Sunday, July 10, 2016, 5:55 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “You Never Let Go.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 (ESV).
Together With Them (vv. 4:13-18)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
We read in this passage of scripture that the “dead in Christ will rise first,” so I believe we need to first of all understand what it means to be “in Christ.” If we do not understand what it means to be “in Christ,” according to God’s word, we may read this passage and find ourselves holding on to hope, for sure, but a false hope, based on a lie.
Jesus Christ said that if anyone would come after him, he must deny self and take up his cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said that if we want to save our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them, but if we lose our lives for him (die with him to sin), we will save them, i.e. we will have eternal life with God (See: Lu. 9:23-25). Paul, when called of Jesus to the ministry, was called to open (spiritually) blinded eyes, to turn them from darkness (sin, wickedness) to light (truth, righteousness, Jesus), and from the power of Satan (his control over our lives) to God (to faith in Jesus Christ), so that they might receive forgiveness of sins, and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ (See: Ac. 26:16-18).
When Paul taught the gospel of our salvation, he taught what Jesus taught. He taught death to sin, i.e. that when we come to faith in Jesus Christ that we are crucified with Christ in death to sin and we are resurrected with Jesus Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (See: Eph. 4:17-24; Ro. 6:1-23). When we are “in Christ” by faith in him, we count ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Sin no longer has mastery over us, but we are now slaves to righteousness; to God. The benefit we reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (See: Ro. 6:1-23). In other words, God’s grace to us is not a free license to continue in sin without guilt and remorse. His grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live godly, upright and self-controlled lives while we wait for his return (See: Tit. 2:11-14).
We also read that if Christ is in us, our bodies are dead because of sin, yet our spirits are alive because of righteousness. Therefore “we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (See: Ro. 8:1-14; cf. Lu. 9:23-25). Peter said that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). Paul said that Jesus died that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life up for us (2 Co. 5:15). He also said that Jesus died, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (See: Ro. 8:1-14).
So, if you want to hold on to the hope that your loved ones, who have died physically, are with Jesus, and that Jesus will bring them with him when he comes again to take us who are still alive (in Christ) to be with him, then you need to know that “in Christ” means crucified with Christ in death to sin, and resurrected with Christ in newness of life, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And, the same applies to us who are still alive, and who profess to be “in Christ,” and who are purportedly waiting his return.
Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. He did not die merely to give us an escape from hell and the promise of heaven when we die. People are not with Jesus just because they lived a “good life,” by human standards, or because they were “nice” to people, and so everyone liked them. We are “in Christ” only by faith in him, because of his grace to us, but that faith entails being crucified with Christ so that we no longer live, but Christ now lives within us (in the person of the Holy Spirit), and he is now Lord of our lives.
Times and Seasons (vv. 5:1-11)
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
Nonetheless, there are many, many people today who are preaching “peace and security,” rather than teaching the righteousness of God in our lives. They are preaching or are saying what itching ears want to hear, in order to make people feel good about themselves, right where they are, doing what they are doing, even if it means they are walking according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. They are telling people that nothing bad will happen to them, and that God is pleased with them no matter what they do, even if they are bound in sin. They are even preaching the blessings of God over these people, many times fully knowing that they are walking in sin’s deceitfulness. These deceitful teachers’ consciences are seared. They have no fear (awe, respect, honor) of God. And, they are not teaching the fear of the Lord, but are presenting God as not much different from them.
Don’t listen to them! They are preaching lies! God’s word is real clear. If we walk according to the flesh we will die without Christ, not in Christ. If we say we have fellowship with God, but we walk (conduct our lives) in darkness (wickedness), we are liars, and the truth is not in us. If we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self), we will lose them for eternity. The righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in those who walk not according to the flesh, but who conduct their lives according to the Spirit. Only those being led by the Spirit are the children of God. “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 Jn. 2:4-5). “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 Jn. 3:6) – speaking of continuous sin, i.e. walking according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit.
So, don’t believe the lies. Turn your life over to Jesus Christ today, and make him Lord (owner/master) of your life. Cooperate with the Spirit’s work of grace in your life in putting sin to death and in raising you to walk in Christ’s righteousness and holiness. Holiness is not optional. We can’t “believe” in Jesus Christ and have nothing change in our lives, or have only superficial changes. This is not saying that belief in Jesus means we will live in sinless perfection from this point forward, but that sin should no longer be our master, and we should now be servants of righteousness. Daily we should be putting sin and self to death and we should be walking in the Spirit, following our Lord Jesus in obedience and in surrender to his will for our lives. This is why he died, that we might follow him wherever he leads us in doing what he has called us to do and to be.
One day Jesus Christ is going to return to judge the world and to receive his bride to be with him forever. Don’t get caught asleep and unaware so that you do not escape the coming wrath. Our God is a loving God, for sure, but he is also a just God, and a righteous God, and he will judge, and people will have to face eternal punishment in the lake of fire. Yet, for those who are truly “in Christ,” by God’s grace, through faith in Christ Jesus – who have been crucified with Christ in death to sin, and who have been resurrected with Christ in newness of life – they will have the hope of eternal life with God. And, our Lord will see them through every trial and tribulation until he takes them home to be with him. So, they never have cause to fear. Even though Satan may threaten us, and his servants may reject and persecute us, we have no reason to ever be afraid, because our hope in Christ is secure forevermore, and no one can take that away from us. Amen!
You Never Let Go / Matt Redman
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know You are near
And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?