There is some disagreement (controversy is too strong a word) among Bible scholars regarding what the Lord meant by His words to the Ephesians as recorded by John in The Revelation: “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand [i.e., testimony] out of its place—unless you repent” (2:5). The Lord is addressing a real church that has “left” its “first love” for the Lord (v. 4). As such, they are a church that is compromised by sin. And just as repentance might be said to be the first manifestation of faith in a life that is being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, so repentance is the first step in restoring a sinning believer to fellowship with his Savior. Twice, the Ephesian church is instructed to repent; sandwiched between those two bookends is our text—“do the deeds you did at first”—suggesting that those initial deeds are closely related to, if not the very essence of repentance. If we turn to Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, we find, perhaps, a scriptural commentary on the meaning of those first deeds. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret” (7:10a). Following the work of the Spirit of God, a sinning believer will experience a remorseful anguish culminating in a rejection of sin and an embracing of righteousness. (Repentance means “to have another mind”—Christ’s mind instead of our own; Christ’s will instead of self-will; Christ’s love instead of self-love.) This sorrow “that is according to the will of God” expresses itself in a sevenfold manner, i.e., the first works commanded by God of the sinning Ephesians, as well as for us believers today. The eleventh verse of II Corinthians, chapter seven enumerates these aspects of godly repentance, or the doing of the first deeds.
1. “Earnestness”—“diligence, eagerness, speed, carefulness.” Repentance produces earnestness in a believer; he does not, indeed, cannot, take the truths of the gospel or the things of God lightly. He is “swift to hear.” He requires no excessive urging but, like a faithful servant, follows the Lord “immediately.”
2. “Vindication of yourselves”—“cleanliness, blamelessness, purity, innocence, perfection.” Clothed in the righteousness of God—i.e., Christ, the believer possesses a new and perfect nature, for he has received the perfect nature of Christ. Of course, he retains his fleshly old nature, and sin inevitably does crop up. Nevertheless, the repentant believer’s life is characterized by the blamelessness, the purity, the innocence, and the perfection of the pure and holy Son of God. In short, his new nature provides continuing victory over his sinful flesh.
3. “Indignation”—“grief, displeasure, affliction.” No one is more conscious of sin than a Christian. Until he comes under the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, a sinner does not feel real grief for his sin—annoyance, perhaps, or fear of getting caught, but not real anguish of soul. The Holy Spirit within a Christian, however, cannot abide sin; because of His convicting work, any sin in a believer’s life works like a blister, yielding a constant source of painful irritation. And like the Lord Jesus, the believer is grieved with sin; unlike Christ, he is afflicted with his own transgressions. His own guilt troubles and displeases him, drawing him from sin to a righteous walk that pleases His Lord.
4. “Fear”—“terror.” Can a believer experience terror? Absolutely. “Knowing the fear [same Gk. word] of the Lord,” Paul writes, “we persuade men,” (II Cor. 5:11a). A believer realizes the judgment he has escaped, and senses the very judgment that Christ experienced on his behalf and which the unregenerate world still faces. On a higher plane, he fears the disappointment and dishonor that his sins bring to His Savior and is compelled by love to avoid them.
5. “Longing”—“lustful, earnest, intense desire.” Three important “gifts” exist for the believer today: “faith, hope, love . . . but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13). The Lord produces love in the heart of the believer—an earnest, intense love, even lustful (in the sense of being inordinately strong).” The believer loves the Lord and the righteous character he has received. All his actions (though sometimes harsh—particularly against his own rebellious flesh) are governed by genuine love for God and concern for others.
6. “Zeal”—“heat, jealousy, ardor.” Love works zeal; and the zealous saint is jealous for the Lord. No husband would take kindly any injury to his wife. So it is with the saint and his Lord. He is zealous for the honor, glory, and praise of the Lord and hotly battles attempts to subvert the work of the gospel in his life.
7. “Avenging of wrong”—“vindication, retribution, carrying out of justice.” The believer carries out justice upon himself. He judges himself, cutting off the hand or foot that offends and plucking out the offending eye. In so doing he vindicates the saving, sanctifying work of Christ in his life.
Are these seven results of salvation evident in your life? If not, repent, and do the deeds you did at first. Such deeds do not procure salvation, I remind you, but naturally follow Christ’s redemptive work of salvation in a man’s heart. Those who repent practice these deeds and enjoy the power and fellowship of the Lord in their lives.
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