It is easy to be fooled by appearances. Those with false worldviews seek not only our money but our very bodies and minds (a function of our souls). Their methods can include the education of children in worldly public schools, government policies, general cultural values, and even religious institutions. The finished product of such ungodly systems and values is a person seemingly fully engaged in life and contributing to society, but is, in reality, already dead by God’s standards. Jesus said as much, for he encountered many such people in his ministry to save them from the clutches of this world’s systems:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matt 23:27 NIV).
The teachers of the law and Pharisees were among those in the highest levels of the society of that day, holding positions of respect and admiration. But Jesus strongly condemned them as hypocrites. Appearances can be deceiving. They were the living dead. They had not the Spirit of God within them, and it is this Spirit that determines whether or not one is truly alive.
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV).
The Spirit further warns those who seek true life about such people who have only the appearance of God’s life within them and who are very religious, but are in actuality dead while appearing to be alive:
“They will maintain the outward appearance of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these” (2Tim 3:5 NET).
It is so easy to fall victim to this world and its appealing goods and values. But we who believe in him who is the true life, Jesus Christ, are called to come out from this world’s system and not participate in it any more than is necessary. We are to be “those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor 7:31 NIV).
“Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God'” (Luke 9:60 NIV).
This is the distinction, that which separates those who truly are alive and those who have only the appearance of life: One group proclaims the kingdom of God, whether by actual words or just by their lives living out the Word of God; and the other group proclaims the world’s way, which is fully engaged in getting the latest hi-tech gadget and focused so heavily in social connections with the rest of the world. These try to form a society and world that revolves around man and his technological achievements and base desires rather than upon God and his holy and perfect nature and ways.
You can see this massive focus of this world upon what it can accomplish and what it desires everywhere you look: in the cultural expressions of that desire, such as movies, tv, and books; in the policies governments pursue, ignoring or contradicting God’s clear commands regarding morals and way of living; in technological advancements; in governments seeking to have total control over its citizens, whether through spying or using these technological advances to reduce human beings to slaves of the state.
But we don’t have to wait for the results of such technological programs to witness zombie-like human beings in our world. Many people have already sold out their souls to this world; it is only one technological/biological step away from fixing this inner abandonment of God and their own soul to an actual, outer reality. The living dead were already everywhere in the world when Jesus trod this earth’s soil, and nothing has changed that fact in the centuries since.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9 NIV).
“Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account” (Eccl. 3:15 NIV).
The time when God will call the past to account is very near. Men have given up their very souls to the devil and this world rather than surrender them to God. The evidence is all around us in the increasing wickedness and violence of this world. Things are happening now that may have happened before but they are happening much more often and with much more intensity. This is true both in the world of mankind’s actions, such as with school shootings and other abominations, and also in the world of nature, with increasingly dramatic and dangerous wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and wild weather that shocks people with its ferocity. Yet, despite all this hard-to-miss warnings from God to repent, the world continues to descend ever more into a way of living that leaves out God and in fact defies him. This is madness. It is to be out of one’s mind, as though one had no mind at all, even while going about one’s daily life. It is . . . to be a zombie of sorts.
“These are the men . . . who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 1:19 NIV).
Leave it to the Word of God to express a tremendously deep and profound truth in just a few simple words. The way of life of those of this world–being alive yet not truly alive–means following the basic, natural instincts which God gives to all life which he creates, but without acknowledging the Spirit who gives that life to men. Remember that Jesus said that it is the Spirit who gives life (Jn. 6:63). Therefore, those who cling to this world and its worldview without coming to Jesus for life and truth are living in a fantasy world, a world of their own making and reasonings. For without the Spirit of God given to us in his Son, Jesus Christ, there is no real life, just a make-believe counterfeit. No wonder those of this world so easily fall victim to despair because life holds no meaning for them, despite their constant seeking of pleasure and purpose everywhere but the one place it is found, in Jesus Christ.
Yet, on the surface, they seem to succeed. In fact, they may appear to many to be more successful in living life than those who deny the world and its way to follow the Way of Jesus. Even those who belong to God can sometimes feel that their surrender of all to God has not been to their benefit, when compared to all the apparent ease of those who follow the world, and they question their choice.
“Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?'” (Mt. 19:27 NIV).
It is just frail human nature to wonder about these things. If things are not all we could wish at the moment, we begin to wonder. For it really does seem at times that those who follow the world have it easier, while those who follow the Lord are subject to tougher times. Why is this, Lord?
“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me” (Ps. 73:16 NIV).
But this psalmist’s depressing mood was finally lifted and he saw the light of truth when . . . when what? What was it that finally shattered the darkness of human understanding that enshrouded him and broke through with the light of truth into his soul? He answers that question for us, that he failed to understand how this state of affairs could exist until . . . “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (v. 17).
Ah, there we have it! He was looking at things from a worldly, temporary, relativistic viewpoint. No wonder he saw things as he did. It was only until he changed his perspective from the temporary, earthly perspective and looked at them from the eternal, divine perspective that he finally saw things as they really are and as they will be in the ultimate end. It was then that he saw how fleeting are the achievements of those of the world and apart from God. All that they have achieved will disappear in the instant of death. To build one’s life on anything of this world is to build the house of one’s life on shifting sand, as Jesus pointed out in his parable (Mt. 7:26,27).
The psalmist continues declaring his newfound insight:
“Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you” (Ps 73:18-22 NIV).
The psalmist here bewails his own momentary despair; he compares himself to an unthinking, brute beast, to have thought senselessly as he had about reality. He knows that he should have known better than to think that the world was actually bringing about its “better world” vision to reality, but he too succumbed to appearances, he too thought that the way to make the world better was through the efforts of man to do it himself.
If the psalmist can fall victim to this oppressive state of mind, so can we. One way to prevent this from happening to us is to look at the way he got out of this depressing, and false, worldview. How did he do that? What did he do? “It was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God.”
He sank into despair because he looked at the temporary appearances of the moment in this relativistic world instead of focusing on the eternal and ultimate realities of God. He was like Peter sinking into the lake after having walked on the water, because he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the terrible storm going on around him. Both Peter and the ancient psalmist sank for the same reasons. The same can happen to us if we are not careful.
But once the psalmist refocused his mind on God and his unchanging nature, then everything came into proper focus again. He understood that he had been looking at the temporary success of the worldly instead of at their final destination. But once he turned that around, “then I understood their final destiny.”
Our existence is an existence of ultimates, not relatives; that is, all of our existence is one of supreme, ultimate issues and matters, not just matters of this temporary world. This world is only a testing ground for proving our worthiness of our ultimate destiny, whether that be heaven or hell. It is a means to an end, not the end itself.
It is worth taking a closer look at the conclusion the psalmist made:
“Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.”
Right now, this world is full of evil and wickedness and violence. Obviously, God has not yet judged this world fully for this wickedness or else it would not still be here. But the day is coming when he will fully judge this world. But it will be a day of his choosing, not ours.
“When I please, I will punish them” (Hos. 10:10 NIV).
Until that day comes, the day of final judgment, we must live in a world where evil resides. We must not, however, give in to despair, for it is God’s will that we are alive in this moment in history. We are to be salt and light in the midst of a dark and evil world. He will sustain us. And should we suffer from the evil of this world, even to the point of losing our lives, then we still have lost nothing, for that means that our struggle is over and we enter into eternal peace with our Lord.
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Ph. 1:21-24 NIV).
“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11 NIV).
Even death cannot separate us from the reality of God and his love for us in Christ Jesus. Jesus is real, true life that conquers even the destroyer that is death. Life is stronger than death–but only for those who are in him who is true, eternal life. For all others, death leads to eternal death.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Rom. 8:37-39 NIV).
I have written this piece to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are entering times of extreme nature, when both man and nature will present their worst to this world. We must expect it and prepare for it by strengthening our relationship with Jesus. He is the only ark that will carry us through these perilous times. Therefore, do not be alarmed as the extremes of violence continue in both the realms of mankind and nature. As I have sought the Lord for guidance in my life in these dramatic and trying times, over and over again he told me not to fear, not to be afraid.
“Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zech. 2:3 NIV).
Those who are in the ark of Jesus Christ will be sheltered from the wrath of the Lord on his great Day. For some, that shelter will come through death, as they physically lose their lives for his sake but their souls are safe in the arms of their Good Shepherd, while others will be protected as the storm rages around them. Either way, their true life is protected, for they have already died to this world and look to a new world where righteousness reigns.
“But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Ptr. 3:13,14 NIV).
This is our aim in this world’s final hours: to continue to grow in holiness in the Lord, all the while seeking the lost sheep of this world to come with us to meet Jesus as the final day approaches. May God grant us the grace and love to fulfill this mission.