March 4, 2016.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”
Perhaps you have been through the heartbreak of seeing a child choose a path of destruction. I pray that this is not the case. We all can imagine the pain and anguish that would come from that. We can imagine the heartbreak we would experience if we had given our child everything they needed to succeed, so that everything in their life was very good, yet they still make the wrong decision. Perhaps there would even be more pain if we knew that they made that decision because they had been deceived by someone else to make the decision.
Imagine now, if you will, this on the cosmic level, where a good and righteous God created a universe and mankind to be in holy fellowship with Him for eternity. Intended for love, free will was given so that a choice could be made, a choice that should have been clear. The children of God and the Creator were to live together in love and fellowship. Everything had been set up, and it was very good. But then His children were deceived. They acted in rebellion at the deception of that ancient serpent, and the path to destruction was begun. What pain the Almighty must have experienced.
Have you ever wondered what is the point of this life? Perhaps you’ve heard sermons about it, teaching that really this life doesn’t matter, or that it’s only such a tiny, tiny fraction in comparison to eternity, so we shouldn’t worry about things here. Whereas there is truth in those statements, I think they devalue our time here more than it should be.
I agree that the material things in this life don’t matter. Actually, most of the things we care about and pursue intensively don’t really matter too much in the end. However, I do believe that this life matters much, much more than we realize. This life is vital not only to where we are in eternity, but also to who we are in eternity. In this life, we have a decision to make, a very important decision (even if the world would disagree), and that is to follow Jesus or not. There are no other choices. It should be noted here that this decision is more than a mere belief in God (see James 2:19) or even the mere belief that Jesus is the Son of God (see Luke 4:31-37). When you decided to follow Jesus, there should be a fundamental change in who you are. Every aspect of your life will be seen through Him. It is not a light decision, nor should it be sold as one (Jesus Himself is very upfront about the cost of discipleship, see Luke 14:25-33). The choice is ours to make, and ultimately that is purpose of this life.
But I believe there is more to it than that. The choice is vital, but the circumstances through which we (continually) make the choice are crucial to our development as children of God. Salvation is a process, not a point in time. It’s a process that spans our entire lives (if we make the choice to the end) and will not be complete until Jesus returns and the creation is fully reconciled back to God. Only then will we be made perfect. However, part of that perfection process involves this life.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Have you ever wondered why there is suffering? There is no simple answer to this that would satisfy the question in a matter of a few sentences. There are robust answers to the question, but I only want to focus on part of the answer today. This part of the answer comes from the ideas presented in passages like the one above. The trials and suffering we go through on this earth work to test our faith and produce steadfastness, that we may become perfect and complete. Do you see the process here? Through our struggles, we are made better; if, of course, we continue to choose Jesus despite the struggles. Paul presents a similar idea, giving a string of qualities that suffering ultimately produces in us:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Suffering produces endurance, when then produces character, which ultimately produces hope. In this way, suffering truly does turn into joy for the child of God, an irony that confounds the wise of this world (see I Corinthians 2). Our experiences in this life, good and bad, are used by the hand of the Molder to shape us into who we are to be in eternity. This makes our life here and now vitally important to our life after the resurrection.
In the beginning, God gave a choice. This choice was necessary for love to exist (you can’t love someone if you don’t have a choice to do so). Mankind made the wrong choice, and rebelled against God. Through this decision, sin and death entered into the world, and the creation itself was subjected to futility (see Romans 8:18-25). From that point, God has been working to reconcile all things back to Him, a reconciliation that was made possible through the blood of Jesus (see Romans 5, II Corinthians 5:18-20).
God does not want to go through the pain of that separation by sin again. I believe there will still be free will in the resurrection for two reasons: there was free will in the beginning before the fall of man and again, there cannot be love without free will (at least as we understand it). So does that mean that we will be able to fall again? No (okay, technically it is yes, but it really is no- stick with me, I’ll explain). Why? That’s the vital importance of this life. It is in this life that we choose to follow Jesus, that fundamentally changing life decision. Then, it is through our trials and struggles that we are refined and matured, all the while continually choosing Jesus. This life truly is a test of our faith, and a refiner’s fire. See, we choose Jesus now, in the midst of pain, in the midst of doubt, in the midst of persecution. We choose Jesus when the world calls us foolish for doing so. We choose Jesus even when it means the loss of health or life. We choose Jesus now, so that we will will always choose Jesus in the life to come.
Does that make sense? If we choose Jesus now when the odds are seemingly stacked against is, when we see Him and are perfected, why would we ever choose differently? We wouldn’t. Even if there is free will in the resurrection, we will always choose to follow our Lord because of what we have gone through in this life and the maturation that it has brought us. This is the beauty of God. He always takes what is bad and turns it around in the end for good to those who are His children (see Romans 8:28).
That is why this life is so important. That is why your decisions here matter. That is (one of) the reason(s) you go through trials and tribulations. We are going through the process of refinement and perfection. We are going through the process of salvation. Will we ever reach it in this life? No. But rest assured that the process will be completed when we hear those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Let me end with the words of Paul as he looks forward to the life beyond:
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(I Corinthians 15:53-57)
Let us use the time we have to reach those who have not received the good news.
Suggested Reading: Genesis 1-3, Romans 8, I Corinthians 15.
Send forth the message.