December 2, 2014

A Chain of Hope

This is a difficult season for our family -- not the holidays, just this particular time in our lives. While I won't go into details in this post, I'll simply share that the last month has been a time of unexpected upheaval and uncertainty.

As a wife, it's been difficult for me to watch my husband go through a very trying time. And as a mom, I've been concerned about the effect all of this might have on our one child still at home. The mama bear in me sometimes wants to rise and roar, you know?

In the midst of it all, I'm reminded of Romans 5.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
That's really an astounding passage, when you think about it.

First, our justification has resulted in peace with God through Christ. We who were enemies of God are not at peace with Him, not through anything we have done but through the faith He gave us and through the work of His Son.

As if this wasn't astonishing enough, we now stand in grace. STAND in GRACE. Again, this new standing is not of ourselves, but was obtained through the work of Christ.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. I get that. This is hoping in something far beyond me, yet something that has been promised to me: an inheritance based on this new standing. To be honest with you, I don't fully comprehend this, yet I long for it. Rejoicing in hope makes sense to me.

But now it gets a little tougher: rejoice in my sufferings. This seems completely separate from the earlier part of the passage, and it seems like an impossible way to live... unless we understand what that leads to.

Let's look at verses 3-4 again:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope
Can you see the chain of hope there?
  • Suffering produces endurance
  • Endurance produces character
  • Character produces hope
I'm reminded of a recurring theme in Calvin and Hobbes:

source: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1988/06/15 
Yeah, that's so me.

Do you remember the great hope you felt when Jesus saved you, when you realized that He had delivered you from a life of hopelessness bound for hell? Do you still feel the strength of that hope today as you walk through the everydayness of life? I know I don't. I get comfortable, complacent, thoughtless even. Like the Israelites, I forget what I've been delivered from and what I've been promised.

But here's what I'm finding. A little wandering in the desert can do one of two things: either lead to grumbling and discontent, or provide some strength training and a longing for the glory of God. My daily prayer and pursuit should be, must be, for the latter. And even as I struggle to maintain this perspective, I'm reminded of Paul's confession in Philippians 3:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
"Only let us hold true to what we have attained." I love the way John MacArthur unpacks this verse:
Look at verse 16, "However," that really means nevertheless, or better, one more thing. It's often used at the end of a paragraph to express a final thought. "One more thing, by the way, let us keep living by that same to which we have attained."

In other words, look, keep moving along the path that has brought you to where you are in your spiritual progress. That's the idea. You'll be interested to know that the verb here is translated "keep living." It actually means to follow in line, to line up. It's what it means. So what he is saying is, spiritually stay in line and keep moving from where you have arrived by the same standard or principle that got you were you are. Fall in step. It's used of armies marching in battle order, stay in line, stay in step, be consistent, keep moving. Wherever you are spiritually by the same principles that got you there, keep moving ahead. Consistency, conformity, live up to the level of your present understanding and by the principles that brought you there, keep moving ahead, stay in line, hold the principle tightly and move down the track. Stay in your lane, if you will, and move as fast as you can from where you are. Whatever strength and energy got you where you are, use it to move ahead. If we were talking about the runner metaphor, we would say you've run this far in your lane with great effort, it's gotten you so far, keep that same effort up in that same lane until you hit the finish. Pursuing the prize.
Studied together, these two passages are a beautiful picture of the perpetual motion that is the Christian life. That's what I want my life to be, even during this difficult season. Because really, as believers, our lives will be a cycle of suffering to hope, sometimes in overlapping circles.

Lord, keep me ever moving forward, ever remembering Your work and Your Word.

Help me continually climb this chain of hope.