This morning, I spoke from 1 Peter 4:5:
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
St. Peter’s statement cuts clean across the spiritual notions of millions. This is not how people typically think of God’s judgement in the 21st century.
If people think about judgement at all, they tend to believe they have lots of time before they need to worry about it. This thinking is encrusted into the half-baked spirituality of our age. People say to themselves, “I am a good person. I don’t steal or murder. I give to charity from time-to-time. Sure I’m not perfect, but who is?”
Yet underneath it all is a veiled awareness that something is wrong.
I know a lady who is a classic example of this. She has staunch old-time values. She is a firm believer in the three cardinal economic virtues: honesty, industry and thrift. And, she is painfully aware of life’s realities having been raised in Ireland during hard times.
Yet, for all of this, the mention of death and eternity reduces her to stony silence. She visibly stiffens. Then changes the subject. Or she grows cross that someone has mentioned it. Death – and especially what comes afterwards – is not something she wants to think about. She plans to take her chances when it happens. For now, she wants to live life according to her dictates and her desires.
The soothing fiction that swings the gate clanging shut over those pathways of thought is the idea that God’s judgement is something only other people need to be concerned about. People like Hitler or ISIS terrorists. In any case, surely there is always time to get ready later in life? Can’t you repent just before death? Get it sorted in one’s final years?
How men trifle with God. An observant mind will see ample proof of the psychology of damnation at work around us. “There’s no urgency. I’m good. God will understand”. So St. Peter would have us see that any man who is not gripped with the ever-present urgency of salvation has spiritual eyes that are dim, rheumy; caked in sleep.
For note the urgency in St. Peter’s writing: God is ready to judge. God does not need to get ready. He is ready. He does not need to gather the evidence. He’s got it gathered already. God does not owe humanity – or any individual person – more time to prepare their case for court. God truly ready this minute to bring all men to account.
St. Peter goes on to say:
The end of all things is near.
The end of all things is as close as God’s patience running out. For some people the end of all things is nearer than they could possibly have realised, as in the case of those lamentable souls who have passed from life to an eternity of wrath this very week. For many of them, the trap of death sprung upon them when they least expected. They were snared like rabbits in a hunter’s trap.
And prey they are, for Satan lulls people to sleep so they do not watch for their souls. What must a man do to enter into eternal damnation? Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. He needs only carry on living a clean, busy, well-entertained suburban life and before very long he will wake up separated from God.
Satan’s aim is not only to spark horrific wars or to have men destroy themselves with drugs. It is sufficient to anaesthetise human minds to divine reality. It is enough for his purpose to numb the human conscience. Men will enter into hell through sheer inaction, callous indifference to their souls, and sloth. What can a man give in exchange for his soul? asks our Lord. In hell, a man would give anything to recover his soul but he discovers in the darkness, only too late, that he has nothing to give.
If ever there was a time to watch for our souls, it is the time in which we live. Now, more than ever, we need to be cautious of those fictions that make us less active for God:
- “I have plenty of time”: Everyone thinks so. Even many of the saved. Everyone believes that death and disaster will first happen to someone else. Everyone thinks that it will happen in the future but not today. Ecclesiastes, however, warns us that time and chance happen to everyone, even the young, fit and healthy. St. James tells us, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live…“. It might be the Lord’s will that we live tomorrow. But it might not be. Therefore, watch unto your souls.
- “It all seems surreal”: We are bombarded with so many special effects, movies, books, memes, social media stories, radio broadcasts, ideologies, rumours, and news that it is increasingly hard for people to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It is not surprising that the return of Christ seems to many people like a plot twist in a blockbuster movie. Yet, this blurring of the boundaries between the divine and the profane; between the spiritually real and the fictitious is dangerous, for we have it on God’s good authority that the Final Judgement is painfully real.
- “I don’t have time to follow Christ; to pray, to read, to serve”: Yes you do. If life is so busy that you cannot follow Christ, then you must heed his commandment and “take up the cross and follow me“. Now is the time to trim the fat from life. Do we really need more entertainment? Could that spare hour be used for some prayer or for listening to sermons? Now is the time to lose unimportant, irrelevant baggage so that we can run faster and gain the crown of life.As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “the salvation of souls is the real business of life“. Living in a relationship with God in the bond of holiness. This should be our greatest priority. For eternity is a long time to lament wrong priorities.
- “God will understand my situation and give me a break”: This should not be a comfort to the sinner. Yes, God will understand all too well. He’ll understand an excuse when he sees one. Sinful desires looking for a kind of sanctification from a divine source is always bound to fail. God will never approve of sin. He will hold us to account.
Christ is returning for a holy bride. He’s not coming back for a cankered spiritual prostitute, who is lazy and ill-disciplined, and who has luxuriated in pleasure and wasted her hours until she has grown indistinguishable from the unbelieving world. Rather, the King is coming back for his very own virgin church.
She is robed in righteousness and purity, which comes by grace through faith. She is ornamented with good works for which she has laboured in the Holy Spirit. And she is devoted to her Betrothed – to Jesus Christ and to none other. She will not sleep or rest as she waits at the window of eternity, always hoping to see him returning for her.
Every individual claiming to belong to the bride – the Church – is responsible for acting like it. As St. Peter exhorts: to be holy as God is holy. To be diligent because time is short (1 Cor 7:29). For Christ desires that his people should have holy character and that holiness should infuse their lives. Each true Christian is responsible for a self-cleansing (2 Cor 7:1) so that he can flourish and blossom, and carry the imprint of the Master’s image on the thoughts, affections, desires and will.
Christians should be eternity conscious in time. To live here on Earth as a people who have stepped into this world from heaven, with all the power of heaven resting upon our shoulders. We should be living as a different breed of people altogether: a “holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
If we live life in such a way, then, as St. James puts it, we will not need to be ashamed at his appearing.