Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Perfect Brightness of Hope

From Webster’s dictionary we learn that hope is a “belief, desire, trust, promise, or aspiration.” Among other righteous attributes, we are to have hope to receive eternal life. So the question might be: How do we have hope? The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into his grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:1-2.) Paul said that we become justified in Christ by way of faith, and because of faith we can have hope. Hope, therefore, seems to be preceded by faith, which subject was discussed in the previous chapter.

Hope by Way of Faith
We learned in a previous chapter that faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. (See James 2:14-22.) To the Galatians Paul wrote concerning faith: “for we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness of faith.” (Gal. 5:5.) Here we learn that the hope of righteousness comes by faith, or in other words, by the exercise of our faith. That means doing something. There is hope when we are actively engaged in a good cause and exercising our faith in righteousness.

There needs to be an exercise of faith before there can be any hope. Yet, without hope there will be little incentive to exercise any faith. A close inter-working of these two principles (faith and hope) exists. Can we hope for the Lord’s blessing when we are not obedient? No, we cannot! If we try to exercise faith when we know we have been amiss in our duties before God, our faith will not be true; it will not be based upon the knowledge of worthiness. Such faith, then, is a false faith, and we hope in vain. Hope comes by truth faith, which is based upon knowledge of personal worthiness. That faith then becomes an anchor to the soul, helping us become sure and steadfast before God.

So, what is it we hope for? We have hope through the atonement of Christ, His redeeming blood, and the power of His resurrection. We hope to be raised up unto eternal life and saved in our Father’s kingdom through Christ Jesus. Therefore, when we have faith we also have hope, for without faith there cannot be any hope. When our hearts are true with God, we exercise faith by way of positive action; which, in turn, opens the door of hope. But without exercising faith through positive action, we hope in vain. However, when we have been faithful, and our prayers are offered, and we know that God knows we have been faithful, then we can ask in faith, knowing where we stand before Him. With that faith and hope comes confidence, the confidence to ask of God and know that prayers will be answered. This is mighty prayer. It is the prayer of confidence—confidence that waxes strong before the Lord.

Confidence means to be sure, or have assurance. It is a feeling of certainty. Confidence is strength. It is based upon the sure knowledge a person has of knowing where he stands before God—the confidence that he is performing to the best of his ability, and he knows the Lord knows it. Thus, he approaches God with clean hands, having faith like unto the prophets of old that worked mighty miracles.

One of the keys, then, is to have the intent of our heart pure before God, and to know where we stand before Him. We will then have that perfect brightness of hope and the confidence to call down the powers of Heaven. We can then express gratitude for the blessings that will be coming because they already exist, but are only waiting for their manifestation.

A Parable on Faith and Hope
At this point let’s consider a simple parable that might teach us something about desire, belief, faith, hope and confidence.

Once there was a man who had an old car that didn’t run, and for a long time the car sat abandoned under a big oak tree behind the man’s barn. For a while the man got along fine without the car, but circumstances now dictated a need for one. However, there were no other cars to be had, except the abandoned one under the tree. His needs created a suspicion that perhaps if worked on, the car might run and be of service to him. Believing this he set to work.

The man knew very little about cars, so he inquired of the auto manufacturer; whereupon the manufacturer sent a repair manual and informed the man where he could go to receive the help he needed to get the car running. Upon study, inquiry and examination, the man discovered that nothing more was required than simply putting in gasoline, changing the oil, checking the wires, installing a new battery, tuning it up with new points and plugs, and adjusting the carburetor. Desiring to do the work himself without the aid of an auto mechanic, he set to work.

The man followed the instructions carefully. But not being familiar with mechanical things, the task was a real trial as he made mistake after mistake. Nevertheless, he got the job done because he believed what he studied, and learned from those who knew something about auto repair. Now the faith part, the testing of the car to see if it would start.

With hope, he put the key into the ignition in preparation to start the car. There he sat in the driver’s seat with his hand on the key, pondering about what had been done to that point: He needed the car to run so he studied the situation, conversed with those who knew, learned where the problems were and considered what work needed to be done to fix them. He faithfully did his work as instructed and sat hoping it would start. Because of his belief and diligence he had confidence that it would start, so he turned the key in the ignition. After a few strange and unfamiliar sounds, the car belched out some black air pollution and then began to run as the man had hoped for.

As noted in this story, we find a sequence of important events. By simple analysis one can see more clearly what might be required to please God. First: One must have a belief. Belief is always based on a desire or need. If one does not have a desire, he has no need to establish a belief. Second: Belief must be turned into positive action toward obtaining the objective. In other words, repentance and obedience to required commandments and laws. However, before one can be obedient, he must know to what principles he must adhere. Third: Upon investigation through scriptural study and personal communication with The Father, one will learn the principles to which he must become obedient. Fourth: Faith is developed by obedience to principles, or positive action, toward the desired objective. As the Apostle James put it: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17.) Therefore, faith is belief coupled with positive action. Though this action may not be easy and may try one to the utmost, yet it is an essential ingredient of the formula to receive the miracle. Fifth: Through the trial of faith, one can have hope. He can now approach his God without shame, but with confidence, waxing strong in his petition before the Lord. Sixth: With sufficient confidence, the positive spiritual energy generated brings forth the gifts and miracles of God.

Of course the six steps as just presented in this little story are not intended to be a formula, but are only offered as concepts. It is the gospel principles that are eternal.

A Hope for Salvation
There is a misunderstood statement by Paul, found in Romans 10:9, that many Christians use to justify their belief that they are saved. Although quoted in a previous chapter, let’s review it agin: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Based upon this scripture, we often hear Christians say that they are “saved.” This statement can be both true and not true at the same time. I don’t mean to confuse you here, so let’s clarify it.

Confessing that Jesus is Lord is at the beginning of the journey, it is not the end. Confessing must come first before anything else can take place. If confessing is all that we do, we will come up short, for Jesus also gave commandments which we must obey AFTER we confess that He is the Christ. Confession is the beginning of salvation, not the end; and hope is established as we follow through on that confession.

Why are we told to hope if we are saved now? If we are saved now we don’t need to hope for salvation any more because we already have it. It’s like hoping to graduate from college after we have already done so and received our diploma. It doesn’t make sense to keep hoping. It’s already an accomplished fact, so what is there left to hope for?

Enduring to the End
Actually, salvation is at the end of the journey, not at the beginning. Jesus taught us by saying, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matt. 24:13.) Mark records: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13.)

“Endure unto the end”? What does that mean? It implies that if we do not finish the race, as did Paul, we will not receive the crown. To Timothy Paul wrote, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness....” (2 Tim. 4:7-8.) A Webster’s dictionary gives the meaning of the word henceforth as: “from this time onward; from now on.” Paul had to endure to the end and finish his race. He had to endure by keeping the faith. He had to “faint not.” He did not count himself saved until AFTER his work was done, and done faithfully. We are to keep working at it, enduring to the end in faith and love, keeping an eye single to the glory of God, serving and blessing Father’s children, and not sit back for a free ride just because we once did something good. Jesus spoke very plainly, and Paul knew it. Only he who endures to the end will be saved—not saved before he endures, but after he endures.

Exceeding Great and Precious Promises
In reference to this, let’s take a look at what Peter had to say to the saints who had already “obtained precious faith ... through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 1:1.) He said to them, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (v. 4.) He said to those saints they had been given precious promises that they might be partakers of the divine nature of Christ. They had not received it as of yet, but it was promised; they had not been saved in the Kingdom of God yet, but that salvation was promised.

To help assure the realization of this promise, Peter gave further instruction in verses 5 through 9: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” Besides what they had already received, they were to add to their faith such things as, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. With such things in them, they were to become more fruitful in the knowledge of God. But Peter made an interesting statement; he said to those who had ALREADY obtained precious faith that if they lacked such things they were blind and had forgotten what Jesus did for them; they were in danger of falling from grace.

To assure that they would not fall, Peter continued in verse 10 with, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Here Peter says that they must do something to assure their salvation, it was to “give diligence to make [their] calling and election sure.” You see, they were NOT saved, but received only the promise of salvation upon continued diligence in the faith unto the end. They still had to work at it, to the end, to secure the promise.

The Lazy Man’s Gospel
Philosophies which say that we do not have to endure to the end to be saved, or that once saved we are always saved, I’m sorry to say, are a lazy man’s gospel. Such erroneous beliefs please slothful, neglectful, and lackadaisical people. It’s comfortable to them because it denies their responsibility in their own salvation. Paul wrote to the Philippians and said, “... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12.) Here, again, we have Paul speaking of having to “work” to be saved. We are to keep working at it, enduring to the end in faith and love, keeping an eye single to God’s glory and the blessing of His children, and not sitting back for a free ride just because we once did something good, or simply said we believe in Jesus.

The Lord taught that “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is heaven.” (Matt. 7:21.) Putting in another way this verse might read: “Not every one that confesses My name shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is heaven.”

We will not be able to abide the Kingdom of Heaven just because we profess or claim that Jesus is the Christ, for the devils also believe He is the Christ. We will only achieve that Kingdom when we do the Father’s will, which is much more than a simple verbal utterance. Jesus did not say only to confess His name, but He plainly said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.) This simple commandment encompasses all the others.

Jesus Christ endured to the end of His trial, and He requires no less of us. We need to keep all of this in perspective, however. Even though we endure to the end before we are actually saved, that endurance will not be enough to save us. No matter how good we are, how hard we work, or how long we endure, it will not be enough. It is only by the grace of Christ Jesus that we are saved. He makes up the difference and provides something better.

Hope in Christ
Perhaps this discussion can be brought to a close by offering a few more introspective questions we can ask ourselves, such as: Have I truly been spiritually born again of God—not just baptized by water into some organized church, but born again? Have I experienced a mighty change in my heart? Can others see God’s image in my countenance, and does the light and love of Jesus radiate from my face? Have I consciously, purposely, knowingly, and with full intent accepted Christ into my life as my Savior and the only way back to the Father? Am I willing to give everything I have, and ever hope to have, to Him, to bring glory and honor to His name? Am I enduring in patience unto the end of my time here in this world, with love and an eye single to God’s glory? Would my actions and way of life provide enough evidence to condemn me in a court of law as being a true disciple of Jesus Christ? When there is that evidence, there is hope.

To effectively embark on a journey as a disciple of Christ, we must first have hope in Jesus. We are never deserving of God’s grace, but He gives it anyway. We all have offended and neglected the Lord. All have sinned, causing Him to suffer great agony and shed His blood in the garden and on the cross of Calvary; but He loves and forgives us anyway. Being unclean, we are not able to return to the Father. However, our hope comes when we give our life to Christ, faithfully keeping those covenants. When we consecrate all we have unto the Lord, Jesus Christ, He goes before the Father and intercedes in our behalf. Knowing this provides the joy of hope.

A perfect brightness of hope helps us rejoice in adversity. There may be serious persecution for those who give their lives to Christ, but the Savior said, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matt. 5:12.) We rejoice in songs of praise as Paul and Silas did after they were thrust into prison and had their feet locked in stocks. (Acts 16:19-27.) When we covenant to give our life to Christ, we have hope and the joy to declare with the psalmist, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19.) “I will extol thee, my God, O King; and I will bless thy name forever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name forever and ever. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;...” (Psalm 145:1-3.)