Will we heed the call to turn away from the flesh and return to God? In this time of great apostasy, He calls His people to active repentance, a commitment to destroying the idols in our lives so that we can return to the possessions He has given us in Christ.
Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke the sacred pillars in pieces, cut down the wooden images, and threw down the high places and the altars—from all Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh—until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned to their own cities, every man to his possession. (2 Chronicles 31:1)
We serve a faithful and gracious God – a wonderful truth to keep hold of in a time when apostasy increases. It’s a frightening truth that resistance to God has reached an all-time high in the world. Never before have His principles and the truth of His Word been so boldly challenged and repudiated. But reviling God is something we expect from unbelievers, even if it has reached new and unprecedented levels. But apostasy concerns the church, the people of God. It doesn’t mean that people are leaving the church. What it really means is a falling away from true doctrine and following after doctrines of demons. It’s also not the first time that this has happened – the Old Testament is full of recurring examples of the people of God turning aside after false gods. Now, as it was then, to return to God is the only answer.
To return to God requires a remnant.
Without fail, in every great apostasy, God has always raised up a remnant of His people. They are those who see the error of their ways and return to God, both in word and action. Today’s verse provides a powerful picture of what this means. It’s clear, if we read the preceding chapter, that not all of Judah turned back to God. There were many who mocked and scorned the messages sent out and ignored the prophetic words given to them by a gracious, loving God. Even in the face of captivity, they refused the grace extended. But a remnant was stirred by what they heard and responded. They went out and tore down the false altars, cleansing the land of the iniquitous places of worship. It reminds us that God will always make sure to have a people who are faithful and obedient.
It also reminds us that not all return to God. Even in the face of very clear warning, there will be those who abjure the call and continue in their apostasy. Remnant means those who remain. It defines a part of the whole rather than all. This is the tragedy of apostasy. While it’s inconceivable to even image that the very elect could be deceived, this is exactly what is happening. False teachers abound and seduce faithful believers into wrong doctrines and spiritual complacency that feeds the human need for self-gratification. Many are so blinded that they simply can no longer discern what is right and what is wrong. Comfortable Christianity has deceived them into disregarding those Biblical truths that do not support the doctrine that God loves us unconditionally and will never turn us away, no matter how much we turn from Him.
To return to Him is to turn away from all others.
This is the true test of the remnant. It’s not simply a matter of mouthing the right words but of genuine repentance. Real repentance involves a U-turn away from everything and a return to God. It’s an attitude of humility and obedience that must be acted on. This is the truth revealed so powerfully in today’s verse. It wasn’t enough for them to repent and seek forgiveness. They had to go out and literally destroy all the false altars and idols that had infiltrated and turned them away from God. Their deceptions had to be confronted and corrected. Not one single thing was allowed to remain to raise itself up against the true knowledge and worship of God. It’s very easy to be contrite and to ask for forgiveness, but this is meaningless if we allow those things to continue in our lives.
We can unwittingly surround ourselves with all kinds of things – and people – that come between us and God. Anything we harbour that separates us from the true knowledge and worship of God is an idol. The pressures of the world, for example, are enormous. It’s all too easy to subscribe to the common standard in the workplace where honesty and integrity may represent weakness. The reality is that these wrong behaviours actually become an idol because they are more important to us than what God desires. If we are to truly return to God we must not only repent but remove them from our lives. Of course, we can’t go around destroying others, and this is not what’s taught here. The message is that we must eradicate our wrong behaviour, our wrong thinking, and our wrong attitudes. We must destroy them in our lives and makes ourselves right with God.
A return to God requires a knowledge of God.
The apostasy is a direct result of the people of God not knowing the Word of God. The Bible tells us that we should judge everything by the Word to discern whether it is of Him or not. Too many believers do not study the Word for themselves but rely on teachers and preachers. The result of this is that they are unable to effectively judge what they are taught and are easily swept away by ‘good-sounding’ doctrines. A basic rule is that when something ‘feels right,’ we should step back and really look long and hard at it. Christianity is never about feelings. It’s about what God says, period. What we see in today’s verse is the result of a revelation of Him. When they confronted who and what God is, they were stirred to repentant action – to return to God so completely that nothing else remained.
He has given us both His Logos and Rhema Word, as well as the Spirit to guide, lead, and teach us. Unlike the Old Testament people of God, believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit and no excuse to have no knowledge of God. It is this knowledge that will keep us from falling away. But it is also what will enable us to return to Him. Unless we come into revelation of His nature and character, we cannot return to God. We will continue in our deception and remain separated from Him. Now, more than ever, we need to discipline ourselves to seek Him and His Word. Too often, we imagine that a general reading of the Word will suffice. This may give us vague knowledge, but truly seeking His Word in all situations will provide real, manifest knowledge that will guide us in a practical way.
We turn from self to return to God.
This is a critical truth when we consider the world focus on the importance of self and self-fulfilment. Even Christian teaching largely focuses on what God can do for us rather than what we should do for Him. The ‘me-myself-I’ philosophy manifests powerfully in the church where many of the doctrines of the world have steadily infiltrated and coloured the minds of believers. Jesus Himself said that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve God and still magnify self. The irony, of course, is that focusing on self will never bring fulfilment. It is only when we are living the purposes of God for which we were created that that real fulfilment is realised. At the very root of every false doctrine is the aggrandisement or gratification of self. When we return to God, this must be the first thing to go.
Paul teaches consistently on the need to crucify self or reckon the old self dead in Christ. When we accepted salvation, we accepted the Lordship and authority of Jesus. That makes Him Lord and us the servant. It makes self subject to His sovereignty. We cannot have Christ as Lord and self as the boss. To return to God is to return to the acceptance of His sovereign authority. Sovereign means ‘power over all,’ not over some. It’s absolute and universal. We cannot call Him Lord but still retain control. Part of destroying all that has separated us from Him is to deal with self. It’s absolutely true that self can often be our biggest idol. We can sacrifice all kinds of things to satisfy self – not the least of which is the praise and worship that rightfully belongs to God. When self is all-important, God is automatically less important.
How we are called to return to God.
To return to God is essentially to go back to Him – to His will, His ways, and His presence. Sadly, often carries a negative connotation – that of ‘going backwards’ rather than simply going back. This is especially true where churches are built on hype and visible drama, providing a sense of things always happening and driving the church with human excitement rather than Word-based teaching. People mistake visible ‘fruit’ for the real presence of God, forgetting that he devil and his minions can easily counterfeit the real things of God. There is a fine line between God’s supernatural presence and that of any other. The surest way to tell is determine whether the ‘move’ appeals to human emotion or spiritual truth. Does it make us want to feel good or to be good? If it’s purely emotion-driven we need to step back and turn back to God.
In the Old Testament, the God’s presence was external. In the New Testament, it’s internal. But God usually uses a still, small voice to call us. Of course, He could easily thunder from the mountain. This is impression the masters of hype are after. But the truth is that if God were to manifest like that, most of us would not live to speak of it. Even His glory reflected through Moses was too much for the early Israelites who begged Him to cover His face. That still, small voice may come to us in any number of different ways – God can even use a donkey if He chooses – but it’s conspicuous by its quietness. The call to return to God will usually come as a whisper. Only when we obey will we see the real fruit – going out and destroying the things in our lives not of God.
To return to God is to follow Jesus.
There is so much to the principle of following Jesus than simply being a disciple or believing in Him. The Bible tells us that He is the way, the truth and the life. As the way, He came to may a way for us to return to God, which we obviously do at salvation – repent and believe. This is the same example we need to follow if we have turned aside from God in any way. We follow the path He has already walked by following the way He lived His life. He lived in the presence of God continually, communing with the Father in all things and wholly surrendered to His will. Repentance is the first step, but action must follow – rather as Christ overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. The house of the Lord – that’s us – must be cleansed of idols and iniquity.
It was only after this that the people returned to their possessions. Whatever we may have been promised in Christ is ours when we cleanse ourselves in repentance and return to God.
Thank You, Jesus, for making a way and for showing us how to return to God and dwell in His presence. Give us the grace and courage to find and confront those things in our lives that separate us from God. Raise us up as a remnant passionate for God, devoted to cleansing all that is not of Him. Help us to discern the seductions and deceptions that woo us away from true worship and stir us to repentance and action.