Thursday, May 8, 2014

Persevering of hope and faith

Article text:
Rom 5:1-5 – 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.  5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

This Romans 5 text is a follow-on from Romans 4 where the author, believed to be the Apostle Paul, talked about the persevering faith and hope, of our Father of Faith, the patriarch Abraham.

Starting from Rom 4:16, we can see Paul held up Abraham as our Father of Faith.  God told Abraham that He was going to make him the father of many nations.  In Rom 4:17, Scripture tells us that Abraham believed the God whom he believed, to be “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not”; in other words, he believed his God (and ours, too) was/is almighty God who is the creator of all things, that nothing was/is impossible with God.

Some people noted that this Romans 5 text started with hope and then ended in hope (character produces hope [v4])!  It is right to say, we believers already possess a hope and a faith, to begin with (if we have indeed accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior); in Rom 4:18-21, it is said the same, of Abraham.  Rom 4:18 (NIV), Paul said “Abraham IN HOPE believed, and so became the father….  In fact, there was the phrase “against all hope” preceding “Abraham IN HOPE believed ….”; what does it imply?  It was meant to say, despite many challenges to his hope over time, Abraham continued to believe.  He did NOT lose hope despite the odds staring at him.  Hope is made stronger and persevering when it “has survived” challenges thrown at it. 

Again, was Abraham with some faith already?  Yes, Rom 4:19 (NIV) said this, “WITHOUT WEAKENING IN HIS FAITH, he [Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead”.  As is the case for hope, faith too, is made stronger and persevering when “it has survived” challenges thrown at it.  That is what Rom 4:20 said, “Yet he [Abraham] did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but WAS STRENGTHENED IN HIS FAITH ….” V21 – “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised

The Apostle Paul went on to explain how righteousness is accorded (counted/credited) to us.  In Rom 4:22, Paul explained, “This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.””  How? Righteousness is credited to Abraham in his persevering of hope and faith, giving up, NOT.  And Paul said how (in v23) “it was credited to him” were written not for him [Abraham] alone, (v24) BUT ALSO FOR US, to whom God will credit righteousness— ….”.  It is the same for us, through our perseverance of hope and faith, and it begins with our initial faith (salvation faith) [that the works of Christ Jesus wrought us our justification], and with our hope of going to Heaven (salvation hope/hope of glory).  That was how Romans 4 ended, and in Rom 5:1, we read, “Therefore, since ….”. 

The “Therefore, since …” is what links the Roman 5 text we are looking at, to Paul’s talking about we need to be persevering of hope and faith as illustrated by the patriarch Abraham’s life (Romans 4).

Paul was in this Romans 5 text saying, therefore, we, as believers, we have had also righteousness counted to us, and we will continue to have righteousness counted to us, just as we could expect it to have happened to Abraham, that God continued to count righteousness to him, when a life of persevering of hope and faith is being pursued.

“Initiation” has a place in God’s scheme of things or His ways.  What it means is that from then on (from “initiation”), you are counted as ……. whatever the counting is for.  So, for our entry into salvation, we are counted righteous, we counted as citizen of Heaven, we are counted as children of God, we are counted as disciples of the Lord, etc. 

The idea is similar to (metaphor only) when we are recruited into a company, as (say) the Accounts Manager (Accounting Manager) of the company.  So, when you report for work, after the recruitment process (“initiation”), you are introduced as the Accounts Manager of the company.  Now, you have then to function as the Accounts Manager of the company.  You are in name or status, the Accounts Manager of the company, and you are to function as such.  Now, suppose you made a mistake and the company (the recruiter) also made a mistake; you were a Sales Account Manager (previously), but you are recruited as the Finance Accounts Manager.  Now, you do NOT know and cannot perform your role; you may be the Accounting Manager in status, it is a matter of time, you will be discovered of your unfitness for the position, and you will stripped of your position, and asked to go.  What would have made you fit for the position that you have been named into?  The accounting schooling and experience thereof would have fitted you for the position; you have none of it, actually; but you got in, first. (I am NOT suggesting, though, that we can easily have our names erased from the Lamb’s book of life – this is a metaphor. But justification and sanctification are both required for you to get into the company of Heaven, so to speak).

That is why we can find such texts in Scripture:

1 John 3:7 (NASB) – “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one WHO PRACTISES righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous,” and

Rom 8:14-17 (NASB) - 14 FOR all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, IF INDEED WE suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Phil 2:12 -  Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my [Paul] presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling.

The notion (of some) that all we need, is righteous standing, and there is NOT the necessity of right living is incorrect.  If it were just right standing only is necessary, the NT Bible needed NOT be that thick, loaded with so much the “dos and don’ts”, and the “hows”; 6-7 pages will do, isn’t it NOT, if all is needed is justification, which is by grace (God’s part anyway). 

Yes, when we entered into salvation, we are counted (adopted) as sons, yet Rom 8:14 said that (truly) sons of God are the ones led by the Spirit of God.  The adoption or conversion is the “initiation”. We still need to walk worthy of the counting or crediting (or calling); and how is that ever able to be accomplished?  Rom 8:14 said it, by being led by the Spirit of God.  If you are no longer being led by the Spirit of God (not referring to occasional lapses), you are no longer the sons of God.

People like to jump to Rom 8:16-17, and say we are children of God and heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ Jesus, of the Kingdom of Heaven, but many just imagined the last bit away – the “IF INDEED WE suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  This is NOT the right way to handle scriptures.

I will NOT go into what suffering is, here, but it suffices to say that, it, at least includes sacrificing, even though that, sacrifice, may need to be explained for some to understand.  We do need to make some sacrifice (for sacrifice is part of love, that we love God), so that we may share in the Lord’s glory.  The Apostle Peter painted for us the same picture of suffering-participation (or sacrifice for Jesus) as being part and parcel of our salvation walk.

1 Pet 4:12-19 - 12 Dear friends, DO NOT BE SURPRISED at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

If you look closely at this 1 Peter text, in v18, the Apostle Peter did imply it is NOT as easy as some think, we will get to Heaven (like we just need to accept Jesus as our Saviour by saying the Sinner’s Prayer).  Reading v18 with v17, the “righteous” of v18 should be referring to the believers (God’s household); not so easy for righteous to be saved!  Why? Because many do NOT love the Lord enough, for their version of love has no suffering and no sacrifice for the Lover (God) of their life.  Perhaps, rather, they suffer and sacrifice for other reasons other than as a “participation in the sufferings of Christ”. 

What does the v19 mean by “those who suffer …  should commit themselves to their faithful Creator ….”?  It implies we have to persevere in hope and faith in our Creator God (Also, as a side, it is to be noted that it is NOT God must lead you by His Spirit, but that God is faithful (to lead you); the two are NOT the same; and some people are erroneously holding out to us that it is “God must”; God owing us!  No.).

The Apostle James also highlighted the same -

James 1:2-4 - 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

It is in the trials of many kinds, that our posture and actions tell on us, whether or NOT, we are still holding on to our faith and hope.  When the trials call for participation in the sufferings of Christ or sacrifices, will you still hold on to your faith and hope?!  Will you persevere and continue to do good?  Will you consider it pure joy, with the understanding that the development of perseverance of hope and faith, is part and parcel of our Christian character development; joyous that God could use the trials to develop our holiness and godliness, which are necessary for us to of, to go to dwell with Him, in Heaven.  Why is it NOT joy to know that one is progressing (onwards to Heaven)!

In 2 Cor 1:5, the Apostle Paul said this: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 

And he went on to say that if they (Paul and his company) get comforted, it was for the Corinthians’ comfort, which would produce in them (Corinthian) patient endurance of the same sufferings they (Paul and company) suffered.   What Paul said was that we can expect to be comforted by God, in our present life (if NOT, in our after-life, when we come into the sharing of the glory of our Lord), when we do participate in the sufferings of Christ.  

When Paul and his company did get comforted by God, then they would have a (positive) testimony for the Corinthians to take comfort in, and to help them (testimony “encourages” hope and faith) in patient endurance of the sufferings they, too, might have to face (believers, generally, may have to, too).

Phil 2:12, that “work out our salvation” is a reminder to us, that salvation is NOT a one-off incident of saying the Sinner’s Prayer; if it were, there is no “working out” to talk about.  Salvation is justification followed by a life of sanctification before culminating in sharing of the glory of our Lord, in Heaven.  In that life of sanctification, there is testing of the faith and hope, “that it may prove genuine”. In 1 Pet 1:6-7, we read this: “6 In all this [inheritance in Heaven] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

I return to the Romans 5 text; again say, therefore, we, as believers, we have had also righteousness counted to us, and we will continue to have righteousness counted to us, just as we could expect it to have happened to Abraham, that God continued to count righteousness to him, when a life of persevering of hope and faith is being pursued.

Through justification, by faith, we are initiated back into peace with God (Rom 5:1), but it does NOT stop there, unless you die straightaway!

For Rom 5:2, some Bible translation use the word, “introduction” in place of “access”, and I think that word is a better word.  Through the works of Christ Jesus on the Cross (and the resurrection thereof), we obtained introduction into this grace in which we stand.  What is this “this grace in which we stand”?  It is the state of God’s favour.  What is this state of God’s favour?  It is the favour of God counting out righteousness to us as we continue to persevere in our hope and faith. 

What is so important about this God’s counting of righteousness to us, you may ask. It is most important, for without it, righteousness (being counted to us), we lose the reconciliation with God, or we, ill-able to stand before God.  Righteous believers stand tall before God (unrighteous ones dare NOT look up, so to speak!)

Through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we get into this – the grace of God counting out righteousness to us.  But it is God continues to count to us righteousness as we continue to persevere in our hope and faith.  If we do NOT continue to hold on to our hope and faith, we disqualify ourselves from this counting out of righteousness to us, by God. 

Paul said (Rom 5:2) we rejoice in our salvation hope (the hope of glory), which the works of Christ has secured for us; but why? Because it (hope) lets us see we can be led to the end-point of sharing in the glory of our Lord in Heaven.  Paul, in v3, said it is NOT only that, that we rejoice that we have that hope, we rejoice in our sufferings, too; but again why? Because it (sufferings), when we go through them, it builds up in us, perseverance (of hope and faith), such perseverance defines us, what we will and will NOT do, or our character (One’s character characterises him); and the character from perseverance of hope and faith, is NOT an anyhow character, but a tried character of hope.

Some find it astonishing this Romans 5 passage seems to start from hope and then, in a round circle comes back to the same – hope! I have said, from hope (and faith), through perseverance through sufferings where our hope (and faith) are stretched and tested, we develop of a tried character of hope.  And this tried character according to Rom 5:4 produces hope! 

How are we to understand this (the tried character produces hope)?  One way, discernible from the above exposition of mine, is that the resultant person will be one NOT easily persuaded from his hope and faith; in other words, he will die, die persevere in his hope and faith.  Another way of looking at it, is that after perseverance, in sufferings, has finished its work, the person will NOT just be a person of hope (and faith) but a person with persevering hope (and faith).

I believe it is more than that (above), it is also that Hope has taken hold of him.  What is Hope?  Or who is Hope?  In 2 Cor 4:7-12, we read this:

7 But we have this TREASURE in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life [hope] is at work in you.

The treasure in this 2 Cor 4 text, has been said to the Gospel, God, Spirit of God or Spirit of Christ; they are all NOT incorrect.  I say, it is also Hope.  What do we say Christ is?  Yes, He is hope of glory (Col 1:27 – “Christ in you, the hope of glory”). 

Such a tried character, NOT only the hope in him will be able to see him through the harshest scenarios, some of which was given us in 2 Cor 4:8 (see above), Christ (the hope of glory) lives out of him; he becomes the hope, because Christ or the Spirit of Christ or the Gospel lives through him; he becomes the bearer of light, the bearer of hope.

Lastly, we find the last verse, v5, of this Rom 5:1-5 text said that (the tried) salvation hope, it will NOT shame us, or disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us; what does it mean? To understand this, we need to go back to the Rom 8:14-17 text I have given above. The understanding is like this:

Rom 8:15 tells us that upon entry into salvation, we (our spirits) get counted or adopted as sons of God. But when we take the whole text together, we will realise that, with vv14 & 16 & 17 in, it is, as we are being led by the Holy Spirit, including when we do suffer with Christ (participate in sufferings of Christ), the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.  As we let the Spirit leads us through all the good times and the bad times we face and pass through, we become knowing (ginosko-knowing) of God’s love as it is showered into our hearts through the Holy Spirit as He leads us.

A person having through such, undergone perseverance of hope and faith through sufferings, will know (ginosko-know) the hope he is having will NOT shame and will NOT disappoint, ultimately. 

Have NOT you heard it being said, “If Christians are wrong about the Gospel (the hope therein), they would be most miserable people to have lived!”  By “miserable”, these people mean we, Christians, in their eyes, gave up all the liberties and so-called opportunities to indulge one-self, which they did NOT (as non-Christians).  If we are wrong, we have been stupid and “don’t know where to hide our faces”, is what they are thinking.  What do you think?  As for me, I say my hope will NOT shame or disappoint, for I know the love of God poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit indwelling and leading me (as I let Him to; you have to let Him lead you).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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