When Christ's Call is Urgent
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
When Christ calls us to himself, he calls us immediately. There is no ramp-up period. We don’t ease into new life with Christ. He starts his work immediately, and he never lets up.
C.S. Lewis captures that idea in his book Mere Christianity.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
When God comes down to live in our house, we begin living with increased attention, increased urgency. Life with God is like living in a construction zone in the middle of a war. He’s building something beautiful, and we have a great hope that one day it’s going to be far more than we could ever imagine, but the enemy seeks to destroy. God doesn’t want us to be ignorant of that. He wants us to live with wise urgency, as a soldier at war. The time to obey Jesus is now.
How aware are we of spiritual danger in the world? Paul was aware. He talks about it throughout Ephesians. In chapter 2 he said unbelievers follow “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” In the passage we saw last week, he urged us “not to take part in the unfruitful works of darkness.” In chapter 6, he says “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Spiritual warfare was part of Paul’s theology because the evil one still roams. And though he lost us to God, he’ll do all he can to make us ineffective Christians.
Too many of us assume the days are harmless because most days look so nice. We aren’t careful because the threat doesn’t seem large. But Satan doesn’t have to persecute us into ineffectiveness. We can be beat on the front of pleasure just as easily as the front of pain. In fact, pleasure may be easier. And I think that’s where we are today in America. The enemy is crafty, and he’s on the attack. And as he props up the appealing images, we drool our way into his hands. We forget God’s wise path to life because the path of darkness looks brighter at the start. But it’s a lie. It’s a trap.
So Paul says we must live with wise urgency. How do we do that? Well, we pay attention to our steps, moment by moment. Do our steps land in line with God’s word? We must be wise. Biblical wisdom is someone skilled in finding what’s pleasing to God. We must make the best use of time. The Greek language here means to purchasing a slave’s freedom – buying up the time, redeeming the time. We are to understand what the will of the Lord is. That sounds complicated but it’s really not. The Bible tells us God’s will. It’s to make us like Christ, to redeem the world, to bring heaven down, to grant eternal life.
And Paul warns us here to pay attention. It’s far too easy to step off this path and go back into darkness.
So what’s our hope?
Jesus is our hope. In the fullness of time, God waged war against the evil of this world. What was his weapon of choice? It was a baby. He sent his Son into the world to redeem the world. Jesus lived with wise urgency. He looked carefully how he walked, obeying the law perfectly. He was wise, the beloved Son in whom God was well pleased. He made the best use of time. At the pinnacle of his battle, he gave himself up for us on the cross. He bought up the evil days and purchased our freedom. Why? Because he understood the will of the Lord. He prayed, “not my will but yours.” And he’s asking us all to pray the same. That’s the wise urgency we must have, living in a moment-by-moment relationship with God, trusting he knows best, listening to him, and following even when the path seems crazy.
No one looked at the cross that first Good Friday and saw good news. It looked like utter failure. But what looks like failure to the world is the wisdom of God. Jesus’ resurrection was the historical proof that God’s way is not crazy; God’s way is wise. On the cross, Jesus defeated satan even as satan thought he defeated Jesus. God turned the tables on the devil. Jesus exchanged sin for righteousness and reconciled sinners to the Holy God. Death brought about life.
Every other path may look bright and be loud and flashy, but it leads to death. God’s path looks stupid, like death on a cross, but it leads to life. Are we willing to listen to that wisdom?
Satan doesn’t want you to. He doesn’t want you on the front lines. Redeemed sinners are a threat to his power. He wants you hiding in the ditch alone. But God never leaves us alone, and he never makes ineffective Christians. We might end up in the ditch sometimes, but he’s there with us. And when we’re with him, we’re always on the front lines of the battle of this world. We might not be able to move out of bed, but we’re fighting with Christ, for Christ. And the best news of all is that he’s fighting for us. In fact, he already fought for us. And he won. And he gives us his Spirit now, granting the wisdom we need. The devil hates that. He freaks out about that. A Spirit-filled you is too much for him!
But a Spirit-filled you is God’s plan! You are not a problem Christ has to figure out how to solve. You are a strategy he’s seeking to deploy. There is no time to waste. The devil isn’t resting. Neither is God. Are you?
Death looms over this world, and the only way to make it through is to follow the One who’s already conquered death. If you’re in Christ, the truth is, you’re already dead. And if you’re in Christ, the truth is, you’re already alive. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you. Will you accept that and live as if it’s true?
This is an excerpt from my sermon on Ephesians 5:15-21. You can read the sermon or listen to it here.