Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Sainthood, Service, and Suffering

Sainthood, Service, and Suffering

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.

Copyright © 2007, 2010 by Mark D. Roberts

Note:
You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use, for use
in a Christian ministry, or for use in an educational venture, as long as you are not publishing it for sale.
All I ask is that you give credit to this website: http://blog.beliefnet.com/markdroberts/. For all other
uses, please contact me at mark@markdroberts.com. Thank you.

Sainthood, Service, and Suffering: Introduction

Sainthood
. . . service . . . suffering. What do these have to do with each
other? What do they have to do with our hurting world? How can a better
understand of sainthood, service, and suffering make a difference in
our lives, and through us in the world?

These are questions I hope to answer in this series.

I’ve
chosen to address these topics, in part, as a response to last week’s
rampage at Virginia Tech. The actions of one terribly disturbed human
being have caused widespread suffering, most of all to the families and
friends of those who were killed, but also to all who are part of
Virginia Tech, and in many ways to all of us in this country. In the
last week, there has been much discussion of what we can do as a
society to prevent such tragedies from happening again. This is an
important conversation, and it will surely continue for many months.

This
blog series is a part of that larger conversation, though it focuses on
an area where I believe I can say something of value. I’m not going to
talk about a security on university campuses, or about how to deal with
people who are mentally ill, or about how our society can keep
dangerous people from possessing guns. Rather, I want to focus on
the question of how Christians can live in the world in such a way that
we can make a tangible difference in it
. At times that difference
will help to comfort the grieving. And at times we’ll be able to bring
God’s love and peace to troubled souls, perhaps even keeping them from
doing terrible harm to others or to themselves. (The painting to the
right, by Giotto, pictures St. Francis and St. Clare, two so-called
“saints” who made a major difference in the world through their
service.)

I say perhaps, because there’s no
way of knowing what our efforts to care for people, troubled or not,
will produce. Christians are called to love people in response to and
imitation of a loving God, not because our efforts to love will
necessary make people’s lives better. But I have seen many instances in
which God’s love, mediated through caring Christians, has transformed
the lives of hurting people. I’ve seen withdrawn people come out of
their shells, mean people become more kind, and self-centered people
start to have compassion for others because of compassion they have
received.

This series on Sainthood, Service, and Suffering
will discuss how Christians ought to live out their faith in the world.
Thus I will be speaking primarily to my Christian readers. But there
will be much of relevance to non-Christian folk as well. If you are not
a Christian, not only will this series help you understand more of what
Christianity is all about, but also it may encourage you to live
differently, no matter what you religious beliefs may be. If you are a
Christian, I hope this series will help you grasp your distinctive
identity as a “saint” and see, perhaps in a new way, how you might live
out this identity in the world.

(Note: This series includes elements from my now out-of-print book, After “I Believe.”
If you’ve read that book, you might recognize some parts of this
series, though much will be new and all of it will be re-worked.)

 

Click here for an updated and reformatted version of this series.

 

Why You’re Like Saint Truman Burbank

In the hit movie from 1998, The Truman Show,
Jim Carrey plays the role of Truman Burbank, a happy-go-lucky insurance
salesman who lives in the perfectly manicured town of Seahaven, “the
best place to live on earth,” according to the headline of the local
paper. So it would seem to be for Truman, his “perfect” wife Meryl, his
best friend Marlon, and all of their flawless, sparkling neighbors.

As
the movie begins, Truman goes about his simple daily routine, having no
idea that everything around him is a farce. In fact, he lives on an
elaborate stage set filled with professional actors. Even his wife and
best friend are paid to co-star in the wildly successful television
hit, The Truman Show. Poor, sweet, idealistic Truman is
completely unaware that he is the most famous man in the world, the
star of a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year show about his life. He lives
each day without realizing that every moment is being broadcast to the
world (with some careful editing to keep the show PG).

Living
his apparently ordinary life, Truman never imagines that he is a
special person, someone set apart by “the powers that be” for a
particular purpose. He does not understand that he is fulfilling the
vision of The Truman Show’s creator and producer, an
enigmatic genius named Christof. His entire life has been dedicated to
something far beyond Truman’s wildest dreams, a fact that eludes his
grasp until strange happenings finally begin to reveal the truth.
(Photo: Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank)

Christians are
like Truman Burbank. I’m not suggesting, thankfully, that our lives are
being televised to the world. Nor am I implying that our world is
simply a complex stage set. But we are like Truman because we too have
been set apart by “the powers that be” for a purpose far beyond what we
may imagine. We too can go through life unaware of our specialness,
never understanding that we have been designated to fulfill the vision
of our Creator and Producer, the God of the Universe, the Lord of
History.

If this comes as a bit of a surprise to
you, you may be even more startled to learn the title that the Bible
has given you to indicate your specialness. According to Scripture,
you’re a saint. That’s right, a saint!

In the beginning of the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses believers in Corinth in a peculiar manner:

“To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called “saints,”
along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2). The Corinthians are
called by God to be “saints.”

The
Greek word translated here as “saints” refers to people who are set
apart for some special purpose. It can also be translated as “holy
ones.” (In Greek, “saint” or “holy one” is hagios. You sometimes hear this root in the English word hagiography,
which is a biography of a saint.) In the ancient world, “saints” were
usually priests and priestesses, those who were set apart from common
people to serve in the holy precincts of a temple, offering holy
sacrifices to the gods. Analogously, believers in Jesus are saints,
though they don’t exercise their sainthood in some secluded temple.
Rather, they serve God in the world with the sacrifices of their
worship and obedience to God (Rom 12:1-2).

We
typically use the word “saint” in a way that differs considerably from
Paul’s practice. We tend to label as “saints” those few Christians who
demonstrate moral and spiritual excellence. For us, saints are
extraordinary human beings, believers in Jesus who have lapped the rest
of us in the race of the Christian life. But Paul identifies all
believers in Jesus as saints, without regard to their moral or
spiritual achievements. We receive the title of “saint,” not because of
our exemplary lives, but because God has chosen us to belong to Him and
to do His work. To be called a saint is not to receive an honorary
degree in Christ’s kingdom, but rather a letter of admission to his
school of discipleship.
It’s the starting point, not the goal. Our
goal should be to live consistently as a saint of God because that’s
what we already are, not because that’s what we want to become. The
fact that Paul refers to the Corinthians as saints underscores this
point. As the rest of 1 Corinthians reveals, the Corinthian believers
are exemplary of everything we ought not to be as Christians.
Their sainthood has nothing to do with getting a high grade in
Discipleship 301, since most of them are stuck repeating Discipleship
101. They are caught up in divisiveness and self-centeredness, not to
mention sexual immorality and idolatry. Yet the Corinthians are still
saints, people set apart by God for him and his work.

So,
when I say, “If you’re a Christian, then you’re a saint,” I’m not
really complimenting you. Instead, I am noting that if you have put
your faith in Christ, then you have been “set apart” in him (1 Cor
1:2). You are special to God, and, importantly, you are a member of
God’s special people.

A Member of God’s Holy People

In
my last post I explained that every Christian, regardless of the
quality of his or her discipleship, is a saint, a person set apart by
God for His purposes. Each and every believer in Jesus is a member of
God’s holy people. But what does this mean? And what does it imply?

From
the very beginning of creation, God intended to form a people with whom
to have intimate fellowship. According to Genesis 1, God created the
man and the woman in His image, telling them to “multiply and fill the
earth” (Gen 1:28). In other words, they were to make babies, who will
make babies, etc., so that the earth would someday be filled with a
people for God.

When God called Abram (later called
Abraham) to leave all that was familiar to him, God promised that he
would “become the father of a great nation” (Gen 12:2). Indeed, “All
the families of the earth will be blessed through [Abram]” (Gen 12:3).
God set him apart, not only so that he would be special to God, but
also so that through Abram a nation would formed that would be special
to God. Abram was a saint in order to become the father of a saintly
people.

After the descendants of Abraham fell into
captivity in Egypt, God set them free through the leadership of Moses.
When Israel’s freedom was finally secured, God revealed to Moses His
plans for His people:

Give
these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you
to myself and carried you on eagle’s wings. Now if you will obey me and
keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all
the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will
be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” (Exodus 19:3-6)

God
chose Israel to be His own special treasure, His prized possession. The
Israelites were to be a “holy nation,” or, one could say, a “saintly
nation,” a nation set apart by God for His unique purpose in the world.

Centuries
later the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to a bunch of Christians
scattered throughout the land we know as Turkey. Peter described their
specialness as believers in Jesus by borrowing God’s language to the
Israelites in Exodus 19:

And
now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.
What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual
sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ . . . . You are a
chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God’s holy nation, his
very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of
God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (1
Pet 2:5, 9).

When we believe in
Jesus, we are joined to the people of God, God’s holy nation. We serve
as “holy priests,” offering sacrifices of service to God and telling
others about God’s all-surpassing goodness.

As saints, therefore, we are set apart from the world and yoked to the community of saints, to the church of Jesus Christ formed by the Holy Spirit. Paul underlines this point in his address to the Corinthians:

To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called “saints,” along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2).

As Christians we share sainthood with other believers everywhere. It would be accurate to say, therefore, that a
Christian saint is a person set apart from the world, by God through
Jesus Christ, to be a member of God’s special people and to serve God
in a special way in the world.

The
Olympic games provide an apt analogy for the biblical concept of
sainthood. The athletes who gather for the Olympics every few years are
special people, set apart by their individual nations for the purpose
of competition. When they arrive at the city that is hosting the games,
the athletes are not allowed to mix with the crowds who come to watch
the competition. On the contrary, they are sequestered within the
Olympic village, a fortress that keeps the athletes in and the others
out. They are literally kept apart from the masses so that they can
focus on their particular sport. If we were to speak in biblical
languages, we might refer to the Olympians as “saints,” people set
apart for something special. They live “holy” lives in order to fulfill
their unique, “holy” purpose. Yet they do not live in isolation, but in
a community of others who have been set apart for a similar purpose.
And they don’t compete as individuals, but as members of a national
team. They are saints together with other athletes. (The picture to the
right is from the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Turin,
Italy.)

We who believe in Jesus Christ have also been set apart
from common folk and dedicated to a specific purpose, though, as we’ll
see, we are not separated from the world because the world is the arena
in which our competition occurs. We fulfill our purpose in fellowship
with other saints who share our identity and calling. We live out our
sainthood by serving God in the world, by extended His love and justice
throughout creation.

Called to Holiness

In my last post I explained that all Christians are saints,
in the biblical sense of the word. All who put their faith in Jesus
Christ have been set apart by God for relationship with Him and to
serve Him as special people in the world. So, if you’re a Christian,
you are a saint, no matter whether you live like it or not.

Of
course the ultimate Saint, the One who is uniquely set apart from
creation, is God Himself. In Scripture, God claims to be holy (Lev
19:2), is worshipped as holy (Ps 99:9), is called “the Holy God” (Isa
5:16) and “the Holy One of Israel” (Isa 43:3). God’s holiness embraces,
not only His distinctness from creation, but His utter perfection:
morally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

For those of
us who belong to God, acknowledgment of His supreme holiness leads to a
surprising implication. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus God
calls His people to be like Him in holiness: “You must be holy because
I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be
my very own” (Lev 20:26). The context for this passage shows that
Israel’s holiness impacts how people live, in a moral and spiritual
excellence modeled after that of God.

Lest we think
that this standard applies only to the Israelites, in the New Testament
Peter applies it to those who are God’s children through Christ:

Obey
God because you are His children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of
doing evil; you didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy
in everything you do, just as God–who chose you to be His children–is
holy. For he himself has said, “You must be holy because I am holy” (1
Pet 1:14-16).

That which the
Lord once applied to Israel now directs our lives. We must be holy
because God is holy. Our holiness comprises, not just our religious
activities, but everything we do. Since we have been set
apart from the world, we must no longer engage in the evil behavior
that characterized our “old ways,” but instead we must live in
obedience to God as his children.

Returning
to the Olympics analogy, every now and then we hear of scandals in
which athletes test positively for illegal drugs. These stories make
news, in part, because they are so rare. The vast majority of Olympians
recognize that their “sainthood” or “set-apart-ness” requires a “holy”
or “set-apart” lifestyle. They refrain not only from illegal
substances, but also from the junk food the rest of us love to consume.
They don’t abuse their bodies through inactivity. They live differently
because they have been dedicated to a special, higher athletic purpose.
(Most Olympic athletes don’t choose to be couch potatoes.)

And
so it must be for us, as God’s holy people. Many of the activities we
once enjoyed are now seen in a new light, as compromising our sainthood
by drawing us away from God and God’s purposes. Consider Sunday
mornings, for example. Most non-Christian people I know fill their
first waking hours of Sunday with “doing nothing” — eating food,
relaxing over the morning paper, or watching news shows and sporting
events. None of these activities could be counted as obviously sinful.
In fact, they sound pretty attractive, to tell the truth! Yet, even new
believers in Jesus understand that their sainthood requires a change in
Sunday morning behavior. They start attending worship services, often
rising early enough to join an adult class or fellowship group.
Sleeping in and lounging around in slippers become some of the “old
ways” left behind by new believers. Even though a part of us may still
yearn for such leisurely moments, we nevertheless commit ourselves to
the “set-apart” disciplines of Christian community and celebration.
That’s part of what is means to be a saint, a person who is holy even
as God is holy.

There are a couple of dangers in what
I have just written. First, by choosing the example of church
attendance, I might have wrongly implied that holiness is mostly a
matter of “doing religious stuff.” Nothing could be farther from the
truth! Holiness encompasses all of life.

Second, given
what I said about changing your Sunday behavior, you might conclude
that being holy is simply a matter of your own effort. Even if you’d
rather sleep in on Sunday mornings, you must grit your teeth, drag
yourself out of bed and into church because God demands it. To be sure,
God expects us to invest our hearts and bodies in living as holy
people. But this perspective neglects the true source of our holiness. We are to be holy, not only in imitation of God, but also by His power. In another passage in Leviticus, God says:

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the Lord, am your God. Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the Lord, who makes you holy (Lev 20:7-8, emphasis added).

Here
God commands our holiness, but also claims to be the one who makes us
holy. Not only does He set us apart for Himself, but He also supplies
the motivation and ability to live holy lives.

I
realize that holiness is not a familiar concept in our world. That’s
one reason why I’ve used the illustration of Olympic athletes. In your
own mind, you might find it helpful when you hear the word “holiness”
to replace it with “set-apart-ness” or “specialness for a purpose” or
something like this. Indeed, holiness is more than this, but for many
of us the word “holiness” sounds old-fashioned and narrowly religious.

When
we think of holiness, we might wrongly envision a kind of
reclusiveness, something that involves being wholly cut off from the
world. In my next post in this series I’ll talk about what it means to
be “in the world, but not of the world.”

In the World, But Not Of the World

So far in this series on Sainthood, Service, and Suffering,
I’ve explained how Christians are called to be saints, that is, to be
set apart from the world for God and God’s purposes. Yet, Christian
saints do not live in seclusion from the world, or at least we should not.

Certainly
some Christians have separated themselves from common folk, living in
cloistered communities without any significant contact with the outside
world. I think of the Amish people, who have made an effort to live
apart from the world even though they’re in the midst of it.
Unfortunately for them, their uniqueness has also made them popular
among tourists who flock to so-called Dutch Pennsylvania to gawk at the
Amish and their other-worldly ways. (The picture to the right is of an
Amish couple from about 1940. See http://www.loc.gov/rr/
european/imde/germchro.html
.)

Other
Christians live in the ordinary world, but sever all meaningful
relationships with non-Christian people. They want to live holy lives,
and they recognize their tendency to be drawn into sin through their
contacts with the world, so they decide to back completely away from
significant interaction with non-Christian people and institutions.

Some
of the Corinthian Christians tried this experiment. In a letter Paul
wrote before our so-called 1 Corinthians, he had told them “not to
associate with people who indulge in sexual sin” (1 Cor 5:9). The
Corinthians took Paul to mean that they should have no contact with
sinful unbelievers. Consequently they withdrew from their pagan
neighbors and related only to other Christians. But in his next letter,
which we call 1 Corinthians, Paul clarifies his teaching and corrects
the Corinthian separatism. Concerning his earlier advice not to
associate with sexually sinful people, he explains:

But
I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who
are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave
this world to avoid people like that. (1 Cor 5:10-11).

The
apostle states that we should not leave the world in an attempt to
avoid pagan sinners. He assumes that our rightful place as saints is in
the world, in relationship with sinners who have not experienced the
forgiveness of Christ.

Paul didn’t make up this
idea. Jesus did. In the hours before his death, Jesus prayed for His
followers, those who were with Him in the flesh and those who would
believe in Him in the future (John 17:20). Jesus recognizes that His
followers are special, that “they are not part of this world any more
than I am” (John 17:16). This specialness will cause problems for them,
because the world will hate them even as it hated Jesus Himself (John
17:14). But removal from the world is not an option, according to
Jesus: “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep
them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15). In the classic phrase, we
who believe in Jesus are to be “in the world, but not of
the world.” We must live in the world. We must have meaningful
relationships with people in the world. But we must not be like the
fallen world, adopting its godless values or its twisted activities.

Of
course being in but not of the world is easier said than done.
Sometimes the world and its ways seem strangely inviting. Even when we
see the world’s brokenness, we are drawn to participate in it. Yet in
our desire to honor God, we also yearn to get away from that which
tempts us. Thus it’s tempting to pull away from the world, the very
world into which we have been called as God’s saints.

In my next
post I will consider a fascinating example of somebody who sought to
back away from this world, and reflect on the implications of this
story for us.

What Sainthood is Not

Jon Krakauer is best known from his gripping portrayal of tragedy on Mt. Everest in his bestselling book, Into Thin Air. But Krakauer has written other engaging books, including Under the Banner of Heaven, his study of Mormon polygamists, and also Into the Wild.

Into
the wild is the fascinating story of Chris McCandless, a young man who
once hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the vast wilderness.
Four months later his partially-decomposed body was found by a party of
moose hunters. Why did he do it? Why did this well-liked, successful,
young college graduate sacrifice his life in such a bizarre manner?
Krakauer decided to investigate this mystery, presenting his findings
in the book Into the Wild.

As Krakauer
explored Chris’s background, he discovered some alienation between
Chris and his family, but nothing unusual. Yet, whereas most teenagers
funnel their youthful angst into a drive for worldly success or a
rebellious flirtation with fleshly excesses, Chris became increasingly
estranged from the world around him. After graduating with distinction
from college, one day he simply disappeared. Taking his car and a very
few belongings, he journeyed far and wide across America.

But
even the freedom of the road was too constraining for Chris.
Possessions and relationships were just too entangling. So he set his
sights on Alaska, a place as far from civilization as a young American
could reach. After a hair-raising trip north, he walked out into the
Alaskan wilderness woefully unprepared. According to one of the last
people who saw Chris alive, “Said he didn’t want to see a single
person, no airplanes, no sign of civilization. He wanted to prove to
himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody else’s help”
(p. 159). So, with a small rifle, a couple of books, and a large bag of
rice, Chris McCandless set himself completely apart from the world — a
saint in the most extreme sense.

With ingenuity and
determination he managed to survive for four months. But after eating
some poisonous roots he became ill and began to lose the strength
required for self-preservation. His last journal entry read: “I have
had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”
(p. 199). Shortly after writing these words Chris passed away, 120 days
after hiking into the wild, and only 19 days before his body was
discovered by the six hunters, only 20 miles from a major Alaskan
highway.

Chris’s story is extreme, to be sure. I doubt
that you’ve been tempted to walk into desolate regions of Alaska in
order to preserve your saintliness. But many Christians, either
intentionally or accidentally, end up just about as cut off from the
world as Chris McCandless. We can get so wrapped up in worthy Christian
activities and so involved in Christian community that we have no time
left over for meaningful connection with nonbelievers. Even as we
rightly reject the values of our fallen world, we wrongly reject the
people of the world, those whom God loved so much that he sent his only
Son to save them (John 3:16).

Not only does Jesus pray that we will remain in the world, but also He gives us a very particular role in it:

You
are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its
flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and
trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world–like a
city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide
your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine
for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see,
so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matt 5:13-16).

Notice
that Jesus does not present us with an imperative: “Go out and become
salt and light in the world.” Rather, he states in indicative, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are
the light of the world.” The crucial question, therefore, is: Will we
be who we are in this world? Will we live in the relationship to the
world that God has assigned us? Will we maintain our distinctiveness,
or become insipid salt and darkened light?

I don’t mean to suggest
that it’s easy to be salt and light in the world. Sometimes we
Christians can struggle to know how best to season and enlighten our
part of the world. And sometimes, our effort to do so meets with
resistance. I’ll talk about this in my next post in this series.

The Cost of Being a Misfit

Jesus
says that we who follow Him are to let our light shine into the world,
so that people might see our lives and give glory to God. Shining the
light of God into the world sounds like a safe, praiseworthy task, the
sort of service for which one eventually receives the key to the city.
After all, who wouldn’t be thankful for the light of God? Jesus shows
us who:

The light
from heaven came into the world, but [those who don’t believe in Jesus]
loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.
They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay
away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will
be punished (John 3:19-20).

Being the light of the world, therefore, turns out to be much riskier than it first appears.

Earlier
in this series I used as an example of holy behavior what many
Christians do on Sunday mornings in contrast to non-Christians. If you
are faithful in church attendance, most of your nonbelieving friends
won’t worry about it much. They may think you’re a little too zealous.
They may wonder when you’ll get over it. But they won’t be too upset
with you. You might get some jesting, perhaps some pity, but probably
not anger.

Consider, however, another situation that
has become increasingly common in our day. What I said about leisurely
Sunday mornings won’t ring true for many people because they find
themselves sitting, not on their couch watching TV, but on hard
bleachers watching their children play soccer, or baseball, or tennis,
or you name it. Sunday morning, once reserved for church-going and
dilly-dallying, is now prime time for youth sports.

Many
parents in my church have confronted the question of what to do about
athletic events that conflict with church attendance. Their answers
differ, but many have taken an unpopular stand out of commitment to the
Lord. When one young soccer player was told by his coach to show up for
a Sunday morning game, he dutifully reported the assignment to his
parents, Jim and Donna. They graciously but firmly told the coach that
their son could not play on Sunday morning because of the family’s
commitment to church. The coach was miffed, and tried to persuade Jim
and Donna to change their mind. When they held firm, he made several
threats concerning their son’s future in soccer. Undeterred, the boy’s
parents stood their ground. From that point onward their relationship
with the coach was strained. He resented their “unrealistic”
priorities. Other parents of boys on the team also were critical of
Jim’s and Donna’s decision and their “lack of commitment to the team.”
Sadly, even some Christian parents disapproved of their actions. I have
a suspicion that Jim and Donna, by putting Christ so obviously before
soccer in their priorities, shone a bit too much light into the lives
of other Christians whose values were more worldly. Jim and Donna
didn’t say anything about the behavior of others, but the light of
Christ shone through their actions. (In the photo above, my daughter
kicks a soccer ball, but not on Sunday.)

Social
conflict stemming from Christian holiness is nothing new. In his first
letter, Peter writes to Christians whose distinctive living got them
into hot water with their pagan neighbors:

Of
course, your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join
them in the wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you
(1 Pet 4:4).

Though Peter
doesn’t spell out in detail what the believers had stopped doing, he
notes that their new abstention created tension with old friends. It’s
likely that the behaviors now avoided by the Christians were pagan
religious practices that permeated the ancient world. For example, if
those living in the first-century Roman world wanted to go out with
their friends for a nice steak, they would go to the local pagan
temple. Not only would there be an excess of sacrificed meat there, but
the temples were often set up like restaurants, and were places where
friends met for food and fun. Suppose, however, that some who once hung
out at the local temple of Apollo became Christians and realized that
eating meat offered to idols in a pagan temple contradicted genuine
fellowship with Jesus as Lord. What would their friends say? Some might
have dismissed their behavior as innocuous religious enthusiasm. But
others might have been hurt, even insulted. Genuine holiness can often
seem like “holier-than-thou-ness” no matter how humbly and graciously
we try to explain our actions to others.

In the case
of the recipients of Peter’s letter, their former friends did more than
express surprise. They also began to say evil things about the new
Christians, accusing them of wrong doing (1 Pet 2:12; 4:4). As a
result, the believers experienced social ostracism, perhaps even a
measure of local persecution. But Peter urges them to keep on living
holy lives, even if they must pay a painful price:

Keep
your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will
be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong
to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is
what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! (1 Pet 3:16-17).

Suffering,
as it turns out, is not an abnormal and avoidable aspect of Christian
living, but something to which God calls those who follow Jesus: “This
suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who
suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
When we experience criticism, false accusations, or harassment because
of our commitment to Christ, we should not be surprised. It’s all a
part of our Christian vocation.

In my next post in
this series I want to consider another real-life example in which a
person’s Christian commitment led to costly choices.

A Saintly Struggle

In
my last post I explained how living “saintly” or “set apart” lives can
lead to conflict, even suffering. I cited the example of Jim and Donna,
whose unwillingness to let their son play soccer on Sunday morning
alienated them from the coach and other parents. Today I’d like to
consider yet another example, this one from the workplace.

Steve
was on the fast track to success in his corporation. An executive with
outstanding talent and integrity, he quickly climbed the ladder of
success. Before long he was one of the corporate vice presidents, an
up-and-comer touted for future greatness. Steve was also a Christian, a
man who sought to live out his faith in every segment of his life,
including his professional life. For a while Steve’s faith seemed to be
an asset to his work since it undergirded his exceptional honesty and
integrity.

But then Steve became friends with Ronald.
Ronald also worked for the corporation, not as an executive, but as a
custodian. Steve didn’t see Ronald as a lackey, however, but as a
fellow human being and, as it turned out, a brother in Christ. Casual
interactions became deeper as they began to share their lives together.
Their friendship was that of equals. So Steve thought nothing of it
when he began taking Ronald to lunch in the executive dining room every
now and then. All the vice presidents entertained personal friends in
the dining room, and no one ever said anything about not allowing
certain employees to eat there. But as soon as Steve started hosting
Ronald for lunch, he perceived a subtle change in his work environment.
Nobody said anything directly, at least not right away. Yet Steve’s
peers seemed less interested in his input, and his superiors were less
willing to hear his ideas.

Finally Steve confronted
the company’s president with a direct question: “Why do I feel like an
outsider around here? Have I done something wrong? Is there a problem
with my work?”

His boss was honest. “No, there is
nothing wrong with your performance of the things on your job
description. But there’s a problem with your attitude, with your sense
of company values. Frankly, bringing that custodian into the dining
room just isn’t acceptable. Your doing so shows very poor judgment.”

Steve
responded with equal frankness. “But there is no rule that governs whom
we have for lunch. And we talk in this company about the value of all
employees. I don’t see what’s wrong with having my friend join me for
lunch every once in a while, even if he’s a custodian for this firm.”

“That is the problem,” said the president. “You just don’t see it.”

When
Steve tried to explain how his being a Christian led him to treat all
people with dignity, he was told that his religious convictions
belonged at home, not at work. End of conversation.

Before
too long Steve was offered a new job in the company. He would maintain
his official position and salary, but would no longer be in the main
office. It was safer to move him out to the field, away from Ronald and
the executive dining room. Steve declined to move primarily for family
reasons. A few months later he was told to take a position at a distant
location, with a loss of position and salary. The message was finally
clear: Steve was no longer welcome at the company. No matter what his
performance had been, he had committed the unforgivable sin of seeing a
custodian through the lens of his faith, and not through the prejudice
of the corporation. (Picture to the right: No, Steve did not work for
Enron. But I wonder how the Enron story might have ended differently if
Christians in the corporation had taken more risks to live out their
faith at work.)

The details of this story may be
unique, but the general themes are experienced again and again when
Christians try to be saints of God and successful employees. A woman I
know lost her job when she wouldn’t obey her boss’s order to tell “a
little white lie” in a business deal. A lawyer who tried to live
according to God’s priorities for his life started working less than
the 80-hour a week norm for his firm. Soon he was shunned as someone
who “just isn’t pulling his weight around here.” As in first century,
authentic sainthood can lead to suffering.

In
America, we are blessed with an exceptional quality of religious
freedom. We will not be incarcerated for worshipping God or publicly
proclaiming the Gospel. But if we dare to question openly the values of
the cultural elites, we will soon find ourselves the target of
sustained verbal persecution. When a prominent leader, for example,
publicly suggests that homosexual behavior is sinful, that person is
attacked as a “hate-monger” and a “homophobic extremist.” He is even
accused of inciting hate crimes against gays and lesbians. When a
Christian denomination makes a public commitment to evangelize Jews and
Muslims, that denomination is denounced, not only by media pundits, but
even by political leaders in the official meetings of state and
national legislatures. As Yale law professor Stephen Carter
demonstrated so persuasively in his book, The Culture of Disbelief,
Christians in America who express their faith in public will be written
off by the cultural elite, if not libeled and blacklisted for their
religious convictions.

Of course many Christians
experience far more painful and extreme forms of suffering than being
fired, or shunned, or attacked in public. Throughout history, and in
many countries throughout the world today, Christians have been
imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. As we speak,
believers in the Sudan are being sold into slavery because of their
faith in Jesus Christ. A fellow Presbyterian pastor who serves in a
Vietnamese congregation not too far from my own spent many years
imprisoned in Vietnam, often locked in solitary confinement in a space
so small he couldn’t even stretch out to sleep. The suffering of our
brothers and sisters throughout the world needs to motivate both our
prayers and our activism. Fellowship with our persecuted Christian
family will touch our hearts, both inspiring our prayers for their
deliverance and moving us to work for their freedom. Moreover, knowing
that thousands of Christians are standing up for Christ in the midst of
severe persecution emboldens us to endure whatever suffering we must
face.

But, even if our suffering does not compare in
harshness to that experienced by some of our spiritual siblings, we
should expect to face adversity as we live holy lives in an unholy
world. If we never experience difficulties because we are Christians,
then we are probably falling short in holiness or insulating ourselves
completely from the world into which Christ has sent us. Suffering is
not an avoidable accident, but an essential element of the genuine
Christian life.

Suffering and Christian Fellowship

In
recent posts I’ve talked about how living as saints-people set apart
from this world for God and His purposes-can sometimes lead to
suffering. Often, however, our suffering comes not as a result of our
faith in Christ, but simply because we live in a fallen world. Sickness
and starvation, for example, are part and parcel of a sin-infested
creation. When we suffer from natural causes, we can’t attribute it to
the world’s rejection of our holiness because the material world
torments believers and non-believers alike. The same is often true of
socially-based suffering as well. But the pain of natural or social
suffering does remind us that “this world is not our home,” that we are
on a pilgrimage to a world where God will remove all of our sorrows,
“and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain” (Rev
21:4). (Picture to the right: All that was left of Christ Episcopal
Church in Bay St. Louis, MS, after Hurricane Katrina)

Suffering,
whether it comes from religious persecution, natural causes, or social
oppression, can lead us into a deeper experience of Christian
fellowship. On the one hand, suffering forges more profound
relationships among Christian brothers and sisters. In Paul’s
description of the church as the body of Christ, he notes that “if one
part suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Cor 12:26). He advises
the Romans to “weep with those who are weeping” (Rom 12:15). If you’ve
ever had the opportunity to share your suffering with those who have
genuine sympathy, you know how this kind of sharing gives new depth to
relationships. Friendliness is augmented by tenderness. Mutual
enjoyment becomes mutual gratitude. Christian fellowship only realizes
its full potential when brothers and sisters suffer and weep together.

On
the other hand, suffering also can lead us into deeper intimacy with
God. Certain kinds of pain help us to feel God’s heart for us in new
ways. I remember counseling with a father whose teenage son had walked
away from his faith and into the perilous world of drug abuse. As this
dad wept for his son, he shared what God was doing in his own spirit
through this terrible experience. “I think I’m just beginning to know
something about God’s heart for us. I am angry with my son for the
wrong he has done. I want him to stop it. But more than anything else,
my heart is breaking for him. I would do anything, literally anything,
if it would save my son. I would give up my very life for him.” Indeed,
this father was getting to know the heart of God, a God who in fact did
everything for us through Jesus Christ.

When
we hurt, God can seem very distant. Our prayers sometimes echo that of
the Psalmist:” O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide
when I need you the most?” (Ps 10:1). But there is a wide chasm between
our sense of God’s apparent remoteness and the truth of his proximity.
God does not stand far off, “watching us from as distance,” as the
popular song proclaims. On the contrary, our Heavenly Father has drawn
near to us in his Son. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, entered fully
into our humanity, even into our suffering and pain, in order to help
us. The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

It
was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers
and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest
before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the
sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and
temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted (Heb
2:17-18).

Jesus knows our
suffering from personal experience. Even though He is fully God, He is
able “to sympathize with our weaknesses, since he has been tested in
every way as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb 4:15). When we hurt,
Jesus, the Son of God, understands. When we wonder if God has forgotten
us, Jesus knows our desperation. Our triune God-the Father who loves us
as His children, the Son who shares our humanness and died for us, the
Spirit who dwells within us-hurts when we hurt, agonizes with our
agony, and never leaves us or abandons us (Deut 31:6-8; Heb 13:5).

Amazingly,
this is true even when our suffering comes as a result of our own sin.
I’ll have more to say about this in my next post in this series.

God is With Us Even When We Suffer Because of Our Sin

In
my last post I began to explain how suffering draws us into deeper
fellowship with other Christians, and even with God. Astoundingly, this
is true even when we suffer as a direct result of our own sin.

All
suffering stems ultimately from human sin, but that does not mean every
instance of suffering results from the sin of the sufferer. When His
disciples ask Jesus whether a man’s blindness is a result of his sin or
that of his parents, Jesus rejects both options (John 9:1-3). Many who
suffer do so because of the brokenness of the world or the viciousness
of human oppressors. But sometimes our suffering comes directly from
our sin. The pain of shattered family life, for example, can result
from adultery. In cases like these, when our suffering is in some sense
deserved, does God stand far off in dispassionate judgment?

In
Hosea 11 God recounts the history of Israel, the son whom He loved and
delivered from bondage in Egypt. Yet the more God called out to Israel,
the more Israel spurned the Lord and turned to idols. As a result,
Israel will return to servitude, this time under the Assyrians, whose
military might will squash the nation. God rightly judges His people
for their sin, their adulterous rejection of Him and His love. Their
suffering is deserved. But this doesn’t mean the heart of God has been
hardened against his beloved people. After predicting the coming
judgment, God laments:

Oh,
how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy
you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my
compassion overflows (Hos 11:8).

When
the season of discipline is over, the Lord will bring His people home
again (Hos 11:11) because His love and compassion for them have never
been quenched.

This is the same Lord who “showed his
great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still
sinners” (Rom 5:8). Even when our sin made us God’s enemies, our
gracious Father sent His own Son to die for us so that we might live
forever in fellowship with Him. “So now we can rejoice,” Paul
continues, “in our wonderful new relationship with God — all because
of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of
God” (Rom 5:11). Even as our entry into intimate fellowship with God
depends upon God’s grace and not upon ourselves, so it is true of our
ongoing fellowship with Him. When we sin, and when our sin leads to
suffering, God is still with us, sharing our sorrow while offering
forgiveness, healing, and hope.

Please don’t
misunderstand me. I’m not in any way minimizing the wrongness of sin.
I’m not saying that our sin doesn’t matter to God, or that God doesn’t
judge our sin. Without a doubt, our sin grieves the heart of God and
stands under His righteous judgment. Scripture tends to use an even
scarier word for God’s response to sin: wrath. God’s wrath is more than
just His anger toward our sin. It’s also His condemnation of sin. So we
who sin deserve the wrath of God.

Yet the God who
condemns our sin doesn’t forever reject us or hate us. In fact, the
good news is that God came Christ came to deliver us from the results
of divine wrath. In Christ we see God’s compassion and mercy, God’s
care for us even when we are caught in sin. In this reality we find
reassurance and hope. In my next post in this series I show in greater
details how we can be people of hope in the midst of a hurting world.

People of Hope in a Hurting World

Genuine,
lasting hope is in short supply these days. Oh, you might hear some
hopeful words from political candidates. And every now and then
somebody suggests that things might be getting better. But mostly we
are inundated with bad news and the despair it engenders, whether we’re
talking about world events or local challenges. A hopeful word usually
gets drowned in a sea of naysaying if not cynicism. It’s much more cool
to be cynical than to be hopeful.

Christians,
however, are to be people of hope. Our hope does not involve denying
the genuine pains and frustrations of this life. But it is hope in the
midst of them. Our hope begins by seeing the genuine good news in the
midst of the bad news.

The eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with lots of good news:

• There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ (Rom 8:1).
• God destroyed sin’s control over us (Rom 8:3).
• If we belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in us (Rom 8:9-11).
• We are God’s children who can call God “dear Father” (Rom 8:14-16).
• We will share in the treasure and glory of Christ (Rom 8:17).

But then, on the foundation of such encouraging news, Paul adds something that hits us like a punch in the solar plexus:

And since we are [God’s] children, we will share his treasures — for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Rom 8:17).

Whoa!
What is this? As believers in Jesus we look forward to sharing in his
own glory. Now that’s hope! But also we share in His suffering right
now. This may seem like more than we bargained for when we became
Christians, both positively and negatively. The idea that someday we
will be glorified along with Christ exceeds our expectations for
heaven. But the notion that we must suffer in the meanwhile pours a
bucket of icy water on our warm passion for following Jesus.

Why,
if we are part of God’s new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), must we
still suffer? The answer is that, though we begin to share in the new
creation at the moment we believe in Jesus, we are still caught in the
old, fallen creation for a while. As Paul explains in Romans 8, God’s
perfect world has been subjected to a curse because of human sin. Death
and decay replace life and health as the chief characteristics of
creation, a creation that “has been groaning as in the pains of
childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom 8:20-22). So, even though
the Spirit of God lives within us, giving us a foretaste of glory to
come, we also “groan to be released from pain and suffering” (Rom
8:23). In fact, we wait anxiously for that day when God will give us
our full rights as His children, including the new bodies he has
promised us. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this
freedom (Rom 8:23-24). (Picture above: When I think of glory, I
remember watching sunset over the Grand Tetons.)

In
the midst of our current struggle, we look forward with hope to the
completion of what Christ has begun with His death and resurrection. We
yearn for the day when “The kingdom of this world has become the
kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and
ever. Hallelujah!” (Rev 11:15, translation from Handel’s Messiah).

Living
with such hope in the midst of a hurting world necessarily creates
tension in our lives. Tomorrow I’ll have more to say about that
tension.

Living in Hopeful Tension

Yesterday
I explained that Christians acknowledge the suffering and pain of this
world, but live, nevertheless, with hope. Our hope is oriented to the
future, when God will fully reveal His kingdom in the transformation of
heaven and earth. This means that we live with a certain tension
between what is now and what will be in the future.

Theologians
have called this tension the “the already and the not yet.” Christ has
already died on the cross and rose from the grace, thus banishing sin
and defeating death. We have already begun to experience the new
creation. The Holy Spirit already lives within us, giving us new life
and sharing God’s power with us. But . . . God isn’t finished with us
or with creation. The battle between God and Satan still rages, even
though the final outcome is secure. We still struggle with sinful and
mortal flesh. The powers of this fallen world continue to oppose God
and those who align themselves with His kingdom. Suffering is an
inevitable component of our “in-between” status, as we live for God in
a world that opposes Him. Some suffering comes from the brokenness of
creation, from disease and natural disasters. Some suffering comes from
the brokenness in human relationships. Some suffering comes from a
world that hates us because of our allegiance to Christ (Matt 24:9;
John 15:18-21; 17:14).

It’s hard to live in tension.
Some Christians try to resolve the tension by over-simplifying the
Christian life. You might hear some believers focus entirely upon new
life in Christ, even claiming that people with adequate faith should
never suffer. Others over-emphasize our suffering with Christ,
virtually denying the experience of new creation in the Spirit. But if
our life is to be primarily shaped by scriptural truth and not our own
lopsided experience, then we must continue to live in the awkward
tension of the “already and not yet.”

Our
life in Christ is like that of a woman who is nine months pregnant. I
marveled at my wife’s fortitude during her last month of pregnancies.
She was extremely uncomfortable, carrying what looked like a giant
pumpkin in her belly. Sleep came with great difficulty, since no
position would take away her discomfort. Yet, as Linda suffered with
physical struggles that would have turned me into a self-pitying
pouter, she abounded with hope. She counted the days until she would
hold her baby, and faced her physical discomforts with particular joy.
What kept her going? The sense that she was in some way already a
mother, even as she was not yet the mother she would become when she
could finally hold her child. She lived in the “already and not yet,”
sustained by hope.

That’s exactly how we should live
as Christians, with joyful hope in the midst of genuine suffering, not
denying the pain, nor succumbing to despair. The tension we feel in
this world as Christians will not be resolved this side of the new
creation.

The Content of Our Hope

In
yesterday’s post I wrote about how Christians live in the tension
between the “already and not yet.” Though God’s kingdom has already
begun to be present on earth, it is not yet here in all fullness.
Though sin has already been defeated through Christ’s death on the
cross, we have not yet experienced life without sin. And so forth and
so on in our “already and not yet” reality. Because of what we already
experience as believers, we have hope for the future. We have
confidence that the “not yet” will someday come.

One
common mistake with regard to hope, one made by Christians and
non-Christians alike, is to place our hope in the wrong thing. This
inevitably leads to disappointment. Thus we must pay close attention to
the proper content of hope.

We get help in this
regard from the first letter of Peter in the New Testament. Notice how
Peter begins his letter to suffering Christians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and into an
inheritance that is imperishable, unstained, and undefiled, kept in
heaven for you. You are being guarded by the power of God through
faith, for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this fact you are rejoicing, even if for a little while you have had to suffer various kinds of trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith (being more precious than gold,
which, though perishable, is shown to be genuine by fire) may be found
to result in your praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is
revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you
still don’t see him, believing in him you are rejoicing with unspeakable and glorious joy, as you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:3-9, MDR).

Though
the recipients of Peter’s letter are suffering “various kinds of
trials,” they nevertheless embrace a “living hope” because of the
resurrection of Jesus. Here the resurrection serves, not only to
exonerate the ministry of Jesus and confirm His status as God’s chosen
Messiah, but also to show us what lies ahead for us. Our hope is a
resurrection hope, in that it is both based on the resurrection of
Jesus and looking forward to our own resurrectiopn. In time we will
also be raised and will receive an “imperishable, unstained, and
undefiled” inheritance. Additionally, we will receive “praise and glory
and honor” when Christ is revealed. In the meanwhile, we hold fast to
our hope with “unspeakable and glorious joy.”

Notice
carefully the content of Christian hope. We place our hope in God, in
his ultimate victory through Christ, and in our future inheritance.
Hope that depends on what God has already done in Christ and focuses on
what God will certainly do through Christ is a “living hope,” a hope
that will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). Christian hope is not, however,
a Pollyanna-like naïveté about life, a simplistic affirmation that
everything will turn out just the way we want it to. Surely, everything
will turn out right in the end, if by “the end” we mean the end of
human history when Christ returns and God’s kingdom is fully
manifested. But along the way, many things won’t turn out the way we’d
like them to.

I still remember a line from a sermon
preached by Bruce Larson when I was in junior high. He was critiquing
the simplistic view that Christians will always be delivered from
suffering. “The early Christians were delivered from the lions,” he
said, “they were delivered as lion dung!” You can see why this so
impressed a junior high boy that I remember it to this day. Larson was
right. Thousands of faithful Christians were put to death by Roman
gladiators or consumed by Roman lions. They were delivered, not from
suffering and death, but through suffering and death into eternal life.

Yet our hope of a future with God isn’t something we
put on our spiritual shelf to admire from a distance. Rather, it gives
us motivation to live each day for God and His kingdoms. And it helps
us to face life’s challenges and pains with distinctive hope. In my
next post I’ll provide some specific examples of how hope makes a
difference for people in the midst of suffering.

Hope in the Midst of Struggle and Suffering

In
my last post I explained that Christian hope is focused in God and
God’s future. It is not believing that everything in our lives will
turn out as we’d like it to be. As a pastor I often meet with people
before they have major surgery. I listen to their fears and try to
encourage them with God’s unfailing love. Sometimes I hear their
friends make an effort to be hopeful, saying something like: “Oh, I
just know it isn’t cancer. I’m sure everything will turn out just
fine.” The intention behind this sort of hope is noble, but it isn’t
Christian hope. Wonderful, faithful, God-fearing people get cancer.
Sometimes they die unexpectedly in surgery. Although God is present in
medical procedures and often heals in marvelous ways, sometimes, for
reasons beyond our wisdom, tragedies occur.

For
example, some years ago my heart was heavy as a young woman from my
congregation was giving birth to her baby, a baby who died several days
earlier in her womb. I ached for this dear woman and her husband. Their
suffering was real. Yet so was God’s presence with them in their pain.
They could have unfailing hope that God would be with them as they
“walked through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4, KJV).
Furthermore, they could be certain that, when someday they stand in the
presence of Christ, their pain will have passed and their rejoicing
will be complete. They can embrace the sure hope of the future, even as
they suffer through the sure suffering of the present.

Hope
is elusive in our world today. Oh, to be sure, if the economy is strong
people can be hopeful, in a way. Technological advances seem to offer a
better life, sort of. Political candidates promise prosperity and
peace. But despair always seems to be lurking right around the corner.
Dismal financial news sends the stock market plunging. Technology
presents us with the ease of e-mail and the scourge of on-line
pornography. Hopeful candidates become elected officials who fail to
fulfill their promises while claiming glorious success. Terrorism
threatens to rip apart the very fabric of civilized, free society. Then
you add all of the personal struggles: families falling apart,
marriages on their last legs, job insecurities, terminal illnesses,
etc. etc. Why have hope? What sense does it make to be hopeful in a
world so broken and hurting? How can we have hope in a post 9/11 world?

From a merely human perspective, it makes no sense at
all. If there is no God in heaven who cares about us, if Christ has not
died for our sins and risen as a sign of what is to come, then hope
should be banished as happy-faced poppycock. Postmodern people have
peered behind the veil of modernist hope in human achievement and
discovered that there’s nothing there. Cynicism is our last defense in
a hopeless world.

But Christians are set apart from
this world by being people of hope. We know what God has done and we
are confident in what God will do. Jesus says, “Here on earth you will
have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome
the world” (John 16:33). Jesus has conquered the fallen world and is in
the process of finishing up what His death and resurrection began. Not
even death, however painful it might be, can steal away our hope. As
Paul writes to the Corinthians:

When our perishable
earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will
never die — then at last the Scriptures will come true:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its
power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death
through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be
strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you
know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (1 Cor 15:54-58).

Even
as we look forward to God’s final victory, we begin now to rejoice in
hope. Our hope gives us strength to continue in the Lord’s work,
knowing our labors have everlasting value. For us, the world is not
only a hostile environment in which we suffer – it is not only a
hurting place that will someday be transformed by God’s reign – but it
is also the realm in which we serve the Lord.

How to Begin to Live as a Saint

As
I’ve explained earlier in this series, if you’re a Christian, then
you’re a saint, a person set-apart by God for relationship with Him and
to serve Him in the world. So how do you begin to live as a saint on a
daily basis?

First of all, don’t get all puffed up
about receiving the title of “saint.” Remember, it’s not a reward for a
godly life, but an invitation to start living one. I wouldn’t recommend
that you change your business card by adding the title “Saint” to your
name.

Remember also that your sainthood depends upon
what God has done, setting you apart for himself and his service
through Christ. If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, then you
are a saint. So be what you are! Live like it! As you get up in the
morning, remember your primary purpose for the day: To live as a person
dedicated to God and God’s work.

It may be that the
Holy Spirit has revealed to you an area of your life in need of
transformation. Watch out for the natural tendency to rationalize away
what God is saying to you! Instead, let the Scripture be that which
tells you the truth about your life. Ask the Lord for help in living by
his standards, not the standards of the world.

Also,
remember that sainthood is not a solitary journey, but a pilgrimage
shared with other believers in Jesus. If you try to be different from
this world all by yourself, you will surely fail. Commit yourself to a
community of Christians who understand that they have been set apart by
God for special purposes.

You cannot live a holy life apart from the power of the Holy
Spirit. God has given you his Spirit, in part, to help you live in way
that is different from the world. The more you spend time in fellowship
with God, the more you will be empowered to live distinctively. Bible
reading, prayer, and worship contribute mightily to our active
holiness. (Photo: Even kids know they need fellowship with other
believers to grow in faith.)

One of the ways the world reinforces
its godless values is through peer pressure. If “everybody’s doing it,”
then why shouldn’t you? That’s especially true if “everybody” includes
your close friends or family. We often talk about peer pressure as a
problem for teenagers, and indeed it is. But most adults I know work
hard to be like those around us and to gain their approval. We just
don’t call it peer pressure; we call it “getting along” or
“socialization.” If we are going to live in a way that displeases our
secular peers, and perhaps even causes them to turn against us, then we
need an alternative peer group. We need intimate communion with our
brothers and sisters in Christ. Regular support, prayer, encouragement,
and accountability will help us to fend off the world’s disapproval,
and to delight in God’s approval above all.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mark D. Roberts. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 2:09:11pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions
In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand the necessity of Jesus’ death without taking them all

posted 2:47:39am Apr. 11, 2011 | read full post »

Sunday Inspiration from the High Calling
Can We Find God in the City? Psalm 48:1-14 Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever,

posted 2:05:51am Apr. 10, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 3
An Act and Symbol of Love Perhaps one of the most startling of the early Christian interpretations of the cross was that it was all about love. It’s easy in our day, when crosses are religious symbols, attractive ornaments, and trendy jewelry to associate the cross with love. But, in the first

posted 2:41:47am Apr. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2
The Means of Reconciliation In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). Yet this text doesn’t expl

posted 2:30:03am Apr. 07, 2011 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.