Returning to First Love: Remember, Repent, and Do the “First Works”

Everything we do in our walk with God – whether praying, studying, soul-winning, discipling, worshiping, parenting, serving or giving must flow out of our love for God.

If it comes out of any other motive than passion it is not being offered as worship but works.

When we start acting out of duty instead of passion it reflects that we have left behind our true faith and have entered into the counterfeit of true faith called “religion”.

When something is “religious” our attitude become – we have to. Contrastingly when something is done out of “passion” – our attitude is – we get to.

Consider the Lord’s rebuke of Ephesus in Revelation 2.

Revelation 2:2-4
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Here was a congregation that excelled, a church that worked hard, a group of believers that hated false doctrine, an assembly that persevered through difficult times. In many ways, they were a model church, rich in good works, attentive to the Scriptures and willing to endure hardship for Jesus’ sake. And they did all this without growing weary. What more could the Lord want? These Ephesian believers certainly were outstanding Christians.

“Yet,” Jesus said to them, “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev 2:4-5).

What a solemn warning!

Hard work was not enough. Sacrifice was not enough. Doctrinal purity was not enough. Perseverance in the midst of suffering was not enough. Somehow when their godliness became duty it became offensive to God.

This congregation had left its first love, and if it didn’t repent – the Lord would actually remove the Church altogether. There would no longer be a church of Ephesus! Do you see how important it is in the eyes of the Lord that we maintain our first love?

Just think:

• It is possible to backslide from intimacy and devotion to Jesus while working hard for Him and staying doctrinally and morally pure.

• The Lord speaks of our first love as a height – a glorious, wonderful height – from which we can fall. He calls us to return to that height!

• We forsake – not “lose” – our first love, meaning that we leave that place of spiritual passion by the choices we make and the lifestyle we adopt. Our “first love” is not something that we accidentally misplace.

• The Lord calls us to repent of the sin of forsaking our first love, meaning that we can be restored to that place of spiritual passion by the choices we make.

What must we do to be restored, to make that return, to regain our first love? Jesus gives us the answer: “Repent” – meaning make an about face – “and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5). There are things we can do to restore the intimacy!

We need to think back to the awe and wonder of those early days and seek to recapture that sense of passion.

That’s what it means to return to the height from which we have fallen, to repent and return to our first love. God eagerly awaits our move back towards Him! He remembers what our relationship used to be like, and He expresses it in vivid terms as a mournful husband:

Jeremiah 2:2 The word of the Lord came to me: “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the desert, through a land not sown’”

In Revelation 2:5, the word first means “foremost (in time, place, order or importance),” and the word works is defined as “toil (as an effort or occupation).” In other words, if you find that you have left your first love for the Lord, get your priorities back in order and do the most important things.

Getting our first love back is not something that happens without effort on our part or without grace on God’s part. First works could refer to any of the things that we used to prioritise when we were first born again: worship, prayer, Bible study, giving, fasting, witnessing and service to others. First works can be any of the activities that deepened our intimate relationship with God at the beginning.

Recalling our salvation experience and our first love for the Lord can help us recognize changes that have developed in our relationship with God since then.

Are you still in awe of the presence of God now? Are you cooler toward God and less passionate than you once were?

Do you still long for times of rich fellowship in God’s Word and prayer?

Do you make excuses for doing things that displease the Lord?

Are you still cheerful about giving to God’s work or to the needs of others.

Do you view Christ’s commands as restrictions to your happiness rather than expressions of His love.

Do you hold yourself back from witnessing because you fear rejection.

Have you become complacent toward sin?