I don’t remember much about high school chemistry. Truth be told, most of it was Dullsville to me. Downright boring. But one experiment I’ll never forget.
We boiled a frog.
My chemistry teacher, Mr. Williams, gathered the class around an oversize beaker half full of water. We took this little frog and dropped him in. The frog kicked around and swam from side to side. Our teacher slid a Bunsen burner underneath the beaker, lit the flame, and kicked up the temperature. Then we waited and watched. (It was the only time I remember every one of us in class paying attention.) The water started getting warmer...and warmer...and a little warmer...and, finally, tiny bubbles started to rise. The little frog by now had slowed his kicking, eventually stiffened, and, ultimately, boiled to death. If I remember correctly, the thing turned white at the end. Pretty gross, and not something that would happen in today’s classrooms!
Our teacher told us that if we had dropped that amphibian into boiling water to begin with, it would have hopped right out. But by putting it in nice, comfortable, tepid water and slowly turning up the heat...the frog eventually stewed in its own grease. I have no idea how that related to chemistry. But its implications for the church are permanently branded into my brain.
If we took most evangelical believers from the 1930s and dropped them into a mainstream, 21st-century church, it would be a complete shock to their systems. They would scramble to get out immediately! How did such a difference come about over the years? Many local churches tolerated a rise in our secular temperature, and in the passing of decades, the church in general has drifted from its biblical convictions. Often without many people knowing it was happening, postmodern thinking progressively replaced biblical beliefs. What occurred? In a word: erosion.
Part of our problem as evangelicals is that we surround ourselves with all things Christian: Christian friends, Christian books, Christian activities, Christian coffeehouses, Christian clichés, Christian music, Christian stores, Christian bumper stickers. What’s next? Putting Christian gasoline in our cars?! (Well, we would if we could.) Everything in our world to us is Christian. The danger? Before long we begin going through the motions of religious activity, and all the while we’re trafficking in unlived truth. When that occurs, we have stopped taking God seriously. Erosion has begun.
Is it really possible for a Christian to become overexposed to spiritual things? Yes, if having blessings from God in such abundance makes us hardened to them. It can happen. Our business goes well. Our health is good. Our children are fine. Our marriage is strong. Our church is great. The music is enjoyable. Our pastor is solid. Our home is lovely. Our cars are new. Our schools are safe. Blessing after blessing after blessing....
“But!” Jesus interrupts—as He did to the century-one church at Ephesus. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4 NASB1995).
How does this kind of personal erosion occur? Nobody ever picks up a phone, calls a friend, and says, “Hey, today I feel like ruining my life.” We don’t do that. But we do, on occasion, entertain thoughts like, I don’t want the lordship of Christ to touch this area of my life. This is mine! After all, look at what’s happened as a result. Life isn’t that bad. I can handle it. And we allow a subtle but destructive drift—the dethroning of His authority and an enthroning of our own. It happens because we’ve gotten bored and passive in our Christian hothouse.
A believer who wades through God’s favour and God’s blessing and God’s bounty day after day, week after week, year after year can begin to court the dangers of erosion. How? Things get to be predictable. They become routine. You grow cynical. And before you know it, you can be lusting while you’re singing a gospel song. Something is wrong if you can sing the words of Jack Hayford’s song, “Majesty,” and your soul isn’t stirring deep within you. Something has drifted far off course if, when you sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” there isn’t a sense of awe and respect for your heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s what concerned Jesus so much about the first-century Ephesian church—they adopted a perfunctory, ho-hum, business as-usual attitude about life and ministry. May I remind you? Jesus has that same concern for us in the 21st century.
As I write this, I anticipate two familiar objections. The first goes something like this: “My life has already eroded so badly, there’s no sense in turning back.” Take the time to ponder Paul’s words, written while he was in Ephesus:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
You know the tragedy of this verse? Its familiarity. Our acquaintance with it often keeps us from relying on its promise or applying its truths. Nothing is too far gone for the Lord to turn it around. It is never too late to start doing what is right. Erosion may have occurred in your life, but Jesus is there with His arms wide open. He is waiting for you to return to your first love. God longs for you to begin again with Him.
The second objection I anticipate comes in these words: “The erosion you have described, I fully understand...but it will never happen to me.” If that represents your outlook, I point you to the verse Paul penned just prior to the one above: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
I like the way The Living Bible renders this verse: “Oh, I would never behave like that.” It’s the voice of a novice...it’s the attitude of the naive...and I’ll just shoot straight with you: it stinks of pride.
Don’t kid yourself. Look at what happened to the Ephesian believers, and the great Apostle Paul had taught them! It can happen to you, my friend. And it can happen to me. If you really see yourself as impervious to erosion, then, ironically, the process of erosion has already started.
Let me ask you: have you left your first love? Have you lost the delight of your walk with God? Has it become “business as usual”? Maybe a little boring?
You may be busy in the Lord’s work, but you now realize you have lost the awe of it all. The joy of ministry has fled away; now you’re simply maintaining a schedule. I urge you to take a moment right now and examine your motive: why do you choose to say yes so often to those who make requests of you? I’m not referring to decisions between the good and the bad, but to choices between the good and the better. Realize that when you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. Here’s a new thought: by saying no to the good things, you allow yourself room to say yes to far more important priorities.
If you’re not taking God seriously as much as you used to, can you detect an area of erosion that has begun to occur? Would you be honest enough to call it by name, painful as that may be? If you neglect to take time to evaluate yourself, you will never notice your own drifting. The change is too slow, too silent, and too subtle...not unlike that frog as it began to boil in the beaker.
Before this day is over, I urge you to find a quiet place and ask yourself these two questions:
- Is Jesus really the first love of my life?
- Does He truly make a difference in how I live my life?
God’s mercy is here, and He will help you through it. Honestly acknowledge where you are. He won’t rebuke you for coming with that kind of honesty. On the contrary, He welcomes you. Look at the beautiful prayer King David expressed after experiencing a miserable bout with erosion: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
That is called repentance. It’s the only cure for personal erosion.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, The Church Awakening (Nashville: FaithWords, 2010), 209-210, 229-233. Copyright © 2010, 2012 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Used by permission.