Saturday, May 7, 2016

New Hope in Jesus Christ - Hungering to love God and love people

Romans 5:1-5 "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

As I was driving down the road the other day, I was reflecting on the name of the church God has called me to shepherd: "New Hope Baptist Church". Whenever my wife and I first heard of New Hope, the name caught our attention. 

Two words capture the eye whenever they are seen: "new" and "hope". Everyone loves "new things". Whenever a package claims to be "new and improved", we instinctively find ourselves wanting to get it, to have it and partake of it. The second word, "hope" - brings courage, confidence, light and joy to those who have not had it or had little supply of it. These two little words, when combined together, capture the essence of what occurs at the beginning of the Christian life and throughout its days. 

The Apostle Paul begins Romans 5 by connecting the position Christians have before God (justified or legally declared righteous by God with the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ) with the power of Christian living expressed in the experience of hope - from beginning to end. What does new found hope in Jesus Christ bring to the sinner who responds to the Spirit's call at saving faith? Certainly a change in position before God (from that of enmity to innocence). But with the positional righteousness of Jesus Christ credited at saving faith comes the ever-increasing experience of living in Him and He in us. Such a reality is the essence of New Hope in Jesus Christ. 

Since Paul mentions the word "hope" three times in this text, I thought it would be interesting to consider this word as an acrostic for describing what the Christian-life and the local church ought to be like. In other words: Hunger to love God and love people; Ongoing discipleship/evangelism; Proclamation of the Word of God and Exaltation of Jesus. When people meet Christ-followers, they ought to discern such "hope". 1 Peter 3:15 states - "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." 

So what is there about new "h.o.p.e" in Jesus Christ that sets apart the Christian and what should be the spiritual vitality of the local church? For brevity's sake, let's consider the letter "H" for today.

Hunger to love God and people
Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was in Matthew 22. His response is found in Matthew 22:37-39 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The aim of the Christian life is to know God and love God. In so far as we love God through the Lord Jesus Christ, such love will compel us to love others. In like manner, how we love those who treat us well or who treat us terribly will measure how much God's love is flowing through us. 

Hunger for God is proportional to love for Him. Hunger for God is indicated in the way I love others. 1 John 4:7-10 states - "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." Implied in our loving of God is knowing God. One cannot love another person without knowing them. Hence when I say "loving God", it is short-hand for expressing the essentials of relating to God (knowing, praying, listening, obeying, believing and so on).

The love for God and love for others increases our hunger for Him. Like an electrical circuit, whereby one end of a wire is connected to a positive battery terminal and the other to a negative terminal, both terminals are needed to complete the circuit. The positive part of the circuit is where the flow begins - namely God's love. The other terminal represents the pouring out of His love into others. 

So what can this look like in individual Christians or the local church? Hungering to love God and others can entail such realities as:

-A God-enriched environment where people are encouraged and convinced to dig into the scriptures and apply it to their lives. Experiencing the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer, scripture reading, fasting, fellowship with other Christians in church services or home-based Bible study groups ought to be the norm, not the exception. Acts 4:13 describes the early public opinion of the early Christians - ....."they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." 

-There ought to be expressions of extravagant love and concern for one another. Jesus states in John 13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Whenever those who are not Christians see people not only helping others with no prospect of anything in return, the mark of extravagant, Godly love will include the compulsion to not merely know about God, but to know Him in Jesus. 

Such an impulse arises not from the natural human heart, but rather the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit working on the heart. This kind of hunger is urged upon us in Hebrews 10:24 "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds". Or again in 1 Peter 2:12 "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

Such thoughts are but the beginnings of reflecting on what it means to hunger in our love for God and others. Whenever we crave to love God and others, the hope of the Christian life will increase itself in ever increasing measure. The hope of salvation expressed in justification is not only a personal reality, but a corporate-church reality that, when taken to heart - results in a Kingdom reality. Hope flows as a river through the Christian's soul. Hungering for God turns this flow of hope from a trickle to a torrent. We stand amazed in His presence and hunger to love Him. We pray and stand in such amazing hope, all the while desiring to love others for the sake that they too can enjoy the new hope in Jesus Christ. 

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