“For in this hope we were saved” – part 3

Paul defines “hope” in Romans 8 as waiting eagerly and patiently for our adoption as children of God and the redemption of our bodies, verses 23-25. One day, we’ll be free of this ridiculous, insane, frustrating world forever. And it was in this hope we were saved; it lifted us out of the empty, purposeless, fear-filled, death-ending life we were in, and into this new life God offered as his child. It was hope that did it too, because we had no proof at that point that this new life actually existed.

So where did this hope suddenly come from, and where does it come from every day, too? According to Paul, it’s the Spirit’s doing. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” verse 16. This isn’t something we need to cook up for ourselves; the Spirit does it for us. It’s the Spirit who helps us realize who we are. It’s way beyond our ability to understand, so the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” If we could grasp what it means to be a child of God, we’d surely have no trouble praying, but the Spirit has to help us with that, too (verse 26).

And what the Spirit prays on our behalf is beyond our capabilities too, because he “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” When it comes to grasping the enormity of having God as our Father, we’re at a loss for words, but with the Spirit praying on our behalf and “testifying with our spirit,” verse 16, understanding comes, hope grows and an eagerness for “the glorious freedom of the children of God,” verse 21, fills our heads and hearts every day, enabling us to keep functioning as Christians in this horrible, futile world.

This is what we can look forward to the Spirit doing for us, then. This is why the Father and Christ gave us the Spirit in the first place, to “give life” to these mortal bodies of ours by helping us realize we are no longer governed by the fears and frustrations of this world, we’re “sons of God,” verse 14, who literally and truly “belong to Christ,” verse 9. And what worries can anyone have who belongs to Christ, Paul asks (verses 35-39)?

But that’s what adoption as God’s children means. It means we belong to him. And belonging to him means we have his Spirit living in us, living his thoughts in us, so that when God “searches our hearts” what he sees is the “mind of the Spirit” working his heart out in us, “interceding for the saints in accordance with God’s will,” verse 27.

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“For in this hope we were saved” – part 2

Following on from Part 1, the obvious proof the Sprit is at work in us is the hope that the Spirit gives us, a hope that enables us to “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” Romans 8:23.

But what does that mean, “adoption as a son of God” and “the redemption of a human body?” Clearly they’re important because Paul tells us it’s our hope in these two things that “saves” us (verse 24). Adoption and redemption are what keep us Christians alive and kicking in this dreadful world, no matter what it chucks at us, so what do they mean?

Paul gives us a couple of clues in Romans 8. The redeeming of a human body, for instance, is crucial because, verse 10, a “body is dead because of sin.” Keeping God’s law doesn’t change that either, for “when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died,” Romans 7:9. The law only makes our sins more obvious. We also have a sinful nature that won’t let us keep the law anyway. So we live in a “body of death,” chapter 7:24.

To redeem our body of death, God did two things: first, he “condemned sin in sinful man” by “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering,” Romans 8:3. God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sin to rescue our bodies from death. But that was only the first step, because we still have a sinful nature that’s bent on killing us all over again. It doesn’t like our bodies at all. It wants us dead.

But God took care of that, too, in the second thing he did for us, in Romans 8:11. “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit, who lives in us.” God not only rescues our bodies from death, he also gives life to our bodies from that time forward, through the Spirit. And how does the Spirit give us life? By making us sons of God not slaves to our sinful nature. Anyone “led by the Spirit” is a son of God (verse 14), the result being we have the desire and the power to “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” verse 13, because we want to please God. We can now kill off what’s trying to kill us. So God not only redeems our bodies from death caused by sin, he also gives life to our bodies by enabling us to stop sinning…(continued in Part 3)

“For in this hope we were saved” – part 1

Wouldn’t it be great to have proof that the Spirit is working in our lives? Where’s the evidence of the Spirit producing “life and peace” in me, for instance, when I still get to thinking I’m not doing enough for God, I’m not praying enough to get results, I’m not in tune with God’s will, and I’m not doing my part properly? I can’t help but wonder “Where is the evidence of the supernatural in my life when my thinking is still so stuck on the natural plane?” I feel like one of the audience in the church at Corinth when Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:1 – “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly.”

But there’s one obvious proof the Spirit is at work in us: it’s hope. Despite everything we have hope. And what makes that so clearly the work of the Spirit is – there’s no logical reason for hope. How can anyone have hope living in this world? It’s awful, and it only threatens to get worse as the population increases, the Earth’s resources cannot keep up with demand, climate change causes havoc, politicians dither, and greed rules. Our world is exactly as Paul described it: “subject to frustration” and “in bondage to decay,” and no one has come up with a solution that everyone agrees with or is willing to commit to.

And then we have our own problems to deal with, living in this world. It affects our health, our jobs, our hopes and dreams of financial stability and a good life in retirement. We have no control over taxes, prices or things breaking down. And if you’ve got family conflicts, troubles with bullies, weird neighbours, and your church (your one source of comfort) is gradually disappearing as well, there’s not much reason for hope, is there? In reality, in this world, there’s no reason for hope at all.

Any hope we’ve got, then, has to be supernatural. And Paul talks of a supernatural hope too, “For in this hope we were saved,” he writes in verse 24. That’s powerful hope. It has the power to “save” us, even in a world like this. So, where does it come from? It comes from the Spirit, verse 23. Because we have “the firstfruits of the Spirit…we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We can actually see what God has in store for us. Yes, we still “groan inwardly,” verse 23, as we wait it out in this world, but the Spirit breaks through the gloom for us with a vision of what’s coming to give us hope in such an awful world…(continued in Part 2)

A glimpse in time of what God is always

Understanding God would be so much easier if we’d been alive when Jesus was here, right? We could have seen Jesus in action, heard him speak, and even sat down with him and got a real sense of what God is like. But all we’ve got instead is a brief glimpse of him in a world very different to ours, based on what others wrote about him.

His time here had to be brief, of course, because he came to die, and after he died there was no need for him to come in a physical body to die again, Hebrews 7:26-27, and it’s only at some unknown date in the future when we get to see him again. In the meantime, therefore, between the time of his death and his return, we’re left with only a glimpse in time 2,000 years ago to figure out what God is like.

But that glimpse is enough to tell us what God is always. The life and death of Jesus are only a window in time, yes, but it’s a window that opens up to what is always happening in the heart of God, no matter what century we live in. When Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus “always lives to intercede” fur us, it means he’s still doing what he did when he was here as a human – and we know what he did as a human in Luke 4:18 – he lived to intercede for people, demonstrated clearly in all the caring for people and teaching he did. So nothing’s changed: what Jesus did in his brief time on Earth, he’s doing today as well.

Only much better. Actually, it’s a lot better for us that Jesus ISN’T here as a human being because, Hebrews 9:24, “Christ has entered into heaven itself, to appear now before God as our Friend” (Living Bible). In his present position Jesus is far better able to intercede for us, because he’s right there in the presence of God, able to present our case to the Father personally. And he does it for every one of us, over and over again, no matter where we live on this planet, or in what period of time. What Jesus did in his human lifetime, therefore, wasn’t just a one-time event. It illustrates what God is always doing. He’s always seeking us, loving us and sacrificing for us. And as each new crop of Christians appears, he’s ready to repeat the whole process all over again, because in Jesus and his brief time here on Earth we have a glimpse in time of what God is always.

God loves us, yes, but what makes us loveable?

We know God loves us, because he “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans 5:8. And it was “when we were God’s enemies that we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son,” verse 10. And it was “because of his great love for us that God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5-6. What better way could God have proved his love for us than Jesus dying for us at our worst?

OK, so we’re loved, but what makes us loveable? What turns us from being rabid enemies of God to actually becoming really nice children of his? What does he deeply appreciate in us? We know it’s not trying to win his favour by good works, or trying to impress him with how pious we are, or by how many rituals, disciplines and rites we perform, but what “IS to my Father’s glory,” Jesus said, is “that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples,” John 15:8. That’s clear: what makes us loveable to the Father is when we follow his Son. And Jesus adds a note of affection of his own to that when he says, “You re my friends if you do what I command,” verse 14. Follow Jesus and he loves us to bits too, verse 10.

So how do we follow Jesus? We do what he commands, just as he did what his Father commanded him. So what does Jesus command us to do? “Love each other as I have loved you,” verse 12. It’s all about love: God loves Jesus, Jesus loves us as God loves him, and we love each other as Jesus loves us. And this is clearly what the Father loves because “all of what I’m telling you,” Jesus says, “I learned from the Father,” verse 15. Father and Son, they love us to bits when we love each other. And to show how much our Father appreciates us loving each other he’ll give us whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name, verse 16.

It’s only just dawning on me, then, what kind of relationship we’ve got with the Father when we follow his Son. We are totally loveable to him. I realize that Jesus has to live his love in us for us to be loveable, but we can rest assured that even if just the desire is there in us to love others, we are utterly loveable to the Father. And knowing we’re loveable, as well as loved, is where our joy comes from, verse 11.

Why (on earth) does God love us?

I’ve often wondered what some women love about the men they marry, or why parents can love awful children, or why animal owners love the ugliest pets. But then I think, why does God love us?

We are the most unloveable children. Only hours after God creates us in his image, able therefore to enter into a lovely relationship with him forever, we’re listening to the slick lies of a serpent and believing it instead. It’s like watching the daughter you love fall for the first ugly predator that turns up on the doorstep. And what does the nation that God loved and brought from nothing do? It wants to be like other nations and worship their gods instead, like teenagers who much prefer their self-centred friends to their parents.

And the rest of us? We couldn’t care less about God either (Romans 3:9-18). We were taken up with “gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts,” Ephesians 2:3. Great children we made! “We were by nature objects of wrath,” and it was only by God sending his Son that he pulled us out of our nosedive into oblivion. And even then, if it wasn’t for his constant intercession for us, we’d fall right back into the Devil’s clutches, like a child bailed out of jail by his parents’ life savings who can’t stay away from the idiots who got him into trouble in the first place. How can you love a child like that?

Yet God loves us. Why? Because he’s our Father. “Father” is who he is. Father is who he’s always been. He can’t be anything else, and he sent the child he’s been Father to forever, Jesus Christ, to tell us that. “I came to reveal the Father,” Jesus said in John 17:6, which certainly explains why God can love the likes of us, because as “the Father” he can’t help but love us! And that’s exactly what Jesus came to reveal, having experienced the Father’s love himself for eternity, verse 24.

And now it’s our turn to experience the Father’s love, and it comes to us in the most obvious, revealing and simple way: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:4. In other words, he loved us at our worst. And isn’t that how a foolish, disobedient child knows he’s loved – when he realizes his parents still love him despite his utter disregard for them? And why on earth would his parents still love him? Because they’re parents. That’s what parents do. Likewise, our Father.

Sight for the blind

For most of the year squirrels scamper off to the nearest tree if I’m close by, but not in the Fall. They don’t seem to notice me at all. One such squirrel nearly ran into me the other day. I saw him scampering toward me and at his trajectory and speed combined with mine we’d meet head to foot – his head, my foot – in about three seconds. But he didn’t slow down. He shot across my path as if I didn’t exist.

Very odd that, I thought. Squirrel brains obviously change channels in autumn, becoming blind to anything but gathering food for the winter. That’s all they see. But humans are like this in the winter months too, because here come Halloween and Christmas again, and what happens? People brains change channels. Normally quite sensible people, who diligently budget the rest of the year and cut out coupons to save tiny fractions of money, suddenly throw caution to the wind at Halloween and Christmas and think nothing of blowing the budget on mostly useless, short-lived junk.

It’s not the junk that makes me scratch my head in wonder, it’s the blindness. In a great mass hypnotic state, the most intelligent species on Earth plods off to fulfill its own self-imposed rituals at Halloween and Christmas, and sees nothing wrong with them. But what about the cost, the waste, and debts piling up through spending what we can’t afford? It doesn’t matter; the show must go on, regardless.

I can see why God sent Jesus to give “sight for the blind,” Luke 4:18, because he could see we’d need help. But he’s totally willing to help us, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” Colossians 1:13. He knows the dilemma we’re in. We’re living in a world of darkness. It’s no wonder, then, we’re stumbling around like blind people, oblivious to what our culture is doing to us.

Jesus, however, exists in another dimension above all this mundane stuff, and he’s all for lifting us above it as well, Colossians 2:20, 3:1-4. We’re not stuck in just one dimension (like squirrels in the Fall) forever blinded by the “god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4. God offers us the chance to escape the powers that blind us and bind us to our insane and destructive ways. And couldn’t our world do with that right now? But we have the solution right at our fingertips: God sent Jesus to give sight for the blind.