But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love]. Remember then from what heights you have fallen. Repent (change the inner man to meet God’s will) and do the works you did previously [when first you knew the Lord], or else I will visit you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you change your mind and repent. (Revelation 2:4-5 AMP)
I can remember as a child, times when we’d be making family trips and would sometimes get lost on the road. Though Mom and Dad weren’t much for arguing in front of my brother and me, one could feel the unspoken tension in the car as maps would get unfolded, Dad would look for a place to make a U-turn, and Mom would plead with him to just stop and ask for directions. Looking back now, it’s humorous, but we all know that a wrong turn is never funny at the time. Depending on where the wrong turn is, it can even be deadly. One time, I remember that we were on the road for a long, long time before we even knew we weren’t going in the right direction. We were so tired already…and how disheartening to find that we were even farther away from our destination than we ever imagined! Roads can change; maps can become outdated; detours can delay our arrival indefinitely. Even with our modern GPS devices, we can still get very, very lost!
So it also is with life. There are times when we know exactly where we missed the turn; other times, we’ve been on the wrong path so long that we don’t even know where we got messed up. The good news is, our roadmap of life—the Bible—doesn’t become outdated. Regardless of whatever “new” roads spring up, all promising to take us in the same direction, there is still only one true Way. The rest are dead-ends. The beauty of God’s Word is, it’s so complete that we can even use its unchanged, un-evolving truth to get us back to the right path, no matter how far away we may have strayed.
I heard a lot growing up about the “doing your first works over” Scripture, but little elaboration on what it might really mean. Back then, we took it that you had to march yourself back to the altar, the baptistery, and through the saved, sanctified, pray-for-the-Spirit experience all over again, basically losing any ground whatsoever in your relationship with God. While it’s true, sometimes we really do need to hit that altar and pray through, I’ve come to more fully understand what the “first works” really are. Were it just a literal march back to the baptistery, my fingers would probably be shriveled from staying in the water so much! I’ve made my share of bad choices, mistakes, and yes, let’s call them what they are –- sins -– in my life. Thank God for His grace and His never-ending quest to lead us toward His righteousness.
Whether we’ve gotten lost on a highway, fallen out of love with our spouse, or have gone from walking in God’s will to a rock-bottom place in our spiritual condition, we have to take steps to recover.
The first thing we must do is stop heading in the wrong direction! That’s a given! As Jesus told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Go and sin no more,” we too must do an abrupt about-face. It doesn’t mean we can never ever make another mistake or sin again, but it means that, right here and now, we put down that thing down. Paul tells us to lay aside “every weight and the sin which so easily besets us.” We don’t continue with the sin still in our hand and just keep praying for God to keep us from its consequences. He requires accountability and responsibility on our part.
After the stop comes the U-turn. Repentance means more than just being sorry for getting caught, or being sorry for the consequences. We need to be sorry for grieving the Holy Spirit, but repentance literally means an “about-face.” It’s a change in our attitude, a change in our actions, and a change in our hearts! The U-turn itself perhaps doesn’t make everything automatically alright, but for the first time since your wrong turn, you are actually moving toward your healing. Not only are we just going in a different direction, but God’s Word takes us in the right direction. So many times, people will try to stop doing one wrong thing, only to replace it with doing another wrong thing. Example: someone gives up using drugs but then turns to alcohol to drown the pain, perceiving it as the lesser of two evils just because it’s not illegal! If we don’t address the nature of the void in our lives, we’ll fill it with everything else BUT God… and in the end, be just as bad off.
When a couple sits in marriage counseling, often the counselor will ask them to backtrack to the time when they actually were in love; and that’s how I’m going to address the “first works” issue. What attracted you to God in the first place? Was He an answer to a crisis, or did you just respond to conviction and accept Christ? Once you received salvation, what actions and attitudes did you display then that perhaps you’re not doing now? Did you pray more, read more, spend more time with like-minded believers rather than people who might pull you back into a life of sin? Did you let an offense or unwillingness to forgive drive a wedge between you and your Savior? Some of the answers may not be easily found. Just as when you are traveling on a route back to where you first got lost, sometimes we have to remain in an honest time of self-examination just to get back to where we took the wrong turn. We so easily feel justified in some of our decisions, especially in unforgiveness. “Well, the church hurt me,” you might say. Or, “I just won’t rest until I get back at so-and-so for what he/she did to my child.”
Now is not the time to be lazy or a chicken! Your life will not have any sense of normalcy until you deal with what has led you on a path away from God’s peace. How easily we buy into the lie that wallowing in wrongdoing feels better than walking in peace. Backtrack. When you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal where you’ve gone wrong, He won’t play games with you. When He reveals what you need to do, OWN IT. God wants to reconcile you to blessing and favor, not leave you going around in an endless loop on sin’s beltway. “He who covers his transgressions will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes his sins will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 AMP)
So, with an honest self-examination through the lens of Scripture, we really will come back to the missed turn. And though you may have squandered precious time—though you may even have to reap the consequences of some bad decisions—God can put you back on the highway of righteousness! Realize that some things can only be fixed supernaturally. Restitution where possible is needed, but God can fix what we simply can’t. Be encouraged in this: a relationship with Him isn’t like playing one of those wretched video games where you run out of lives and then have to start, every single time, back on level one. If your heart is sincere, He can redeem time for you. You’ve not lost the knowledge and previous experience you’d already gained; those are still in your history to help you and bolster you forward. A mature Christian who falls doesn’t find himself or herself all the way back to a “baby Christian” status…whatever we’ve learned in the Word, we still have it. Take what you’ve learned from your fall and use it to keep you straight in the future. “First works” gets us from the crawling position to the walking position again. You are now empowered with the knowledge of what weaknesses you need to shore up. You can be certain the Devil knows your weak areas, so you need to honestly acknowledge them and use the Word to help you conquer those weaknesses. How you choose to use that information will make a huge difference, from this day forward, in whether your end is better than your beginning!
Don’t stumble over the fact that it may take some proving time before others are convinced that your turnaround is sincere, if you’ve fallen into a serious erring from your faith. Accountability is a good thing, especially to those in authority over us and to the people whose lives have been adversely affected by our choices; but your accountability to God is by far more important than even man’s approval. Often, we dread the process of getting back into man’s good graces more than we do God’s. We figure people won’t forget our mistakes, so why bother? Well, it’s good when people trust you, and it’s good when you don’t violate THEIR trust, but ultimately, be someone GOD can trust. People may or may not give you a free pass on bad choices. Licenses get jerked; a failed audit may get us a whopper of a penalty; we might get disbarred after years of college over one foolish choice; and we can’t go back and reclaim relationships with people who no longer want to be with even a reformed, better us. As my father-in-law says, “You can’t un-ring a bell.” These are realities we must accept. God’s grace, however, is always sufficient to cover! Keep your eyes on the Lord, and not whether others feel you’ve done sufficient “time” in atonement for your sins. This word is just as imperative for the business executive, the housewife, the preacher, and the person spending life behind bars! Look to the eternal future and focus on Him. Yesterday’s in the “tomb of time.” Your destination can be eternally good; and the journey to get there, from here on out, can be as well.
So, pull out the only map that will get you on the right road—GOD’S WORD—and for heaven’s sake, don’t be too proud to ask Him for directions! He’s already got a plan to set you right. Never settle for being a believer who, though saved by grace and still headed to heaven, lives a less-than-abundant life HERE! God forgives those who confess and repent, but remember: simple obedience will save you many, many heartaches. The Word is your GPS—God’s Perfect Solution.