Bible are not the ones where plagues are pronounced and massive destruction happens. The verses that should scare you are the ones where someone entered the presence of Christ thinking they were Spiritually sound, only to find out they were still lost the whole time.
Consider the words of Christ in Matthew 7:22-23:
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Here, you have a situation where people were in the Lord’s presence on judgment day, finding out that they were never saved, and thus stood condemned. They protested, saying they had done a lot of wonderful things for the Lord, yet He proclaimed, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
These people had probably spent a lifetime doing works that looked good on the surface, but beneath the surface were impure motives and sinful desires. Yet, they convinced themselves that, because what they were doing was good, the ends justified the means.
They justified themselves, and placed their faith in their works, rather than the Lord, who would have cleansed them from all unrighteousness, justified them, and received them into Heaven.
But because they justified themselves, they deceived themselves into thinking that they were doing God’s work. Consider the words of 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Without a real relationship with Jesus Christ, without repentance from sin, pride and dead works, while turning toward and placing your faith in Christ, you are still lost. Any “righteous” works that you do will still leave you short of Heaven.
If you assess your life and conclude that you are without sin, you are also performing the art of deceiving yourself.
The lesson learned from Sardis, posted in the video above, is that you can believe yourself to be in good shape, and have a reputation of being a solid, Spiritual person, and still be Spiritually dead.
Heed the words of Isaiah 1:18, bring your sins to the Lord, and allow Him to cleanse you.
The church at Thyatira, like the other churches in Revelation, had a lot of things going for it… but one issue God took was the sin and immorality that was infiltrating the church. God allowed time for those involved to repent, but they didn’t, so the day of reckoning was coming. From this, we learn that now is always the time to repent.
Jesus had high praise for the church at Pergamos, but unlike their counterparts in Smyrna, there was an issue. Pergamos had those that held to the doctrine of Balaam. What does that mean?
To understand that, we need to go back and read the story of Balaam from Numbers. Balaam was willing to work with Balak to sabotage or pronounce a curse on Israel, that is, until God told him to only speak the words the Spirit gave Him. Upon heeding those instructions, Balaam proclaimed a blessing on Israel.
What happened next, however, is kind of subtle. With Balaam’s direction, the people of Israel began to worship idols and commit sexual immorality. The result was God’s punishment upon the people.
It is easy to get distracted from our relationship and faith in God by enticing sins and temptations which present themselves. Such was the case at Pergamos. They were faithful to the Lord and endured affliction, but at the same time, they had fallen into temptation.
You can be a faithful Christian, and have issues. You can believe in the Lord and be saved, and yet, struggle with sin. The Lord takes issue with that, therefore when we identify that sin, we should repent of that sin and get it out of our lives.
Or as Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”
Does God seem distant? There may be a valid reason for that, and we might be the cause.
Manasseh, king of Judah, probably committed one of the biggest acts of blasphemy in the history of mankind. He commissioned a carved statue of the heathen idol Asherah, and placed it in the Temple of the Lord (2 Kings 21:7). It was this statue that the Lord referred to as the image of jealousy in Ezekiel 8.
Asherah was a goddess whom the people worshipped through sexual immorality. To make room for the placement of this statue, the altar of the Temple had to be moved aside.
In Manasseh’s mind, there was probably a valid reason for doing this. Many historical scholars believed that Manasseh helped spark an economic boom in Israel by obtaining a “most favored nation” status from the Assyrians. In order to attract Assyria’s favor, he led Israel to worship multiple false gods, including Asherah, who was regarded as the wife of Baal. However, economic gain is never an excuse to rebel against God, and God always deals with this behavior severely.
Manasseh was later arrested by the Assyrians, was treated severely by them, and was only reinstated after he repented and called out to God.
Yet, the damage of his behavior was done. The image of jealousy remained in the Lord’s Temple, and the altar had been moved aside.
Think about how this act violated the Lord’s presence, and the purpose for His Temple. The Temple was a place for people to go to pray, to seek God’s deliverance and guidance, and to be reconciled to Him.
It was a place of repentance, and a place where worshippers sought atonement for sin. The altar was the place where the lambs were sacrificed for sin. Every act of that sacrifice symbolized what God would do for His people through Jesus Christ.
The lamb was tied to one of the four horns of the altar. Those horns represented God’s judgment. So, that lamb was tied to God’s judgment upon us. He took our place there. That lamb was then slain, and its blood was the price paid for our sin. That blood would be collected and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant on the day of atonement to show God’s redemption of us from sin. That blood was also placed upon the horn of the alter, showing that the Blood of the Lamb covered God’s judgment for our sin.
Likewise, the blood of Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world once and for all. Furthermore, the blood of Christ also covered God’s judgment for our sin. It was with this in mind that John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” as he introduced Christ in John 1.
Once the lamb had been slain, the body of the lamb was placed on the altar, where it was cooked, and then eaten by the worshipper, and the priest. The fat was left on the altar to be burnt up, symbolizing God eating His portion. That step in the sacrifice showed restored fellowship between man and God, a friendship and a family relationship that bonded man with God.
The Temple, and more specifically, the altar, was where man went to repent and be reconciled to God. It was where man went for assurance that His sin had been paid for.
Yet, Manasseh had moved that altar to make room for the statue of Asherah, a goddess worshipped through sin and immorality. It was such a betrayal to God, that He later told Ezekiel in Ezekiel 8 that He had been driven from the sanctuary of the Temple. God’s presence was no longer there.
Had the altar been moved for any reason, it would have been a sacrilege. God’s redemption of man would have been de-emphasized for the flavor of the month. However, to move the altar for the image of Asherah, was to move redemption out of the way in favor of licentious sin. This is an all out rebellion against God, and was the closest man could have come to spitting in His face.
Therefore, God’s presence was no longer in His Temple, leading the elders to say in Ezekiel 8 that the Lord had forsaken the earth. (That’s Old Testament for, “God seems distant.”)
So, if God seems distant, maybe it’s because we moved Him out of the way of our desires. Maybe we moved His altar from the temple of our heart to the back recesses of our heart in order to make room for something more pleasing to us… whether it is merely something of the world, or whether it is all-out sin.
However, God does not move to the back. He does not ride shotgun. He is either front and center, in the driver’s seat, or He is gone altogether.
So, if God seems distant to you, examine your heart, and see where your priorities are, and what your spiritual condition is. Then, repent, pray to God for restoration, and welcome Him back to your life.