Teaching Extra 11 - Rock Solid
Keeping going and finishing the journey
An opening reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
A. Standing firm
1. An old Chinese proverb says, 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step'. The Foundations course is designed for people who have made their first steps as Christians. But it is just the beginning! All of us face the challenge of completing the journey that we have begun. This will require commitment and dedication or, as the apostle Paul puts it, 'Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which Christ has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 3:13-14).
2. The problem is that we have enemies that are determined to prevent us reaching that goal. These are usefully summarised as 'the world, the flesh and the devil'.
The world refers to the system of human society which leaves God out and worships 'substitute gods' such as money, sex or power. The challenge we face is expressed by Paul, 'Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind' (Romans 12:2).
The flesh refers to our human nature, our vulnerability to temptation and sin, and our tendency to do what we don't really want to. Paul's advice is to 'Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature' (Romans 13:14).
The devil is that evil, destructive and tempting power at work in the world that opposes God's purposes and God's people. We are told to 'Resist him, standing firm in the faith' (1 Peter 5:9).
3. It will help us to 'stand firm in the faith' if we:
Remember that it is not a sin to be tempted - it is a common experience for every Christian. We cannot avoid it - but, with God's help, we can avoid giving in to it.
Make a conscious decision to avoid situations that we know will make us vulnerable to temptation.
Focus on God, get to know the Bible, become involved in a church community.
Remember that when temptation comes, God will always provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13) and, if and when we fail, a way back (1John 1:9).
4. The first Christians were absolutely clear that the Jesus who had been raised from the dead would return, this time in great glory and majesty: 'Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of the people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him' (Hebrews 9:28). 'Standing firm' therefore means being committed to following Christ and doing what God wants us to do for him. We will then be ready to meet Jesus when he returns and not be ashamed that we have let him down or failed to live for him as we should.
B. The end of the journey
1. Many people fear dying and this is natural - we don't know how we will die, and death itself is an unknown quantity for us. However, Christians believe that death as a destructive force has been defeated by Christ and that we may share in his victory. This victory was dramatically demonstrated when God raised Jesus from the dead and, as it were, opened up a door that others may pass through. Paul puts it like this: 'For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But in this order: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him' (1 Corinthians 15:21-23).
2. All people who have ever lived will face God and be judged: 'For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done in the body, whether good or bad' (2 Corinthians 5:10). But judgement is not to be feared, nor is it the end. Those who trust in Christ may look forward to being raised from the dead - not to be condemned, but to share Christ's eternal life when he returns to earth.
3. People have fearful ideas about 'the end of the world' - they think of it as a catastrophic destruction of everything they have ever known and loved. But the word 'end' actually has two meanings: it can mean 'end' in the sense of a full-stop, a termination after which there is no more; it can also mean 'end' in the sense of purpose or destiny as in, 'I am doing this to the end that...'. This is what Christians really mean by 'the end of the world', and why they can look forward to it with joy and hope. It is the time when all God's purposes for the world will come to realisation and fulfilment, and when our own lives will realise their destinies. It certainly means that the world as we know it will be transformed, but transformed for good, to become a 'new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness' (2 Peter 3:13). The second coming of Christ is therefore a joyful prospect.
4. If Christians await the resurrection at the end of time, what happens when they die? This is a bit of a mystery since none of us can see beyond death, but the Bible seems to suggest that the souls of believers, the real and essential persons that we have become, go to be with Christ and await the resurrection in his presence. Paul puts it like this, 'Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord' (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
5. So then, Christians have everything to look forward to! The Bible says nothing about when Christ will come, but tells us that it could be at any time. We need to live in a way of which we would not be ashamed. 'You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him' (Luke 12:40).