The last number of years have left me with an unsettled feeling. Feelings, I know, do not always accurately reflect reality. That said, allow me to share something of my feelings. I’ll frame them as questions in an effort to make them clear. The questions might initially seem unrelated but here goes: are we (by “we” I mean Reformed Christians) awake to what is going on in the world? Do we reckon sufficiently with the reality that the devil (and thus also the world) hates the church? Are we alert to the reality that the devil, through the culture, is attacking truth in increasingly fierce and innovative ways, particularly over the past few decades? Are some of us living in ignorance of these realities, or is it possible that some prefer ignorance since ignorance is at least a plausible excuse for not responding appropriately? Have the incredible blessings we’ve received as second, third, and fourth generation immigrants given us an ill-founded sense of security that dulls us to the possibility that we are under attack as church?
You see, napping has been easy for the longest time. As Reformed churches we’ve consistently confessed the antithesis even if we don’t use the word that often anymore. We’ve regularly read passages in Scripture such as John 15:18-19 even if we didn’t experience that hatred directly. We nod our heads at Paul when he tells us to be “patient in tribulation” (Rom 12:12). But the fact is, napping has been all too easy. We built our churches, we constructed our schools, we purchased and renovated homes for our special needs brothers and sisters. Personally, and as families, we’ve laid the bricks of our own houses, we’ve conceived of and started successful businesses, we’ve booked and been on vacations, our garages and homes are filled with possessions sufficient to make us blush on occasion. All of it is evidence of God’s blessings, blessings beyond measure.
But material blessings, like the warm sun when you are lounging by the lake, tend to put you to sleep. Things are changing, and have been for a while. And while we’ve always sought to honour the command to be alert and awake (1 Thess 5:6-8), napping has been easy. Too easy.
In the feedback for one of my sermon proposals at seminary, I was warned not to ascribe too much power to the devil. It was a warranted criticism. However, we need to be careful not to throw the devil out with the criticism. Scripture makes clear that he is quite the adversary: Not to be taken lightly. That Jesus calls him the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) helps us understand the hatred of the world for the church. The world’s hatred for the church is the devil’s hatred of the head of the church. It’s a hatred born out of the reality of certain defeat as foretold already in Genesis 3:15. And note well, hatred isn’t too strong of a word. It’s the word that Jesus uses in the passage already mentioned, John 15:18-19. One could give a multi-page treatise on the Greek word for “hate” and its use in Scripture, but it means exactly what you think it means and then some. If you need to see what that hatred looks like allow Genesis 4 to paint in your mind the scene of a “very angry” (v.5) Cain standing over the bloody and dead body of his brother Abel (v.8).
Both the emotion and the resulting action of that Genesis 4 scene is precisely what the devil and the world feel and want for the church and her members. This explains Paul’s graphic depiction of this war. The scheming devil (Eph 6:11) wants every Christian to make his or her faith submit to the cultural dictates of our day. He wants every church to either capitulate or be bulldozed into oblivion. He wants every Christian institution (think: our schools, special needs homes, and the like) to proudly fly the acceptable cultural banners of the day. Going “woke” isn’t a choice, it’s a demand that won’t accept “no” as an answer. Listen to Paul’s words, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (v.12).
We know that Jesus taught that the world hates us. We are aware of Paul’s inspired description of this battle. We also are informed from the Gospels, particularly Matthew’s about what characterizes the “last days”. We shouldn’t claim to be surprised by all that is going on. And nor is there really any excuse for ignorance.
But, you might be wondering, why is it particularly Christians whom the devil and the world hates? Why is it particularly the faithful Christian church that hell targets? That’s because the Christian church and her members know the truth. The light is the only thing that exposes the lie for what it is (John 3:19-20). To put it more practically, the only thing standing between the supposedly utopian vision of a completely God-less world, and the realization of that vision, is the faithful church and her faithful members.
It’s true, at different times of history we experience the intensity of the battle differently. But there is never not a battle. And right now, in our cultural moment, the battle is pretty intense. A simple but incomplete list of words and phrases will illustrate the point: abortion; euthanasia; sexual revolution; LGBTQ+; transgenderism; drag queen story hour; transhumanism; climate change; eugenics; BLM. And another, also incomplete list, this one of organizations, will further illustrate the point: World Economic Forum; United Nations; World Health Organization; Rockefeller Foundation; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Nothing on either list is neutral. Nothing on either list is simply a passing fad. No, each is part of, or promotor of, an ideological position that is antithetical to the Word of God. Each is part of, or promotor of, an ideological position that, although seeking to do a sort-of worldly good, is in fact a tightly woven fish net designed by the evil one to catch every possible human being and dump them you-know-where.
Hence the repeated New Testament exhortation to be awake and alert. Napping just isn’t an option, not now, not ever! That’s why after describing the nature of the spiritual battle we are in and the armour of God that equips us to stand firm, Paul writes, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance…” (Eph 6:18). When describing the times preceding his return, Jesus tells us to always be ready to receive him (Matt 24:44). And being ready involves staying awake (v. 42-43).
Understand well, being awake and sober is a defining characteristic of a true believer. It’s an identifiable difference between “children of light” (1 Thess 5:5) and the “others” who “sleep” (v.6). By definition Christians are not nappers. And let’s not forget that even covenant members can be found napping with devastating consequences. You’ll recall Jesus’s parable about the ten virgins in Matthew 25.
All of this leads to the all-important question, what does it look like to not nap? We need to begin by being determined to test everything we hear and see going on in our world against the one and only standard of truth – God’s Word. It simply isn’t an option anymore to accept at face value what the news media, our governments, or some global organization tells us.
Without seeing a spiritual monster around every corner, we do need to remember that everything is ideologically driven and that nothing is neutral (1 John 4:1-3). In that we’ll be greatly helped by reaffirming the doctrine of total depravity. No, that doesn’t mean that every human being who is in that category of “others” (1 Thess 5:6) is as evil as they possibly can be. Praise God for that! But it does mean that real people will do very evil things and real organizations will have very evil plans. They may even believe themselves to be noble in the doing of the evil. Remember that Jesus said this: “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2).
Here’s a good rule-of-thumb to help determine if something being pushed by our cultural elites and their media allies warrants closer scrutiny: if it’s wildly popular and the topic of constant conversation among the nappers, then as non-nappers we probably should subject that issue to the truth-test of God’s Word. To say it differently and more simply: if something is popular with the godless, then the godly need to be on alert.
But in order to be able to conduct that truth-test, we need to do more than read tweets and share the latest memes. We urgently need to carve time out of our busy schedules to be in God’s Word as well as read good books which help us understand our cultural moment and how we as non-nappers are called to respond. We need to be avid students of history since those well-versed in history, understood through the lens of God’s Word, frequently have greater clarity about the present. And if the I-am-not-a-reader excuse just escaped your lips, then purchase the audio version and find podcasts hosted by fellow non-nappers.
And then, engage! One very simple and practical thing most of us can do is join something like ARPA Canada’s email list. Make use of their easy-mail system. Be informed. Stay alert. Engage.
And finally, don’t be discouraged. Prayerfully engage, because the victory is won.
There’s a lot at stake. So many Christians have succumbed. So many churches and church-run organizations have capitulated. The cultural banners of the day are flying in places you’d never have thought possible.
But, by grace and in prayer we are called to stand firm. It’s a call that comes from Him who has already secured the victory. He said this: “In the world you will have tribulation.” But then he immediately added this: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
And Jesus could say that because he has nailed that victory in place. Paul says it this way: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col 2:15). Hell has it in for the church. But the Christ who triumphed promised “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
Now is not the time to nap but to be awake and engage with confidence.
This article was published in Clarion, a Canadian Reformed Magazine, (September 1, 2023, Vol. 72 No 11) and is republished here with the kind permission of the author, Rev. Rodney Vermeulen.