“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”
Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:12-17, 20, NKJV, italics mine).
Recently, a group of young adults in their mid-to-late thirties told me that they had stopped going to church. When I asked them why, they seemed anxious to tell me. “They’re all hypocrites,” they said. “They pretend to be so pious and holy, and all the time they’re no better than anyone else.”
Such verbal assaults always bother me, but I thought that I would ask a few questions. I asked them what they meant by the word “pretend.” Did they think that these Christians were faking their prayers or their songs of praise and worship? Did they think that they were arrogant and condescending? Why did these young church dropouts suppose that these Christians which they had observed should be better than anyone else?
We had a good conversation. In part, I could hardly disagree with their assessment. There is a difference between what most Christians say and what they do. They confess certain sins only to commit them again. They sing about the precious name of Jesus and then use that Name in vain or deny its significance. They celebrate a meal of love and then act in backbiting and demeaning ways towards one another. They greet one another as brothers and sisters and then run to the telephone to transmit vicious gossip and false information about their brothers and sisters.
These beautiful young people and I agreed at many points. At one significant point, however, we disagreed. They insisted that deception and indifference lay at the root of the inconsistencies they had experienced. I insisted that at the root of the inconsistencies lay anguish.
“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” so wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15. And such would be the honest confession of most Christians. “I delight in the law of God,” they say with Paul. In my inmost desire I delight in the law of God, but “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind” (Rom. 7:22-23). The inconsistencies are not intentional. They are the outcroppings of struggle. They are signs of the Christian warfare assumed by the writings of the New Testament. And they are occasions for anguish among those whose lives have been claimed by Jesus Christ.
Certainly, the author of Revelation knows that neither Christian people nor churches “have solved the problems of human crankiness and sin.” Indeed, the picture of Christians in this brief text is one of inconsistency. They are those who can honestly pray “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” And yet simultaneously they are those who need to be warned that only those “who wash their robes” will enter the Holy City. Those who pray for the arrival of the City of God are the very ones who stand in danger of practicing falsehood and of committing idolatry (which is probably the same thing).
Obviously, the recognition of an inconsistent life does not excuse it. Nor does an awareness of the critical warfare from which inconsistencies sprout. Such recognition does enable us, however, to mark the peculiar place where a Christian stands on matters of ethics.
Even though Christians are morally inconsistent, they are obligated to stand against the very sins that they commit. They are obligated to oppose those who commit such sins even though they are themselves guilty. Outsiders (or insiders) may call them inconsistent, and so they are. But they are not necessarily hypocritical. Against the “virtually universal defection of the race,” the Church is to declare that the world belongs to God. Despite its own failings, the Church is to declare that the only place for idolaters and haters of truth is outside the City of God.
Two facts of contemporary life urge that this moral obligation be taken seriously. One is the fact that sins seem harder to recognize today. Definitions have changed. Vices once abhorred now seem virtues eagerly sought. What use to be called “pride” is now described as “feeling good about oneself.” What was once called “greed” is now referred to as “motivation.” What use to be called “envy” is now camouflaged as “you deserve a break today.” But even if the definitions were righted and even if the sins beneath the masks uncovered, the response might be “Who cares?” Or “It doesn’t matter.” Or “Everyone does it.” But the moral indifference of an entire nation or planet does not alter the fact.
There is only one Alpha and Omega and that one says, “outside are the . . . idolaters . . . and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” It is that One from which the Church draws its “water of life.” And it is that One which the Church obeys.
The moral obligation of the Church is also urgent because of advanced secularism of our society. The response, “Who cares?” says it pretty well. It suggests that the speaker does not care. And it suggests that there is no one beyond the speaker whose judgment matters. In other words, there are no constraints. But the Church knows that there is only One Alpha and Omega. The One who cares. And so must the Church, which awaits His coming again. Even if the Church is inconsistent in doing, what it says.