Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth knows none of us is fully sanctified. So that means repentance needs to be an ongoing activity.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It’s to be a way of life within the church, within our lives as believers. Repentance is not just feeling sorry about the condition of our lives or the condition of the churches. It’s mourning over our sin. It’s changing direction. It means reorienting our lives around the call and the implications of the gospel. It means living as redeemed people.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Friday, November 17, 2017. 

Jesus sent seven messages through John in the book of Revelation. Those messages have been a rich source of study for us on Revive Our Hearts. We’ve devoted several series to these letters this year. Today Nancy is going to wrap up all those series looking at what Jesus' words say to the Church today.

Nancy: I got an email recently from one of our Revive Our Hearts' staff who had been listening to this series as we’ve been recording it. She said,

This series may turn out to be one of the most important you have ever recorded in light of all that’s going on today. It’s hard for us to fathom where we could be as a nation and globally by the time this series airs.

As I’m recording this, I don’t know where we will be globally and as a nation by the time this series airs, but it’s interesting that the timing of Jesus’ revelation to John and the focus of the revelation that we’ve been looking at. Remember, we said at the beginning of this series that the churches in the first century in Asia Minor were going through horrific persecution. The emperors of Rome—Nero, Domitian—they were using cruel measures to try and wipe out the church.

You would think that if Jesus were going to speak to a church in that era where they were suffering so much, He would have given them some type of survival manual. But God’s survival manual that we hold in our hands, the book of Revelation, was not what you might have expected to a suffering church. His instruction to them in this time of crisis is amazingly specific.

He says essentially, "Get your hearts right, and live in light of eternity." That’s God’s survival manual, for the first century Christians and for Christians living in the twenty-first century. There are many in our world today—and I get these reports almost daily of persecution that is taking place in other parts of the world. Many who are living in days similar to those of Nero and Domitian in the first century Roman Empire.

My hope is that we are never faced with that kind of reality here in America. But that seems to be an ever-increasing possibility. I think it’s going to get harder and harder to be a Christian in this country. Not to claim to be a Christian, but to be a true Christian. I’m believing that in God’s providence, the timing of this series may be divinely orchestrated for the purpose of equipping American believers to get their own hearts and lives right and to live in light of eternity and a soon return of Christ for His Bride.

Now as we’re wrapping up this series that has gone on for a very long time, but I hope that you’re feeling as I am that it’s been so rich and that God has really opened my eyes to some things. I’m so grateful to have seen His heart for the Church, not only in the first century, but also in the twenty-first century.

We’ve said in wrapping up this series that Jesus had three primary concerns for the Church:

  • They had lost their passion.
  • They had issues of purity—doctrinal purity and personal purity.
  • They needed perseverance.

Perseverance. You can understand why that was a need, because they were suffering. They were being threatened. They had attacks from without and within.

Jesus says to these believers who are under the heal of the Roman government, "You need endurance. You need to persevere. You need to be faithful." You see this theme coming out over and over again through these early chapters of Revelation. Revelation 1, verse 9, Jesus says, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus.”

How do you get from the tribulation to the kingdom? It’s patient endurance. That’s what takes you from one to the other. That’s what helps you to run the race all the way to the finish line—patient endurance.

Now in the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written that term patient endurance is actually one word, and it’s a word that means "not passive resignation." It’s an active word. It comes from a verb that means "to stand one’s ground," "not to give in." It speaks of steadfastness, standing firm against the culture, against the tide.

One commentator described it as triumphant fortitude. By God’s grace, you’re not going to get run over. You’re going to conquer. You’re going to overcome all the odds, all the opposition, the things that are stacked against you. Patient endurance. In the face of cultural pressures, religious opposition, patient endurance, even to the point, if necessary, of dying. Patient endurance.

You see it in the letter to the church in Ephesus. Jesus says, “I know your works, your toil, and your patient endurance. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (2:2–3). He commends them for their patient endurance.

The church in Thyatira, “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance” (2:19). The church in Philadelphia, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (3:10). 

The church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10). Be faithful. Persevere.

The church in Pergamum, Jesus says, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was called among you, where Satan dwells” (2:13). He said even though there’s persecution and some of your friends and family members have been killed, they’ve had to pay the price of their lifeblood, you have held fast. Stand fast. Have patient endurance.

Now whether you lived in the first century or you live in the twenty-first century, it’s easy to grow weary in the battle and to give in to our sin, our flesh, the lure of the world that is just pumping its advertisements wholesale into us morning, noon, and night. It’s easy to grow weary against the opposition.

There is in our country today a growing groundswell against Christ. It’s okay to be religious as long as you don’t pledge allegiance to the cross of Christ. You can get tired of that. Tired of being in the minority. Tired of going against the flow. Tired of swimming upstream, of the opposition, whether it’s the flesh, the devil, or the world.

But we’re not supposed to just sit around waiting for Jesus to come back, holding on for dear life, just trying to keep our heads above water. We are to be actively preparing for His return and claiming His Lordship over every particle of creation. We are to be serving Him, serving others, until He returns. That’s what it means when He says in each letter, “To the one who conquers, to the one who overcomes.” It’s to be steadfast in claiming Christ’s Lordship.

Those first century churches existed in a hostile environment. We’ve read about the Jewish synagogues. Some of these were Jewish believers, but the synagogues threw them out because they claimed that Christ was the Messiah. And the pagan religions didn’t want them because they said Jesus was the only way to the Father.

So they were like a man without a country. They had no home here on this earth. They were pilgrims. They were strangers, aliens here on earth. They had to deal with the cult of emperor worship and in some cases if you didn’t bow to Caesar, it’s off with your head. That’s the culture they lived in.

They were outcasts in their cultures, in their own communities. To be loyal to Christ, to be faithful witnesses meant making certain choices that would result in certain opposition. It meant refusing to participate in pagan lifestyles, and there were serious, severe consequences for doing that. In many cases their relationships were threatened. Their jobs, their livelihood, their families, and their lives.

What those little churches experienced in the first century, we are experiencing in increasing measure in our world, a hostile environment where there is pressure exerted by those who do not know Christ, whose agenda is contrary to His, and they are enemies of the cross of Christ. They are threatened by the thought of His reign and His rule. So they come up in opposition against those who claim the name of Christ.

You see the concept of the tribulation in Revelation, some today have reduced that to a seven-year period depending on your eschatology. "Oh, that’s the tribulation. That’s something down the road. That’s something coming. And oh, I hope our theology’s right, that we’re going to get raptured before the tribulation." So we don’t worry too much about the tribulation if you grew up in the theological circles that I did.

But in the book of Revelation the concept of tribulation is not just some future period of event. It’s something that had already begun in the first century when these letters were written and it’s something that is a continuum and that will continue to intensify from the first century until the return of Christ. Satan will attack the church with terrible persecution. Sometimes he does it overtly as we see in some closed countries of the world today where it is against the law to convert to Christianity.

In our country he does it a little more subtly. He does it by infiltrating the churches, by getting us to accommodate to the world or to become spiritually flabby and soft—lukewarm. All these are ways that Satan gets his way in the world.

Again, as I reflect on these letters to the churches, those first century Christians in Asia Minor, I’m just reminded that they were a small, powerless minority in an environment of religious pluralism where all religions are accepted and respected except Christianity because Christianity centers on Christ who said, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE light. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). 

Christianity, the faith that we claim to believe, is mutually exclusive of all other religions, including moralism. Christianity in the first century did not have favor, protected, or respected status. The churches were the offscouring of the world. They were an off-brand. They were rejected. They were marginalized. They were not mainstream.

That’s a little hard for us to understand because we have become accustomed to the church in Evangelicalism—those who claim to believe the gospel of Christ and the fundamentals of His Word. We’ve become accustomed in our generation to "favored status" to some degree. We’ve had sizable numbers who claim to be evangelical, Bible-believing Christians. The evangelicals have until recent years been the single largest voting block in this country.

We’ve had tax benefits. We’ve had some modicum of respect in our culture, but now that’s being threatened. The question is, how are we going to handle that? Let me just say, get used to it. It’s not going to get better. Satan is alive and well, and he is working, and he is always seeking to undermine the true believers in Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Back in April of 2009 Newsweek magazine had a cover article that when I saw the cover of the issue, it just took my breath away, almost. The headline, the title of the issue was in bright red letters, and the typeset was in the form of a cross. You may have seen this. The wording was, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America” in the shape of a cross.

Jon Meacham wrote the article for Newsweek. His article was called “The End of Christian America.” He talked about the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey where they asked Americans, "What religion do you identify with?" He explained that the percentage of self-identified Christians, those who call themselves Christians, has fallen ten percentage points since 1990—from 86 to 76 percent.

The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation has doubled in the past two decades to 16 percent. The trends are not going in the right direction if being in the majority is what impresses you. In this Newsweek article, the author quotes Dr. Al Mohler, who is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and has been such an articulate, strong defender of the faith in this country.

Dr. Mohler said in an online column,

A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. . . . The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.

So how can we be overcomers?

  • You keep your eyes on Jesus, and you keep your eyes on the finish line.
  • You cling to your future hope, to the promises that we have in Christ.
  • You hold on, you hold tightly to the hope of the prize, the reward that is to follow to those who overcome.
  • You live in light of the soon return of Christ.

To the church in Thyatira Jesus said, “The only thing I have to say to you is hold fast what you have [how long?] until I come” (2:25). How long do we have to endure? Until He comes.

To the church in Philadelphia Jesus says, “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (3:11). 

Remember, it’s not about us. We are bit players in a much larger drama, a cosmic conflict. We are not merely spectators in that conflict. We are engaged in the conflict. It’s a conflict between the true Church of Jesus Christ and the state. Between the new Jerusalem and Babylon, the city of God and the city of man, God Himself and Satan, His arch enemy.

It’s a battle between true Christianity and other established world religions. I’m not saying by that that we should take up swords against other religions. I hope you don’t hear me saying that. Our sword is the Truth. That’s what wins the battle in the name of Jesus Christ.

You see, Satan is the enemy. The devil. You see him all through the book of Revelation. The Jewish synagogues in that day were called the synagogue of Satan because they had rejected Christ as Messiah and were actually being instruments, tools of Satan to accomplish His purposes.

The temple to the emperor in Pergamum was identified as Satan’s throne. But Jesus lives in and through His Church. We’re His representatives on earth. We’re not just standing by at the mercy of the culture watching all this happen. We’re involved in that battle, participants in God’s plan. The power of God and the Spirit of God are at work in our world through us, the Church of Jesus Christ. Onward Christian soldiers. Patiently enduring. Overcome in the name of Jesus Christ.

So passion, purity—both doctrinal and personal, and perseverance. These are the concerns Jesus had for His Church in the first century. And then the same issues He has on His heart for the churches today. In every one of those seven churches except for two, Smyrna and Philadephia, Jesus reproved them for one or more of these issues. What was the solution for each of those churches where they had a need for passion or for purity or for perseverance? The answer in every case was one word: repent. Repent.

That’s the solution for every issue that concerns Christ about our churches. Remember that repentance as we’ve looked at it is not merely a one-time experience at the point of conversion. It’s to be a way of life within the church, within our lives as believers. Repentance is not just feeling sorry about the condition of our lives or the condition of the churches.

  • It’s mourning over our sin.
  • It’s changing direction.
  • It means reorienting our lives around the call and the implications of the gospel.
  • It means living as redeemed people.

The command to repent is in one sense a rebuke but in another sense it’s a precious word. It’s Jesus extending a gracious appeal, an opportunity to be restored to a place of intimacy and fruitfulness and usefulness in His kingdom. So Jesus appeals to the church as a whole and to individuals within the church. Repent.

Lukewarm churches are made up of lukewarm church members. And lukewarm church members produce lukewarm churches. So to the churches and to the individuals He says, “Repent.” He says, “I’m standing at the door of the church and knocking.” He calls the church to repent corporately and individually of its lukewarmness, to renew it’s passion for Christ, and to become an effective witness in a pagan world.

He’s standing at the door of individual’s hearts, not just the church’s heart collectively, but the individuals within the church. He’s knocking, appealing to every lukewarm church member to get honest about their true spiritual condition, to repent, and to become a zealous, hot-hearted believer.

As we’ve seen, our response, whether or not we repent, demonstrates whether we even belong to Christ at all—whether we are just members of the organized institutional church or whether we are truly members of the Body of Christ. So His appeal is not just to backslidden believers but also to unregenerate, unsaved, unconverted church members. Being a church member, no matter how great your church, does not make you a member of the Body of Christ.

I read a stat recently that said a third of the people who listen to Christian radio are not Christians at all. Maybe you’re one of those who’s been listening to this series. You’re a member of a church. You’re a good person, perhaps, but you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The invitation is to open the door of your heart, to repent, and believe the gospel.

Let me say this series may have been just for you. God’s been speaking to your heart. He’s been drawing. He’s been appealing, and He’s saying to you, “I want to come into your life. I want to take over your life. I want to be the Lord. I want you to be a member of my true Church.” If God’s speaking into your heart today, now is the day of salvation. Repent and believe the gospel.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back. She’ll pray and help each of us reflect on our relationship with the Body of Christ. Maybe Nancy’s been speaking right to you today. You’re ready to become a part of the Body of Christ for the first time. We’d like to hear about it, and send you some literature about what it means to know God personally.

The material we send will show you how to take the first steps in your newfound faith. Contact us by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1–800–569–5959. 

The reason we’re able to send new believers free material and the reason we can bring the program to you each weekday is because listeners believe in this program and give to make it possible.

When you donate any amount today, we’ll send you the 2018 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The calendar follows the theme, “The Truth That Sets Us Free.” Listeners look forward to putting the calendar up in their homes each year because it’s beautiful and gives them encouragement month by month and day by day. You can only get it through Revive Our Hearts.

Ask for it when you call with a gift of any size. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

On Monday, we’ll hear from two women whose family is suffering from the effects of Lyme’s disease. They’ll share important insight about how to have hope when life hurts. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. Nancy’s back to pray.

Nancy: O Lord, how I thank You that You, the resurrected, reigning Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, are walking today among the seven golden lampstands. You’re walking in and among your Church, and you know our works. You know what’s going on. You have those eyes like a flame of fire that penetrate and pierce and know everything.

Thank You, Lord, for giving us this revelation of Yourself and of our need as Your churches. O God, I pray that You would give us hearts to hear, ears to hear, and hearts to respond, to say, “Yes, Lord.” May we be a repenting Church in a dark generation. Lord, we thank You that the final chapter has been written, that the Lamb lives!

We consider ourselves so grateful, so privileged to be those who claim the name of the Lamb, who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, who are members of Your body, the Church here on earth but one day with You in heaven. We pray it with worshiping, grateful hearts. In Jesus’ holy name, amen.

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