Thursday, January 22, 2009

CHAPTER 4: 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. 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.)

Hope by Way of Faith
Paul said that we become justified in Christ by way of faith, and because of faith we can have hope. 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, "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 righteous cause, and exercising our faith in righteousness.

We must exercise faith before there can be any hope. Yet, without hope there will be little incentive to exercise any faith. There is a close inter-working of these two principles. Can we hope for the Lord to bless us 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 on the knowledge of worthiness. Such faith is a false faith, and our hope is in vain.

We can have a hope through faith unto salvation, for faith is not having a perfect knowledge of everything. When we have faith we hope for things which are not seen, but yet are true. Hope comes by faith, and it becomes an anchor to the soul which helps make us sure and steadfast to glorify God.

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. We have faith and hope when our heart is true with God, if not, our faith and hope are in vain.

When we are obedient and have done all we can in the area where we need spiritual intervention, then we have hope. When we have been faithful and our prayer is offered, and we know that God knows we have been faithful, then we can ask in faith, knowing where we stand before the Lord; we can have confidence that He will provide.

Without true humility, faith and confidence, there cannot be hope, which comes when we know that we are right before God, and when we are right with God, we are teachable, repentant, and submissive. With that hope comes confidence, the confidence to ask of God and know that the prayer 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.

We can have this confidence, this perfect brightness of hope, but we cannot have it without faith unto repentance. When our faith to repent is weak, our hope is gone, and so is our confidence. When we have no hope nor confidence, our faith to petition the Lord for needed blessings is also weak. 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 they only have not been manifested yet.

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

There once 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 told him that he needed one. However, there were no other cars to be had, except the abandoned one under the tree. His needs dictated 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 nothing 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.

The man was obedient to the instructions given and so proceeded, but not being familiar with mechanical things, the tasks were real trials to him as he made mistake after mistake until he finished the job. However, he completed those procedures, and because he believed what he studied and learned from those who knew, he then had the faith to test the car, so he put the key into the ignition hoping it would start.

As he sat in the driver’s seat, he thought 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 weaknesses were and what work needed to be done to correct 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 threw off some black pollution and then ran as the man had hoped for.

In this parable we find there is a sequence of important attributes. By simple analysis one can see more clearly what might be required to receive gifts and blessings from 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 Bible study and personal communication with The Father, one will learn the principles to which he must become obedient. Fourth: Because of obedience to principles, or positive action toward the desired objective, faith is developed. Faith, if it has not works, is of no value. 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 to the formula to receive the miracle. Fifth: Faith now being established through the trial of faith, one can have hope. He can now approach his God without shame, but with confidence, waxing strong in his petitions before the Lord. Sixth: With sufficient confidence, the positive spiritual energy generated brings forth the gifts and miracles of God.

Of course these six steps are not intended to be a formula, but are offered only as concepts and ideas. The principles of the gospel are eternal. Concepts are only guides that may be helpful to the true seeker which, in themselves, may not be inclusive or even necessary for the individual.

Whatever It Takes
We need to prove complete reliance upon Jesus Christ for all of our needs. He is our Master and Redeemer, and He possesses a fulness of justice, mercy, charity and grace. We are to believe, trusting that He has all power, intelligence and wisdom. He helps us solve our problems without our need to rush off seeking answers to our problems from the men of the world. We can arrive at this faith, but we will have to focus our attention upon Christ and the glorious work of the Father.

The Bible teaches the importance of focus. One particular evening, the ship that the disciples of Jesus were in was tossed by waves in the midst of the sea. Jesus went to them, walking on the water. Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water, asked if he could go to Him in like manner—walking on the water also. At first, Peter was successful, but because of the "boisterous" wind he became afraid. Jesus had to stretch forth His hand to catch Peter before he sank. The Lord said unto Peter, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (Matt. 14:22-33.)

Peter had lost his focus. He became more concerned with the turbulence around him than the safety of his Master. He began to focus upon himself and his own ability to survive, rather than trusting in the Lord’s protecting care. He had apparently forgotten that Jesus had, just a short time before, fed over five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes. Peter lost focus, and he lost faith.

With faith and trust in Christ, focusing on His loving grace, we go where we have never gone before, and do that which we have never dreamed of doing. It is God’s power in and through us, for His work and glory, that we focus on, not on our own puny ability for our own selfish ends.

Whatever it takes, get it right! Whatever it takes, we must get it right before God. It doesn’t matter what cost, embarrassment, or price, we must get it right. It may take personal hurt, loss, humiliation, or shame to arrive at that point of getting it right. It takes spiritual courage to "lay all the cards on the table" before God—and sometimes man—openly and fearlessly to get it right. It takes faith. It takes faith that the grace of Christ will intercede, provide forgiveness, and make up any difference. It takes faith that Jesus will provide something better than that which we have kept inside, hidden in sorrow and remorse. What a struggle, to lay them all out on the altar—even the smallest of guilts—sacrificing them before the Lord so we can cleanse our lives and stand before Him unashamed. There is nothing this world can offer that matches such peace of soul. John once wrote, "Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." (1 John 3:21-22.)

There is one thing it takes to get it right, and have the confidence and faith that doesn’t waver, and that one thing is love. One will have to like what he sees about Jesus Christ, what he hears, what he feels, and have a desire to nurture those seeds. It will take a love for truth and light, a love for purity of heart, and a love for mankind. It will take a pure desire to love the Lord and have a reckless faith in His all-enveloping grace and atoning blood. Then, with the perfect faith and love of Christ, one will be purely motivated and get it right before God, and wax strong in the presence of the Lord.

A Hope for Salvation
There is a misunderstood statement by the Apostle Paul that many Christians use to justify their belief that they are saved. To the Romans, Paul wrote, "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." (Rom. 10:9.) 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 please let me clarify myself.

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. With this confession, we can then have a hope in Jesus.

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?

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 did not count himself saved until after his work was done, and done faithfully. 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.

There are those who believe that once they are saved they are always saved. This is not altogether true. The Bible tells us that it is possible to fall from grace. Paul wrote the Galatians, saying, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free..." (Gal. 5:1.) Why should they have to worry about standing fast if they are already saved and set free by grace? Paul went on to say, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (v. 4.) He was trying to explain to them that the law will not save, but only grace saves. He said that when they rely on the law, they have fallen from grace. How can someone fall from where they were not, in the first place? If they were not in His grace, they could not have fallen from grace. They first must have been in His grace before it was possible to fall from grace. You see, they were to do what Jesus said they must do, that is, endure unto the end to be saved.

Let’s take one more statement by Paul on this subject. He wrote to the Romans: "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." (Rom. 6:1-2.) Grace cannot be where there is sin. When we slip we sin, as all do because we are not perfect as Christ was perfect. When we continue in sin we will not have His grace to save us. In such cases we fall from grace. It is only through our constant faith in Christ, continued repentance, endurance to the end in patience, and trust in His grace and redeeming love that we are saved.

Salvation is at the end of the journey, even though we might say we are saved now. The reason we can say that we are saved, as though it is now, is because of our hope in Christ that our salvation is assured when we remain true to Him. It is a looking forward to that day that will surely come because we have been faithful and have endured patiently to the end. It is hope in Him because He has made a promise of salvation to us upon our faithfulness, and He cannot break a promise.

Let’s take an example: Job, looking forward to the physical resurrection as though it was a foregone conclusion, said, "And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." (Job 19:26.) In a way, Job was saying that he was already saved, because he knew that the Messiah would come and fulfill His mission and not falter. He had the faith, and trusted in the words of God. Likewise, we say that we are saved by faith, knowing that Jesus has already finished His work, but the actual diploma is not presented, or the crown is not bestowed, until after we have finished our course. Under the right conditions, we can say that we are saved. Salvation exists, but it just hasn’t been manifested yet.

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.

Jesus 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.

A Hope in Christ
Perhaps this discussion can be brought to a close by offering a few more introspective questions we can ask ourselves. "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 Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ?" When there is that evidence, there is hope. 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.)

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.

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, shedding 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 Jesus, 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.)

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