April 23, 2008

Old Warriors

Now and then I remember the words of a younger friend who said to me, “Being a Christian must get easier as you get older.” I wish.

He does not realize several things, one of them being that he himself has not yet began to fight.

The Christian life is greatly blessed by God, but it is also a battlefield. We are surrounded by spiritual enemies that would destroy us in a minute if God were not protecting us. We wrestle with our own flesh and, even though we are “dead” to sin, that part of us thrashes about, resisting death and trying to regain rule over us. The world also throws obstacles to godliness in our path, making great effort to trip us into its clutches.

I assume my young friend thought that the older Christian will have, over time, developed spiritual muscles and keener ability to recognize and conquer these enemies. If so, he also needs to take into consideration the power of these enemies. Just because I have conquered one temptation does not guarantee that I’ll even see the next one coming. Each day is a new war, a new race, and I have no idea which enemy will swipe at me, nor how that battle will be shaped.

For this reason, 1 Peter 1:17-19 says, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

God looks at and evaluates my work, singular. This is not each picky detail of my actions so much as it is the general character of my life. Sins are already forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ. This “work” is about a life is based on faith and how I demonstrate that faith. It is about my attitude toward sin, toward good and evil, and toward this world. Do I realize that I’m not here long and therefore should not waste my time with things that have no eternal purpose or value?

1 Corinthians 3 talks about this judgment mentioned by Peter. It is not the same as the great final judgment, but is instead the “Bema” or judgment seat of Christ. Here, all of God’s people will have their lives evaluated. Verses 11-15 say:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
I am not to fear the loss of my salvation; that is secured by Jesus Christ, but I am to consider that some things I do might be utterly worthless. Like wood, hay and straw, they will not stand this test of fire. Instead, I’m to choose those actions and attitudes that pass the test.

This means that my life here cannot be one of ease and quiet as my friend suggests. Instead, I will continually evaluate all that comes before me, not giving in to that which is sinful but also avoiding all the stuff that is useless.

What this younger person does not yet fully know, even though he is probably aware of it, is that aging brings its own particular set of temptations. While God is not against time-outs and relaxation, I’m continually facing an increasing desire to simply quit. Recording my devotional thoughts is work. Taking care of my household is work. Prayer is work. Taking care of my body is work. Preparing study materials for Sunday is work. Interaction with others, particularly those with great needs, is work. Sometimes I just want to stop it all and retreat. No more physical and mental effort, no more spiritual battles, just indulge myself and forget what God is saying. Listen more to the world and my flesh and their constant demands.

But then I hear the hiss of the enemy. Then I know that this fear that Peter writes about is not a dread of life, a dread of God or judgment, but a dread of pleasing the wrong person. If I listen to the hissing, God is not pleased nor will I be by the outcome.

Not only that, if I listen to the aches and pains, I will become a self-centered, crabby senior, and no one will listen to me. But if I listen to the Lord and do what He says, He will be pleased—and so will I. That is how obedience works.

No, getting older doesn’t make living the Christian life easier. Aging does not decrease the challenges of hearing and obeying God, but adds another dimension, one that the young have yet to experience.

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