Perhaps at some point in your life, you really let loose with a friend, pouring out at length a completely unvarnished opinion about something or someone. And, when you finished, your friend said, “So, tell me how you really feel!” Fortunately for us, the Apostle Paul had no qualms at all about telling us how he really felt, as in the opening verses from his second letter to Timothy. Paul writes:
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
Sadly, what Paul is writing about seems all too familiar to our ears today. Though certainly not for the first time in history, we find ourselves surrounded by lovers of themselves and inundated with lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Without even using the word faithlessness, this passage nevertheless is a perfect depiction of a faithless people. No wonder Paul included faithfulness as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.
As most of us know – though hopefully not from personal experience – infidelity destroys relationships. It promotes dishonesty, breaks trust, and inserts a usually unstoppable corrosion into a relationship that can leave it irreparably broken. This is bad enough when we are talking about a marriage or an intimate relationship. Why would we even consider inserting that kind of corrosion into our relationship with God? But we do. Giving in to the extravagant temptations of sin, we set God aside and proceed with the delusion that we are in the driver’s seat of our own lives and can run over anyone and anything with impunity.
When people become lovers of themselves, then all the other items in the list from Paul’s letter just seem to fall right into line. God is not someone who sits far away and passively observes, and we have been given, through scripture and through the grace of Jesus Christ, guidance on how to stay on the path towards God. So, abandoning God doesn’t simply mean “I don’t believe”; it also means abandoning all of that guidance. The self decides what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral. With the door to sin wide open, it is usually that which is self-serving that becomes right and moral. When trust in and obedience to God disappears, and is replaced by visceral human emotion, not only is the soul corrupted but, in large enough scale, society itself falls apart as individually constructed, self-serving moral systems clash with each other ruthlessly.
Sometimes, relationships that have suffered infidelity can be repaired, usually after much work, soul-searching and the slow rebuilding of trust. This only works when both parties are willing to honestly face the reasons for the infidelity, and the concrete steps necessary in their relationship to overcome those reasons. But all of this work can so easily fail when the adulterer remains fundamentally a lover of themselves and primarily a seeker of pleasure rather than relationship. Both partners need to be faithful in order for there to be fidelity.
The Bible is clear and unequivocal about God’s fidelity. In repairing our relationship with God there really aren’t two sides that need to do the work – or, at least, God has already done the work on the cross. God himself loved others above himself, sacrificing existence itself that we might find a clear path to forgiveness, redemption and restoration. All it takes on our part is the same. It takes an abandonment of the self as supreme; it takes abandoning our lusts and replacing reliance on ourselves with full faith and trust in God.
In May of 1738, John Wesley wrote in his journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
This was Wesley’s famous experience of the fidelity of God, who gave Christ for salvation and the redemption from sin. And it was a gift freely given, much as a spouse may simply grant forgiveness. But such forgiveness is moot if not followed by a strange warming of the heart. To put it simplistically, fidelity to God only matters if we are faithful to God. Fidelity exists not only in the heart, but also in our actions – what we do and what we don’t do. It involves honest confession to God – telling God how you really feel – and the acting out of trust in God’s guidance, placing it first and above our own selfish interests. Give yourself, completely unvarnished, to God, and God will give himself completely to you.