The world has become a strange place as I am without a church and am “church shopping” in the middle of a pandemic. My wife and I have decided that it is best for us and our family to maintain our distance from people that we do not know and spend our Sunday morning streaming church services. Recently we were listening to a message from one of our perspective churches, and the pastor chose to do a sermon series that was based on the Rapture. While I could certainly argue against such a concept, the subject matter wasn’t even the most offensive piece of this pastor’s message. After spending weeks laying out the idea that the Church is going to miraculously disappear right before the world needed it most, the pastor looked at the congregation and said, “You have to get ready. You have to be ready when Jesus returns.” I believe the implication of this statement is that there is some lifestyle or personality changes that need to be made, so when Christ comes he will make you disappear too. I have been thinking about this ever since. Not because I was convicted to change my life for Christ, but because I was so terribly offended by the statement. Let me explain.
What are the requirements for salvation? This doesn’t seem like it should be too hard to answer. I mean, Christians have been saving people for nearly 2000 years. The Church ought to have a pretty strong handle on this. The basic, fundamental requirement for salvation is faith or in the words of the Reformers, “sola fide.” It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that people come to salvation. How that faith arrives is a topic of debate that I’m not getting into, but you cannot be saved if you do not have faith in Jesus. The claim that this pastor made seemed to suggest that even if you have faith in Jesus, there is something still left for you to do. You are somehow not accepted by God unless you have your life in just the right way. You have the faith, but not the life. “Sola Fide et Vita!” Yet we have an example in Scripture of a man coming to Jesus and being offered salvation immediately without any other requirements upon him. Yes, he was at the end of his life, but if lifestyle was a requirement Jesus would have responded, “I’m sorry, but you’re too late.”
“We are not required—in the first place—to believe, or to repent, or to be conscious of sin, or even to know that Christ died. We are required only to approach the Lord with an honest heart. “Watchman Nee
Admittedly the claim of the pastor has at its heart the truth, but misses the point entirely. I believe what the pastor was trying to convey is that even though I am saved, I no longer have permission to sin as I please, I must change. Paul even addresses this himself in his letter to the Romans, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT). Clearly something is to take place. But this pastor made me the one responsible for the change in my life. However, this work is only done by one, and that is the Holy Spirit. People cannot change so drastically on their own, it is only the Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to stop sinning. And even the cessation of sin isn’t the point. The Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ, meaning that we live as though Jesus is living our actual lives. Once we have faith that Jesus is Lord, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and he moves us into Christlikeness. So while I want to believe that the pastor wanted to convey the best for their church, they made the people responsible for changing themselves, not God.
History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally….Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
Which leads me to the title of this post. The pastor made this implication in their message that there is something more that I must do. Yes, I am sinful. There are plenty of things that distract me and get me off course every day. God does not abandon me because I failed. God does not cast me aside because I have not lived up to His standard. God asks one thing of me (and you); to put my faith in His lordship over me. When my abilities fall short, the Holy Spirit is there to give me guidance and help me along. There is nothing more that we need to do to “prepare for his return.” We Christians have already done everything that is and ever will be required of us. If you have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven and are freed from sin.
I hear far too often a list of things Christians don’t do. Somehow if you disagree with this list, then you are not a “real” Christian. Such a list seems to be what Paul is speaking against in Galatians 3. What do you believe? Is there something you believe all Christians have the responsibility to accomplish, or lifestyle they must have, before they reach the end of their life? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss this further.