Great Expectations on the Other Side of the Cross

“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak…We are far too easily pleased.”1

“Musta’ Been a Reason”

I read last week about a skydiver who jumped out of a plane at 12,000 feet. His main chute didn’t open.  Neither did his reserve.  That’s a long way to fall while expecting certain death.   But several small things intervened.  A cross-current breeze carried him over a patch of thick weeds.  Then, five seconds before he landed, his emergency chute popped open, causing him to decelerate from 120 miles per hour to 80.  The fall was still hard enough to puncture his lung and break an ankle, yet he survived.

This kind of people is intriguing—folks who walk away the sole survivors of terrible crashes, or who narrowly escape natural disasters.   Many of them go on record as saying something like, “God must have wanted me alive for a reason.”

But then they don’t go on to find out that reason.  They were spared an awful fate, but after the shock of it wears off, they’re back to beer and television, and ultimate Frisbee, as though nothing happened.

Every one of us who believes in Jesus Christ is also part of that fraternity of people who have avoided a terrible fate.  We’ve escaped a tragedy every bit as dramatic as that skydiver, even more in fact, because through faith in Christ we missed the wrath of God.

Yet Christians, especially those in the mainstream of the faith, typically respond by saying, “Wow, thank you, Jesus.  Now I can sleep better at night while I live my life.”  They basically see justification by faith as a stopping point, rather than an entry point.

We must come to understand that when God justified us, He not only got us out of the wrath of God; He positioned us in the grace of God.

So?

In this grace, we can expect a certain future.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

“Have been justified” means that now Paul is addressing reality on the other side of the cross.  The very first thing we have in our new post-justification status is “peace with God.”  Granted, this is the part where you sleep well at night.  Prior to the cross, peace with God was elusive.  In order to get it, you had to lie to yourself and say things like, “I’m a good person. My heart is in the right place.  Besides, other people are a lot worse than I.”

Peace under those circumstances was like a snowflake that would land and melt.  But the peace obtained here is on God’s terms, where every one of your sins, including the dirty, embarrassing kind, was judged in Christ.  Not one of them was overlooked, or excused away.  You were truly justified.

Verse 2 adds, “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.”  We not only got out of wrath, but entered grace.  And as we stand there in it, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”  We’re not only happy about what is not going to happen to us, but we’re thrilled about what is going to happen—Glory.

Glory is one of those words Christians throw around a lot without attempting to define it.  But if you combine all the pertinent passages in the New Testament, you’ll start to get an idea.  Glory is the expression of God.

When we realize and experience it, we’re blessed with a larger and more qualitative existence.  Definitions aside, the subject is still somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Concerning our future glory, even the aged Apostle John wrote, “It has not yet been revealed what we shall be; but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him,,,” (1 John 3:2, NKJV).

You Just Wouldn’t Believe This

An acorn is a funny little nut with a cap on top.  If I told you what kind of future it had, you wouldn’t believe it if you hadn’t already learned about it in grade school.  This small brown nut will turn into a tree forty feet tall that weighs thirty tons, with a canopy large enough to shade your house, and provide habitat for small animals and birds.  For the uninitiated it sounds like science fiction, but the rest of us know it’s true.

As a person who is justified by faith in Christ, you are that acorn, with an awesome future.    The odd thing is, we hope for less.  We look forward to the big raise, so we can finally nab more of the things in our Amazon wish lists.  Or maybe our hopes are pinned on the next academic degree, because it feels so much more noble than having trinkets.

Regardless of your favorite flavor, however audacious, dignified, thrilling, or reasonable, without exception it is far less wonderful than the glory God has planned for you.  This obviously doesn’t mean we should fritter away our lives and do nothing here in the meantime.  By all means set goals and achieve them, but don’t undershoot by making any of them the hope of your life.

You have a future bigger than anything going on right now.  Not only so, but the coming glory is something more intense and real than anything you can experience in the present.

Pain Isn’t Always Bad News

For those who expect a storybook life, here’s an important corrective—along the way to unimaginable glory, inglorious things will happen.  Yet, in grace, even our sufferings are productive.

3 “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings.” That is, not only do we look forward to glory, but we can rejoice in the midst of apparent setbacks.  We don’t rejoice because we like pain, or the idea of being a good marine.  If we celebrate, it’s because we know something—primarily, that “suffering produces.”  Yes, grace can transform sufferings into productive experiences.  They produce “endurance”—the spiritual muscle needed to keep following Jesus no matter what.

4 “and endurance produces character,” which refers to the internal character of Christ, “and character produces hope.”   Incredibly, the end product of suffering need not be bitterness.  We have more hope after life’s body slams than we did before.

Thriving In the Storm (And after it)

We all reasonably expect the sufferings of inclement weather to help an acorn into its destiny.  After torrential downpours, oppressive heat, and burning sun, a small green sprig breaks through the ground.  With its appearance, we now officially have more hope than we had for it previously.

The little nut is definitely on its way to becoming a giant tree.  Before all the bad weather, we believed in the general concept of growth, because we read about it in books.  But now after the severe weather, we see the growth. Hope is definitely on the increase.

People change all the time, including non-Christians.  Human beings are engineered that way—to adapt in order to survive.  But the productive changes we’re talking about involve going through things as we stand in the grace of Christ.

For instance, Christians sometimes encounter temptations that don’t easily go away.  These can become long-term trials that force a believer to his or her knees every single morning and provoke prayers multiple times throughout the day.  This process could go on for years, if not for the rest of your life.  But during the entire experience,  a nearly imperceptible element of glory gets added into your being.  You change.

In another example, you may feel spiritually withered within, and can’t seem to find God, no matter what you do.  Perhaps in such a case, you will need to drink from the faith of others in the church for a period of time, until you find the “water” again.  Cases like these mean you are going through something difficult while standing in grace.

Other situations could emerge as you deal with sorrow or great disappointment, danger, or tragedy.  Suffering need not be something cataclysmic, though.  Paul merely says, “suffering,” period.  Any situation creating emotional distress could potentially be productive for you while on the way to glory.  Knowing this, we can afford to rejoice, even while in the middle of the pain.

Pie-in-the-sky Theology?

Could it be that these sentiments are no more than placebo, a psychological shortcut that has no real substance, and leads to no place special?  Paul anticipates this suspicion, and points out that in this grace in which we stand, we will not be disappointed.

and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

When the Holy Spirit enters a believer, He brings the subjective sense of God’s love directly into the heart.  God loves us and we can know it from within our own selves.  Most important to the context here in Romans 5, divine love says to us, “I would never convince you to throw your life away on an empty promise.”

This love itself is not a trick of the emotion, for it springs from an objective reality outside the believer.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The apostle’s point here is that the deep, relentless, passionate, sacrificial love for your soul that died for you and brought you back into a relationship with God did it when you didn’t love Him.  What will He do for you now that you are His friend?

In answer, Paul uses the word “more” in three back-to-back verses— verse 9 (“much more”), verse 10 (“much more”), and verse 11 (“more than that”)—implying a great, excelling glory.  God’s love, a love we can see in the historical fact of the cross and we can sense through the Holy Spirit, provides us assurance that our hope will not be disappointed.

Where the “Mama Drama” Comes From

Love always seeks a preferable future for others.  When I was in second grade, I got into the habit of hiding my homework notebook under a bush in the front yard.  I couldn’t stand the idea of being bothered with silly things like math and spelling while Lost in Space was on.  My mother eventually found the notebook and marched me to the kitchen table, where I had to make up a week’s worth of undone exercises.  Similar battles with her continued all the way down to the time I decided to quit high school.  As you can imagine, there was plenty of arguing and begging and tears that day.  She won.  I graduated.

Although of course my Dad was a central part of these proceedings as well, my mother supplied the emotional fireworks.  Back in those days I felt all the “Mama drama” came from her being too stubborn, too reactionary, too extreme, and probably too Italian.  In hindsight now, I’d say the “problem” was her love wanting me to have the best future possible.  God is not above those feelings.  His love for us both insists on and guarantees His glory.

When considering your future hopes and dreams, you may need to ask yourself, “Am I and God on the same page?”  Two people who want different things can bring confusion and trouble to a relationship.

You may have already been justified by faith for years, but when you think about the future it may amount to nothing more than dying and going to heaven.  Notice the Bible never uses this type of phraseology, and it’s probably better, lest we think our future amounts to nothing more than an elevator ride.  Instead, it portrays glory as a process, a relationship, a fellowship, culminating in a big bang outcome.

It might be time for some reorientation.  You are after all, on the other side now.

 

1 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.

 

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