Conviction #3: True church revitalization will not happen unless a congregation returns to their first love: Jesus.
Dry bones won’t come back to life, churches won’t be revitalized, unless a church returns to its first love, which is Jesus Christ. In Revelation 2:1-5, we read words that perhaps many of us in the church are familiar with. In this passage, the Lord is speaking to the church at Ephesus and we read these words,
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.
This is a great church! This is a church that is steady and faithful. This is a church that has endured much all the while remaining steadfast in the Lord. This is a congregation that is rock solid when it comes to understanding sound doctrine. This is a church that loves the Bible. This is a great church if you want your kids to be raised in the truth of the faith. There is much to be commended in this church. But notice what Jesus says next, starting in verse 4,
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
The picture here is of a church that has its doctrine right, its missions giving is probably greater than any other in its local church association, its doing all kinds of things right, and yet when Jesus looks at the heart of this church, He sees a people that are no longer in love with Him. They may say they are. But they aren’t. Their passion for Christ has dwindled. There’s no zeal for the things of God. The study of God’s Word has become simply an academic exercise. The Word is no longer setting the heart of this church on fire for evangelism and missions. It’s head perhaps, but not its heart. And so the Lord says, “If you don’t return to your first love, if you don’t do those things you did at first when you had a simple, childlike faith in me and love for me, unless you repent and turn back to me, I’m going to take your lampstand away.”
Mark Clifton says that in this passage our Lord makes clear that the pathway to new life for a dying church is repentance and remembering. Those are two key words for any church that wants to be revitalized. Repent and remember. But Clifton clarifies what this type of remembering means exactly,
…not the self serving nostalgia of remembering the past for the sake of our own edification through control and a desire to return to a “better time”, but remembering the legacy of missions and ministry that first birthed this dying church and a brokenness to see that return once again. This kind of remembering can only happen if repentance comes first. This kind of remembering can only happen with the Glory of God when the becomes primary rather than the glory of the past.
There’s one main reason why a church dies. It’s because they lose their first love.
They lose their first love.
If you lose your first love, you begin to lose everything. You lose your love for the truth. You lose your love for the lost. You lose everything. When you lose your love for the Lord and the things of the Lord, what happens as a result is that you increase your love for self and your own “kingdom” rather than God’s. And so we must beg God in all humility, “Oh Lord, change our hearts. Turn our hearts back toward you, that you would be the love and passion of our lives. Lord, may you be our greatest treasure in this life and forevermore!”