By Jeannette Haley
“…when I have a convenient season,
I will call for thee.” – Acts 24:25b
When I was a kid, I didn’t get to eat dessert until after I ate everything on my plate, even if that meant choking down certain cooked vegetables I couldn’t stomach. In case you’re wondering just what those were, I’ll tell you: mashed parsnips, eggplant and cauliflower. My mother was an excellent cook, but no matter how she prepared those three vegetables, I hated them. To be honest with you, I can’t remember the last time I ate any one of them, but no guilt there because according to the blood types experts they aren’t “compatible” with my blood type anyway!
There were other “after’s” in my childhood that remain as standards to this day along with certain habits that involve “after.” For example, “After you do your chores, you can go out and play,” or “After you help with the dishes, you can watch TV” (that was back in the day of good Westerns), and years later, “After your homework is done, then you can go do (whatever). Even to this day I use the word “after” as part of my daily “self-discipline” routine. Self-imposed incentives are part of my personal self-discipline that help me to keep moving forward whether I feel like it or not. It’s sort of like being my own “parent” in a way, keeping me motivated to keep on keeping on to get things done before I can relax with a book or favorite history program on TV.
The problem is, however, if a person has too many “after’s” chiseled in stone so to speak, he or she may never have the time to tackle the really important issues of life, because the “after incentives,” even though they may keep some of us moving through life’s daily mundane routine, can easily become an excuse to slide into procrastination when unexpected challenges or changes occur. This can be especially true when the Holy Spirit suddenly breaks through and God calls you to stop what you are doing, and step aside to follow Him whether it be for intercession, ministry to one of His sheep, or for any other purpose. When Jesus passes by, He will not stop and wait for you until “after” you finish whatever you’re doing.
This is one of the issues that Jesus dealt with in His earthly ministry. In fact, we can read about this type of procrastination way back in Genesis 19:16 when Lot, who knew that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, “drug his feet” as we would say. “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.”
Why was Lot lingering when he knew destruction from the Lord was about to fall? Maybe he was trying to grasp the fact that life as he knew it was about to change and he wasn’t prepared to suddenly drop his daily routine until after he had more time to get ready. Perhaps he was numbed by the thought that people he cared about were going to be consumed, or maybe he was lingering in his house trying to figure out what to pack up and take with him. Maybe he assumed that after he left in his own good time that then the Lord would unleash His judgment. We don’t know what was going on in Lot’s heart, but we do know that the Lord was most merciful to him, and we do know that his wife disobeyed the Lord and lost her life. We also know that Lot’s lack of character resulted in the creation of two people groups who became enemies of Israel.
When the Lord interrupts us in the midst of our activities and plans, calling us to come apart and to follow Him, there is a very real tendency for us humans to nobly use the “after” excuse such as the man did in Matthew 8:21, which says, “And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” What we need to understand from this Scripture is that this man wanted to put off following Jesus until after his father died someday. This response to Jesus’ call reveals his heart condition in that, first of all, he was totally unprepared for the cost, claim and call of God upon his life, and secondly, his priorities were not in order. His earthly affections and attachments surfaced, along with his attitude when he was given the opportunity to fully commit his life to the Lord. In Luke 9:60b, Jesus also said to him, “go thou and preach the kingdom of God.”
Here was a man, a follower of Jesus, who was given the commission to go and preach the kingdom of God, but whose quick response revealed that he had no real love or commitment to Him. No doubt Jesus knew that this man was not a sheep, but a goat whose future plans were more important to him than Jesus Himself. It wasn’t so much that this man was putting off a ministry until after his father died, but it was his apparent rejection of Jesus and who He was, and His claim upon his life, that exposed him for what he was. When Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their dead” He was speaking of the spiritually dead. Wouldn’t that send a chill down your spine if you were that man and Jesus looked at you and said that? I believe He was telling him that he was spiritually dead! The lame excuse this man gave to Jesus revealed that he was only an associate of Christ and not a born-again believer.
As with all of us, this man had a choice. He could choose to remain spiritually dead and stay where he was until his father died, thinking to himself that after he was buried, then he would go preach the kingdom of God; or, he could choose to change his plans, obey Jesus and follow Him. This is typical of so many today whom Jesus calls to follow Him into a life of obedience to His commandments, but they have their activities, goals, agendas and “felt needs” to take care of first, and then maybe after that, they’ll tack Him on to what’s left of their life and follow Him. Besides, they have a head knowledge of Jesus, they know the Christmas story, and they know He died for the world. However, the Bible says, “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.) Notice that there is no room for “after”. God doesn’t let us off the hook by patting us on the head and saying, “I understand. You have a lot to do, and you are a good little fellow (or gal) who is committed with earthly interests, commitments and burdens up to your eyeballs, so I’ll just sit here and wait until after you decide you have time to follow.” NO! NO! NO! God says, “For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” 2 Corinthians 6:2.
We have heard a lot of “after” excuses for not “getting real” with God—excuses that put off being a true follower of Jesus until some future time. Some examples are, “I’ll follow the Lord after I get a good education; I can’t leave my family right now; after I make more money (or save more money); after my kids grow up, get married, and they have kids; after I have more time to think about it; after my spouse gets saved, or I’m waiting for my spouse to take the lead; I want to live my life the way I please first; after I get married, then I’ll serve Christ; I want to enjoy life and wait until after retirement; after I finish being involved in my church’s plans”, and so forth. Excuses from professing believers for not making Him LORD of all NOW are as varied as people are, but the bottom line is, God knows every excuse a person can come up with, including lack of love for Him, and lack of faith in Him. The saddest excuse we ever heard was, “He (Jesus) just isn’t worth it.”
In Luke 9:61 we read of another who also said, “Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.” So now we see a person whose excuse for not following Christ isn’t based so much on what he or she is looking to that involves future plans, but what is being left behind. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” Luke 9:62. That kind of reminds me of Lot’s wife! In fact, the whole nation of Israel after they were delivered through the Red Sea looked back to Egypt with longing and said, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick” Numbers 11:5. Manna just wasn’t their favorite taste profile, and compared to the flavorful foods of Egypt (a type of the world) Manna (which represented Christ, the bread from heaven) was less than desirable. So, it is with the flesh. When we give in to our flesh and the lust thereof, we will always choose the world over Jesus. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” Matthew 6:24
This brings to mind the little jingle: “Where He calls me, I will follow. What He feeds me, I will swallow.” Obviously, the Israelites hadn’t thought about that when they followed Moses out of Egypt, but after a steady diet of manna their patience grew thin and their lust surfaced. Memories of the misery they had suffered as slaves under the oppression of Pharaoh faded into the background as memories of Egypt’s cuisine stirred up fleshly appetites. Oh, how very human we all are in our fallen condition! Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, and now the nation of Israel was tempted to sell their inheritance of the Promised Land for Egypt’s delicacies. No wonder Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Today there is a gospel being preached that requires no commitment, no separation, no cost, and no self-sacrifice, and the result is generations of undiscipled people who are not “fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus made the conditions of discipleship clear when He “said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” Luke 9:23, 24.
Concerning taking up the cross, A.W. Tozer wrote, “So the cross not only brings Christ’s life to an end, it ends also the first life, the old life, of every one of His true followers. It destroys the old pattern, the Adam pattern, in the believer’s life, and brings it to an end. Then the God who raised Christ from the dead raises the believer and a new life begins.
“This, and nothing less, is true Christianity, though we cannot but recognize the sharp divergence of this conception from that held by the rank and file of evangelicals today. But we dare not qualify our position. The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgment. A shallow and worldly leadership would modify the cross to please the entertainment-mad saintlings who will have their fun even within the very sanctuary; but to do so is to court spiritual disaster and risk the anger of the Lamb turned Lion.
“We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do–flee it or die upon it. And if we should be so foolhardy as to flee we shall by that act put away the faith of our fathers and make of Christianity something other than it is. Then we shall have left only the empty language of salvation; the power will depart with our departure from the true cross.
“If we are wise we will do what Jesus did: endure the cross and despise its shame for the joy that is set before us. To do this is to submit the whole pattern of our lives to be destroyed and built again in the power of an endless life. And we shall find that it is more than poetry, more than sweet hymnody and elevated feeling. The cross will cut into where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. It will defeat us and bring our selfish lives to an end. Only then can we rise in fullness of life to establish a pattern of living wholly new and free and full of good works.
“The changed attitude toward the cross that we see in modern orthodoxy proves not that God has changed, nor that Christ has eased up on His demand that we carry the cross; it means rather that current Christianity has moved away from the standards of the New Testament. So far have we moved indeed that it may take nothing short of a new reformation to restore the cross to its right place in the theology and life of the Church.”
It’s hard for people, both Christians and non-Christians, in our modern day and age who have been fed a steady diet of sugar-coated, “positive,” motivational platitudes, psychobabble, New Age metaphysical beliefs, and so-called “scientific” nonsense packaged as facts, to truly hunger and thirst for God’s Word as their absolute source of Truth. A friend said to me recently, as I sat shaking my head at how few people desire and believe the Truth these days, “There are no absolutes anymore!” That nudged me into remembering that “relativism”, although actually centuries old, had successfully elbowed its way into the forefront of godless education and other worldly systems several decades ago. Officially defined, relativism is ‘the theory of knowledge or ethics which holds that criteria of judgment are relative, varying with the individual, time, and circumstance.’ As a worldview, relativism has impacted the range of human experience—morality, culture, religion, philosophy, science and the very notion of existence itself.” (John Dickson). Simply put, it’s the same old lie of Satan, “Yea, hath God said,” repackaged as pseudo-sophisticated intellectualism garbage.
These quotes concerning relativism from The Berean Call sum it up well: “Countless “Christians” today believe…“because it works” (pragmatism), because they “feel it is true in their experience” (subjectivism), because they sincerely believe it is true “for them” (relativism), and so on….The Christian faith is not true because it works; it works because it is true. It is not true because we experience it; we experience it—deeply and gloriously—because it is true. Os Guinness, Time for Truth, 58 When the Christian life becomes a lifestyle and no longer a relationship with a Person—rather than growing in the grace and knowledge of the Savior, we will develop in the art of refining, polishing, and perfecting the flesh. Then we can have the programs and activities, methods and formulas, strategies and procedures, systems and theologies, political involvement and community service…religious causes…“how-to” seminars and self-help books…and even outstanding character qualities—all without Christ as our sufficiency! Our flesh is very creative and knows how to make itself appear and act spiritual. But it is still the flesh, and it is rotten to the core! Jerry Benjamin, Simply Singular: Is Christ Prominent or Preeminent?, 22-23”
Truth is still truth, and since God’s Word is truth, and Jesus is the Word made flesh, and He is the truth, then what are some of the real reasons why people, who profess to be saved, refuse to obey Him, deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow Him? One of the reasons is love for self, and a lack of love for Jesus. He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” John 14:15. If we truly love someone, we will be willing to “lay down our life” for that person. (See John 15:13.) Another reason is faith in self, faith in faith, and faith in the world’s systems while lacking faith in God and His Word. Titus 1:16 says “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” Ephesians 2:8. Another reason behind endless excuses is love for the world and pride. 1 John 2:15, 16 says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
The bottom line to what distinguishes a professing believer from a true believer is whether or not he or she has truly been born again, which can never take place without true repentance and forgiveness of sin. Oswald Chambers put it so well when he wrote, (“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” 2 Corinthians 7:10a) “Conviction of sin is best described in the words: My sins, my sins, my Savior, how sad on Thee they fall. Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person. It is the beginning of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (see John 16:8). And when the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not that person’s relationship with others that bothers him but his relationship with God— “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4). The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.
“The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable “goodness.” Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant.”
In the Book of Acts we read of how the Apostle Paul powerfully “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” Acts 24:25. Salvation through Christ wasn’t “convenient” for Felix, who had his excuses, as did King Agrippa when he said to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” Acts 26:28. Two men under great conviction, but both putting off the day of salvation to their own destruction. What a tragedy! Yet today the tragedy is that there are thousands of souls who truly believe that they are saved, yet they have no personal testimony of ever coming to a place of brokenness over their sins and of having repented; there are no changes in their life, no separation from the world, identification with Christ, no fruit of the Spirit, no love for God’s Word, no desire to serve Him, and no concern for the lost or interest in the salvation of souls. They are lacking in sacrificial good works, uninterested in learning of Jesus for the purpose of personally knowing Him and having a personal relationship with Him, growing in the faith, maturing in Christ, including working out their own salvation “with fear and trembling.”
- W. Pink wrote, “The writer has met many people who profess to be Christians, but whose daily lives differ in nothing from thousands of non-professors all around them. They are rarely, if ever, found at the prayer-meeting, they have no Family Worship, they seldom read the Scriptures, they will not talk with you about the things of God, their walk is thoroughly worldly; and yet they are quite sure they are bound for heaven! Inquire into the ground of their confidence, and they will tell you that so many years ago they accepted Christ as their Savior, and “once saved always saved” is now their comfort. There are thousands of such people on earth today, who are nevertheless, on the Broad Road, that leadeth to destruction, treading it with a false peace in their hearts and a vain profession on their lips.”
Are you prepared this day to meet the Lord, or are you putting Him off until “after” you linger a while longer where you are?