Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What does it mean to live well?

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Of course a life that is lived well is a life lived by faith. But the question immediately arises: What is faith? Biblically, faith, in the same chapter, is said to be: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (v. 1). In other words, we look forward by faith to the things our God has promised. My problem with that kind of definition is that it is internal. How does faith exhibit itself externally? What kind of life reflects faith?

I would say that first we have to have a life that is in tune with what God wants. Tozer says, “The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear.”1 In my last post, I alluded to the tragic picture of Christ knocking on the Christian’s door, and asking to come in. What kind of life are we living if we are indeed leaving Jesus out on our front doorstep? He wants to come in and be treated as the guest of honor. I am come that you might be free, he says, and you shall be free indeed. If there is a place where this freedom is defined, it is in the freedom to lock Jesus out of your house, or to invite him in. You do not have to live a Spirit-filled life. Having come to Christ, you can wallow in the sins of the world, but you need to know that you will receive the worst censure. It seems to me that there are two possible outcomes for choosing to continue to wallow in the world’s pigpen.

First, you are ignoring the holy calling God would give you. He intends to make you to live saintly. You are already his saint, but he will spend your lifetime teaching you to live saintly, if you will listen. His will is plainly written, and a lifetime of study should be spent in the Word, that you might draw closer to him throughout your life. Once a long time ago, I bought an anniversary gift for my wife with the quaint and pithy saying, More than yesterday, Less than tomorrow. It was instantly a favorite of hers, for she got the meaning immediately. How much more we should say it to God! Our march onward through this lifetime ought to be one where we are loving him in an increasing fashion each new day—no matter the trials of life.

Second, if you are really content wallowing in the mire, is that not an indication that perhaps Christ is not in your life after all? God forbid that should happen, but over and again the New Testament warns us of people who think they are ready for the last judgment, only to find that they are not prepared at all. Christ tells us the story of the man finding himself at the wedding supper, but without the proper clothes. The apostles warn us repeatedly to check our hearts and lives to make sure of our salvation—to make sure that we are of the faith.

If we indeed picture our life as a house, and invite Christ into it, we might of course insist that he come into the guest room, where all is neat and tidy. We would want to entertain him with the best food, and the best company we could provide. But I should warn you, he is a guest unlike any other guest you have ever had. He is not content to remain a guest, sitting wherever you may put him. It will not be long before he will want to see your other rooms, the ones that are not so neat. Come in here, he will say, and let us see this room, perhaps taking you to the bedroom where chaos seems to reign. So you will find yourself straightening and cleaning and trying to get it just so. Meanwhile, he is off to another room. And that closet that you are sure no one knows about. You keep it tightly locked, so tightly locked that you are sure it is secret from all. Rest assured that your guest will aim directly for the closet, and all the locks you have placed on it will come bursting apart, the door will open, and even that embarrassing mess will become open. So our walk with Christ throughout our life should ever be one of progression, where we are finding old places to clean and mend.

If I left the analogy there, you might notice that it is all well and good that you have a cleaner house, but it is still a house that seems to be a “dirt-magnet”, and you can no more get it clean than you have to start the whole process all over. You can never seem to get it done. If God left us there, we could at least say that we were living the better lives for it, but still we are stuck in the cycle of dirt, of being always in need of cleaning. But he has a different plan, one that we will fit into as we follow him through our lives. He says I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also. He plans on taking us one day to a new house, one that he is in charge of cleaning, just as he cleans us, and all this lifetime of helping us clean here is meant to prepare us for that new house.

Then we are to be the kind of people on The Great Journey, where we walk by faith all of our lives. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the Scripture. All through our lives we look constantly to him, with our eyes fastened on him. At first it takes great effort to bow our heads and pray, to study the word, and learn his will for our lives. It may take a little effort to fasten our eyes upon him at the beginning, when we have so much of the dusty glitter of the world caught up in our gaze, but as we go on we notice a difference. Looking at him is not an effort anymore; it has become interesting to look, and before we know it, we cannot tear our eyes from him, as we have found him to be of such compelling attraction that we disdain all else that we might maintain that fellowship, that sense of him being near, even in us. Disdain is even too strong a word; rather we find all else of lessor importance, though when we are called to do that of lessor importance, we find ourselves able to do that, whatever it is, with our eyes upon him. We are learning meekness, humility, and in learning it, we find to our great delight that whatever we do we are able to see him in the midst of it, and that he accepts this too for his service, since we are doing it as to him, and not unto men. Jesus said it this way, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” He who is meek has at the cross taught us what meekness is, and we find the rest of the phrase is true also. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our destination lies ahead, our destiny begins its fulfillment, now, with each step of faith we take beginning that celestial walk that with go on through eternity.

Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted no less than four times in the New Testament, “the just shall live by faith.” I think of the Christian walk as that Great Journey, where the new Christian is maturing as he should, but also the mature Christian finds to his marvel that he is maturing also. There seems to be no end to deepening faith in Christ, but if there is an end, I might suggest it comes when the Christian realizes that things, that life itself, dims to almost be invisible in comparison to that relationship with Christ. It does not come easily, as we learn from Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, there are incessant attractions that would turn our gaze from him. The Holy Spirit, in us, constantly teaches us to love the bridegroom, and to prepare ourselves as the bride. And over the walk of life, we find him being closer, as our teeth and sight and hearing fail, yet he is closer, filling all of our sight, as we anticipate the marriage at last consummated. The Song of Solomon is becoming realized in the walk of faith, love is spilling out everywhere, and your eyes are fixed on your Lord, your Bridegroom. One day soon the day will come when that passion the bride and the Groom feel toward one another will light up our universe for all to see. For are we not the love story of creation itself?

Some of us, I think, only learn that final step of love when death rears its ugly head as the worst thing that can befall us. Yet, Paul teaches that not even death itself will separate us from the love of God which is in Christ, and those faithful Christians who come to their deathbed, seem so often to be able to look past the ugly monster to see the handsome groom awaiting his bride. Which brings me to the last point. Many passages allude to our needing to watch for the coming of Christ, and I have included but one, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36). This is a great verse, not only telling us to watch, but also in the passage before Christ is giving us details of the great tribulation. Notice again the words of the verse, “that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.” Those who believe in the rapture happening before the tribulation can look at this verse and see God’s promise of keeping us from that coming wrath. I go now to prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also. Where is Christ? In heaven. Where is he preparing the place? In heaven. When Christ returns with his saints, where does he go? To Israel, and we go with him. Says Walvoord, “The nature of the Tribulation is also one of practical importance. If the church is destined to endure the persecutions of the Tribulation, it is futile to proclaim the coming of the Lord as an imminent hope. Instead, it should be recognized that Christ cannot come until these predicted sorrows have been accomplished. On the other hand, if Christ will come for His church before the predicted time of trouble, Christians can regard His coming as an imminent daily expectation. From a practical standpoint, the doctrine has tremendous implications.”2 But regardless of where you might place the rapture, the point is that all of us are to be watching and waiting, looking and hoping for the return of our King. It is one of the great hallmarks of our walk of faith.

1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 820-821). Christian Miracle Foundation Press.
2. Walvoord, John F. The Rapture Question (Kindle Locations 122-126). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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