Are You Ready?

The phone call with the news was devastating.  A dear friend had suddenly died after returning home from mid-week Bible Study.  One moment he was conversing with his wife and going about his normal routine before retiring for the night, and the next, he was gone.  He was seventy-five years old and was generally in good health.  His mental faculties were still intact, and he was engaged in important work for the kingdom of Christ.  His passing leaves a void, not only in the hearts of his wife and family, but in the congregation for whom he preached, and in the lives of thousands of brethren who read and profited from his many books and articles.

The pain that we feel when a loved one passes from this life is deep and lingering.  We often console ourselves by saying that time heals all wounds, but in some respects we never completely recover from the passing of a close family member.  The scriptures teach us that a faithful brother or sister who passes from this life has gone on to a far better place.  We understand this with our heads, but our hearts still struggle to grasp this truth.  Such are the limitations of our finite nature.

The sudden passing of a loved one reminds us of the frailty of human life, and of the necessity to be ready for this inevitable event.  In Heb. 9:27, 28 the scripture says, “And in as much as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

Two important truths are stated in these short verses.  First, it is appointed for men to die once.  This is a truth that has marked human life since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.  Someone once said that as soon as one is born he begins to die, and this is essentially the truth.  Every person who is born will die.  The only exception to this rule is those who are alive when the Lord returns (cf. 1 Th. 4:13-18).

The second important truth from Heb. 9:27, 28 is that judgment awaits all of us when we die.  This is a truth that permeates the entire New Testament.  When the Lord comes again, He will do so for judgment (cf. 2 Th. 1:5-8).  The imagery of the Lord and His angels dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel, clearly warns us that we must be ready to face Him when this occurs.

The time for preparation, however, is limited to the time we are alive on the earth.  This makes sense, of course.  We understand this in every aspect of life.  One cannot prepare for a test at school after the test papers have been distributed by the teacher.  One cannot prepare for an inspection or audit after the inspector arrives.  Neither can one prepare to face the Lord in judgment once he has passed from this life.  The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31) makes this clear.

Since we know that these two inevitable events lie somewhere in our future we must make the best use of each day to be prepared for them.  The only way to adequately prepare for death and judgment is to be right with God before we get there.  The gospel of Jesus Christ requires us to believe in Him (Jn. 8:24), to turn away from our sins (Lk. 13:3), to confess our faith in Him (Mt. 10:32, 33), and to be baptized in order to have our sins forgiven (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38).  It also requires us to live faithfully until we die (Rev. 2:10).  There is urgency in the call of the gospel, however, because our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).

One day each of us will pass away.  One moment we will be there, alive and well, and the next moment we will be gone.  Are you ready?

Everybody Will Be There

Most people seem to go through life with no apparent idea of, or interest in, the purpose for their existence.  Are we here simply for the pleasure of a “puppet-master” God who enjoys pulling our strings and watching us dance to His manipulations?  Are we nothing more than the current stage of random evolution, with no lasting destiny and no ability to affect it?  Or are we here as the result of a divine purpose, and with a divine goal in mind?

How one answers these questions plays a large part in the course of his life.  Those who reject the idea of God tend toward the view that when one dies, he simply ceases to exist.  Some among us gravitate toward the cynical and fatalistic attitude that things are bad in life and then, after suffering all those things, one dies.  Neither of these views seems open to the idea of life after death.  These may be more of a defense mechanism than a studied conclusion, but they are real attitudes nonetheless.

Among those who do believe in life after death, there are several attitudes.  One is the “all dogs go to heaven” perspective.  In this view, it doesn’t matter how one lives on earth because God is going to save everyone anyway.  Another view is the annihilation idea.  This philosophy suggests that the evil people just cease to exist when they die.  Both of these perspectives may offer some measure of comfort to those who hold them, but are they compatible with what the Bible actually teaches?

When we look at the scriptures, there is one teaching and only one teaching about life after death.  This teaching involves three parts.  The first part is that everyone, whether good or bad, will live after death.  The Lord taught this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, recorded in Lk. 16:19-31.  Both the rich man and Lazarus were alive and cognizant in Hades after passing from this life.  One was in torment and the other was in Paradise, but both were alive.

The second part is that everyone will stand in judgment and give an account of his life on the earth.  In Jn. 5:28, 29 the Lord said, “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”  In 2 Cor. 5:10 Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  In Rev. 20:11-15 John described his vision of the judgment, and he noted in v. 12 that all the dead, both great and small, stood before the throne of God.  Everyone will be present at judgment, and everyone will stand before God.

This leads to the third part, which is that everyone will face the consequences of his or her conduct in life.  In Rev. 20:11-15 John tells us that the dead will be judged from the things written in the books, and those whose names are not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death.  Those consigned there, do not cease to exist, though.  In Rev. 20:10 John says they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.  The righteous, however, will be welcomed into God’s presence, to the place prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Mt. 25:34).

Since everyone will be there and everyone will be judged, we must prepare ourselves for the afterlife by obeying God’s will while we live here on the earth.

The Christian & Social Mores

The word “mores” (pronounced morays) is defined as “customs that are considered conducive to the general welfare of society, and which, by observance develop the force of law, often becoming part of the legal code.”  We recognize these as generally accepted attitudes and practices that mark an orderly and moral society.  They are conventions that have, until recently, been expected as the norms for our behavior in a community, state or nation in the world.  There are variations in some of these conventions from one nation or culture to another, but many of them are the same in every culture.

One aspect of social mores is that they tend to change with the passing of time.  For example, in the 19th century it would have been scandalous for a woman to appear in public in a dress that revealed her ankles.  By the mid-20th century, however, women not only wore shorter skirts, but also lower cut tops, shorts, and tank-tops in public.  The same kind of changes also took place in other social mores, including the now infamous sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Whether we admit it or not, Christians are affected by social mores.  As society’s customs have changed over the years, Christians have followed along in varying degrees.  In some cases, the changes in our societal customs have little effect on our spiritual walk.  In other cases, however, these changes can raise significant issues for us.  As is the case with many circumstances in life, some Christians deride any changes, whether they affect our spiritual walk or not.  Others jump whole-heartedly into every change with little regard for the consequences.  Some, on the other hand, try to ignore the tensions produced by changing social mores as though ignoring them will make them go away.

A case in point is the changing societal attitude toward homosexuality.  The Attorney General of the United States recently declared that all U.S. courts  must grant the same status to same-sex partners that they would to a heterosexual married couple, whether the laws of their states recognize such unions or not.  This is an attempt to force the homosexual agenda on states against their will.  It is, in fact, unconstitutional, but few seem willing to press this point in our government.

For Christians, the push for so-called equality for homosexuals is a challenge to our faith.  God’s word is clear that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9, 10).  To say this does not mean that we hate homosexuals.  It simply upholds God’s will on this subject in the same way as observing that those who practice heterosexual immorality will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9, 10).  The Lord said that His word will judge at the last day (Jn. 12:48).  Therefore, as slaves of Christ we must abide by His word and warn everyone to do the same.

When legislators propose a law to require some kind of moral conduct we often hear critics say, “You can’t legislate morality.”  This is a cop-out offered by those who do not wish to be bound by any moral code.  In contrast to this, though, we must observe that one cannot legislate immorality.  As Christians we are bound to obey those who rule over us (Rom. 13:1ff).  However, as Christians we are also bound to an even higher authority.  If our government decrees that evil is good, we cannot obey it.  We cannot change our attitude about sin simply because society decides to condone it.  Like the apostles, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Mea Culpa

Sometimes words or phrases from one language are adopted into the common usage of another language.  Often the adoption of such words or phrases occurs simply because the foreign terms are a more direct means of communicating a particular idea.  For example, the initials RSVP, that we often use when inviting friends to an important event, come from the French phrase which means “respond, if you please.”  Another phrase that has come into common use in English is the Latin term, mea culpa.  In the Latin it literally means “through my fault” and it is used when one is admitting his guilt in some matter.

Most of us are unlikely to use this phrase, unless we’re trying to impress someone, or if we’re having some fun with one another.  We have, however, heard it used, most often in the context of a news story about a prominent person who has been caught in some indiscretion.  Many times in such cases, the person involved will face the media in a public show of remorse over his actions.  A person in this situation will often admit to his or her wrongdoing, and will ask for the forgiveness of family, friends, teammates or constituents.

In the scriptures, the principle of admitting one’s wrongdoing is a fundamental element in how God expects us to conduct ourselves.  Both Old and New Testaments contain stories of individuals who were caught in some sin and were called upon to admit their guilt.  In each case we see that forgiveness of the particular sin is dependent upon one’s willingness to admit his sin.  This just makes sense because one will not repent of a sin that he is unwilling to admit he has committed.

Two Old Testament examples illustrate this truth.  In 1 Sam. 15 King Saul of Israel sinned against God by failing to utterly destroy the nation of Amalek as God had commanded.  Instead of killing every living thing in that nation, Saul and the people spared the king and the best of the flocks and herds.  When confronted by the prophet Samuel, Saul claimed that the animals had been spared to make sacrifices to God.  Finally Saul admitted his sin vs. 24 & 30; however, it is clear in these verses that Saul’s primary concern was looking good before the people.  Saul was not penitent, even though he offered a mea culpa to Samuel.  The proof in the pudding is that Saul continued to disobey God thereafter.

In 2 Sam. 24 King David of Israel sinned against God by ordering a census of the people.  When God brought pestilence against the nation because of David’s sin, David cried out to God, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done?  Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house” (2 Sam. 24:17).  David was truly sorry for his sin and he openly admitted it to God with a sincerity that cannot be questioned.  The proof in this case is that David went on obeying God and is called a man after God’s own heart.

The lesson for us is that God still requires a mea culpa from each of us when we sin.  In 1 Jn. 1:8, 9 John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The beginning point for forgiveness is to admit one’s sins.  Then, in godly sorrow, we must ask the Lord to forgive us for those sins.  His gracious promise to His people is that the blood of Jesus His Son continues to cleanse us from all sin.  May we always have tender hearts that say, “Mea Culpa,” to God and that ask Him to forgive our sins.