The Pathway to Hope
I see too many trite statements from Christians and church leaders. Many of them are of course true, but taken so out of context that the full meaning is obscured. And in some cases the meaning is so obscured as to make the cited statement actually untrue.
Hope may be one of those casualties to trite and pithy statements that sound “neat” but in fact hides the deeper meaning of hope from the Bible’s point of view.
In Romans 5:2 Paul says “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” That sounds easy enough. Our hope is built exclusively upon the finished work of Christ. The objects of our faith are all solid: God, Jesus Christ, wrath against us that has been appeased and a sure eternal standing.
Paul then adds a caveat that potentially confuses many. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...” (Romans 5:3-4)
Many of us have been confused by a unbiblical word about grace. In the incorrect scenario grace comes to us, overwhelms us, and changes our loyalty from a kingdom of darkness to a kingdom of light. The actions are all out our hands and we now live on a vertical plane of peace with God. The change is in our hearts, but the realities are all in our head. We embrace them.
Of course, I am not saying that most of this is not indeed true. What I am contending is that we continue to be inactive, alive only to a vertical reconciliation to God our Father. Yes, of course, the mystery of divine initiative and human responsibly remains, for as Paul says to the Philippians “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (2:13)
But, new life anticipates new living. We are not sanctified robots. The new birth has potentially restored all of the designs that God intended before Adam and Eve chose rebellion. The world of eternity will be a full restoration to that anticipation.
And, so Paul quickly adds that the hope we have in God’s finished work for us, has also anticipated a pathway of daily intensification: suffering, endurance, character and finally, reinforced hope.
The first three words challenge us. No, for many of us, they threaten us. Many have become too comfortable with the life they live. “Jesus means happiness!” And, we are relatively happy.
We too easily forget that we were not in fact created for this world. What kind of a God would create us for pain, division, sickness, human suffering and death? We, in Adam and Eve chose those things. They are all the result of personal and corporate rebellion.
Even once we come to Christ we still live battling against a narrative that is in 100% contradiction to the Biblical narrative. And, so, the Bible correctly describes us as sojourners, passing through this world, headed to another one which God Himself has prepared. We are not vacationers, we are sojourners. We have a purpose, and we keep that purpose in sight, inviting all we can to join us.
This sojourner path has suffering along the way. Not as the world suffers. For our suffering is after the model of our master who suffered and promised that we too would follow Him in His suffering. If they hated Him, they should and will hate us as well. His righteousness was perfect and it inflamed many, maybe most against Him. Our righteousness is still imperfect, but the reflection of His in us reminds them of who they really are, and what awaits them.
Even our physical suffering is redeemed into the eternal purposes of God. Our dying merely a move from one world to a better one.
Endurance then is the attitude that we most always foster in our hearts and minds. Sojourners own nothing in this world, indeed there is nothing in it that should hold their gaze or loyalties more than Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith. Everyday, we must refocus our eyes on Him, prepared to walk fully in all that God the Spirit is preparing. (Ephesians 2:10)
This kind of willingness to a holy endurance is the pathway to character. The kind of character for which we were prepared by God in the beginning, and in our rebirth. Character does not just happen. It must be matured into us. Suffering and endurance are both much better instructors of character than ease and happiness.
Think for a moment. Everyone one of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 6 are upside down to our present human nature. Because they are upside down to the flesh that still resides in our bodies, we are all capable of sins that appear to deny the new birth. This is why these fruit are called fruit of the Spirit.
They are direct manifestations that the Spirit is indeed living in us. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 6:10-11)
Character is not something grown in a vacuum of religious conviction. Even as true as those convictions may be. It is grown off of the new birth in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, as we cooperate by allowing our minds and wills to be daily cleansed with God’s word, in the midst of an upside down world.
I think that the cumulative result of this divine journey is hope! In order that “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain...” (Hebrews 6:18-19)
Or as the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (10:23)