Over recent months I have heard comments from several friends about not expecting the return of Christ at any time soon, or for a long time even, because the church is far from ready. Well, if you look around, that seems to be a plausible opinion, though it does bother me because of the biblical statement that at such an hour as we don’t think about it, or think otherwise, the Son of Man will come. I wonder whether lack of expectation could engender spiritual carelessness or bring an emphasis of relying on reason too much, rather than on revelation, in our daily walk with Christ.
Let me share with you, if I may, some of my prayerful and earnest consideration of this matter.
Some seem to say, “The church is obviously in a terrible state – therefore the Bride is not ready.” Should those two statements be linked together like that? What ‘church’ are they talking about? Are we supposed to assess and know when the bride is ready? Ultimately, isn’t it the heavenly Bridegroom who will decide that?
Here’s a question for such people: “What do you think it will take for the church to be ready? Numbers – great multitudes? Unity of a structural kind? Doctrinal conformity? A superb knowledge and understanding of biblical truth? Higher dimensions of heaven-sent, wonderfully fragrant worship? Will it take a deluge of signs, wonders, miracles? Who will judge this, man or God?”
For myself, I have to start with the fact that I don’t even know what the church is! A visible or structural dimension doesn’t come into it, does it? Isn’t there a great danger for any one or all of us to be ‘slaves to the visible?’
Is it fair to say that whether or not believers are involved in the busy-ness and bondage of man-made church structures and man-initiated programmes we all face the continuing danger of being over-focused on the visible and natural aspects of both our personal and church life? Judge for yourself. Such imbalance must surely be to the detriment of a vibrant ‘other-worldliness’ life style where our lives are hid with Christ in God, and where we are living out the reality of being seated with Jesus in the heavenly realms.
Many years ago I was chatting to the officer of a Salvation Army corps where I was speaking in some meetings. He shared his concern for a long time member of the corps saying, “I am afraid that he is becoming too earth-bound to rise.” Don’t choke on the theology of that, but remember that the faith that saves is always in the present tense in the Scriptures. I carry a concern for some precious folk I know who back in their lives have made a personal commitment to Christ, repenting of their sins and trusting him for salvation.
The concern is because now-a-days they make their own decisions in life, based on many seemingly good factors but without the over-riding priority of knowing in their heart of hearts that they are truly walking with the Lord Jesus day by day, and are responding to the Holy Spirit as He directs their lives. At a church structure level this is illustrated by the comment that I have heard more than once that in ‘our church’ we decide the will of God by the majority vote of the elders or board or members. Is that Christian?
Who is a Christian? Is there is a simple answer to that question?
George MacDonald once wrote: “No man is a believer, no matter what else he may do, except he give his will, his life to the master. No man is a believer who does not obey God. Thousands talk about God for every one who believes in him in this sense. Thousands will do what the priests and scribes – their parsons and pastors – say, for every one who searches to find what God says and to obey it – who takes his orders from the Lord himself, and not from other men. A man must come to the Master, listen to his Word, and do what he says. Then he will come to know God and know that he knows him.”
In the Living Light readings for June 22 two passages really caught my attention. Colossians 3.3 “You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God.”
2 Corinthians 5:14,15 “Christ’s love controls us now. Since we believe that Christ died for all of us, we should also believe that we have died to the old life we used to live. He died for all so that all who live – having received eternal life from him – might live no longer for themselves, to please themselves, but to spend their lives pleasing Christ who died and rose again for them.”
The old life we lived was one in which we made our own decisions about what we should do and how we would occupy our time. Our new life should be very different from that!
So I reiterate my questions: Who is a believer? Who is a Christian? What is the church?
THE CHURCH IN THE BOOK
In 1 Peter 2:9 we read, “But you are [that is, are now] a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God ” Is that in the mind of people I mention at the commencement of this paper?
Hebrews 12:22,23 declares, “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirit of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” This is a majestic statement of what is abundantly real now in the invisible realm of the Spirit.
In Ephesians 1:18,19 Paul writes of his prayer not simply that the eyes of our understanding may be opened, but that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.” He prays also, “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” for this reason: “That you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Little wonder he earlier states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
Without fully understanding the fullness of the above Bible statements, I know that somehow they need to blend into the mix of my understanding of the church – not as man sees it, but as God does.
Like to look further? Read Ephesians 5:22-24 and ask yourself, “How is the church cleansed, made holy and radiant?” Think of 2 Corinthians 3:16-18. In practical terms it is difficult to relate these marvellous statements to the state of the church, but they relate to the church now, don’t they? Let me take the thought a little further. Ephesians 3:14-21 is an amazing Pauline prayer, which culminates, with “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
We used to sing a hymn, “It’s a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Do you long to see a glorious church? Don’t! Surely we should rather be looking to a glorious Christ, looking for Him, and for his appearing!
“what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. . . Since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” These verses from 2 Peter chapter 3 indicate that we can actually hasten the day God by our pure and godly behaviour. That’s important, isn’t it?
I see these major factors both in thinking about the return of Christ and, indeed, in desiring to live a consistently Christ pleasing and honouring life:
1. There needs to be a continuing focus on the Lord Jesus, and an emphasis on his glory.
2. Vibrant Christian living involves a healthy awareness of the very real but unseen realm of life in the Spirit where we set our minds and hearts on things above rather than on earthly things.
3. We need to be aware that the state of the church and its readiness depends on each of us individually living pure and godly lives – not on doing all the ‘church’ things that in the past we may have considered terribly important.
4. On Patmos John heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters, and like loud peals of thunder [the loudest noises imaginable then??!!], shouting, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.Fine linen,bright and clean,was given her to wear.”Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.] Jesus talked of letting our lights shine in such a manner that men may see our good works [i.e. acts] and glorify our Father in heaven. I feel that this has nothingto do with almost everything we have traditionally known as ‘church work’.
5. It is worthwhile remembering, even while we “live in the light of the soon return of Christ,” as folk used to say, that it is in the context of this subject that Peter wrote, “But do not forget one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Isn’t this ‘one in the eye’ for both extremes – both the date setters and, equally, the not-in-a-thousand-years folk as well?
Jesus said: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour,” and, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”