Plenty of folks are quite careful how they live. They will spend lots of time in exercise, or carefully monitor what they eat, or take real care in the way they dress or look. But the sort of care I am talking about here is often not on the radar – even on the radar of Christians.
I refer to our spiritual and moral condition, and the need to take great care in how both are doing. Yet sadly many believers seem to spend little if any time in carefully assessing and regulating their spiritual and moral life. Yet that is just what we are commanded to do in Scripture.
With my daily reading now taking me through Ephesians again, one passage did grab my attention in this regard. I refer to Eph 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
While the Christian life from beginning to end is the work of God and a matter of his grace, we of course are in a cooperative venture with him. We must do our part while he does his. In terms of getting saved it is all of God. But in terms of walking the Christian walk we must cooperate with him to make it happen.
Thus there are many hundreds of commands in the New Testament urging us to do this or that. And here we are clearly told to be careful, to be on guard, and to be making good use of our time. As Jerry Bridges says in his important volume, The Discipline of Grace:
“The Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us more and more into the likeness of Christ is called sanctification. Our involvement and cooperation with Him in His work is what I call the pursuit of holiness. That expression is taken from Hebrews 12:14: ‘Strive for [literally pursue]… the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’.”
And again, “The pursuit of holiness requires sustained and vigorous effort. It allows for no indolence, no lethargy, no halfhearted commitment, and no laissez faire attitude toward even the smallest sins. In short, it demands the highest priority in the life of a Christian, because to be holy is to be like Christ — God’s goal for every Christian.”
So there is real effort on our part as we agree to work together with God to make the Christian life happen. Getting back to the Ephesians verse, this care and diligence is vital for the Christian walk. As Clinton Arnold says this: “Paul is urging his readers to give careful attention to their conduct so that they are not lulled into a moral complacency defined by the surrounding culture.”
Peter O’Brien puts it this way: “The adverb rendered ‘carefully’ signifies something done accurately, precisely, or after close attention has been given. Together with the imperative ‘watch’, it indicates that this admonition regarding godly behaviour is both important and urgent.”
Or as Bryan Chapell reminds us, “The children of light have awakened to the danger of the darkness and live accordingly. They do not pretend that there are no real dangers in their world or in their patterns of behavior. They are constant in giving rigorous, wise examination to their mind, heart, and behaviour, knowing that the darkness can always encroach upon their lives. They live carefully for the sake of the light shining on them.”
There are always very real dangers out there, and we must at all time be on our guard, and carefully attend to godliness and holiness. It does not come automatically. It must be worked at diligently. Indeed, anything that is of value must be diligently attended to. That is just how life is.
John Stott puts it this way: “Everything worth doing requires care. We all take trouble over the things which seem to us to matter – our job, our education, our home and family, our hobbies, our dress and appearance. So as Christians we must take trouble over our Christian life. We must treat it as the serious thing it is.”
Yes quite so. Yet how many believers take their spiritual walk as importantly as they take other aspects of their lives? How many put in as much effort into making sure they are walking close to God as they do in other areas? We all know of those who will rise early to put some hours in at the gym to make sure their bodies are in good shape.
There is nothing wrong with that as long as we give as much care and attention to the health of our spiritual bodies. As Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For bodily exercise profits little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
The point is, what do we put all our care and concern into? What are our priorities? What do we value most in life? Paul has urged us to put great care and attention into our Christian life, and to make sure that we live wisely and responsibly in these evil days.
Are we doing that? Are we even aware that we should be doing that? As Jerry Bridges wrote in The Practice of Godliness: “Godliness is no optional spiritual luxury for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of super-saints of today. It is both the privilege and duty of every Christian to pursue godliness, to train himself to be godly, to study diligently the practice of godliness.”
So how is your training coming along?