April 25, 2015

Tools In The Toolbox III: Nails That Free Us From Freedom That Enslaves

Another post in a continuing series about things a person of God can add to their relational repertoire to properly help themselves and others in the church. There are certain questions about our brother and sisters in Christ that can asked and answered that will inevitably aid in them by supporting them individually. This will therefore help the entire church.

The next question we need to ask ourselves is…

Where do our brother and sisters tend to get discouraged and need the hope of the Gospel?

Everyone will get discouraged. There are many problems in life that are relatively easy to bounce back from. There are many that are not. Some portions of our Christian walk deliver blows to us that are exceptionally hard to recover from and some might even seem impossible to recover from. Knowing the truth of the Gospel is one thing. All true Christians know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives eternal life. 

That is just the beginning though. 

What happens when trials hit us head on and we don’t die? The eternal life part is great, don’t get me wrong. What happens though when a loved-one dies? What happens when someone we care about is afflicted with an incurable disease? What happens when financial crisis becomes so great that we begin to lose all that we have worked and struggled for? How does the Gospel get applied previous to death on the deathbed? How does Christ hanging on the cross alleviate the current suffering we are in now?

Firsts, the Gospel tells us that everything works out in the end for believers. We already know this from bible passages like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28-30

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Romans 8:28-30 ~ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

It is interesting to note that both of these passages about everything eventually working out for God’s faithful are in a context of struggle and trials. Jeremiah’s statement is essentially a letter to those in exile. The Romans passage is at the end of a section dedicated to our present suffering and its future glory. God is a God of justice and the scales of justice assuredly balance in God’s eternal equation. If we lose sight of this fact life will take on a pointless nihilistic coloring that leaves a person no hope. God promises a pleasant destination but He never said the mortal undertaking would be easy.

How and where else does the Gospel help those in trial? I know from personal experience that when the odds are against things working out to my advantage and all hope looks lost, I only have faith in God to hold on to. I believe my faith is founded because I believe in a God that can resurrect men from the dead. God is a God who can bring dead dry bones back to life. Think about the narrative of the Gospel. Even in the loss of a death, there was victory. That victory can be ours also as co-heirs in Christ. You have a deceased relative? You as a believer will see them again. Your relationship is deader than a stone and you are on the verge of divorce? Christ can resurrect men form the dead, certainly he can repair a broken relationship? There is always hope until we go home to be with the Lord. As long as the Lord tarries and doesn’t take us home there is time on this side of the grave to reconcile relationship, right a wrong and seek forgiveness from our sins. It isn’t until we die that those chances cease.

How else does the Gospel give hope to those currently discouraged? The Gospel is Resurrection. Resurrection at its core is spiritual. It is grace. The Good News is not just the resurrection but also the underlying grace that allowed it. We have a god of grace that is merciful when we are suffering. The most profound evidence and assurance o this grace is the Gospel itself. God has prepared for us a future and it is wonderful, regardless of what we are faced with now. God has assured us in Scripture that whatever lies waiting for us on the other side will make todays struggles seem like mere inconveniences and light momentary afflictions.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

The Gospel helps see us through our suffering because it gives us a relevant sounding board and comparison for our suffering. Let’s face it. Jesus suffered a horrendous and painful death. He was tortured and crucified. He suffered extreme shame that no man should have to suffer. He went through it all passively like a sheep before the shearer. He knew ahead of time what he was in for too. It isn’t like he was ignorant to the impending doom that He suffered. He was cognizant of it. He sweat great drops of blood and asked the Father that if it was possible that He remove the cup of His wrath….yet still submitted to the will of His Father. He knows what it is to be in our shoes. He didn’t like it either...but Jesus persevered to the bitter end for the will of the Father. To bring glory to the Father.

The Gospel calls us to not just accept the suffering we endure but to do it in a way that we suffer well. Many will write books about how God wants us always happy and not suffering. These people write under the premise that we should avoid suffering at all costs and to have suffered means God is somehow angry at us. Not only is this wrong it is totally not in the Bible. Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes and about a hundred others are totally off-base when preaching a Gospel of prosperity. Suffering hones us in a way prosperity never will. 

When we are pushed to a place we can no longer endure we only have the cross, the Gospel and the Resurrection to go to. Suffering and trials make us draw on faith we didn’t know we had and make us view the One who had no place to rest His head in a new light. Jesus had nothing in this life and suffered and ignoble death by human standards to add insult to injury. By the world’s standards, Jesus has nothing for us but by God’s Gospel standards, by suffering we have everything and it is the world that has nothing. Jesus Christ being immobilized and nailed to the Cross sets us free from sin. The world giving us our freedom to do whatever we want enslaves us in sin.

Our suffering then does not undo us but tightens us more tightly around that which matters. It turns us towards God. It gives us a better angle in which to view grace and love. We view it from a heart of compassion. It merges love to action and grace to charity. It merges means to missions. It puts our wallets in the offering basket and shoes to pavement for the homeless. The possibilities are endless like our limitless God who loves unconditionally.

The Gospel is a liberator but it requires that we restrict ourselves in love by choice. The world says we are free to do as we please and if we do so we remove all restrictions and become a slave to the very thing we claim in freedom. We pursue our own selfish pleasures and needs in sin. True freedom isn’t really freedom and what we believe gives us freedom in this world restricts us to a life of sinful oppression. 

True discouragement comes from turning our back on the Gospel which is the only true freedom we can ever know in this paradoxical world. We become discouraged because we lose hope without the Gospel. Existence begins to seem futile and pointless. When we turn against the one thing that can truly help us we can only ever face discouragement in this life. God frees us from the discouragement by freeing us from the guilt, anxiety and fear that sin instills in us. The Gospel pulls the teeth and claws out of suffering and death and neuters them. Things may discourage us momentarily in this life but the promises and hope of God are eternal and a sure thing.

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