Without Christ = Without Hope

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:11-12).

Hope is a person. His name is Jesus. If you have Him, you have hope. If you don’t have Him, you don’t have hope. It is devastatingly simple. Hope is not found in people. It is not found in ourselves. It cannot be attained through possessions, position or status. It does not come from self-effort. Hope will forever evade us if Christ does not break into our hopelessness.

Being “separated” from Jesus describes the rift of the fall. It is our condition before God. We have willfully disconnected from our life source. The chasm between us is of our making. I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I am hopeless. This is me without Christ. This is you without Christ.

I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I have hope! This is me with Christ. This can be you with Christ if it is not already. Hopelessness is our current state and without Christ will become our permanent state.

Extended hopelessness is hell.[1] Push our status without Christ past death and into eternity and you have hell. Hell is a certain, fixed reality for all who reject Jesus Christ. It is to be eternally “separated” from Him. Hell is an existence with no hope, ever.[2] Tomorrow never gets better there. [3] Darkness never lifts there. Things don’t ever improve there.

There is no plot, no story, no character development, no joy, no purpose. The slightest ray of hope will never shine on that dark, lonely place. It is pure, unmixed, unchanging despair. Even the hope of hope is banished from that cursed place.

To be without Christ is deadly. There is a reason that Jesus speaks so often about this terrifying reality.[4] Hope has come and is calling us out of hopelessness. He is wrenching us away from eternal despair.[5] Hope is on a rescue mission.

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7. “It can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’” (emphasis mine).

[2] Suffering in hell is described in the New Testament as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting fire” (Matthew18:8), “the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45), “the worm that never dies” (Mark 9:46), “flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:8), “everlasting chains” (Jude 6), “eternal fire” (Jude 7), “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13), “the smoke of torment ascending up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11, 19:3), “the lake of fire and brimstone” in which the devil, the beast, and the false prophet “shall be tormented day and night, forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

[3] This stands in stark contrast with the reality of heaven. Heaven is characterized by fresh joy-filled tomorrows. Sam Storms, “Joys Eternal Increase: Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven,” Desiring God 2003 National Conference (www.desiringgod.org). “Heaven is not simply about the reality or experience of joy, but its eternal increase. The blessedness of the beauty of heaven is progressive, incremental, and incessantly expansive.” He grounds his discussion in Ephesians 2:7, “God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The progression of eternity will be the continual unveiling of God’s great kindness toward us found in Jesus Christ. We will forever unpack his saving mercy to us. He further explains. “We will constantly be more amazed with God, more in love with God, and thus ever more relishing his presence and our relationship with him. Our experience of God will never reach it consummation. We will never finally arrive, as if upon reaching a peak we discover there is nothing beyond. Our experience of God will never become stale. It will deepen and develop, intensify and amplify, unfold and increase, broaden and balloon. Our relishing and rejoicing in God will sharpen and spread and extend and progress and mature and flower and blossom and widen and stretch and swell and snowball and inflate and lengthen and augment and advance and proliferate and accumulate and accelerate and multiply and heighten and reach a crescendo that will even then be only the beginning of an eternity of new and fresh insights into the majesty of who God is!” Hell is heaven’s opposite. If heaven is the eternal incline into greater joy and happiness, hell is the eternal decline into greater despair and darkness. The utter absence of hope and its possibility is a dreadful dimension of eternal punishment. Three times Jesus uses the language of “outer darkness” to describe hell (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). He is capturing the pure unmixed despair of a place void of light and hope. Peter uses the language of “pits of darkness” and “black darkness” to convey this reality (2 Peter 2:4, 17, see also 1 Samuel 2:9 and Isaiah 8:22).

[4] W.G.T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 12. “The strongest support of the doctrine of endless punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man.” D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (Baker Books, 1991). “Jesus himself speaks twice as often of hell as of heaven.” Leon Morris, “The Dreadful Harvest.” Christianity Today (May 27, 1991). “Jesus spoke more often about hell than he did about heaven. We cannot get around this fact.”

[5] It is his work of gathering a lost people to himself that the gates of hell cannot withstand (Matthew 16:18). Hell will not prevail against God’s saving activity. Once rescued from gates of hell, we are called to join his mission. Charles Spurgeon captured this well. “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and un-prayed for.”

 

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Blessed Doubters and Gospel Freedom

Helmut Thielicke was a German theologian and professor that taught and wrote during WWII. He has some very helpful things to say about the liberating intention of the gospel and the connection between grasping mercy and knowing doubt. Here are a few of his insights.

“The Christian stands, not under the dictatorship of a legalistic ‘you ought,’ but in the magnetic field of Christian Freedom, under the empowering of the ‘You may.'”

“The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to each generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of address.”

“Jesus did not identify the person with his sin, but rather saw in this sin something alien, something that really did not belong to him, something that merely chained and mastered him and from which he could free him and bring him back to his real self. Jesus was able to love men because he loved them right through the layer of mud.”

“I don’t believe that God is a fussy faultfinder in dealing with theological ideas. He who provides forgiveness for a sinful life will also surely be a generous judge of theological reflection. Even an orthodox theologian can be spiritually dead, while perhaps a heretic crawls on forbidden bypaths to the sources of life.”

“Tell me how much you know of the sufferings of your fellowmen and I will tell you how much you have loved them.”

“The doubters are always more blessed than the mere fellow travelers in faith. For they are the only ones who fully learn that their Lord is stronger than any doubt and any hell of despair.”

“What is the greatest deficiency among human Christians? They have an inadequate view of human suffering.”

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Coming

It is fitting that the final pillar of encouragement centers on the return of Jesus. It is no surprise that the New Testament links encouragement to his second coming. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 makes this link explicit.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede th

ose who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

It is absolutely certain that the same Jesus that bore the wrath of God to rescue us will come back to retrieve those who have trusted him. It is so certain, it is future history as one author has called it. It is certain that you have trusted him will receive a renewed, resurrected bScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMody at that time.

It is certain that you will be reunited with fellow believers who have died before you at that time. It is certain that when he returns you will be with him forever. He will not leave us as orphans. He will come for us.

Be encouraged! Things are absolutely going to get better. For the Christian, life in this fallen world is as bad as it gets. For the person rejecting Christ this is as good as it gets. It will get better for the Christian, this is not the final chapter of the book.

What we are experiencing here and now is temporary. Do not be drawn into the lie that you only have one shot at life, you will live forever! Every disappointment, every crushed dream, every unmet expectation will be eclipsed by a life that will never end. Be encouraged. He is coming for you Christian!

At the foundation of our framework for encouragement is our God. He calls us to be encouraged and to encourage one another as we recognize the image of God in others, as we revel in the good news of the cross, as we gather together to smash hard hearts and breathe hope into each other, and as we remind one another that this is not the end of the story.

Luther’s Pastoral Approach to Predestination

Martin Luther was aware of the challenges of certain doctrinal issues. Predestination has always been an area that can produce philosophical anxiety and deep-seated fear. Luther’s pastoral touch is evident in this section from his Table Talk. Notice how he pushes us away from what we can’t know about God to what we can and do know about him.

Concerning predestination, it is best to begin below, at Christ, as then we both hear and find the Father; for all those that have begun at the top have broken their necks. I have been thoroughly plagued and tormented with such cogitations of predestination; I would needs know how God intended to deal with me, etc. But at last, God be praised! I clean left them; I took hold again on God’s revealed Word; higher I was not able to bring it, for a human creature can never search out the celestial will of God; this God hides, for the sake of the devil, to the end the crafty spirit may be deceived and put to confusion. The revealed will of God the devil has learned from us, but God reserves his secret will to himself. It is sufficient for us to learn and know Christ in his humanity, in which the Father has revealed himself.

The Chalcedonian Creed

This creed was adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council held at Chalcedon–located in what is now Turkey–in 451 as a response to certain heretical views concerning the nature of Christ. It established the orthodox view that Christ has two natures (human and divine) that are unified in one person.

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the
same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood;
truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with the Father
according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things
like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead,
and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of
God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be
acknowledged in two natures, unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the
distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of
each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted
or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the
Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning Him, and the
Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down
to us.

This creed builds some very important parameters around the person of Christ and the Trinity. To best explain the contribution of this creed I have borrowed a very helpful diagram that seeks to do just that. The diagram below is called the Chalcedonian Box. It captures the boundary markers for thinking about the person of Christ. Orthodox Christology falls within these parameters.

chalcedonianbox2

Around the Table with God

Jesus is God in the flesh. He reveals the heart, nature and intentions of God. When you read the gospel narratives through this lens everything changes. Read Mark 2:15-17 from this angle.

“Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he told them, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.'”

Who you eat with says a lot about you. Eating a meal is one of the most intimate gestures of human life. God chooses to eat with the broken, the outcast, the rejected, the lost and the sick. This is a God who lives in the fray. This is a God who is fearless in the face of pain and need.

The irony of the passage is in the two categories mentioned by Jesus. In reality, there is one category for humanity…the only difference is whether or not one embraces reality. In the words of Paul, “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). God is saying to us all: come and sit at my table. He is a hospitable God.

The Creative Presence of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the quiet, humble power standing behind the world’s greatest moments. His personal presence is identifiable at the critical points in creation and redemption. Reading the gospel of Matthew tonight I was deeply encouraged by the mind blowing story of the Son of God’s conception. The wonder of Christ’s miraculous birth need not be relegated to the Christmas season. The phrase in the Matthew story seems so nonchalant, especially for a bombshell. Mary was “found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). And a little later, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20).

God’s gracious invasion into this fractured, groaning world was miraculous on every level. It was undeserved and gracious, the last thing humanity asked for and the first thing we needed. It was made possible only by unified Triune action. God the Father, Son and Spirit were equally required to engage and execute the plan of redemption. The One God in three persons alone could bring about the rescue mission humanity needed. The presence of the Spirit in knitting together the Christ in Mary’s womb signals the necessary divine handiwork for the entrance of God onto our soil.

The birth of the God-man was one of the most critical stages in God’s saving plan. The perfect life, the substitutionary death, the mighty resurrection, the exaltation to the right hand, the glorious return…all contingent upon a birth. The Spirit’s breath over Mary created saving possibilities that never existed before. The bringing forth of this embryo by divine means signaled beginnings far beyond the birth of a child. The Mighty Spirit shines forth with such glory in this moment. His behind the scenes heart and humble serving actions come into play as he quietly turns the world upside down by mysteriously creating a new life within a young Hebrew woman.

This Creative Spirit’s work extends into our lives. It is very encouraging to know that the same person who breathed on Mary and created the human life of the God-man is the one committed to saving us. It is assuring to know what the Spirit of God is not only capable of, but what he is willing to do. St. Augustine recognized his need for the Spirit’s creative work to be accomplished in him. His prayer to the Holy Spirit is instructive and helpful, one I want to make my own.

“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.”