Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ready to Die

This past week we buried my mother-in-law. As you might imagine, many of my thoughts have been about death. It seemed good, and I think that the Spirit approves, that I interrupt my series on Genesis to talk about death. To be specific, I want to talk about being ready to die.

The Scripture that came to mind is from Hebrews.

it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…(Hebrews 9.27)

There are two parts to this which I will look at, each in turn.

The first part is about an appointment that you have. You are going to die. In fact, the date of your death has already been set. From the Psalms:

All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

God decided not only on the day of your birth but also the day of your death. There is nothing that you can do to change His mind about that.

Since these things are true, none of you should be at all surprised as your death approaches. You have this appointment. It's been written on God's calendar. So, expect it.

I stress this because our culture does not like to talk about death. But we are Christians. And while this culture does affect us, we don't need to let it have full sway in our lives. We are going to die. It's just a fact like, 'Tomorrow is Monday'. So, just as you shouldn't be surprised to wake up tomorrow morning to find that it's another Monday, likewise, you shouldn't be surprised to wake up some morning to consider, 'I just might die today'. You're going to die.

With that in mind, the question for me to ask is obvious. Are you ready to die? Raising that question leads to another. What does it mean to be ready to die? That verse from Hebrews helps to answer this when it says,

after this the judgment …

After you die, God is going to evaluate your life. That's what 'the judgment' means. It will be evaluation time.

There are various responses to this idea. Here are just two. The first goes something like this. 'I believe in Jesus, so it's all good.' In this way the thought of evaluation is basically set aside. But here’s something to consider. Will there only be one question on the test? Is God's evaluation of your life only going to be a matter of asking, 'Do you believe in Jesus?'

Here's a second response to the idea of evaluation. Panic. The panicked person tells himself, 'God is going to be so very angry with me when He evaluates my life. So, very angry. I'm doing such a lousy job, and He's going to see that.' As a result, this person is driven to try harder and harder, even though he knows that it won't do any good.  

While the first response is cavalier presumption, the second is absolute terror. Which one do you prefer?

I like neither of them. And I'll tell you why. For one thing, God has expectations that go beyond simply ‘believing in Jesus’. And secondly, I actually think that you can pass that test with flying colors.

So, what are God's expectations? There are different ways to express them. Here's one way. It's another verse from Hebrews.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

There are two things to pursue. The first has to do with other people. You are to pursue peace with them. It's important that you remember the difference between peace and a truce. A truce just means that people aren't shooting at each other. Everyone is still suspicious and ready to have at it again if the other side starts shooting. A truce is not enough. It needs to be peace. That's when both sides drop their weapons, all of them, meet in the middle of the battlefield and hug. You are to pursue peace and that with everyone.

Then, there's the other expectation in that verse, holiness. And what's that? Holiness is about moral purity. It’s about being like God when it comes to sin. It's having nothing to do with sin except to hate it with a vengeance. You are to be holy like God is holy.

So, what's going to be on that final exam? What is God going to be looking for when He evaluates your life? What if I were to say that He will be looking for peace and holiness? I think that you'd respond by saying that there is no hope. It's just too obvious. You are not at peace with everyone. You don’t have anything close to holiness, not God's holiness. So, what should you do? Give up? This is where it's good to read the Scriptures carefully. Listen again.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

That first word is key. God didn't write, 'Achieve'. He wrote, 'Pursue'. Do you know why? It's because He knows that you will never achieve these things. You will never finally be at peace with everyone nor will you ever be holy like God, not in this life. So, in this life it's 'pursue' and not 'achieve'. 

And that explains what He will be looking for when He evaluates your life. Sure, it will be, 'Do you believe in Jesus?' But it will also be, 'Have you been pursuing peace and holiness?'

So, what is this 'pursuing' about? It can help, at times, to look up synonyms. Here are some synonyms for pursue: hunt, track, shadow, stalk, chase, strive for, run after. Here's the thing with 'pursue' and its friends. If you’re really going to pursue something you need to be convinced that doing it is important. You don't hunt, track, shadow, stalk, chase, strive for or run after something unless you're convinced it's important. It's only as you come to that conclusion that you will invest the effort needed. And effort is needed.

So, is pursuing peace and holiness important? Is it worth the effort? I supposed those questions are answered by the response to this question. Do you realize that you are going to die and that God is going to evaluate your life? If the answer to this question is 'Yes', then the answers to those previous questions become obvious. Pursuing peace and holiness really is important, and it's worth some serious effort. God will be looking for that.

But what are you supposed to do? What does pursuing look like? This, like so much of life, is something that you can't do on your own. You need to listen to the Spirit. He will use the Word in one way or another to point out what you need to do to pursue peace and holiness. And please note that He will be very specific. He will make it more than clear enough that you are to deal with your relationship with this person, or develop that habit, or change how you think about some issue. He will make it specific, He will make it clear and He will use the Word. You need to listen to Him. And then, you need to obey Him. And don't stress about being able to do those things. All you need is a willingness to hear Him and to obey what He tells you. And those are things that you can pray for. And if you're doing that, then it's up to Him to let you know what's next. And He's very good at doing that. Pray, relax and listen.

What you will find is that bound up with doing this pursuing will be lots of repenting. You'll need to repent when the Spirit tells you to stop doing one thing or to start doing another. You will find that the Spirit will point out some sin that you need to turn away from and then some holiness that you need to turn toward. There will be lots of repenting. And where there is repenting there will also be coming again to Jesus. You will come to Him to be forgiven and also to be changed. Just as only He can forgive you, only He can change you. You can't do it. He must do it. And He will, if you come to Him in repentance and faith.

All of this tells you what God will be looking for when He evaluates your life. He won't be looking for what you will have achieved. You will achieve, that is fully accomplish, nothing. He knows that, so He won't be looking for it. Neither will He be looking for how much progress you will make toward peace and holiness. However much progress you will make, it won't be all that much, not when you compare it with where you ought to be. Instead of these things, He will be looking to see whether you were repenting and believing in response to what the Spirit called you to do in your pursuing peace and holiness.

Sadly, there will be some who will be found out on the Last Day. These are the phonies. They deceived those around them, and they might have even deceived themselves. But no one deceives God. They look like Christians, but when their lives are evaluated the truth will out. And their fate is clear. Jesus said,

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But those who take seriously the fact that they will die and that God will evaluate their lives, those who do pursue peace and holiness by means of repentance and faith - according to Jesus' promise, these

will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

These will hear,

Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your master.

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