Saturday, February 17, 2007

Holiness Requires Urgency

I shared part of the message I did about the importance of not "feeding our flesh." In the same message, there were three other aspects of cultivating holiness that I highlighted. Over the next week I’ll share them here.

Romans 13:11-14 says:
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (ESV)
One of the greatest enemies of holiness is apathy and complacency--the sense that pursuing godliness is something that can wait till tomorrow, that there’s no rush. Paul attacks this wrong view and shows us that we need to see holiness as a crucial need--one that requires immediate, prompt attention. So here’s the key point I want to consider today:

Holiness requires urgency.

This passage begins by addressing the issue of the time that we’re in. Verse 11 and the first part of verse 12 pile up words and images that press on us the high priority of holiness. It says, "You know the time..." and "the hour has come" and "salvation is nearer to us now" and in verse 12 "the night is far gone; the day is at hand."

What does all this mean?

Paul is addressing the fact that we’re living in the end times or the last days. In the Bible, the end times refer to the age between the first and second coming of Jesus. So, everything after his resurrection and ascension--including our own day and age--is part of the last days.

The last days are a time of overlap--Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom, but we’re still waiting for the full expression of his salvation. We’re still waiting for his final return and the glorification of our bodies.

That’s what he refers to when he says "our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed." He’s saying that the time of Jesus return is closer. Every day takes us nearer to the day when we’ll see Him face to face and be utterly freed from the effects of sin. When Paul says, "You know the time," he’s setting the pursuit of holiness in the context of the age that we’re living in. He’s saying "holiness matters because the clock is ticking...this sinful world is on the way out."

Paul uses several vivid metaphors for illustration:

First the imagery of "night" refers to the world ruled by the devil and ravaged by human sin.

Second, the imagery of "sleep" is a symbol of sinful behavior. In this passage, to be asleep as a Christian means to be indulging in sinful thoughts and desires; it means to compromise. It’s the spiritual equivalent of lazily sleeping in when you should be awake.

Have you ever slept in and forgotten a really important appointment you had? The alarm rings, but you forget all about where you need to be. You turn it off nonchalantly roll over. You’re snuggled up in those nice warm covers. You have no intention of leaving your cocoon. You’re in no rush. You don’t have a care in the world. And then, all of the sudden, you remember. Or maybe someone else remembers for you and pounds on your door and says, "What are you doing asleep! You’re going to be late! You can’t miss this meeting!"

Suddenly everything changes. Sleepy bliss turns to panic. Adrenaline surges through your body. You’re awake, you’re running, and you’re trying to shower, brush your teeth and put your clothes on all at the same time.

Sometimes, as Christians, we are groggy and lazy in our pursuit of holiness because we’ve forgotten the time. We’ve stopped thinking about the fact that Jesus is going to return. We’ve stopped thinking about our meeting with him. And so, instead of watching for the coming day, we’re snuggling up with sin. Paul would say, "Stop sleeping! Stop hitting the snooze button, spiritually. Shake off your grogginess and your apathy toward godliness. Rouse yourself! Wake up!"

If someone were to examine your life for a month--how you spend your time, what you give your attention to, the choices you make--would they say that you pursue holiness with a sense of urgency? Would they say that you’re focused, intent and aggressive in obeying God?

Also, consider--are their other parts of your life that you’re more urgently pursuing than holiness? What about entertainment? I’m sad to say that there have been many times in my life when I’ve approached the next movie or DVD or TV show with more urgency than I did my relationship with God. And when I’m wrapped up in the endless pursuit of entertainment, I’m sluggish toward the things of God.

In this passage, I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to wake up, rouse ourselves from sleep and pursue righteousness.

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