A Sure and Certain Hope1
by Gene Stansel
Putting all clichés aside, without a doubt we live in troubling times. The entire world is filled with troubles, and we have troubles on our plate as well. How do we face them? Do we resist? Are we critical? Do we grumble? Or do we face trouble with a stoic false joy? What we really need is a certain hope that there is something better for us in the future. We need assurance that God will hold us fast, just like the song says. But do we really believe that he will? It’s easy to imagine that our times are so extraordinarily unique that no other period in history has ever experienced such anxiety? The threat of instant annihilation hangs over the world.
History confirms that Christians have been persecuted, slaughtered and defamed ever since Christ walked among us. In fact, Christ promised it. Today, persecution has increased in many areas of the world. We ask, “Does God not care about his children who are suffering?” Therefore, we are prone to believe that God no longer controls events today. But then we remember that he has always controlled everything since the very beginning? He is Sovereign you know.
But here’s another thought: maybe God is superintending current events solely for our own personal sanctification. Now that’s a crazy idea! You mean he is creating all of this anxiety just for me? You mean that border walls, nuclear threats, gender dysphoria, lax abortion laws, economic oppression, and even my family problems are preordained, just for me? Are my personal problems tailor-made? Doesn’t seem possible, does it? Well, think again. There just may be a modicum of truth in that thought. Oh, that’s certainly not to say that the overarching events of history are created for just one person. But, let’s look at that idea with a different perspective. God may be tailor-making those trials as perfect opportunities for him to work his sanctification in us. Now, is that too much of a stretch for our finite imaginations? However, here is something we do know: God’s Will is that we be holy. Good grief! Can I allow myself to think that I have something to do in the midst of global events? Am I part of the solution to society’s problems?
Reading through Hebrews I have been amazed to see that God sometimes provides troubling times simply in order to test our faith. What a weird idea that I may have a part to play during times of trouble. You mean little me? Well, it just might be so. But whatever happens, we can take comfort that we are not alone, because God surrounds us with witnesses, both in heaven (saints that have gone before us) and saints on earth. Such “witnesses” encourage us to persevere through trials. After all, Christianity is not a “One-on-one” religion… just me and God. No it’s not just “me”…it’s "we". And “we” need the fellowship God provides within the church…but, that’s a thought for another time.
Hebrews 12:1&2 confirm a wonderful doctrinal truth. I was recently reminded of this truth in the Adult Sunday School class that Lee Coleman taught on TULIP. The truth is that Jesus is both “the author and perfecter (KJV, finisher) of our faith”. He serves a dual role. He accomplishes the goal of our faith, and he makes sure that our faith is completed. In the words of Hebrews, he “finishes” it. As reformed Christians, we don’t have any problem with God’s authorship of our faith. We understand that calling, election and predestination are particular. And, we are convinced that, in ourselves, we are nothing before him. Nothing that is except sinners who are without ANY hope in this world save through his sovereign Grace. But we struggle at every turn with the notion that his Will is simply to “perfect” us or “finish” us in the faith that he has given. We fight against him when we should be fighting against our own sin.
Believers are reborn by the Spirit, reconciled to Christ and adopted into God’s family. So, we gather up that positive thought and go into the world with our best foot forward, so to speak. But all of a sudden here comes another thought that hits us right between the eyes. And sometime this “other” thought weighs us down in confusion and ultimately in despair. That thought is our sanctification. Perhaps we think too little of the daily battle that we face; at least we certainly don’t believe that problems could be tailor-made just for us. The fact is, in our flesh, we are constantly engaged in an all-consuming battle against the Spirit within us. Could it be that we don’t react to the battle very well? We tell ourselves we are not where we should be. In fact, we know that we will not be where we should be until God takes us home. But, why is my life right now so difficult? Don’t I know that I won’t reach perfection in this life no matter how much I strive?
So, here we are, in the midst of a world that is full of trouble, and all we do is complain and grumble and mope and conclude “woe is me?” I can’t fix the world. I can’t even fix myself. Worrying seems to be just about all I can do. WELL, NOT SO FAST BUBBA! There is something that I can do: I can express the joy of God’s salvation through the way in which I conduct myself among my family, my friends, and among those with whom I come in contact. The writer of Hebrews, sensing this dilemma, directs us to “fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus overcame, and by his Grace we can as well. Jesus bore our sins, that was his primary responsibility, and now he is in the business of “perfecting” our faith so that we are able to endure in the midst of trouble.
When that understanding finally reaches deep into the core of our being, the result is hope. And with hope we have courage to face another day. That’s why I revel in the doctrine of the “Perseverance of the Saints.” Rightly understood, the doctrine is not that saints themselves persevere, although they do in a fashion; the truth is that God is the one who perseveres on behalf of the saints. He is both author and perfecter. In fact, right now we are working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Right now! Not only does he call us to salvation, he ensures that his call is perfected within us. And this is where we rest our hope. Hope in Jesus…hope in his promises...hope in our sanctification. This God-developed hope fortifies us through our daily trials. Hope, after all, is the certainty of what we do not see, even when we are bewildered. The Christian’s hope is sure and certain… that Christ will “finish” our sanctification and make us holy.