Some believers and nonbelievers alike imagine, in a sort of hypothetical idealism, that if faith in Jesus Christ is the only true religion, and the Father, Son, and Spirit is the only true God, then the institution of the church should be a perfectly gleaming reflection of heaven. Jesus does call every true disciple to be a reflection of Himself in a dark world, but neither He nor the apostles ever entertained the fantasy that the institution of the church would be free from worldly or corrupt people. Jesus prophesied about false teachers and prophets (Matthew 24:11), while Paul reported conflict with false “brethren” and taught that the devil puts his wicked servants even within the church, so they will appear to be speaking for God (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, 26).
We must not turn a blind eye to the devil’s work in society, but we also must begin to pray, “Lord, let it not be found among us! Help us be a holy, spotless bride!” When scripture pinpoints the sins of those who do not believe, the concern is almost always that believers remain pure.
Therefore, when Paul writes that in the last days, people will be “lovers of self, lovers of money…ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (3:2-4), he is identifying how the world will be, but his goal is to keep the church on guard against it! He goes on to say that, within the church, such individuals will have “a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (3:5). They will even go to Bible study and sit through sermons, because they are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7). They may shout hallelujah with us and say “amen” to these words I am writing, but in their heart, they oppose Christ, just as Jannes and Jambes rose up against Moses (3:8).
The power of being a redeemed child of God is that the Spirit if the living God has come in and transformed our hearts. We were born like the world, but we became born again. Godliness has external forms, like praise songs, church attendance, and the written word. But the power of these things is to transform us and make us holy. Many of us have been given a new heart by God, and many come to church having been drawn to this new life that can be theirs. But still some hold to their own will, rebellious against the authority of Jesus. They persist with a callous, worldly heart. We are told to avoid them (3:5), because if they are cold and hard against the Word of God, then we who are much less powerful than God will not succeed in persuading them, nor will we be improved through their company. In humility, “continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of” and you can be confident as Paul was that the Lord will rescue you out of every trouble that comes your way in the path of obedience (3:11)!
The Rock Church