Why as Christians We Never Get to Stand Down

by IAN GREIG writing in THE LIVING WORD

View west from Buckland Tor, Dartmoor, Devon, south-west England

This week in The Living Word we are talking about ‘readiness’ with the second coming of Jesus very much in view. This is something He promised, with a sense of immediacy, and that was just under 2,000 years ago. We CAN be sure He is still coming — and there are plenty of present-day signs that seem to herald that Last Time — but we cannot know WHEN it will be, and we won’t get any warning.

We have to live in the light of the spiritual awareness we have, as those who belong to Jesus — and be ready to step into the full, revealing light of heaven at any time without notice!

Well, we don’t want to miss anything! And we have signed up to a life of ‘going and growing’ as Jesus’ present-day disciples.

If we make the common mistake of wanting to live our lives in compartments, like spiritual and unspiritual, or sacred and secular, it’s more of a problem — but the Bible, even the Old Testament, knows nothing of this human kind of division.

So that leaves us relating to God the Father and what He is doing, with eager anticipation and excitement, held securely by His love and continually expressing our love for Him. And that is the joyful tone of this excerpt from Psalm 122.

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD”

That is where the tribes of the LORD go to praise the name of the LORD.

There stand the thrones for judgment. May those who love You be secure.

Excerpted from Psalm 122

About 700 years before Christ, the renowned prophet Isaiah had a vision of the last days. This remarkable prophetic insight is a picture of all kinds of people, from all over the world, setting out to find God and to learn how to live for Him — to live in His light and revelation.

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be exalted, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.”
The word of the LORD will go out from Jerusalem. He will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.
Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:1–5 excerpted

For Isaiah, a Jew and a scholar of the Scriptures of His time, this great gathering of those finding God is staged around the temple in Jerusalem. For Jews, this was the dwelling place of God’s Spirit among them, in the Holy of Holies where the tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments were kept in the Ark of the Covenant. This is where Moses had communion with God as the pillar of cloud descended.

But the mountain of the temple is a figurative picture. For us, it is about preparing for, and coming into, the spiritual place where God is close. That, of course, implies the judgment of His holy presence and the penetrating light of His glory, under which everything, but everything, is laid bare and exposed.

Here’s a much lesser and rather ordinary experience from our world, but one that’s easier for us to step into. Imagine that you hold some public responsibility, and you have been invited onto one of the political chat programmes on television to talk about it. You will want to present yourself and your organisation well. Even the most experienced politicians prepare carefully — because they know that how they answer tough questions, how they explain those awkward bits of difficult history, or just how they come across, is all going to be brought out under those glaring studio lights and the gaze of the host.

The holy judgment we will face at that last time will be far more rigorous — but the good news is, God (unlike interviewers) is not looking for a story to boost viewer ratings. He will judge our lives and motives, but unlike us, He is scrupulously fair, merciful and loving.

That call to give account of our lives could happen at any time — next week, tomorrow or in the very next moment. Will we be judged on ourselves — a fail? Or will we be judged as those redeemed by Christ and belonging to Him? We hear the urgency in the Lord’s voice in this next passage from Matthew 24:

“…About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
In the days [of Noah] before the flood, people were eating and drinking [and] marrying up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come, when you do not expect Him.”
Matthew 24:36-44 excerpted

That’s why, as Christians, we never get to stand down — because our Lord and Master has told us to stay at immediate readiness for Him. This is one of about four parable stories He used to make this very point. He meant us to really get it, and to take it seriously.

But why does He say that He doesn’t know the day or the hour and only the Father knows that?

Jesus was involved in creation at the beginning, and He was in heaven as part of the Trinity of God, before coming to earth to be born as man. To do that he had to give up, temporarily, His divine nature. We learn from Philippians 2 that He emptied Himself and made Himself nothing, so that He could start in a humble place and live a humble life, and in every way experience living the way we do. But with a difference! Unlike us, He did it perfectly! He was full of the Holy Spirit and His listening prayer habit was such that He knew from day to day what His Father was doing, so that He could join Him in it.

Jesus lived by keeping watch — everything in His life was lived prayerfully and preparedly. He urges us to keep watch, teaching us that we need to keep spiritually alert, and ready to act on what we hear.

We, too, can know fellowship with the Father and the guidance of being led by the Holy Spirit — but the way Jesus modelled this was on another level entirely. He was without sin. He was dependent on His Father, and never tempted to independent thought, or unilateral action. We may have asked Jesus into our hearts as Saviour and genuinely pledged for Him to be Lord of our lives, but that throws up a lot of choices and decisions. The old ways we were used to, have worn ‘behaviour ruts’ which we easily slide back into.

And, stressing again the urgency of living spiritually active and alert lives, Paul picks up this issue of our choices. We hear his words now in this excerpted passage from Romans 13:

Understand the present time: it’s time to wake up, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
So, put aside deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light, behaving decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Romans 13:11–14 excerpted

The figure of speech Paul uses about how we are clothed, is an interesting one. There is a connection between how we dress, and how we behave. Generations ago, one’s manner of dress was also a mark of one’s position in society — for men, the height of one top hat! Most of us today live in a much more relaxed and informal culture. There was a notorious former adviser to a British prime minister who refused to conform to the dress code of government and the civil service in Westminster, and (while it lasted) went to work, looking like someone who had come from a running track.

The other side of this coin is that if we take trouble to dress smartly for a special occasion, we will usually pay attention to our manners and general bearing. In other words, we will live up to our smart appearance.

Paul reminds us that, from a heavenly perspective, if by our decision we belong to Christ, we are already “clothed with Christ”. We look like children of light, as he says in Ephesians. We are wearing the recognisable spiritual uniform of those who belong to Jesus Christ.

Don’t get involved in questionable activities, he warns us, and let your partying be pure, and all your activities be agreeable. Gossiping, arguing, envying, and lust all open the door for the enemy’s influence, inviting Satan’s darkness, accusation and confusion. The remedy is to be intentionally open, sincere and easily identified as having the Lord’s love about us.

“Clothing ourselves” sounds a strong note of intention. We see that, in each of the Bible passages we have heard. Isaiah spoke of us learning the Lord’s ways and “walking in His paths”. That’s intentional. Jesus goes further, and urges us to “keep watch” and “be ready”. Paul reminds us that intentional godly attitudes are our protection from confusion and deception, by spiritually alert living that says ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to the tug of selfish or vindictive temptation.

There isn’t a day off from this alertness, no off-duty time of not needing to be attentive. We stay at action stations. We do not know, and will not know, when will come the moment of Christ’s return. But He needs us to be fully present when He does. That why, as Christians, we never get to stand down. And in the eternal, heavenly fellowship we aspire to in Jesus — we will never want to.

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Originally published at https://thelivingword.uk.

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Ian Greig

Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church