(…continued) “Be on guard, be alert,” says Jesus, “for you do not know when that time will come… what I say to you I say to everyone– Watch!” Jesus is referring here to that time when he will come again. In the Bible we read of Jesus’ first coming. In Jesus, God was visiting his creation as a human being, offering forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life to all. He went about forgiving sins, healing the sick, and raising the dead; and then he himself died on a cross. Jesus told us that this was all for us, so that we may be reconciled to God and live with him for all eternity. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we too may rise and live again. Everything Jesus said and did and suffered was for us.
But some people would refuse Jesus. John chapter one says, “In Jesus was life and that life was the light of men… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him he gave the right to become children of God.” What a God! What a gift! What a privilege! Yet, some would refuse Jesus. He would face rejection by the very people he came to save. Some people, then and now, receive and welcome Jesus and the gifts he offers to us, and others turn away.
Jesus says he is coming again and we will face him, and what a blessed day that will be– if we have not refused him. If we have said ‘no’ to Jesus, then when we see Jesus it will not be such a blessed day. It will be a sad day and a day of deepest regret; and not just one day, but it will be an eternity of inconsolable regret.
Salvation is indeed a free gift. There is no work we must do to earn it. But we must not refuse it. We must not forget God or neglect him. Hebrews chapter 2 says: “Every disobedience receives its just punishment, so how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” We must not ignore God and drift away. We must be alert and watch, says Jesus. The New Testament makes it very clear that we can fall away. We can lose this great salvation.
This is not to say that going to church and saying your prayers and reading your Bible saves you. It does not. Rather, Jesus saves you by his death on the cross for you. But to not pay any attention to Jesus– not in church, not in prayer, and not anywhere else, is to tell Jesus that you have decided to “receive him not,” in the words of John chapter one. If you refuse to pay any attention to all that Jesus offers and all that he commands, are you not refusing Jesus himself?
I will not judge Cindy and her husband and people like them, because only God knows what is in their hearts. But if you are like Cindy you should be looking into your own heart, and also looking at what God has said about himself in the Bible, and about his relationship with you. Hebrews chapter 10 talks about persevering in the face of persecution and continuing to meet together and not giving up. Verse 39 says, “Do not shrink back and be destroyed, but believe and be saved.” If these are warnings to those who shrink back from persecution, what will become of those who shrink back just because they don’t care; and those who drift away not in a time of persecution, but in a time when there is every opportunity to worship and pray? Could that be the “trampling underfoot the Son of God,” which is so sternly warned against in verse 29 of the same chapter? How could someone like Cindy hear these words and not tremble?
God does not move away from us. His grace is freely given and always there for us to receive. But Cindy and her husband and many others like them move themselves farther and farther away. They probably never sat down and decided that they no longer believed in Jesus. Just like Mick never made the decision to become a 3-pack a day smoker, they did not decide to drift away. These are not decisions one makes, but rather they are habits we drift into because we do not watch ourselves, because we are not alert. Watch, said Jesus, and be alert. Smoking three packs of cigarettes a day is not a desirable habit to drift into, but it is nothing compared to allowing oneself to drift away from Jesus and all he has to offer. Yes, God’s grace is wonderful, and it is indeed offered freely to all. If you turn to God’s Word for comfort and assurance you will find it there. God waits for you with open arms.
But God will not force his gifts upon one who refuses. We never see Jesus doing that in the Gospels and he won’t do that now. So if you drift away or turn away from God, God will, in the end, let you have your way and you will lose everything for all eternity. God’s grace is abundant but we are weak, and turning away from God and refusing his grace is a danger. If not, why would Jesus issue such frequent and urgent warnings? So take heed to what he says, and be alert. Keep watch and keep the faith. For as Jesus said, you do not know when the end will come, and then it will be too late for you.
So how do we keep from drifting away? By paying careful attention to those very routine gifts that the Holy Spirit gives and uses to keep faith alive– worship, fellowship, prayer, and the reading of God‘s Word. Such habits can also become chains, good chains, helping us hold fast to the promises of God so that we do not, in the end, reject Jesus. Again, as it says in Hebrews 2, verse one: “We must therefore pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”
John 1:10-12 — He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Hebrews 2:2-3 — If every disobedience receives its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
Hebrews 10:39 — But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Grant to us, O Lord, to know that which is worth knowing, to love that which is worth loving, to praise that which pleases you most, to esteem that which is most precious to you, and to dislike whatsoever is evil in your eyes. Grant us true judgment to distinguish things that differ and above all to search out and do what is well pleasing to you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
–Thomas a Kempis (15th century)