It’s an unmistakable truth: sin makes our hearts grow cold. It doesn’t happen at once, though. The process is gradual as we remove ourselves from fellowship with other believers and our heavenly Father.
But how does it happen?
Though every story is different, here are three questions to assess the direction you’re headed—and what effect it might have on your church.
1. What did I love?
“You were running well,” lamented Paul to the Galatian believers. “Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Or consider Jesus’s warning to the church in Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4). Something has gotten in the way.
So many begin their races well. They’re eager to participate in worship, to share the gospel, to enjoy Christian fellowship. But according to the parable of the soils (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), some receive the Word and believe—and then life gets hard. He loses his job. Her relationship turns sour. A pandemic hits. The time of testing comes, and they fall away because their roots never went deep.
With the pandemic seemingly in our rearview, we’re discovering that what many once loved is now barely an afterthought. According to Barna, 32 percent of American churchgoers stopped going altogether. What do we make of this? True believers will have moments of uncertainty and may even shift their values for a time, but they’re anchored in God’s grace such that they’ll repent and endure to the end (Matt. 24:13).
We must examine ourselves. What did we love? And what does it say about that love if it doesn’t abide?
What did we love? And what does it say about that love if it doesn’t abide?
2. What do I love?
In 2021, Barna conducted a study on how often professing Christians opened their Bible throughout the year. The majority reported never picking it up. Not only that, but only 25 percent of self-identified Christians were actively practicing their faith. Just 20 years ago, it was 45 percent.
Cultivating a love for anything requires practice. No wonder love for God springs from an intentional desire to know him.
Growing up, my grandfather loved Mercedes cars. Everyone knew it because that’s the only car you’d see him in. Whatever we love will put us where we love to be. Discovering what you love is as easy as observing your practices.
Restoration Academy, where I serve as director of spiritual formation, did a survey on screen time with a group of Christian high school students. Many averaged north of 10 hours a day on their phones. Unsurprisingly, many complained of having little interest in strengthening their relationships with God. There were simply too many competing loves in their lives. Without discipline, we’re susceptible to being overtaken by all sorts of desires.
3. What will I love?
When Jesus was getting ready to depart, he had a poignant conversation with Peter. Three times—one for each denial—he asked, “Do you love me?” He then told Peter to feed his sheep, which Peter went on to do. What changed? How did Peter go from denying Christ to not only professing his love, but even being willing to die for his faith? How does he go from casual—perhaps even cold—follower to martyr? He fellowshiped with the Messiah.
Whatever we love will put us where we love to be.
We open the Bible and see the ebbs and flows of faithful believers like Peter. What they experienced should remind us how arduous the journey will be for us. But it should also remind us of God’s sanctifying work in the believer’s life. His promise is true: if we draw near to him, he will draw near to us (James 4:8).
What will you love? If your passions have been misdirected or your heart misaligned, turn back to him. Scripture promises that God will not lose any of his true children. His love is the guarantee of ours.
The Gospel Coalition