Skip to main content

‘It’s now or never’

Putting the flesh to death when time is short

‘It’s now or never’

(Krieg Barrie)

’Tis 2018 by the clock, and “salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

The experience of time passing is either pleasant or unpleasant depending on one’s readiness. I had planned, in days before the Christmas guests arrived, to clean the house, adorn the tree, bake bread, and print copies of A Christmas Carol for group reading.

As the date and then the hour approached, there was an increasingly frenetic—sometimes instantaneous—abandonment of items on the list, not unlike the shipwreck scene in Acts when hope of safe arrival in Rome with men and cargo intact began quickly to evaporate: “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands” (Acts 27:18-19).

Nothing concentrates the mind like crisis. On another occasion, guests were about to appear at the door, people with whom my husband and I wanted to share the gospel, that they might be saved. But we were fighting in the kitchen, a bit of acrimony that happened to be about whether it makes sense to answer a question that presents two choices with the words “Yes” or “No.” (I was holding down the negative side of the debate. If I say, “Should we steam the green beans or should we boil them?” do not reply to me “Yes,” because it is not at all obvious that the second tendered option is the one you mean.)

‘Do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ But that gives you a good 10 hours some days. My husband and I had maybe five minutes.

The Word of God has good advice for couples: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). But that gives you a good 10 hours some days. My husband and I had maybe five minutes. God says: “Keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25); “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and we had literally moments to get there. For we were begging great favors of the Lord, and the “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7-8).

What I am saying is that all those Scripture commands about crucifying the flesh and preferring one’s brother to oneself and becoming Christ-like—which we were happy to entertain in many a Bible study klatch as sweet love songs about graces to be ours in the sweet by and by—must be ours by 6 p.m. sharp. This present moment contains all moments. If I will not put to death the flesh right now, in the kitchen, over this syntax argument, I deceive myself to think that I will ever do it.

Jesus tells of a man who is running out of time. About to be fired for mismanagement of his master’s affairs, he rouses all his erstwhile dissipated strength and hatches a plan to deliver himself from impending destitution. The master, learning of this laudable quick action, commends him. Jesus does too.

When large numbers of New England Congregationalists of the late 17th century dragged their feet about repentance and new life, the dithering was formally codified in a 1662 institution named the “halfway covenant.” But history professor Clair Davis says a very different tone than this indulgent one was set at deathbeds by the clergymen who came to call: “It’s now or never! Change your ways and come to Christ!”

We never got around to playing parts in Dickens’ tale around the living room; I just ran out of time. But I was blessed to ponder on my own the turnabout of Ebenezer Scrooge when he had seen the light and never turned back to the dark.

The passage that starts this column continues like this: “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12). God takes the guesswork out of New Year’s resolutions. The man who does so “is not afraid of bad news,” for “his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). The woman who does so, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25).

“Surely I am coming soon,” says Christ (Revelation 22:20). “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” says His faithful one.