At the last Grace Collective on ‘Heaven, Hell, and Hope” I spoke briefly on the topic of Christian hope. If you remember (and I wouldn’t blame ya if you didn’t!) I looked at a few marvellous verses from Colossians 1:3-5:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.”
I tried to extract three main points from these verses:
- Our hope is undeserved – it is laid up for us, not by us. Nothing you have done, or will do, will make you deserving of this hope.
- Our hope is heavenly – it is laid up in heaven. A few chapters later Paul urges us to set our minds on the things that are above, and not on the things of earth (3:2). In other words, Christians are people who love to gaze and gaze and gaze at their God, especially in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the bible.
- Our hope transforms us – because of this hope, we have love (always look for key conjunctions like these when you read the bible). Why does this happen? Because where your treasures are, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:21), and if your treasure is in heaven – that place of perfect love – love will grow in your life also. Is this not the meaning of 2 Corinthians 3:18? It says: “and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”.
And so I finished by urging us to earnestly seek after God in prayer and in the bible. For if we fiercely fixed our eyes on the hope we have in Christ O how this community would shine with such incredible love toward one another, and toward the word, that folks would see our good deeds and ask, ‘What is up with you? Why are you different? What is your hope?’. And, God willing, some will be lead to praise our father in heaven (Matt 5:16) – which is what this life is all about.
All swell, right? Well, no. I kind of missed something. I never actually talked about what this hope even is!
In short, our hope is ‘the gospel’. That’s a good ol’ buzz word, but what does it mean? It is the most important message in the universe, so I plead with you to read on; and not just that, be Berean-like and test what I am saying against the bible (Acts 17:11).
Our hope – the Christian gospel – involves four key points.
- The gospel is a message about God!
It’s not natural for me to think about there being a big mighty King of the universe. I’m normally pretty preoccupied thinking about myself. But you cannot even start talking about the Christian hope until you realise that there is an infinite gulf separating you and God. God is God – the great I AM. Have you ever thought about that? He is infinite; my life is here one moment and gone the next (not to mention I spend 1/3 of it curled up unconscious on my bed). He created the universe; I can barely draw stick figures. He knows everything; I forget where I put my keys a minute after I put them down. I could go on…Do you get the point? Here it is:
Life. Simply. Is. Not. About. You.
He created us to glorify Him (1 Cor 10:31). He owes us nothing. And we cannot even breathe without him. Check out Acts 17:25 if you don’t believe me: “he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else”
- The gospel is a message about sin.
God is not only all-powerful. He’s also perfect. He is the definition of goodness, truth, and beauty. He sets the standards…and we all (yes, even you) fall woefully short of His glory. What does it means to ‘glorify’ God? One way to think of it is that we glorify what we find the most pleasure in. If you have a choice between mum’s dinner and ice-cream, and you choose ice-cream, you are glorifying ice-cream. If you choose to pursue more and more money even though it makes you unhappy, you are glorifying money. Now it’s pretty clear that we seek pleasure almost everywhere else but in God – in food, in the praise of man, in sex, in high grades, you name it.
Don’t get me wrong, God is not anti these material pleasures – he created them (1 Tim 4:4). But as Romans 1:25 says, we have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”. We wanted the gifts and not the gift-giver. And in so doing we bought into a lie, because God is the most beautiful, satisfying, pleasurable thing in the universe. We rebelled against our Creator. That is sin. And we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
Let me make this quite clear. Sin is a weighty matter. At its core, sin is not making your siblings cry. It is committed against God. Remember King David, the guy who committed adultery? In Psalm 51 he cried for forgiveness with the words: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”. God looks at even our most righteous deeds and sees them as dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) for they are corrupted with our rebellious spirit. And we are helpless to do anything about it. ‘How disempowering!’ you say. Yes, it is. But it’s true. If you don’t feel utterly hopeless, I have said it wrong.
Because it is fearful state to find yourself in when the God of the universe finds your sin abhorrent.
- The gospel is a message about the person and work of Christ.
This is where it gets real good. Let me take you to Ephesians 2 (grab a bible and read along!). It starts off super scary: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.
And then – kapow! – verse 4 hits you like a freight-train: “BUT GOD”. Don’t you love it? Here’s the full sentence. “but God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”
Let’s carry on with Romans 3: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith”
‘Propitiation’ is a pretty fancy pancy word. It means that Christ died for sinners and absorbed the wrath of God that you deserved. Does that blow your mind? God ordained to crush His precious son so that anyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. And Christ went willingly, laying down his life for those who hated him (John 10:18). Why??? For love. Don’t miss this: Christ is our only hope of avoiding the just wrath of God and reconciling ourselves to the highest fulfilment and delight in the universe, namely God.
You didn’t deserve this chance. God was not required to offer it. It is a gift.
- The gospel is a summons to faith and repentance.
So that’s the gospel. But it’s not a message of hope for everyone. For many, tragically, it is an ugly, hateful message, a stumbling block and an offense. It is hopeful only if it is ‘received in faith’ as it says in Romans 3.
So what is faith? It is not a mere optimistic feeling. Nor is it doing ‘Christian things’ – being good, going to church, reading your bible and so on and on. It requires you hear and understand the gospel (Romans 10:17). It requires you believe it. And it requires you personally trust in Christ as your Lord and Saviour, giving up any hope of earning the approval of God and relying solely in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
This is no small move. It is a radical break from the past – you become a new creation, and the old self must die. Jesus’ words are worth meditating on: “and he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23). But O how sweet the promises: new life; intimacy with God; adoption as sons of God and co-heirs with Christ; the promise that God will work everything for your good…it goes and on. Read Romans 8 sometime and it will blow off your self-pitying ‘the Christian-life-is-to-hard’ socks.
One final point. This side of earth, your life will never live up to the majesty of this gospel. Yes, it should change you. And you should hunger and thirst for more gospel-produced righteousness if your life. But the message will always outstrip us. How could it not? So do not wait until your life is more perfect before sharing it with others. People need to hear it, and you cannot wait. The gospel will always be the pearl, and we, mere jars of clay.
– Selwyn Fraser.