Arming Ourselves For Christ’s Return: Part 2
January 21, 2018 / No. 3916
Dear Radio Friends,
We live in the last days prior to the coming of Jesus Christ. These are the evil days of which we have been forewarned. Satan knows he has but a short time, and in his fury he is out to destroy the church of Christ in this world. In some parts of the world he still uses persecution, but in other parts, such as our own, he uses prosperity to fulfill his evil designs. The children of the night have become spiritually drunken. They have consumed in large doses the alcohol of earthly pleasure and wealth. They stumble about in the darkness of unbelief, intoxicated with the pursuit of earthly goals, earthly security, earthly happiness. Their affections are placed exclusively on the things of this present world. They are drunken with its sinful pleasures and lusts. God has placed you and me, children of the light, smack dab in the middle of this wicked world. We are surrounded by the children of darkness. These children of darkness are not sinister looking people who slink about trying to ensnare us in their sins. They appear as common, ordinary people just as we are—people with friendly dispositions who like to smile and laugh. But in their hearts there is no true love for the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. Their affections are placed entirely on the things of this world.
They do not care about the fact that Christ is coming. They do not fret themselves with spiritual matters. Their lives are entirely wrapped up in the pleasures and treasures of this present world that will pass away. They are drunk—spiritually drunk. The temptation for us is to go out and drink with them. Forgetting that as children of light we must remain sober in order to watch for the coming of Jesus Christ, we too can go out and become drunken with the goals and pleasures this world affords. This is why we receive the hard reminder in God’s Word in I Thessalonians 5:8, “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.” We must be sober. We are not the children of the night, but of the day. We may not become drunken with the pleasure and wealth of this world. We must watch. That takes a clear and sober mind.
But how difficult it is to keep on watching! How easy it is to be tempted to join with this wicked world in its worldly pursuits. How easily ensnared we are. Worldly-mindedness is such an innocent looking evil. It is for that reason we must arm ourselves. We must put on our helmet and breastplate to defend our minds and hearts from the spiritual onslaughts of our enemy. It must be the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of our salvation. These will protect us from our enemies.
But wait a minute, Pastor! Before going any farther with this lecture I am receiving from you, answer for me one question: Why? You tell me that I may not do this or that. I should be doing this or the next thing. Why? Why cannot I be a Christian and still enjoy myself with everything in this world? Why do I always have to watch for Christ’s return? Why must all my affections be on heaven? Why live in faith and love and hope? Why must I always be longing for the return of Christ? And why is it so wrong to enjoy the pleasures of this world? Why live such a strict life? Why? That is the big question we consider today: why. The answer is given in verses 9 and 10 of I Thessalonians 5, “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.” Let us take a close look at these two verses.
ARMING OURSELVES FOR CHRIST’S RETURN
I. The Reason
It is striking, is it not, that the Bible does not enter into all kinds of debate on specific issues. So often we can do that as parents with our children. Especially we can do that with our young people in the home. Usually the debate arises in connection with our telling them they may not go someplace, or when we find out they went someplace where they should not have been. Then the first issue of debate is this question: “Well, why not, why may I not go there or do that?” The first thing we want to do is begin to argue whether such and such a place or action is right or wrong. One argument after another is thrown at us that must be countered, when, in reality, we should have stopped with the original question—as God does in our text today. Why not indulge in the pleasures of this world, why not absorb ourselves in all this worldly entertainment and sinful pleasure? Why always remain so “boringly holy”? The Word of God answers the believer in this way: take a look at who you are! God’s people are those whom God has not appointed to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us! Let us understand that well. We do not remain sober, we do not arm ourselves with faith, hope, and love because these will in some way make us look good in God’s eyes. We are sober and we battle against the temptations of this world because we are those already appointed not to receive wrath when Christ comes, but to receive salvation! Why not walk in wantonness and pleasure in this life? Why remain holy? Well, consider once what God has done for you and me in His sovereign grace! He has appointed us to salvation, God’s Word tells us here. God has appointed us to the end that when Christ appears at the end of time we will be among those who will be gathered into glory! Is that true of you?
Let us take a closer look at the truth expressed in these two verses we study together. Christ is coming soon! We do believe that, do we not? Christ is coming. Well, when Christ comes, this present universe, this earthly creation, will end. The realm of the material will end. But that will not be the end of man. Man is created a spiritual being who has a destiny in eternity. When man dies, his soul departs to a spiritual realm to be joined by his body when Christ returns at the end of time. There is an eternal end for every man therefore. Every man will dwell in an eternal state or realm.
From the Word of God here it is evident that there are two of these realms: one where a person is the object of God’s wrath, the other where he receives from God through Christ salvation. We know the names of these two distinct realms, because the Bible in many passages identifies them for us. Even our children know them: heaven and hell! Hell is a place where one experiences to all eternity the wrath of God, the extreme and agonizing anger of God against sin. It is the place of the damned, the place where those who have walked in sin and rebellion against God their whole life long will go. This place that we call hell is reserved for those who have lived in wantonness and pleasure in this world, who have lived for the things of this world and not for the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. It is a place of utter torment and agony, of outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. A place where one would definitely not want to spend an eternity! On the other hand, there is the place we call heaven. This place is reserved for those who are saved in the blood of Jesus Christ. In heaven will be found those who love God and His commandments. Those who believed on Him in this world and who labored to enter into heaven. The righteous, whose affections were in heaven while they labored in this present world, will be found in heaven. Those who esteemed the riches of heaven and the pleasures found at God’s right hand above the pleasures and treasures of this life. Heaven is where God is in His love and favor, where He showers upon its inhabitants all manner of blessing and joy. Heaven is a place where the former pains and sorrows and griefs of this life of sin are gone—an eternity of happiness! Heaven is definitely the place where we would want to spend an eternity!
Paul explains something absolutely amazing, even mind-boggling, in verse 9. God has appointed all men to their particular place in eternity. God has chosen the elect to their place in heaven, and the non-elect, or reprobate, to their place in hell. The children of light are appointed to the light of heaven, the children of darkness to the darkness of hell. There is no mistaking the fact that our text here refers to the wonder-work of God in predestination. God as Creator and Controller of heaven and earth exercises His power by determining what place each man will occupy in eternity. God has “appointed,” that is, He has determined, arranged, and designated, the particular place each one of His rational moral creatures will occupy in time and eternity. That is the meaning of the term “appointed” here in verse 9. That appointment is sovereign, eternal, and unchangeable, just as God is. That divine appointment of some to wrath and others to salvation in the day of Christ is determined before man was created or the foundations of the earth were laid. It is eternal. That appointment is sovereign—not based on anything that man has done or will do. God’s election and reprobation are not contingent on man. They are rooted solely in God’s good pleasure. Finally, that can never be changed. When once chosen to our eternal state by God, that is our destiny. Man cannot alter God’s unchangeable decree of predestination.
Now, rather than attempt to answer all kinds of questions about all of this, we want to stick by the obvious meaning of God’s Word in our text. Look at what God has done for us, fellow believers! We have been appointed by God to receive, when Christ returns, not wrath (not hell), but salvation! God has graciously chosen us to receive the bliss and joy of heaven and not the utter terror and horror of hell!
Now, quite obviously, to the reprobate who sits in the church and hears this, his response is: big deal! This is no great reason to walk a life of holiness. This constitutes for him no reason to remain sober and arm himself for battle. He is not interested in putting on faith, hope, and love. He is not interested in keeping himself from the pursuit of the pleasures of this present life. Of course not! In fact, on the contrary, this gives that wicked person in the church all the more reason to walk in his sin, doesn’t it? “Why worry?” such a person says to himself. “Why worry about walking a holy life? Why keep myself sober? Why watch for Christ’s coming? God has appointed me to salvation anyway! I’m going to heaven no matter how I live! I can live a life of pleasure, wantonness, and sin. I can ignore God’s precepts and become totally absorbed in this world’s goals. I can be totally worldly-minded and never fear. I am appointed unto salvation! What a great life! I can have my cake and eat it too. So long as I am a member of the church and I follow a few prescribed rules, I’m on my way to heaven!”
No, you’re not! Neither can we ever be assured of this when we walk in pleasure and sin. That is the response of an unbeliever! The child of God, when he hears what is said here in our text, sits up and takes note. I am appointed by God to salvation when Christ appears? Then I had better watch for that salvation with a clear and sober eye. I am appointed by God to heaven? Then that is where I must put my affections, and I must not allow anything to lure me away from that! I will not enjoy those places of sin because, after all, I have been appointed to salvation! I need no other reason! God has chosen me to heaven! How grateful I am for that! I will arm myself therefore so that I cannot be turned away from my pursuit of heaven. That is the child of God’s response to the decree of his election.
This response is only made the more intense when he considers on what ground God has chosen him to salvation. We may not overlook the rest of verse 9 and verse 10: we have been appointed to salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us! The true believer full well understands that his election as well as his salvation is rooted and grounded in Christ alone. How true that is with us! We look at ourselves. We look at what we were. We too were those children of darkness who walked in unbelief and sin. We too at one time had our own desires in the pleasures of sin. But God has delivered us from that bondage of sin and unbelief. By His grace He has made us into children of light. We did not deserve that. We did not earn our election. We did not merit salvation. God has given it to us in Christ. We look at ourselves as we are now and we are still humbled. We still see in us our sinful flesh. We understand well how attracted we can become to the things of this present world. How weak we are and frail. How often we stumble into sin and follow after the pleasures this life has to offer rather than the things of the kingdom of heaven.
But God has saved us. He has appointed us unto that salvation. That salvation we received through Christ. Notice the use of all three names of our Savior in verse 10. The name Christ means “anointed one.” And draws our attention to the fact that Christ Himself was appointed by God from eternity to bring us salvation. The name Jesus speaks to us of our salvation itself. Jesus is the one who saves us from our sin and unbelief. He delivers us from the guilt of sin and the corruption of sin. The name Lord speaks of the rule that our Savior now has in our lives. He reigns over us as our Lord directing our footsteps into the way of righteousness. But notice: all this is given us through Christ. What stands on the foreground here is that this salvation Christ will one day accomplish for us finally and completely when He returns on the clouds of glory. Christ is appointed by God to usher in our final salvation from sin and from this wicked world. Christ will give us that through His very second coming. Let us not forget the grounds for all of this either.
There is one little phrase in our text that collects everything we have been talking about, scoops it all up, so to speak, and places the credit where it all belongs. This Jesus Christ, our Lord, died for us! Blessed, blessed gospel! We remain sober, we arm ourselves because God has appointed us to salvation. Why? Because Christ died for us! That is why we are called children of the light! Christ suffered His body to be nailed to the tree. He hung suspended between heaven and hell. He willingly shouldered the eternal wrath of God on our behalf. We will not receive wrath when Christ comes again, because Christ Himself already bore that wrath of God against us. He took it all upon Himself and He died! He died the physical death, but He also died eternally as He hung on the cross.
In doing this, Jesus died for us and took away the punishment that would otherwise have been ours when He comes again. That is why we are saved. That is why we are appointed by God to heaven. That is why we arm ourselves. That is why we are sober and watch. Need we say more? Look at what Christ has done! Shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein? Only one who is totally hardened in his sin could hear this truth of the Word of God and walk away untouched by it! Who but an unbeliever, when considering this work of God in salvation, could say: big deal! What great things God has done for His children! For you and me!
II. The Incentive
The incentive of the Word of God we consider is this: “whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Christ!” Christ died for us in order that we might live together with Him! In Christ is found life. He has earned it by way of His death. It was given Him by way of His resurrection. Christ is the resurrection and the life. In Him is found therefore the spiritual ability to live a life of godliness not only, but also eternal life, the ability to live forever without dying. Christ has conquered sin, death, the grave, and Satan himself through His death and resurrection. In this way He is life.
Those who are appointed in Christ and for whom Christ has died share in that life of Christ. They live together with Him as one body. God unites them to Christ by faith, in order that the life found in Christ may flow forth into His members. In that way, the righteousness and holiness Christ earned through His death become ours too. We are no longer dead in sins and trespasses. We are alive from the dead! Sin no longer has its hold on us. And more, the wages of sin have been paid. We no longer stand under the penalty of sin. We are worthy, in Christ, of eternal life. And we live.
Right now, we live with the life of Christ in us. That life is eternal life.
This means that whether we wake or sleep we live together with Christ! If we sleep, that is, if we die, we live! To us to die is gain because when we die, we immediately live with Christ in eternity. We die in the Lord and we live forever in His presence, together with Him. Why fear death? Dying is only a passage into life with Christ! What a wonderful incentive to be sober and watch for Christ’s return! We live when we die, but we live now too. We are right now those who are awake. We are yet in this present body in this world. But when awake we also live with Christ. We do not live together with Christ only after we die; we are living with Him right now. Eternal life flows through us now already. Because this is true we live accordingly: we live as those who are alive in Christ. We do this by seeking those things that are above. What a blessing to know that we are appointed to salvation, and that we live with Christ. It is wonderful to know that! In that knowledge, then, be sober! Watch for Christ’s return. He comes quickly!