And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. – 1 John 2:28
This coming Sunday I will challenge you from the text above to live life with the expectation that Jesus is returning, and I will ask you what, if anything, needs to change in your life so that you live under that expectation. One natural question might be, "Do we prepare ourselves for Christ's return by cleaning up our act and doing good works?" The answer, I believe, is "yes and no." How's that for being definitive?
Now, let me approach the answers in reverse order. The answer is "no" if we hope that by cleaning up our act and doing good deeds we will somehow make Jesus love us more and earn his favor so he will take us up to heaven with him. We are not called to live under condemnation and believe that, by our own merit or willpower, we can appease a God who is put off by our sin. That is not the message of the gospel. We are not in a race against time to prove our holiness by our good works, and the goal is not to amass more good works than bad works. We are not going to be weighed on a scale against ourselves (good stuff on one side, bad stuff on another), or against anyone else. You can count on this—we all fail that test miserably. The life and holiness of Jesus is the counterbalance to our lives.
However, the answer is "yes" if by that we mean, as followers of Jesus Christ, we now have a heartfelt desire to live out our faith by becoming more like Christ, who lived his life in obedience to the Father and did acts that benefited others and caused them to seek the Lord. Our desire, if it is anything like Jonathan Edward's resolution #7 ("not to do anything that I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life"), should stem not from a fear that Jesus will leave us behind because we did something bad just before he arrived on the scene, but because we have no desire to disappoint the Savior who died for us with behaviors that do not honor him. Our desire not to sin should spring from a deep love for a Savior who died for those very sins, not because we fear that he will get mad and leave us behind. Nothing short of a righteousness like that of Jesus will see us into glory, which is precisely why God imputes (gives to us freely) the righteousness of Jesus when we genuinely place our trust in him (Rom. 8:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
The best way to start living as if Jesus were going to return is to give our lives to him – totally and without reservation. If you have done that, friends, you are one of the wise virgins from Jesus' parable in Matthew 25, and you will have no need to shrink back in shame at his coming. Now, for those of us who are wise, our goal should be to prepare for his return by continually living for him out of deep gratitude and love and a desire to demonstrate the life of Christ through our own lives, leading others to see Jesus in us. In doing so, we prove to be “watchful” and “awake” as Jesus called us to be during his Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13).
"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13). Here is Christian liberty and Christian duty in a single sentence. Live this way, and you live under the expectation of Christ's return.
Grace and peace,