Idle, Reverse, or Drive?

For those of you who are old enough to know what a manual transmission is, and especially if you know how to operate a car with one, then the illustration below [a shift knob with the extended 'H' pattern] isn’t a complete mystery. Even if you have operated a car with an automatic transmission [Remember PRNDL?], you know that there are gears for going forward, a gear for going in reverse, and Neutral, which means you are in no gear and will not be moving either direction

But you also are probably well aware that an automobile is not meant to simply sit idle, not going anywhere; that is why it has the gears to enable the automobile to move forward or in reverse to get where the operator desires. The operator uses the proper gears to move the car along at the appropriate speeds, transporting the individual safely down the road to the intended destination. I am sure I am not telling anyone anything new when I say this, but I do so to set up the illustration of the disciple’s life.

As Christians, we most certainly have an intended destination, and we won’t get there by sitting at home on the couch, binge-watching TV shows and stuffing our faces with junk food. If it is heaven we seek, then we must do what the Lord has said is necessary to arrive at our intended destination. In this case, no one can do the work of getting there for us; no one can get you to heaven without you wanting to go and doing what the Lord says you must do.

All along the way to our eternal destination, there will be choices we must each make that will either help us get to our intended destination, or will hinder us from getting there. With automobiles, a driver must get in the car, turn the key [or, nowadays, push the Start button], put it in the appropriate gear, and then put the foot on the accelerator while releasing the brake, and steering appropriately until the destination is reached; similarly, a disciple must, of course, be first “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1), but that is not the end! That would be like getting in the car and expecting you would arrive at your destination without doing anything further! No, God’s word tells us we must each make the choices and do the things that will enable us to reach our intended destination. As we will see, our choices will, again, either help us or hinder us as we seek eternal life in heaven.

Idle. With the automobile, idle is essentially the same as Neutral in that you are not engaged in any gear, and you probably are not going anywhere. There may be occasions, such as sitting at a stop light, where the gear is engaged, but your foot is on the brake, and you are not going anywhere; the result is the same, however, in that you are not making any progress toward your intended destination.

As disciples, this is not a good place to be, as a rule. Seldom do we read about individuals being idle, and it being a positive reference. Never do we read positive words when a lack of progress of disciples is being addressed. For example, the writer of Hebrews admonished the Jewish Christians, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb. 5:12), and pointed to the real problem, saying, “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14); they had not done that! These disciples were in some sort of spiritual idle, and had not progressed in their spiritual maturity.

Similarly, the Corinthians were chastised by the apostle Paul when he noted, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). They, too, were in a sort of spiritual idle and had not matured as they should have; they had not made any progress, and it showed by how they treated one another!

Reverse. It should be obvious, but we will note it nevertheless, that disciples cannot be moving backwards, either, and expect to reach their intended destination. Jesus, in fact, said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62); He wasn’t talking about farming techniques, any more than we are primarily talking about how to drive a car! The point He made is that one cannot be looking back with regret at the world one leaves behind when coming to Christ, and be of any value to Him.

The matter of going backwards may be sometimes necessary for driving, but it never a good thing when we speak of one’s spiritual growth and direction. Peter, in fact, warns against going backwards when he wrote, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:20, 21); going back into the pollutions of the world will render us in a worse state than one who had never obeyed the gospel! Going in spiritual reverse is not a good thing!

Drive. Most of the time spent in an automobile when trying to get to another location is done in one of the forward gears; with automatic transmission cars, this is the Drive selection. Similarly, most of our lives as disciples will hopefully be moving forward, ever closer to our eternal destination and closer to becoming like our Lord; that is what He desires of us (cf. Eph. 4:11-15). The apostle Paul exemplified our intent when he wrote, I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14). Paul, in the spiritual sense, had his eyes on the eternal goal and was, as a result, moving forward — not in idle and certainly not in reverse.

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were thinking about going in reverse because they thought that if they simply went back to the Old Law, they would eliminate the persecutions they were suffering because of their faith in Christ, and they would still be ‘following God.” They were wrong! The writer admonished them, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1, 2). With their eyes looking forward, they could focus again on their intended destination and not allow the distractions around them to get them off course.

No battle is won by those sitting at home on the couch; no journey is ever completed that is never begun; and heaven will never be achieved by those who do nothing or who turn back to the world. Jesus has established the path to heaven and He is now there, having opened the way for us. Will you follow Him? Make your decision, but then you must begin the journey. Steven Harper