Friday, May 3, 2013

Are You Using God As a Get Out Of Jail Free Card?

I received a message from an acquaintance that a former co-worker of ours had died in his sleep. He was young leaving behind a wife and two children. The death was related to some health issues. For the sake of this commentary and to preserve his family's privacy, I will call him John.

John and I worked in a retail store. As a reminder, much of my life has been spent as a bi-vocational priest. This means my employment has been in the marketplace since my parish ministry did not provide a full-time stipend. Usually when people find out I am a pastor, the conversation inevitably turns to God. Now John was a very smart person, a hard worker and was fun to work with. But like many people these qualities did not keep him out of trouble. Drinking & drugs were a problem resulting in some minor legal issues. So one day in the store I turned the conversation around to John's eternal outlook on life. When I mentioned putting his life in Jesus' hands his reply was, "Well, you know, I can just ask God to forgive me when it's time for me to die." I felt sorry for John and said, "But you do not know when you will die. You could be in a car accident. Are you going to have your wits about you to say a prayer? And besides even if you said a prayer, God knows you have had a lifetime of putting your faith in Him and yet you made a choice to live for yourself. Today you know what awaits you in eternity if you repent but you're saying to God basically, 'I'll ignore You until it's convenient for me to use You.'" John seemed to get it but said he would put his faith in his timing not God's. Then we both went back to stocking shelves.

This is not the first time I have heard this response from someone when I witness to them about Jesus Christ. People have heard from errant preachers that all one has to do to have eternal life in the presence of God is just say a prayer. But let us look at what this really means. We have reduced prayer to a magic formula. It's like a get out of jail free card. Think about it. You hear the good news that Jesus died for your transgressions against the Law of God. (Col. 2:6-15) And your response is, 'Hey I 'll live my life my way. When it comes to die, then I will take you up on your offer!" Now what is going to be God's response? The same God who allowed you blessings like a job, family, warmth in the summertime and sunshine in the wintertime. The very same God who gave you the beauty of His creation. All the while, you live your life as your own lord. What would God's perspective be? Imagine life was a real Monopoly game. You have a get out of jail free card. So you continue to steel stuff, murder the people you don't like and just sleep with whomever. And the law catches up with you. But you have a get out of jail free card. No jail sentence for you. But where is the justice? Jesus' death on the cross is not a get out of jail free card. A prayer at the last minute is a prayer too late. The truth is we do not know when we will die. God knows, but we are not God. (Heb. 9:27)

Jesus wants to be Lord over our life while we are alive. (Mt. 8:32) This requires our submission to Him. But if we choose today to follow our own will when we have been told that we will be held accountable for our actions, (Rev. 20:11-13) well, what would be a just verdict? What kind of person are we choosing to be? (Rev. 21:8)

It has been years since I have spoken with John. He may have truly repented and given his life to Christ. I do not know. But let us not wait until we die in our sleep to find out what our eternal verdict should be!

"I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Dt. 30:18-20)