From the May 20 sermon “Apostate in Pergamum: Good Deeds, Bad Doctrine,” preached by Pastor Mark Driscoll out of Revelation 2:12-17:
Pastor Mark preaches on Jesus’ words to the church in Pergamum from the theater on the upper acropolis of the ancient city of Pergamum itself. Jesus encourages them for withstanding physical, political, and spiritual persecution in their city, where Satan’s throne is. However, he rebukes them for their apostate beliefs (false doctrine) and behavior (sexual sin). How could we fall into apostasy?
What Is Apostasy?
And so the big word for the church at Pergamum is that they were apostate, and that is that they would profess faith that they do not practice. Someone who is apostate says, “Yes, I’m a Christian,” but they live contrary to the teachings of the Bible. And that’s exactly what was happening here. [. . .]
People who are apostate, they know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re living in open rebellion. This can be doctrinally, where they find parts of the Bible that they don’t like, and so they reject those teachings. And usually under that there’s a moral cause, often sexual. And that’s exactly where Romans 1 goes, it says, “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness because they want to sin.” And then Romans 1 goes on to say, “And a lot of their sin is sexual sin.”
So you need to know this, even though this letter is two thousand years old, the human heart is the same. Sometimes it’s not that we don’t know the truth, it’s that we don’t like it. And sometimes it’s not that we don’t understand the Bible, but we want to do something different.
And the people at Pergamum had decided, “There is a way for us to say, ‘I’m a Christian, but I’m going to believe what I want to believe and behave how I want to behave.’” And Jesus says, “I see and know all, and the answer’s no. The answer’s no.” And apostasy is something that is really tragic.
How Do We Avoid Apostasy?
So what does Jesus say? He gives a few commands.
Number one, he says to repent. And this is to change your mind. Repentance begins in the mind. You say, “You know what, what I’ve been thinking is wrong, what I’ve been excusing is inexcusable. The fight I’ve had against God mentally or academically, I need to just stop fighting and I need to start trusting.” So Jesus invites repentance.
And for some of us this can be very hard because it’s an acknowledgement that we’re wrong. But I tell you what, repentance is a great gift that God gives. It’s an opportunity to stop doing wrong, to start doing right. To stop believing wrong and start believing right. To stop walking away from Jesus and start walking with him. So it’s a great gift that God gives the Christian. And it requires a little bit of humility ‘cause it starts with, “I’m wrong, you’re right, I’ll submit.” That’s the essence of repentance.
He goes on to say as well, number two, “If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” Jesus says, “I don’t tolerate rebellion and apostasy forever, there will be consequences.” And in that day the emperor had the rule of the sword. He could take life at any point. He could judge. [. . .]
The key to avoiding apostasy is always coming back to the Word of God, and hearing what God would say through the Scriptures, and he likens it here to a sword for battle. And so you and I need to know, when we hear a lie, we need to take it to the Scripture for the truth. When we’re tempted to sin, we need to go to the Bible for instruction. When we’ve said or done something wrong, we go to the Bible for correction. It’s the weapon by which God gives us spiritual victory.
He goes on as well and he says that he’ll give them some of the hidden manna, that’s number three. And in the days of the Israelites, you know the story is they were wandering in the wilderness, God sustained them, and he sustained them through the provision of manna, which is a form of bread. And what’s he’s saying is, “If you will trust me, if you will walk with me, if you’ll be faithful to me, I will take care of you. I’ll find a way to feed you. I’ll find a way to look after you.”
And oftentimes, when you’re in a culture that’s anti-Christian, that’s the fear. “I’m going to lose my job. I’m going to lose my security. I’m going to lose my possessions. What will happen to me?”
Jesus says, “I know exactly what’s happening.” [. . .]
Jesus says, “I’ll find a way to put bread on the table. Trust me and I’ll take care of you.”
Number four is, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” As you read the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, this is yet again a common refrain that comes up, where Jesus keeps saying over and over and over, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the church.”
So, what he’s saying is one of the ways we become apostate with our behavior and with our belief is we stop listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. He wrote the Bible through human authors. So one of the ways we keep our ear open to the Holy Spirit is to be in the Scriptures and allow the Scriptures to be in us. Another way is through prayer, and listening, and talking to God, to be filled with the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit as Jesus was.