A young friend of mine was awarded a cross country scholarship at a major university. I was very proud of him!
Nevertheless, I took the opportunity to chide him, “I’m a better runner than you. Maybe they should give me the scholarship.”
“Huh?” came the puzzled reply.
“Well,” I reminded him, “last time we competed in a 10K, I beat you by more than a minute. In fact, you’ve never beaten me. Clearly, I’m a better runner than you!”
“Oh yeah,” he replied with a smile.
You see, years ago, when I was at the top of my fitness, we entered the same 10K race. I beat him. Frankly, he would have beaten me then, too, except that he suffered stomach cramps about halfway through.
Finally he shot back, “Well, that was then, this is now!”
Never have truer words been spoken. Because if I had to race him right now, he would beat me terribly. He would cross the finish line and have plenty of time to eat a snack, take a shower, comb his hair, and dress up for the awards ceremony before I would even get in sight of the finish line. Sure, just one time, years ago, I squeaked by him. But that was then, this is now. He is now slimmer, stronger, and dedicated. I am fatter, older, and unmotivated. What a ridiculous thing for me to say, “I’m a better runner than you,” based on something that happened years ago.
God gave the prophet Ezekiel a similar message to declare to the people regarding their spiritual fitness. He said,
The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he commits sin.
When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die.
But when I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and practices justice and righteousness; if a wicked man restores a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins that he committed will be remembered against him. He has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely live (Ezekiel 33:11-16).
Can’t we also grasp the ridiculousness of basing our relationship with God on a one-time event that happened years, or even decades ago?
We think back fondly to our conversion, when we, in an outburst of sincere faith confessed our loyalty to Jesus and pledged our lives to His service—but haven’t lifted a finger since then.
We think back to a moment of great sacrifice when we, as a young family, made a difficult decision to put God first in our careers and finances—but have been spiritually coasting since then.
We think back to the many years we taught kids’ Bible classes, or preached sermons, or led prayers—but recently we’ve been more of a pewsitter than a contributor to the work.
We think back to the decades spent scrupulously avoiding sin—and we decide that we have earned a little latitude to have a mid-life crisis of indulgence.
That was then, this is now! What was done in the past is done. While “God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name” (Heb. 6:10) He demands that we never rest on our laurels, but instead “show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end” (6:11).
The time frame we are given to work with is not the past, but the present. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). Ezekiel reveals the amazing grace of God, that He will ignore the sins and failures of the past. But he also reveals that it works the other way, too. Our eternal destiny is not based on the Christian we once were, but the Christian we are today. This is now. Let’s get busy! —John Guzzetta