“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:13-14
In 1861, Horatius Bonar penned a hymn entitled, “Nothing that My Hands Can Do.” (It was recently redone by Sovereign Grace Music.) In verse 3, there is a little line which says, “My life is but a fleeting sigh / A tear within the sea.” Dr. Bonar understood, even over 150 years ago, something that many Western people fail to see.
We are all guilty. Every one of us. All of us are wrapped up in the here-and-now. And we read over passages like James 4:13-14, giving them little thought. But, the truth is, we have invested so much time into this life that we think very little of the next. We Americans – especially us Americans – whether or not we claim to be followers of Christ, have come to believe one of two very great lies.
The first is that we have been deceived into thinking that caring for our families, our bodies, and our churches is unnecessary. Society constantly assaults us with the lie that our greatest end is to take all we can, doing what is best for ME, and doing so without consideration for anyone else. It is true, you won’t hear an advertisement telling us not to do good, but we certainly do hear – on a daily basis – things like “live for the moment” and “follow your heart.” The only problem with these voices is that “living for the moment” totally ignores the truth that eternity is forever, and that we “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Living for the moment, if fulfilling our own appetites, disregards an unending eternity. Following our heart doesn’t work either, because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9), and will always lead us away from the things of God. So, those who have believed this lie take little care to train their children in the things of God. They eat and work to satisfy their fleshly cravings. The poor and needy are cared for, only when it is convenient. Those who believe this lie are living for the moment. And this moment is about one person: me.
The second lie is much like the first, but manifests itself differently. The second lie tells us to really care for our bodies, protect our possessions, and give our children the best. This lie tells us that our greatest end is to invest in the here-and-now by doing whatever it takes to stay healthy and stay happy. So, those who believe this lie work to preserve their bodies. They eat healthy and exercise constantly, then love what they see. They, too, are living for the moment. They ensure that their kids have the best of everything, and that their homes and valuables are insured to cover loss. But you see, those who believe this second lie are also “living for the moment.” They say, “let us do this to improve our lives,” all the while forgetting that their life is but a mist – our days are numbered, and one day, this will all end.
Now then, where does this bring us? Well, we should now ask ourselves, “Have I come to believe either of these lies?” And if we are honest with ourselves, we will likely admit to the affirmative. So, what do we do? Let me help us get some better perspective.
Friends, eternity is forever. This life we live is just a moment in the grand scheme of time. And everything we do in this life is shaping what our eternity will look like. Paul says it like this:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Without fully expositing this text, here’s what I believe the apostle is saying. He is saying that the way we live our lives now is preparing a life for us in eternity. We must first begin with the foundation, who is Jesus Christ. If we do not start there, we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus Himself said that no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). We must all come to the place where we see that our sin is repulsive before a holy and righteous God, and then see that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to the earth to satisfy God’s anger toward our sin by perishing on a cross. Jesus said that whoever believes in Him will gain eternal life (John 3:16; 17:3). Without the forgiveness of sins, we will perish in eternal damnation apart from God. If however, we have trusted in Jesus to forgive us our sins, He will cleanse us and give us life anew (1 John 1:9; John 10:10). This is fundamentally what it means to be a Christian.
And yet, we cannot simply claim a faith in Christ if we will not follow Him. Ephesians 2 talks about how those of us who are saved were granted salvation from sin’s punishment through the grace of God (verse 8), but it goes on to say that we were created in Christ for “good works…that we should walk in them” (verse 10)! This means that when God chose to save us, His intentions in saving us were that we might live lives that are pleasing to Him. He intended that we work to help others receive the gift of salvation (by giving them the good news of the Gospel), and that we live in such a way that eternity is always before our eyes.
If, however, we have fallen into believing either of these two lies I’ve mentioned, we are building up our lives with “wood, hay, and straw,” things that will be burned up before God on the Day of Judgment. We must stop living in such a way that if we lost what we have built, we would have no reason for living. We must stop living for the here-and-now, preparing our bodies and souls for this life only – this is a fool’s errand! And yet, there lies before us a greater reward, far beyond the temporary satisfaction we gain in this life, if we will but start preparing our bodies and souls for the life to come.
How do we do this? Well, firstly, it is imperative that we trust in Jesus. Without His forgiveness, everything we do in this life is worthless before God to save us. Religion cannot save us. Works cannot save us. Only His unearned grace is powerful enough to forgive the blackness of our souls. So, ask yourself, “Have I been washed clean by the blood of Christ? Have I been forgiven? Do I have true, deep-seated joy?” These are all the result of trusting in Christ alone for salvation.
Secondly, once we have been given new spiritual life, we are motivated by the love of God to live differently. This means committing daily to teaching our children the things of God. This is building on our foundation with gold, whether or not we presently see results. We parents will all stand before God some day, giving account of the way we managed the divine stewardship of parenthood. Let us care for our bodies, but only in a way that our minds and spirits are made alert to “redeem the time” we’ve been given (Ephesians 5:16). We are building with gold when we see that our bodies have been given us to serve Christ – not our fleshly desires. Let us consider, not only our own interests, but also the needs of others (Philippians 2:4). As we do, we are preparing for ourselves eternal reward!
Our lives are but a mist – a fleeting sigh. Let us be careful how we make use of this short time.