Jesus did not enter our world so that we might partake of good manners or morals. Rather, God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
January 18, 2024
Speaker: Dustin Scott
Passage: Revelation 2:1-7
Good morning, my brave souls. You guys survived the snow. We’re entering into our teaching on the Nicolaitans part two. I gave us two disclaimers last week. The first one is to buckle your seatbelts because we’re going to dig in and get academic. We asked some big questions. But the second disclaimer I gave was this: Jesus’ warning within this passage is severe. I reminded us we always have to keep the aim of what the Lord is doing at our forefront because He’s going to close this section out through St. John.
He’s going to say, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” The aim of our God is that we would participate in the life He’s prepared for us.
Why does He have anger? Why does He even have hatred in this passage? Because He hates the things that keep us away from that promise. We have to keep that foreground in front of us. Otherwise, we could get into really angry moral teachings on dos and don’ts, and I don’t plan on doing that to you this morning. Would you guys stand with me? Let’s dive into the passage before we get too far ahead of ourselves.
It’s Revelation 2:1-7, and I’ll be reading from the New Revised Standard Version. It says, “To the messenger of the church and Ephesus, write these are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. ‘I know your works, your toil, and your endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers, you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring and bearing up for the sake of My name and that you have not grown weary, but this I have against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then, 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. Yet this is to your credit, you hate the works of the Nicolatians, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.'”
Lord Jesus, would you guide our study this morning? I’m going to pray every time I teach from Revelation with that warning You hold at the end of this book in mind to anyone who adds or takes away. Let us not add to Your word or take away from Your word this morning. But let us hear Your word for the church. Lord, bring repentance to the places we need to repent and restore the areas that the enemy has robbed and destroyed. Most of all, lead us back to You. I think about the song we sang this morning. We’re clearing out the clutter for the only one who matters. Clear out the clutter in our hearts in our lives so that we can make more and more room for You. We ask this in Your name, Father, Son, the Holy Spirit. All the church said, amen.
We tackled a couple of fascinating questions last week. We unpacked who are these figures, the Nicolatians? Now I prefer the Greek plural form, which is nicolai tai. We answered, at least to the best of our ability, two questions. First off, who were they? What were they doing in the early church? What was their historical identity? The second question we tackled was why did Jesus hate their works? We discovered that irrespective of the nocolai tai precise historical identity, whether or not they were a heresy within the early church or they’re just a scriptural symbol for a spiritual danger, we can supply an answer to our initial questions. The nocolai tai, according to Jesus’ address to the church at Pergamum, encouraged their fellow believers to eat food, sacrifice to idols, and practice sexual immorality. Simply stated, Nicolatianism encourages believers to remain trapped in sin, while outwardly continuing to profess a belief in Jesus.
Now, I want to tackle the hard question for us this morning: does Nicolatianism exist in the church today? If Nicolatianism is a teaching or a mindset that encourages believers to stay trapped in their sin, I don’t think we need to hire Sherlock Holmes to figure out that it’s alive and well in the church today. Nicolatianism, according to this definition, is any person — or may I add inward voice or appetite — that teaches us that it’s permissible to continue an unrepentant sin.
Nicolatianism detaches our inward claim to follow Jesus from our outward obedience to His Lordship. Captives of this false teaching — I’ve been a captive of this false teaching in my life — will profess that they have a new life in Christ, while simultaneously refusing to surrender their old life of sin, self-government, and death. It’s an inward split of the believer. Nicolatianism is so toxic because it conquers Christians by invalidating their discipleship. What do I mean by that? It deceives them into believing they are followers of the Lord, when in fact, they’re not following Him. I think the greatest danger of Nicolatianism is not moral degradation.
Who here has a YouTube account? Anyone? You can raise your hands? It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I mean, there’s awesome stuff on there. Well, it doesn’t take long searching through YouTube to find influential persons who make all their claims about Christianity, the morals and the teachings, and the right ethics of the Christian faith. But the truth of the matter is that the greatest danger of Nicolatianism is not moral degradation, it’s the denial of the gospel.
Contrary to our English brothers and sisters, the Lord did not enter the world so that we might partake of good manners. Nor did He incarnate a fully human nature so that we could save the traditional values of Western civilization. Rather, St. John will tell us in his first epistle that this is why the Lord came into our world, that God’s love was revealed among us in this way, that He sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
The Lord demands everything of us. Our identities, our intentions, our attitudes and behaviors, every aspect of our lives lived through the filter of His person and find transformation and submission to His Lordship. Tozer always said, “I get all of Him, but He must have all of me.” It’s a problematic analogy. It’s not perfect. But think of it as a filter. I come to the Lord. I receive Him. I bring all my old baggage, my sin, my self-identity, my wants, my whims, and I enter through the person of Jesus, and I come out the other side no longer what I was but a perfect reflection of Him. That’s the gospel.
The gospel lays before us a simple yet most alarming challenge. The apostle Paul is going to write in his letter to the Romans a passage that we’re all familiar with, which speaks to the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus. He’ll say if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and trust in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Who has heard that passage before? Who here maybe has a t-shirt or a piece of decor that has that passage on it? I think the problem is we read that passage and we divorce it from the context of the early church.
You see, when you were an early Christian in the life of the first century, confessing that Jesus was Lord had a cost. It meant something. It meant that your outward life in both word and deed conformed to the truth that Jesus was not only the Lord, he was your Lord, and you’re willing to sacrifice for that truth.
In the second part of this passage, trust in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. What does that mean? It means that for an early believer who was going to risk loss and their following of Jesus, it meant that they could trust in their innermost being, their cardio, their hearts, that the Lord Jesus had gone before them, even into death and resurrection, which meant no matter where He led them or whatever He asked of them, they could trust His Lordship. That’s what this passage means.
It’s not just about what you believe in your head. If these realities come to fruition in your walk with Him, you will be saved. It changes the meaning of the passage, doesn’t it? My discipleship for the Lord began at the moment I gave up my own will in favor of His when I chose to follow Him in the same way. We find these examples in the Gospels. So many times, my discipleship of the Lord begins to dissolve whenever I choose to live out my own will and rejection of His. I can’t be a believer and have it both ways. That’s the logic of Nicolatianism.
It teaches us we can have it both ways, that we can pay lip service to Jesus’ will and truths; we can continue to live as our own Lord. CS Lewis once masterfully wrote an argument with one of his friends: we don’t have a right to happiness. God does not owe us the pleasures and desires which we want in exchange for our loyalty and our obedience to Him. We obey Him because He gave us a new life. Pastor Gary so eloquently said in our first gathering, that when we worship happiness, we never find it. But when we worship Him, we always find happiness, don’t we?
When things are in the right priority, it all makes sense. I am not His follower if I refuse to follow Him. Likewise, I’m not His follower if I apply my own conditions and counter bargains to His commandments. I love to buy things on eBay. I love counter bargains, but I can’t do them with the Lord. After all, God does not exist for me, but I for Him. I’m the creature made to reflect His image, and He’s my creator and redeemer. He has charge, not me.
Jesus is going to express hatred towards the results of this wicked teaching. He’s going to express hatred towards the belief that someone can claim to be a believer but still choose to live their own way. More alarmingly, in Revelation two, He tells us that He will return to wage war against all who propagate this teaching. Last week’s highly academic study on the persons of the nicolai tai concludes with an incredibly simple challenge for us: Are there places within our lives where we’ve refused to surrender to His Lordship?
We talked about idols. We asked what idolatry looked like in the first century within the Greco-Roman context, and we found out the chief aim of idolatry was the ability to live my life my own way. I made sacrifices to the gods so that they could give me what I wanted and, in most cases, just leave me alone. If I worship Zeus, I want him to leave me alone.
An idol is any object or activity that keeps me locked in my own self-government and will. Idolatry is that sin that justifies my mistrust in the Lord’s leading in character, and in the contemporary church, these idols take a lot of forms, don’t they? In American culture, we’re obsessed with power and success. Many of us, and I’ve done this too, will do anything to get it. But yet our Lord said, “blessed are the meek.” It can look like our striving after popularity and social acceptance. But our Lord told us, one thing I can promise you, the world is going to hate you because they hated Me. Trust Me.
It can look like our obsession with money and material abundance. Our Lord will say to us, do you remember the birds of the field, the Father does not neglect to provide for those needs. So why do you think he’ll neglect yours? It can look like our anxieties and our need for control. Paul will say to be anxious for nothing. Why? Because anxiety is all about things that are going to happen the way I want them to. Guess what? They probably won’t, but the Lord is still in control.
They can look like our political idolatry. A friend of mine said, “Do you have an axe to grind on this issue?” I said, “No, I don’t.” The Jews of Jesus’ day were so preoccupied with the establishment or the re-establishment of the political kingdom of Israel that they missed their own Messiah. If we go over to the Greco-Roman world, they were worshipping their emperor as a god. If we don’t talk about political idolatry, we’re not teaching the New Testament.
It can look like the idol of our hatred and our unforgiveness, where the Lord’s leading us into a new life, but our answer is, “No, Lord, I need to see them pay for what they did to me.” His answer is, what if you paid for what you did to Me? I took that from you. I would say perhaps the most subtle and destructive form of Nicolatian idolatry today is our hypocrisy. Persons engaged in this form of idolatry will assume the role of God in the lives of others while intentionally turning a blind eye to their own sin. Are any of you like me and struggle with being crusty towards people? I have a theory. Our crustiness is kind of like a thermometer for our hypocrisy. If I find myself being resentful and crusty towards people, it’s maybe an indicator that I’ve fallen into the sin of hypocrisy, and I need to repent, because God has placed His beautiful image bearers into my life. I can trust Him.
Her,e St. John’s also going to attack the issue of sexual immorality. Thank you for being patient with me. I want to go slow. I was on the phone with a scholar who’s world-famous as a historical scholar on the book of Revelation. His name’s Ian Paul. He’s going to come visit us in April. Isn’t that cool? I was talking to him, and he was like, “I think in this instance, sexual immorality is a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God. But if you look at the church in England and America, I think it’s literal for us.”
Within the book of Romans, Paul identifies sexual immorality for what it is: idolatry. Sexual immorality worships the created being in the place of his or her creator within the scriptures. This is why it becomes a prominent metaphor for unfaithfulness to God and in the contemporary church. What do these idols often look like? It can look like approving of extramarital sex and sexual activity. Our Lord told us, sex was created for the covenant of committed love. Don’t take it out of my design.
It can look like downplaying the sin of pornography, which is so rampant in our time. As someone who works in kids and youth ministry, I can see the destructive power of that sin. It looks like making little of our lust and our sexual immodesty. Can I stop here and say this is where we, as men and women, love to play the Adam and Eve game? We go, it’s their fault. We, as men, love to blame our lust on women. Women love to blame their modesty on men. But the truth is, can we account for our sins and repent of them? Because on Judgement Day, I’m not going to be able to bring someone else before the Lord and say, “It was their fault that I sinned.”
In our own time, a particularly acute form of Nicolatianism tries to redefine sexual identity and marriage. This is a hot-button topic. If I get stoned like Polycarp here, I’ll be okay. Sometimes, arguments will arise within the life of church and academics which say, “I know Paul will address the issue of same-sex sexual activity. But Jesus didn’t. He never talked about redefining marriage.” I would say that’s wrong. He had addressed it head-on.
The Pharisees, in their own time, came to the Lord working to redefine marriage through the lens of all things divorce and remarriage. The nice thing that our Lord does is ignore the question. What does He do? He takes them back to the beginning. He says, do you not know that the one who made them, in the beginning, crafted them male and female, and for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave onto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. There is no other definition in the eyes of the Lord of sexual identity and marriage than this one. Anything that teaches otherwise is Nicolatianism.
Nicolatianism can creep into the church through our decisions to sinfully marry unbelievers. I know in the life of pastoral ministry, I’ll hear people say, “But you don’t know how good of a person they are.” Or, “You don’t know how happy they make me.” Or, “You don’t know how compatible we are. We’re soulmates.” But the strange thing is, I’ve never encountered a believer who married an unbeliever who said the same thing afterward. All they said is, “I wish I had trusted the Lord. I wish that I had known His way. It was best.”
Last but not least, Nicolatianism can look like our approval of all forms of divorce and remarriage, even those which are scripturally, forbidden, which our Lord calls adultery. Now, I want to pause here, I’m going to be transparent and tell you as a pastor. I am a divorced and remarried person. There are instances in which the Lord allows divorce and remarriage. But there are many more instances where He forbids it. I want to ask you guys, pastorally, would it help if we, as the pastoral team, made a video where we walked through this stuff and explained it from A to B? Who here would like it if we did that?
But the trouble with all these acts and idols, which are forbidden by the Lord yet widely practiced and even encouraged in the church today, is that they keep us away from the life that God has invited us to participate in, and the elevation of these idols which is Nicolatianism will eventually draw us away from the Lord. That’s why He hates it so fervently. Nicolatianism is the repudiation of discipleship. It’s the moment I tell the Lord, “I don’t want to follow You anymore. I’ve got this.” When practiced without repentance, it will lead to apostasy and spiritual death. That’s why Jesus commands three times to Ephesus and Pergamum, repent, repent, repent, stop going that way, and come back to Me.
We began our teaching on the nicolai tai with the foreground of Jesus’ love for us. We uncovered that Jesus hates sin, precisely because He loves us. He wages war against Nicolatianism because He desires us to enter into His eternal Kingdom. He compels us as His people to repent. The scriptures will say that there’s a godly grief that leads to repentance. It’s that moment I look at my sin. I recognize just how severe and tragic it is. And I turned back to the Lord, but I don’t want to equate that grief with repentance. Why? Because the beauty of repentance in Scripture is that it’s so simple.
The word is metanoia. It means, “I repent.” But etymologically when we pull this word apart, it says, “I’ve thought the matter over and I’m changing my perspective now. I acknowledge in my heart and my deeds that Jesus is right and I was wrong.” Repentance is that simple. It’s the moment that we’re walking in our own will, we see where the way is going, and we look up to the Lord, and we say, “Never mind, I’m going back to His way.”
The promise of St. John in his first epistle is this: If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If you’re here this morning and you’ve been listening to the voices of the nicolai tai, whether the voices of others or those ones that crop up in your own heart, the solution is so beautifully simple. Repent and go back to trusting in Jesus. Go back to His character. Go back to His authority. Go back to His love.
The Lord is calling you back to the path of discipleship. Remember Peter, who tragically denies the Lord three times? Well, if we fast forward to John, I believe it’s chapter 21, he’s a mess. He’s out fishing, he’s run back to his old life, and the Lord comes to him and restores his purpose and vocation. If my mind is not tricking me, it’s 40 days after that that he’s preaching at Pentecost, and thousands are saved.
Go back to the Lord, and transformation happens so fast when you trust Him. He’s inviting you to the abundance of His eternal life. The promise of Jesus’s address to the Ephesian church is we can be conquerors with Christ if we trust Him. We can overcome false teaching, the people-conquering nicolai tai, and we can participate in the life that God has prepared and intended for us.
How do we do it? So simple. By being disciples, by living in the fear of the Lord, by acknowledging in our heart, our spirit, our words and deeds that His will is better than our own, and by following in the way of Jesus. As we find an emphasis in those moments, when we turn to the side, those moments where we sin and we deviate, we repent, and we go back to our first love. If we conform to the truth that Jesus is Lord, and we never stray away from him permanently, we will be saved.
But to be deemed a follower of the Lord means you have to follow Him. You can’t go your own way and claim His name. That’s the simple logic of God’s Kingdom. Salvation is found in nothing and no one else but Him. We only get to the Father through Him. We’re sons and daughters through Him, we share an eternal life through Him, and we possess a rich, abundant, unthinkable inheritance through Him.
If you’ve strayed from Gim, it’s high time to repent and go back to trusting Him. I want to invite the Prayer Team to the front. We saved Bread and Cup for last this morning. If you’re here and there’s an area in your life where you’ve strayed from the Lord, where you’ve refused to give Him government and Lordship, and most importantly, giving yourself over to His love, Paul will say to examine yourself before you partake of the elements so that you can partake in a worthy manner.
What does he mean? Make sure that you’re given over to the Lord. So as we partake of Bread and Cup, my encouragement to you is to look at your own heart. Ask the Lord, “Is there anywhere I’ve deviated from You?” and repenting, go back to His way. As the passage closes, let anyone who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. “To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life,” which is in the Paradise of my God. Let’s partake in Bread and Cup together.
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