Christian Hope: More than a Feeling

Hello, readers!

I know you haven’t heard from me in a while and for that, I apologize. My focus has been on completing the semester in seminary and transitioning to my relatively new ministry role as a youth pastor. This semester has been one of my more difficult seasons of life due to the many transitions I have experienced. For some time now I have been reading and meditating on Ephesians. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a student about Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix series) and we discussed the hope that Christian teenagers have contrasted with  Hannah Baker’s  perceived lack of hope. This post is the result of a conversation with one of my students and my own need to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus.

In 2016 Tenth Avenue North released the song, I have this hope”The song is based on Isaiah 43:1-3 wherein God reminded His people that He redeemed them and would not leave them. Jesus made a similar promise to his disciples and gave us the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-19)  Religion is not the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx claimed. All of us were created to worship and for relationships with God and others. Christian hope is based on the objectivity of Jesus’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul prayed that Ephesian Christians would “be enlightened and know the hope of His calling and the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:18)  Paul’s rich prayer and confident trust in God should challenge the way we pray today. I will focus specifically on Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian Christians would know the hope of Jesus’s call.

Defining Terms

Reflection upon Paul’s prayer demands that we must consider how the terms know, hope, and calling are used in this passage. I am providing you with the lexical definitions from the original language.

Know: To grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience. (BDAG, οἶδα) More research is needed to determine why Paul used this term rather than other options. Hope is one aspect of the new reality inaugurated by Christ. Contrary to the view that nothing can be known I posit that there are some things that can be known and true. (See F. Leroy Forlines in The Quest For Truth, 1-2. Forlines states, “The culture which denies that Truth exists or is accessible is in desperate need of truth.”) Paul wanted his readers to comprehend and experience the reality of Jesus’s resurrection so they might experience hope.

Hope: This term has been overused and has taken on a completely different meaning in the English language than it was used in Paul’s time. We often say things like, “I hope you have a great day” or “I hope you do well on your exam” or “I hope things will all work out”. When we use the term hope we are referring to a feeling or expectation that something will happen. Paul has a different usage in mind.

Hope refers to Christian expectation rooted in the Gospel and promise of the resurrection. (BDAG, ἐλπὶς) Weeks could be spent examining each passage in the Old and New Testaments to better understand the believer’s hope but that will be reserved for another time. Paul’s desire is that the Ephesian Christians and we will comprehend with our total persons the certainty and result of God’s calling.

Calling: In contemporary language, this term has also been misused. Generally, God calls or elects disciples to make disciples. God’s appears mysterious at times but it doesn’t have to be. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesian saints would know the hopeful implications of Jesus’s call.

BDAG defines call for verse 18 as “an invitation to an experience of special privilege and responsibility.” (BDAG,κλῆσις) What is the special privilege, you may be wondering? There are many special privileges reserved for those who have applied Jesus’s righteousness through faith, one being free access to the Father. Another privilege is that disciples are given the same authority Jesus had to effect God’s kingdom in the world.

Having defined the terms know, hope, and call we proceed to consider what makes Christian hope distinct from other forms of hope.

What makes Christian hope distinct?

Christian hope is grounded in the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the promise of future resurrection. Whereas earthly “hope” relies upon feelings, Christian hope depends upon objective truth. As Christians, we must remember the difference between joy and happiness. Our hope is not grounded in our feelings but in God’s sovereignty and character.

Suffering is depicted throughout the Biblical narrative but we sometimes forget that it is a normal part of life for the believer. When we suffer we are quick to blame God while ignoring the countless promises that suffering is a natural part of our lives as disciples. (Read 1 Peter in its entirety.) We forget that when “Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) When doubt feels bigger than faith we must remind ourselves of God’s promises revealed in His Word. Feelings let us down but objective truth grounded in Jesus and the Gospel never will.

Paul expressed that Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation for Christian hope. (1 Corinthians 15)  This makes our hope distinct. I am convinced there is more evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and risen than there is to support that he did not. If all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus we should look no further than the Gospel as a source of hope.

Now that I have defined key terms and briefly discussed elements that distinguish Christian hope, I will conclude with some ways we can overcome despair or hopelessness today.

Overcoming Hopelessness through the Gospel

I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged and forget the hope found in Jesus. Multiple situations challenge our hope including cancer, unsaved family members, addictions, or even church conflict. Our hope is found God’s word, the Bible. It is living and active and does not put us to shame. (Romans 8:24-25)  I too struggle to remember the hope of Jesus’s calling but I have found the following steps helpful in transforming hopelessness.

  1. Commit to daily prayer even you have been slacking. You are God’s child through faith in Jesus. Prayer changes us and further molds us into the image of Christ.
  2. Find a local church to invest in. We were not meant to be Christians alone. There are NO lone ranger Christians. We need each other. Joining a local body of believers enables us to give and receive grace.
  3. Be transparent with safe people in your life. Not all persons are safe people and we cannot share our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone. Even so, we all need accountability. Depression vanishes in the context of vulnerable and transparent people who give and receive grace regularly.
  4. Reject that the lie that you cannot be depressed and Christian at the same time. As Protestants, we do a poor job of meeting people where they are even if they are in the “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes we can pray the paint off the walls and do all the spiritual disciplines but still have despair. It’s okay to not be okay, brothers and sisters. Your problem may be spiritual but it could also be a mind problem. Thankfully God has given us tools such as Christian counseling to strengthen our total personhood.

I am praying that all of you will know the love of Jesus and will be reminded of the hope found in his Gospel. Thank you for reading!

 

 

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Let It Be Said of Us

There she stands in ragged clothes and pleads for money. People pass her by. People ridicule and mock her for living on the streets. Very few passers by asked her about her story. They simply walked away in scorn. But you see, everyone has a story.

She was a single mother and victim of domestic abuse. She only wanted enough money to feed her children and pay for a cheap hotel room. She just wanted to get by. She just wanted to make it through another day. After she became the victim of domestic violence she became homeless. She reached out to her church and asked for help and didn’t get any. She reached out to her family as well but they responded similarly to the church.

Her life was characterized by brokenness. She just needed some help. She needed Christ to set her free from the chains of abuse, prostitution, and fear. Her story is real and must not be ignored.

My room mate and I met her outside our local Wal-Mart. We were simply returning a Red Box when God put her in our path. My room mate obeyed the Holy Spirit and began engaging S. in conversation and ministry. God appointed this encounter for sure. She was at her wits end and we were able to be messengers of grace.

She still needs your prayer. She needs your support. She needs your love. Most of all, she needs to see Christ in you.

Helpless people are all around us. It can be easy for us to look on the least of these with scorn because of our perception of them. Let it not be said that Christians do not genuinely love others. Let it not be said of us that we ignore God’s leading to help others.

Helping others requires action, not merely words. She had been attending a mega church in the city since 2008. When she tried to get out of her domestic violence situation she became homeless. She asked the church for help but was given none. My heart breaks for a church whose congregants can’t meet with the pastor because he’s too booked up. My heart breaks for a church who fails to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Let it be said of us as believers that we love others just as Christ loved us. (Mark 10:45, John 3:17) Let it be said of us that Christ shines through us.  Steve Fry has articulated this well in his song, “Let it be said of us”.

Let it be said of us
We were marked by forgiveness
We were known by our love
And delighted in meekness
We were ruled by his peace
Heeding unity’s call
Joined as one body
That Christ would be seen by all

Fellow Christians, it is our duty to reflect Christ to a broken world. Let us come before His throne pleading for mercy. Brothers and sisters let your light shine so others will see Jesus and glorify the father.

Why is the Gospel Good News?

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In Christian circles we refer to the Gospel as Good News. This follows from our understanding of the Biblical Greek term εὐανγέλλιον which literally translated means “good news”. I would like us to consider some practical reasons why the Gospel is Good News to everyone, regardless of background, ethnicity, or geographic location. I will begin by providing a brief definition of Gospel.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is the story of redemption carried forth by Israel and culminated in the person and work of Jesus. This redemptive work is necessary because Adam and Eve chose evil over righteousness, a choice I believe was a real choice. (Genesis 3) As a consequence of this decision all humans were born with a sin nature. God immediately began redeeming his creation, as seen with the Messianic promise in Genesis 3:15. Fast forward through several years of Israel’s history and you will see God making covenants with humans with the goal of redemption in mind. Several covenants appear throughout the Old Testament but God’s covenant with Abraham takes an important place in history.(See Genesis 12-15, 18, and Paul’s epistle to Galatians, especially chapter 3.) Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant according to Hebrews 12:24. The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus Messiah has come to redeem Israel and the world as a result of his gracious covenant. The Good News hinges on the person and work of Jesus, namely the resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15)

Jesus does rescue us from judgement but the Gospel is much more beautiful than that. Good News is more than fire insurance or an escape ticket from hell. Good News is good because Israel’s long-awaited Messiah has come. There is no Messiah outside of God’s covenant with Israel. 

There are at least four reasons why the Gospel is Good News. (This list is not exhaustive. If you can think of other reasons, comment on my post.)

1.) It is a free gift of God.

Many passages refer to redemption as a gift but I find Romans 3:21-26 helpful.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,  to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26, NKJV (emphasis mine)

I sometimes struggle with grace, especially after I sin. God is not going to love some future state of you more than He loves you now. (Matt Chandler) Our justification finds basis on Jesus’ gracious work rather than from any meritorious work on our account. The Gospel is Good News because it is God’s free gift to you and me.

2.) It’s offer extends to all persons wherever they are.

John 4 is that wonderful story of the Samaritan woman who had a radical encounter with Jesus. We could highlight several Gospel elements of this story but I’ll point my attention to Jesus meeting her where she was. Jesus engaged in conversation and challenged the Samaritan woman to contemplate her relationship with God by emphasizing the relationship with her five previous husbands. We understand this encounter to have resulted in a lifestyle change based on the new belief of the community. John says that many believed as a result of this woman’s testimony but eventually accepted Jesus as Messiah through faith. (John 4:39-42) Jesus met the Samaritan woman in the midst of her sinfulness and brokenness. She didn’t have to clean up her life and come to Jesus. She came to Jesus and he cleaned up her life by washing her in the Word.

Wherever you are Christ is calling you to come to him. You don’t have to get your act together to come to him. He accepts you just as you are. This is Good News.

3.) It sets us free from our old master, namely sin.  

This thought inspired the entire post. In Systematic Theology we were discussing human sexuality and the transforming power of the Gospel. In American culture sexual orientation is receiving significant attention, given the rise of the so-called moral revolution. In class we examined 1 Corinthians 6 which highlights the particular problem of church discipline. An individual in the church was practicing sexual immorality and Paul urged the church to deal with this matter in grace and love in light of the transforming power of the Gospel. Sexual orientation is a matter of temptation rather than mere sexual preference. Culture excuses sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, on the basis of one’s orientation. This is really a fatalistic view of human nature. We are all oriented toward various sinful desires but the Gospel teaches us that we do not have to act on those temptations or orientations.

Let’s consider how Paul viewed one’s orientation and the Gospel’s transformative power.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV

We are all oriented toward sin rather than righteousness as a result of the Fall. We all have temptations but we do not nor should we act on every temptation we face. Only through the Good News of Jesus can we overcome these many temptations we face. We will struggle with sin until Christ returns. We are saved and being saved. 

4.)It’s transforming power extends to all people who have faith in Jesus. 

Gospel transformation is available to all who seek it. In the verses mentioned above, Paul reminded the Corinthians that they too were delivered from the ugliest sins. You can change your behavior but your heart can only be changed by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Gospel is more than mere moralism. It is Good News of deliverance to those enslaved to sin. When we become believers we are given the Holy Spirit who works to mold us into the image of Jesus the Son.

This reason moves me to celebrate God’s gracious work in Christ. Dr. Putman stated, “Regardless of your temptation, through the Gospel you might become new through Jesus.” There is no greater news than this. The Good News changes how we relate to God and to each other. The Gospel is Good News because we are not doomed to stay in our sinful muck. Jesus has reached down (figuratively speaking) and has gotten us out of that muck. What an awesome God we serve!

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that will pardon and cleanse within

Grace, Grace, God’s grace

Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Pardon as the Basis for Walking in Wisdom

Occasionally I like to reflect on the Psalms in addition to other devotional reading. Just the other day I was reflecting on Psalm 32. There the Psalmist reflects on the beauty of forgiveness, which is the basis for transformed living. This Psalm meditates on the role of forgiveness in everyday living. My purpose in writing is to encourage you to live a life of wisdom based on the great pardon given to you by Jesus. Before you proceed please take a moment to reflect on the Psalm for yourself.

The Psalm opens by reflecting on the blessing of being forgiven. It’s especially interesting to note the connection between sin being forgiven and sin being covered. As I meditated on these terms my mind was drawn back to the creation narrative in Genesis. Just after Adam and Eve had sinned against their covenant Lord and hid themselves from him due to their shame, He made them garments of clothing. (Genesis 3:21)

You and I have been given a new garment of righteousness from Christ. We don’t have to hide from our Lord any more. He welcomes us as His children.

The rich theology in this Psalm is furthered when David says, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” As long as human persons remain in Adam God holds them guilty. He DOES impute iniquity for those who remain in Adam. How could the Psalmist say that there were people who did not receive the imputation of Adam’s iniquity? He looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come and count his followers righteous based on their faith in him. (2 Corinthians 5. We are counted as righteous when we willingly accept the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah.

David continues his discourse by saying, “And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” As humans you and I are completely sinful. We are born in iniquity. As humans we all have a tendency to be deceitful. Jesus is the only one who was free from such deceit. He is the true Israelite with whom there is no deceit. (John 1:47)

With God there is blessed forgiveness. We have committed the highest form of treason against our creator yet we are given a second chance through the atoning work of Jesus. 

Before we can be forgiven though, we must be deeply convicted about our personal sin. That’s what happened to the Psalmist. He was under such conviction that he felt the life draining out of him. David said that God’s hand was “heavy upon him.” I praise God for the calling of the Holy Spirit. I rejoice that He can sometimes make us miserable until we rest in Him. No, conviction is no fun place to be, but the Scripture reminds us that God chastises those He loves. He loves us too much to allow us to continue wallowing in our sin. So how must we respond to the gracious conviction of our Lord?

The Psalmist responded by acknowledging his sin and transgression against the Lord. God graciously forgave the Psalmist immediately after confession was made. When I learned the “Romans Road” I was most perplexed by Romans 10:9-10.

[9]  that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. [10]  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Romans 10:9-10, NKJV

When God convicts us we must not run away from Him. He chastises us because He loves us. The safest place for the ruined sinner is the shelter of the cross. 

Once we have been forgiven we are given instruction to walk in wisdom. It’s fascinating to me that this Psalm is called a Maschil, meaning instruction. Commentators differ on exactly what the term Maschil refers to, but some have said that a Maschil is some form of musical instruction or a song enforcing some element of wisdom. This Psalm seems to do both. What kind of life must forgiven people live? The Psalmist answers us in the latter part of the Psalm.

The reader is encouraged to pray to God for forgiveness. Forgiven people walk in wisdom. They willingly come to Christ the Savior. People who have been forgiven draw near to God because they don’t have to be controlled like a horse. (James 3:3) The Psalmist reminds us that those who have been pardoned should willingly come to their covenant Lord. The way of wisdom guides us home to the shore of God’s presence. Why does it matter whether or not we walk down Wisdom’s path?

Those who have been forgiven belong to a new community of people who are obedient and submissive to their Lord. They are not like the wicked who will have “many sorrows.” (v.10) Mercy and wisdom permeate the life of the pardoned sinner, whereas chaos and destruction follow those  who are wicked. Who are the wicked? Those who have yet to put on the garments of Christ’s righteousness and who remain in Adam are called wicked.

You and I were wicked before we accepted Christ’s gracious pardon by faith. But now we have been washed, sanctified, and justified through the active and passive obedience of Jesus. 

That’s why we can rejoice in the Lord and shout for joy. (v.11) We have been pardoned. To whom much is forgiven, much is required. Because we have been richly forgiven we should consider what kind of life we live. We will walk in the way of wisdom because our Savior is the source of wisdom itself. (Col.2:8-10) He gives us his Holy Spirit so we might live godly and holy in the present age as we await his glorious return.

So many times we attempt to modify behavior without mentioning pardon. We cannot expect people to change their mouth or their shirt before they change their heart. Once we have been so richly pardoned in Christ we will WANT to live in wisdom, the way of God. The life that brings God most glory is the life lived in wisdom on the basis of pardon. Christ has pardoned us from our blood guilt. Let’s apply ourselves to knowing Him more through the Word and prayer. This is the path of wisdom.

In my next post I will pick up with our discussion on Colossians.