Some, if not many, continue to turn away today when Christianity proves too tough, too ordinary, too unexciting, too demanding, and so on. Some folk are honest and actually turn away and leave the faith, as well as the church. Others are less honest – with themselves and others – and remain in the church, but have long-since left the Jesus of Holy Scripture and his hard teachings.
The Apostle Paul understood this truth from his own personal experience. One of Paul’s co-laborers in the gospel ministry betrayed him. After a far-reaching missions tour and much fruit for the Kingdom (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24), Demas abandoned Paul as Paul sat in prison – at the very end of Paul’s ministry and life. Perhaps the demands were too severe. Maybe the cost was too high. Possibly the thought of sitting in a prison cell didn’t seem like a proper reward for all his efforts. We’re not sure of the details, but Paul offered this insight regarding Demas’ desertion.
Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy. 4:9-10)
What does this mean for us? Well, if this committed Christian missionary and personal companion of the great Apostle Paul can desert his beloved brother in Christ out of love for the world, just imagine what can happen to us if we do not stand firm in our faith and end up falling back in love with the world.
It is not too difficult, in light of that, to understand why John would later write in 1 John 2:15-16:
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.
Obviously, when the biblical writers use the word “world” in this way they are not talking about the earth as a planet or even the world of people (after all, remember who it was that God so-loved in John 3:16). Instead, “world” in this context is that dark dominion of sin that John describes in 1 John 2:16 (cf. James 4:4). The world depicted in this way is that realm of the City of Man that is under the direct dominion of Satan and against whom is our real battle (Ephesians 6:10-13).
But for those who follow Christ, the Bread of Life, we have life indeed – and light. The darkness is falling (1 John 2:8) because of this Light and one day will be done away with completely (Revelation 22:5).
Are we of and in the light or are still enslaved in darkness? It is possible to know the answer to that question. John tells us how we can know in 1 John 1:7 and 1 John 2:3-6.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
When we turn our backs to the fallen, darkened and decaying world in which we were born, actively resided, and participated – when we shun its allurements and temptations – when we reject the dominion of its dark king and his fleeting rule – then and only then can we call ourselves subjects of the Kingdom of Light that knows no end. It is in doing the will of the one, true King that we will live forever in his presence (1 John 2:17). For it is this King who has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and ushered us into his own glorious Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).
And so when the temporary and illegitimate “king” of this world and his enslaved servants seek to lead us astray, remember two things. First of all, that as they are now, you once were. It is by sovereign grace alone that you were rescued and released from such bondage to the dark lord of this world. It is by the pleasure of God’s will that you saw your depraved nature for what it was and was made sick by its very sight. Second, stray but a little to the left or to the right and you may very well find yourself on another path altogether, for the path of our new King is straight and narrow. We needn’t be tempted to wander off. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who did in his day:
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
In light of all of this, let us uniformly and with great courage declare with Peter and the other faithful disciples of our Lord when asked by him if they too wanted to leave him (John 6:67):
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
Any profession other than that about our Lord is a lie and the Father is not a part of it (1 John 2:22-23).
True Christianity is not easy. Often a person's response to tough times and hard teachings reveals that person’s real motives in following Christ. Biblical and Christian history is littered with those who could or would not stay true to the end. But before we cast judgment on them we better take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the grace of God that stares back at us. It is only in his strength that we can stand firm. But stand firm we must – for God’s glory and the good of our neighbors... indeed, our world.
Let us stand firm in our faith. For if we don’t, we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).