“Why are so many Christians finding it difficult to hold fast to their faith?”
I looked up from the remote I was holding, my jaw agape. In the wake of a thunderstorm, our cable had gone out. When I tried to turn on “Paw Patrol” for my 3-year-old, I saw instead a blue screen. When I looked down once more at the remote to turn the TV off and back on to see if it would work, I heard these words about Christians and “holding fast.”
The TV had changed from a blank screen to show a snippet from a television show on the Christian Broadcast Network. In the clip, the host discussed the recent renouncement of faith by two prominent Christians (author Josh Harris and worship leader Marty Sampson) and dissected their decisions to leave the faith (as in the case of Harris) or publicly question it (in the case of Sampson).
The words caught me by surprise because the series that I had been preparing in the previous weeks delved into the topic of “holding fast.” I had asked God to confirm for me that I was on the right track with the message, as I often do, and I stood in surprise as I watched the discussion on “holding fast” unfold in front of me (on a TV that wasn’t even working a minute before and a show that I had never watched and hadn’t even turned on purposefully).
So, with that wonderful confirmation that “holding fast to our faith” is a topic that we need to be discussing on the blog, I want to begin in this first segment by looking at how spiritual apathy and complacency occurs — and how we drift in our faith and lose the vitality and belief that we had at the beginning when we accepted Christ.
Revelation 3: Jesus Rebukes a Complacent Church
In Revelation 3, Jesus gives messages for three churches. With two of the churches, He rebukes them for their complacency. Although the messages are for these churches of biblical times, the message is not only for these believers but for all believers. Note what Jesus says to one of these churches, Sardis, in verses 1-3:
‘To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
With this passage, we see a church that was spiritually dead. They were active and met for worship, but they were Christian in name only. They exhibited outward forms of religion, but were engaged in meaningless religious activity. In addition, they had allowed sin to creep in and had compromised their values in order to better fit in with the pagan community.
While this example may be more extreme than where we find ourselves spiritually in this moment, this passage is an admonishment not only to Sardis, but to churches everywhere and individual believers that we are careful not to fall in the same state. Or, if we have allowed indifference to seep in, that we return to our former zeal and allow God to correct and revive us.
How Spiritual Apathy Begins
To better understand apathy and complacency, we can look further into what it is and how it happens. The Cambridge Dictionary defines apathy as the following: “lack of interest, or the attitude of not caring resulting from it. Behavior that shows no interest or energy and shows that someone is unwilling to take action, especially over something important.” Complacency, a similar word, is the feeling of being satisfied, but unaware of actual dangers or deficiencies in one’s self or situation. How does this happen?
I looked up a few ideas in The Biblical Illustrator Commentary, and I want to share those with you. One way is that we stop feeding ourselves with nourishment from God’s Word. We may get distracted or busy and neglect to spend time with God by communing with Him and reading His Word. We stop allowing Him to nourish, instruct, and correct us — and thus, begin to drift away.
Another way we grow complacent is we quench the Spirit by resisting Jesus’ instruction to us. We may not like what He tells us or not want to do what He says. We may simply get tired or busy with other things. We skip over His instructions to us because it’s not convenient in the moment, or we are not being vigilant in keeping up with what He tells us do.
One more way is that we allow worldly pursuits and comforts to distract us. Instead of putting priority on God’s kingdom and His commands, we allow ourselves to be consumed with worldly ideas and pursuits. We spend hours of our days surfing social media, watching television shows, and engaging in other pursuits that may not be bad in and of themselves. These become our sources of “nourishment,” rather than time spent with God and meditation on His Word.
Obviously, spiritual apathy is serious. What, then, can we learn from the church of Sardis in Revelation 3 so that we don’t fall in a similar state or wake up if we are drifting into a spiritual slumber?
2 Lessons From Revelation 3 on Spiritual Apathy
1. God knows.
God knows everything about us. There is nothing that escapes His notice. Psalm 139:1-3 says: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” There is nowhere we can go where He doesn’t see us, and there is nothing that we can hide from Him.
We might be able to appear a certain way in front of others or even deceive ourselves, but God sees everything. We can’t fool Him or pull one over on Him (Galatians 6:7). Here in this passage, the church appeared to be active. They had a good reputation for works — but Jesus knew that they were dead. He saw past their useless activity and had this to say, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”
Similarly, in our own lives, God knows us and at certain points will warn us when our actions are leading us to harm. And this is not easy at all. We love the Jesus that died for us, that unconditionally loves us, that comforts us. But Jesus who warns us is not always our favorite. His warnings are never easy to hear because they put a choice in front of us: We choose His way (which is harder and may be to a place we don’t want to go) or our own way (which is easier and feels a lot more comfortable initially).
2. God warns us because He loves us.
Jesus telling us we need to change in an area isn’t pleasant, but Jesus gives this warning to the church of Sardis not as a sentence of doom, but because it’s not too late for them to turn things around. He sees what lies down the road for them if they continue on their current path, and He admonishes them to turn and repent.
Often, we get angry when God corrects us or we feel despair because we feel that there is no hope for us, why try? But God tells Sardis what He does here so that they can make the correction and be restored to their former zeal and effectiveness.
In addition, the Bible tells us that it is because of His love for us that He corrects us (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). A love that corrects may sound strange, as our culture today advocates a permissive love that says, “If it feels good, do it.” However, God not only encourages us and commends us in His love, but also, seeks to protect and guide us, steering us away from harm to ourselves and others. God in His love gives us what we need — not just what we want. What we want, may times, isn’t always good for us.
If we feel a drift taking placing in our spiritual life or maybe see those around us lacking zeal in their walk with God and that is causing us to feel shaky in our own walk with God, the solution is Jesus.
We can stay attached to Jesus and continually open ourselves up to Him for His evaluation of our actions and His guidance in our lives. We can listen to His warnings and understand that He tells us what He does because of His love for us. Or if we have drifted, we can repent and ask Him to restore our former vitality.
To hear more on what we can do to break out of spiritual apathy and the process of turning from complacency, listen in next week for two more points on Revelation 3 and the conclusion of this article.
Are you tired of fighting a battle that doesn’t seem to quit and feel tempted to let up on your vigilance when it comes to keeping the faith? Join us for a brand new series “Holding Fast to Our Faith in Troubled Times.” The series draws lessons from Jesus’ messages to churches in Revelation 3 and will encourage you in those places where you feel despair and a lack of hope; help to revitalize the vitality in your relationship with God; and reveal steps, if needed, to help get you on the right track again.
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast where co-hosts Suzy Lolley and Carol Whitaker sit down at the Daily Grind Coffee Shop to chat about spiritual apathy. They walk through the points of the post but also add in a few bonus extras that you don’t get in the written version.