Arming Ourselves For Christ’s Return: Part 1

January 14, 2018 / No. 3915

Dear Radio Friends,
Today we return to our series of broadcasts on I Thessalonians. We are considering the return of Christ at the end of time. That sudden return of Christ at the end of the ages has always been a chief concern of the church throughout the new dispensational period in which we live. We know His return comes as a thief in the night. We know that the wicked world that is of the darkness will be caught unawares. But we also know that believers—as few as they may be—will be ready when Christ comes again. As children of the light we know the times and seasons. Although this does not mean that we will be able to determine the exact time of Christ’s appearance, nevertheless we are those who keep watch. We watch for the signs that indicate, that herald, the second coming of Christ. And we prepare ourselves. That day will not overtake us as a thief.
Three weeks ago we considered this particular Word of God to us in our broadcasts. I thought it good to review this briefly because it is important to our understanding of the Word of God before us today. We are going to consider I Thessalonians 5:8-10. There we read, “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” These verses deal with the swift, unexpected return of Christ and our need diligently to watch for it.
The reason Christ’s return will catch the wicked unbeliever of this world unexpectedly is that he is not looking for that return. He is drunken with the treasures and pleasures of this world. His eyes are darkened to spiritual things, and to him life on this old earth continues forever. He says, “peace and safety,” but sudden destruction comes on him and he shall not escape! God’s people, on the other hand, are of the day. They do not stumble about in the darkness of unbelief. By God’s grace, their darkness has been taken away and they are given to know the times and seasons. They therefore watch! They are looking for Christ’s swift return.
Yet, we realize too, don’t we, that this task of incessantly watching for Christ’s return is not always easy for us either. How simple it is for us to begin to absorb ourselves in the things of this present world. As a result, our longing for the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness begins to fade. This present world has such a draw on us. The pleasures that the wicked enjoy, the wealth of this world, begin to seem more appealing than the pleasure and riches that are found at God’s right hand. Especially is that true of us who live in the last days. The sinful world has a strong appeal. It pulls at us. For this reason we have the admonition before us today: let us be sober! We have entered the final battle of the ages, people of God! You and I stand at the most exciting time of all history! Christ will soon come to vindicate the cause of the righteous. We must battle; we must put on armor and go out to battle. We must prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming. That is the subject we consider in this and the next broadcast.
The Admonition
The admonition Paul gives us here is short but precise: let us be sober. The “us” here in our text refers to the children of the light, those who are of the day, those in whom Christ has worked and who are given the light of spiritual understanding. We expounded the full meaning of that in a previous broadcast and will not enter into it again. We who belong to the cause and kingdom of Christ in this world are called to be sober.
To be sober is the opposite of drunkenness. One is drunk when he indulges immoderately in alcohol. Such large doses of alcohol are consumed that the proper function of the brain is impaired. As a result, the drunkard is not able to think straight. His understanding, his perception of reality, becomes distorted. His mind whirls. For that reason he cannot even see straight. He cannot walk a straight line. What is even worse, with this sin comes also the loss of all ability to harness and hold in check one’s desires. Uncontrolled lust is given full sway. This is why the sin of drunkenness more often than not leads to other heinous sins. This is also why the Bible teaches us that there will be no drunkard in heaven. The opposite of this is sobriety. One who is sober faces the world of reality and understands it. His mind is clear, and therefore his perception of things is clear, his evaluation of life is sure. He is in control of his senses, thoughts, and desires. He looks at the world around him with a proper understanding of things.
It is in this idea, of course, that the admonition of our text centers. We are called to be sober. But Paul’s reference here is to spiritual sobriety. We are called to be spiritually sober. That is the opposite of being spiritually drunk. To be spiritually drunk is to consume too much in the way of the pleasures and treasures of this present world. It is to indulge immoderately in the things of this present life, its recreation, its wealth, its sin, and as a result our heart begins to whirl. The proper spiritual function of our heart (our spiritual center, that place where the Holy Spirit has taken His abode) is then impaired. So much has the alcohol of earthly pleasure and wealth entered our spiritual bloodstream that our perception of life and reality becomes distorted. We lose sight of the fact that Christ is coming, that we live in the last days, and that this earth is not our home. We no longer think straight. We lose sight of the truth. We begin to argue in favor of the lie. So drunken have we become with the things of this present life that we do not even realize that what we are saying is distorted and an improper view of reality. We think we speak the truth when in reality it is far from the truth.
And what is worse, when drunken with the pleasures of this world, our spiritual inhibitions are loosed as well. We no longer see sin as sin. Sin becomes desirable. The spiritual rein on our desires is loosed and we begin to indulge in the lusts of our sinful flesh. So drunken have we become in what this world offers us, that now its sins too become appealing to us. And we go out and enjoy all the sins of the children of the night and of darkness. The amazing part of it is that, so drunk are we in the pleasures of this world that we are still happily convinced that we are the people of God who are living a godly life! Spiritual drunkenness is a horrible malady. It is a sickness that gnaws at our hearts—just as strong drink destroys one’s mind. It eventually can kill us—everlastingly in body and soul! And that is a horrible death.
Spiritual sobriety, of course, is just the opposite. To be sober, in this sense of the word, means to have a clear and thorough understanding of reality and truth. It is the ability to evaluate the Word of God correctly in order to come to a proper and level perspective of our lives in this world. To be sober implies two things. First, it implies having a proper understanding of ourselves. We must realize that, though we are redeemed from the bondage of sin, nevertheless we still have in us an utterly and desperately evil nature, one that is incessantly drawn toward the alcohol of the pleasure and wealth that the world enjoys. We are attracted to the delicacies and enticements of this present world. We must be sober in this understanding, fellow believers. When we are, then we can exercise proper spiritual restraint. By God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us, we can say no to our sinful desires. We can restrain them.
In the second place, spiritual sobriety implies also a proper understanding of this present world we live in. This present world is quickly coming to an end. The day of our Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and it is coming quickly. Everything in this world will perish, it will pass away, only to be replaced by the eternal state of glory in heaven. We must understand that! The pleasures and treasures of this life will cease! They are temporary. But that which is eternal shall never pass away, that is true reality. We must realize something else about this present world as well: it is given over to sin! The wicked man who denies God has utilized it and abused it to the degree that he uses everything in God’s creation in the service of his sin! We must be so careful that, when we enjoy the good creation of God, we do not do it for the same purposes as do the wicked! If this is our understanding, we remain sober.
Now, the Word of God before us takes into account that this calling to remain sober is difficult. It is like that alcoholic who is addicted to his alcohol. His whole life long he remains an alcoholic who must refrain from strong drink. There is in him a certain craving toward strong drink that he may not give in to. The moment he does, the moment he has one little drink, he is back at it again. So it is a constant struggle on his part not to give in to his craving. Well, people of God, it is no different with you and me from a spiritual point of view. We have this sinful nature in us that craves the strong drink of this world’s pleasures and treasures. It is so hard to hold ourselves in check without giving in to our desire to indulge and consume ourselves in those pleasures. It is for this reason that we are given further instruction in remaining sober.
We can be sober only when we arm ourselves. That is why Paul further writes in our text, verse 8, “putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.” Again, we have a figure used here; it is that of a warrior, one who is called to fight a battle. That warrior needs to be armed for battle. So he must put on a breastplate and a helmet to protect him from his enemy. Notice: not all the elements of his armor are mentioned here as they are, for example, in Ephesians 6. This is only natural since Paul here does not address the need to attack our enemies. He addresses only the need to guard ourselves against our enemies in order that we might remain sober.
Do not forget the contrast Paul draws between the children of the day and the children of the night. Warriors of Christ, the wicked of this world are our enemies. Unbelievers love and seek the things of this world. They are drunken all the time. They walk in darkness. They are intoxicated with the liquor of their worldly dreams and goals. They say peace and safety. Eat, drink, and be merry. We know that there is a tremendous amount of pressure put on us to join them in their pursuits. “Live life today as if it is the only day! There is no need to think about the future. Christ is not coming! Quit being such a bore! You are so backward in your thinking! It’s not as if we are walking in sin! Other people are doing things far worse than we! Come on, this world is not all that bad! Here, just take a little drink. Tastes good doesn’t it! A little fun, a little pleasure. Look, here is something a little stronger! Here, try this: a party for the new year where the liquor flows a little too freely. Just a little fornication here or there. Ah, it’s the good life, isn’t it! Who said we who do not believe in Jesus are not your friends? We show you a good time, don’t we?”
Wake up, wake up! Drink some coffee. You’re drunk! You are not looking for the coming of Jesus Christ! You are living in a drunken stupor. This world and its pleasures will be judged and destroyed, and you with it if you do not sober up! Those who walk in the ways of wickedness are not friends. They are our spiritual foes! Young man and woman, arm yourselves! To battle, to battle! Put on your breastplate and helmet, lest the enemy hack you in pieces!
But let us examine our spiritual armor a little more closely. First of all, we are told of the breastplate of faith and love. The breastplate is that piece of armor worn over our chest. It is used to protect our heart from the attacks of the enemy. Surely we need such protection. Our hearts are so readily accessible to the onslaughts of our wicked enemies. They must be protected with faith and love. With faith, first of all. Faith is that bond that unites us together with our Savior. God Himself equips us with this faith. He grafts us into Christ. He puts us into living contact with Him in whom all blessings of salvation are to be found. By means of that gift of faith the life, the strength, the mind, the desires of our Savior become ours. How necessary that is. Christ has suffered the penalty of sin. He has redeemed us who were sold under sin and its guilt. And He has imputed to us His righteousness. But through that work on the cross Christ has also conquered the power and dominion of sin over us. As we are intimately connected to Him by faith we live together with Him.
It is that strength of Christ that we must call upon to protect our hearts from the temptations and allurements of this world. That means, of course, that we must know our Savior. We must know Him in such a way that to us there is no better companion in life. We must know Him as the only source of our strength, the only ground of our salvation. We must know Him more intimately than a husband knows his wife. We must know Christ with the greatest love and devotion. That is faith. Knowing Christ we must also place our confidence in Him. That too is faith—trusting Christ. He is our strength. Through His work alone our hearts are protected from our enemies. We must cast ourselves daily on the cross of Christ—especially when we are so, so tempted to take another drink of the sins of this world. He alone can keep us sober and faithful to our cause.
The breastplate we wear is that of faith.
And love! Love is the bond of perfection. It is that which places us in living contact with the holy God and His perfections. How we need that, too, in our defense against the wicked. The love of God must dwell in us richly. Love is that longing and desire by which we breathe after and long for the fellowship of God. When such love is in our hearts, then we truly have a desire to be holy as God is holy. Love is such a bond of perfection! That means that when the love of God protects our hearts, covers our hearts, we will hate the evil and love the right. It is that work of God in us by which our very thoughts and desires are actuated to a deep longing after God’s commandments to do them. We desire to love God and the neighbor. And that in turn is needed to remain sober in the midst of this lawless and rebellious generation.
A soldier wears a helmet in order to protect his head. The helmet we must put on is the hope of our salvation. By the term “salvation” here in our text is meant the final salvation we will receive at the final coming of Christ. We are already saved from sin now. We need not hope for that salvation any longer. It is already ours. But our final salvation, when sin is finally destroyed entirely and when we are given the highest joy of heaven, still awaits us and we still hope for that. Well, it is the hope of that final salvation that must cover and guard our heads, that is, our thoughts and mind. Hope is that operation of faith and love by which we long for and patiently wait for the coming of Jesus Christ. Hope is that which always looks forward with zeal and enthusiasm to that which is to come. It is hope that keeps our eyes looking upon that future event of Christ’s coming. It keeps our eyes focused in such a way that our thoughts and minds cannot be drawn away by the pleasures of this world. That too is necessary to keep us sober. To remain sober in these horrible times in which we live we must remain focused. Our eyes must be riveted to the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven. Then we will be able to fight the good fight of faith. Then we will be able to make a stand in these last days. Then we will be watching and waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that that day does not overtake us as a thief in the night!
Faith, hope, and love—these three must be our defense. These three are entirely, from beginning to end, a gift of God to us in Christ through our salvation. But these three fruits of the Spirit: our faith, our love, our hope—all these virtues can grow dim and fade at those times in our lives when we fail to walk close to the Lord. When we do not enter into prayer often enough or take time to meditate on the Word of God, then our faith, hope, and charity weaken. This is why we are admonished to put on this armor. Put it on, believers. Pick up that helmet and breastplate and put it on! That very simply means this: we must be active in our salvation. No, not earn our salvation, not accomplish our salvation, but certainly be active in it. We must equip ourselves with the Word of God. We must be constant in prayer. Certainly we may not lose sight of the fact that we are warriors—and that we fight a battle in these last days. Be sober. Put on faith, hope, and love. Then when Christ suddenly appears He will send forth His angels and gather you and me together with the saints in heaven. There we will live together with Him for all eternity.