Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands...  1 Timothy 2:8

Prayer Challenges

Thoughts from Doug Knox.

March 2022

Faith and Hope - Part 1

Genesis 1:1

Where Faith Comes From


Fundamental Questions

Over the past several months, my wife Patty has engaged the help of a young lady for work with some of the more difficult household chores.  Her assistance has become more frequent lately, particularly during a move that we have completed.  In the process, the relationship that began as an enterprise has blossomed into a three-way friendship. Thursday, we unloaded the last of our belongings into our new residence.  The three of us sat down in the living room to enjoy the sense of partial completion. Not far into the conversation, the subject turned to our beliefs.  Our friend wondered about what the basis was for our beliefs and how we could be so sure in them.  Her questions went to the deepest reasons for our belief.  What do we believe and why do we believe it?  

 Not Just Facts, but Substance

The discussion took us into the field of thought known as apologetics, or the defense of the faith.  Patty took her to 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s classic defense for the resurrection of the dead. Our friend remained unconvinced.  Sure, Paul talked about five hundred people having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion, but they are not around anymore.  How do we know that they were not somebody’s fabrication? I explained that in the context of the passage, most of the witnesses were still alive.  The doubters could speak to them directly. Our friend started to describe a deeper need in her heart.  She needed to know that whatever truth she claimed as her own was indeed genuine truth. I recognized her questions immediately.  They were the same ones that I wrestled with during my college years.   She wanted more than academic answers.  She wanted answers with weight—truth that she could know was true.  She wanted substance. We talked for over an hour and ended with the question of origins.  Where do we come from? The answer that we determine for that question determines the way we think about ourselves and our relationship to reality.  Are we the product of a cosmic crap shoot, or are we created with a purpose?  It is the near-final question.  

 The Origins of Knowing

I took her to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  That simple declaration not only places God at the head of the cosmos as creator, but at the head of our thinking as the master of wisdom.  In our finite knowledge, we are unable to know with certainty.  Therefore, we must trust. We closed our conversation with a thought on the nature of the cosmos.  I said that ultimately only two possibilities existed.  Either something came from nothing, or something always was. She said that she could not accept the terms of the question, that a third possibility must exist. I asked her what it might be, and she said she did not know.  She would have to think about it.

Understanding “True Truth”  

Such an ending point sounds arbitrary at first, but I believe that it was exactly where the Holy Spirit wanted us to stop.  The reason is simple.  Her generation has sold out to the belief that one’s personal truth is final truth.  Such thinking has led the whole gender debacle in our restrooms, our schools, and the athletic field.  When personal truth becomes the benchmark, secure faith becomes impossible.  Nothing is ever objectively true.  If she is to come to faith, she must realize the absolute nature of truth.  If something is true, its opposite must be false.  Without that reality, we cannot make the claim that Christ is the truth.  Faith absent from truth is opinion.  It is without substance. A generation ago, the Christian apologist Francis A. Schaeffer coined the term, “true truth” to describe this reality.  

 An Example of Faith without Substance

Faith without substance is unable to handle hard-fought questions because it lays its foundation in the sand and has to buttress its opinions on the fly. 

During my college years, my church had an adult Sunday school teacher who stated his defense of the faith with the words, “Christianity is fun.” 

He was not being frivolous.  The declaration was his way of saying that Christians had reason for hopefulness where nonbelievers came up short.  For him, “fun” was synonymous with joy.  Only true Christians could experience real joy.  In his mind, our joy legitimized our faith. He was right about Christians’ more positive position relative to nonbelievers.  He properly recognized that believers’ firmer basis for joy arises from a foundation that is capable of growing real joy.  But his justification for Christianity reverse engineered the faith.  He never asked what happens to our faith when grief shatters us. 

His argument rested solely on a happy-happy-joy-joy approach.  Why believe?  Because happy people must be Christian people.  

 Knowable Truth

If our claim to faith is to pass muster, it must rest on a more secure foundation than my personal state of mind. Genuine faith must be based on truth, and that truth must be knowable.  Thankfully, God has given us knowable truth.  It is the reason why we experience such a deep satisfaction when we first trust in Christ.  It is the foundation for our joy as well as the justification for our hope.  It is deep and satisfying, and it underpins us during difficult times that challenge our beliefs. We will continue to explore this in the succeeding weeks. 


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Faith and Hope - Part 2

Hebrews 11:1-12

The Commendation of Faith


Faith and Hope as the Compass Readings for the Christian Life

The author of the book of Hebrews ties faith and hope together in a simple sentence: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 1:1). With these words, he comprehends our spiritual lives from the moment we first believe to the instant that we pass from this life to eternity.  Our walk with Christ begins in faith, and it thrives as we place our hope in God’s promised ends. This is what the author means by “the assurance of things hoped for.”  Faith and hope form the two intellectual poles of the Christian walk.  Faith looks to our past.  It is something that we own.  It is a deliberate orientation, the conviction, as the author calls it, of things that we cannot see.  It is the starting point and the root of all that follows in the Christian life. Hope, on the other hand, grows as the fruit of faith and looks toward the future.  It forms the true north of our faith walk. 

 Faith and Hope in Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11 is an exposition on the dual poles of faith and hope in the believer’s life.  The first twelve verses focus on the strength of faith, while the remainder of the chapter shifts to the glory of hope. In verses 1-12, faith is the grounding principle in our walk with Christ.  It is both the starting point and ending point in our spiritual journey.  The key word in this section is commendation or witness, depending on the version.  The word directs us to that which the saints complete during their earthly walk. 

 Faith’s Commendation

The term makes its first appearance in verse 2.  “For by it [by faith] the people of old received their commendation.”  Various Bibles have translated the term,

  • “Obtained a good testimony” (King James)
  • “Gained approval” (New American Standard)
  • “Were Commended” (New International Version)
  • “Received their commendation” (English Standard Version)

 The root form of the word is martureo, from which we obtain our modern word martyr.  We need to be careful that we avoid running the meaning backwards.  Not all the saints have died for their faith.  In its original form, martureo means to testify or to bear witness. Further, faith is more than a self-generated notion.  It arrives as a God-given principle that defines the very reality on which we stand.  “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). We do not simply decide that such an orientation is a good idea.  We believe the testimony of Scripture to be God’s word. In the course of the first section, the writer refers to two individuals whose lives prove their testimony through their faith.  The emphasis lies on the completion of their task. 

 Heb 11:4-5 ESV emphasis added

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.

 The writing style depicts a sense of finality with these two characters.  We can imagine a courtroom setting in which God, the Great Judge, calls forth his saints one by one:

“Abel, Son of Adam, approach the bench.” 

Abel steps forward and takes his seat on the witness stand.  “My Lord.”

“Abel, what do you bring for your witness?”

“Lord, I bring the testimony that you accepted the sacrifices that I brought to you in faith.”

“I have accepted them.  Your work is complete.  Step down from the witness stand and be received into glory.” 

 “Enoch, approach the bench.”

“My Lord.”

“Enoch, what do you bring for your witness?”

“My Lord, I bring the testimony that I walked with you in faith before you took me up to be with you.”

“I commend you for your faith.  Step down and be received into glory.” 

 Faith’s Distinctiveness

Finally, faith gains the distinction as the only acceptable means by which to approach God.  “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The reason why faith stands as the only acceptable approach to God is because it alone calls us to place ourselves in complete subjection to God. Faith makes no demands.  It seeks God’s goodness and trusts him. That trust moves beyond our approach to God.  It also follows him in action.  Here, the Bible gives us three examples of those who rose to high tasks in faith and received a reward: 

 Hebrews 11:7-12 ESV

7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 

9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 

10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 

12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

 Of course, faith and hope are inseparable.  Though the first part of the chapter has emphasized faith, even here we see glimpses of the author’s coming exposition on hope when he refers to the promises that these heroes of faith took as their own.  The remainder of the chapter will stress the elements that remain incomplete in our faith and the necessity of hope to embolden us to continue our walk with Christ.

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Faith and Hope, Part 3

Hebrews 11:13-22



A Picture of Finality
The first twelve verses of Hebrews 11 place the highest regard on the importance of faith in the believer’s life. From the beginning, faith is the sole means by which we may approach God in an acceptable manner. It is how all the saints in history have received their standing before their God. These verses depict faith as the act that puts the believer’s soul at ease when he passes from this world into the next. In this section, the language depicts finality. Abel receives commendation for his faith-driven sacrifices. Enoch rests in glory, having pleased God with his faith. The author goes on to explain that even in this world, faith brings great reward. By faith, Noah completed his task in building the ark and through it saved his family from destruction. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived by faith in the land of promise. Through faith, Sarah received gave birth to a promised son, the first heir in an uncountable line of physical and spiritual descendants. Given the language in this section, these lack nothing. They received what was promised during their lifetimes, and now they rest before their God to offer up eternal worship. We might conclude that faith defines the whole truth regarding the believer’s relationship with God, but that conclusion would be premature.

Another Truth
Verse 13 begins to direct us to a different theme. The author writes, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised but having seen them from afar…” (Hebrews 11:13 emphasis added).
Yes, our faith stands eternally as our witness that God has created an acceptable entry for us in glory, but the text now makes the point clear that faith contains another component. That component is hope.

Seeking a Better Country
Hope is the anticipation of a greater end. Hope understands that our life’s meaning does not emerge by the outcome of our journey. A larger story exists, one that has a glorious ending, and our individual lives comprise only a small part of the whole story. The remainder of Hebrews 11 drives this point home. Hope casts its vision toward an end that we see from a distance. The writer introduces the hope theme with these words:

13. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. For he has prepared for them a city.

--Hebrews 11:13-16

This whole paragraph is forward looking. Notice the way in which the author presents his points

A Vision focused on a Promise:
…not having received the things promised…
  …having seen them from afar…
    …having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

The Homeland that the Saints have Sought:
      …[they] make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.

Choosing the vision over immediate rewards:
    If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out…
  …they would have had opportunity to return.
…they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.

The Driving Character of Hope
This is deeply persuasive language. The writer is engaging in honor discourse, a type of writing that calls his readers to forsake immediate satisfaction in favor of a larger calling. The chapter employs stories of some of the greatest saints in the Old Testament to remind his audience of their greater call. The Old Testament saints looked forward to something better, and that vision allowed them to persevere through often crippling hardships. This is one of the marks of true manhood. When a man determines to forego immediate gratification in favor of a greater future reward, he produces a sharpened clarity in his vision. This is the theme that the author will pursue through the remainder of the chapter. Starting in verse 17, he takes up the recitation of faith heroes again, focusing a second time on Abraham. This time, however, he ignores what the Patriarch gained. Instead, he focuses on what he sacrificed.

17. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18. of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19. He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

--Hebrews 11:17-19

Notice the reversal. The chapter opening showed that Abraham had received the child of promise by faith, but now he is ready to sacrifice his promised son at God’s command. True faith sometimes must push toward the hope that God has set for his saints, even when it defies sensible understanding. The author continues with three successive generations of the Patriarchs, each of whom showed that they committed to future-oriented faith. These men so believed that God would fulfill his promises that they closed their lives with concrete statements of hope.

20. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

--Hebrews 11:20-22

The author’s three opening phrases, “By faith…” stand as more than embellishments of an otherwise neutral Old Testament narrative. The Patriarchal accounts in Genesis show that Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph each understood that they spoke prophetically on their deathbeds. Should you be inclined to study their last words, the references appear below.

  • Isaac’s blessings for his sons: Genesis 27:1-45
  • Jacob’s blessings for his grandsons: Genesis 48:1-16
  • Joseph’s instructions to his brothers: Genesis 50:22-26

These men proved that they lived not just in faith, but also with a deliberate sense of hope. Genuine faith grows into the certainty of hope. If we trust God at the beginning, we continue to believe that he will complete what he promised.

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Faith and Hope - Part 4

Hebrews 11:23-38

Waiting for Future Promises


More than a Momentary Decision

Have you ever noticed that those who exhibit the greatest hope for the future tend to be the most willing to sacrifice pleasure in the present?  Sometimes a vision for something better keeps us from putting too much weight on comfort right now. This is the reality that drives the themes in Hebrews 11.  The author recognizes that genuine faith thrives with one foot planted in history and the other resting on hope. He can do this because he understands the essential harmony of faith and hope in the believer’s life.  If the fruit of our original faith provided all the commendation that we needed to stand before God, then our lives would be complete the moment we trust in Christ.  “Lord, I believe.  Now give me my reward.”  Obviously, faith is more than a momentary decision that propels us on a one-way trip to glory.  It is but the first step of an ongoing relationship of trust that God employs while we wait for him to complete his work in history.  Hope recognizes that the present is imperfect. This is the reason why Hebrews 11 turns such a sharp corner from its emphasis on receiving commendation to operating in the absence of a fulfilled promise. Hope acts in harmony with faith.  Future hope sets our vision on more worthy expectations to come.  When we understand the value of our future promises, we can release our grip on the need for immediate satisfaction.

 The Glory of Faith and Hope

Before the author takes us to his conclusion, he shows the glory of faith and hope operating in harmony with each other.  These two themes shape the main part of the chapter: 

  • Verses 1-12 rightly emphasize the reward of faith, because it is the only means by which a man can receive God’s commendation.  The moment we trust Christ for salvation, this possession becomes ours.  It speaks to our hearts right now to give us the assurance of our relationship with him.
  • Verses 13-27 shift their focus to the opposite pole, the future hope that faith produces.   This section shows that self-sacrificial hope arises naturally from genuine faith.  Hope is something for which we wait.  Many have called hope the “not-yet” aspect of God’s promise to us. 

A Unique Stylistic Tool in Hebrews

The next section of the chapter shows faith and hope operating together.  In verses 28-38, faith’s immediate reward becomes welded to hope’s future promise.  The author shows the two glories of faith and hope, the “right now” and the “not yet” aspects of our walk with Christ, as work together.

He begins with a summary on the glories of victorious faith:

  • Hebrews 11:32-34a
  • 32. And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—
  • 33. who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions,
  • 34. quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection….

 We can hear the passion in the author’s voice with these words.  He has come to the climactic moment in his delivery, where the logical force of his message combines with a sense of fervor.  This is one of the qualities that makes the book of Hebrews unique among the New Testament letters. We know, for example, that letters were written by hand in biblical times, to be read aloud in public services.  Most of the New Testament letters contain greetings, openings, and closings—the standard devices that we recognize in letter writing.  We take them for granted. The book of Hebrews contains none of these devices.  Structurally, it is a sermon rather than a letter.  In many places, the author interjects momentary thoughts that normally would appear only in live speech. One such interjection occurs at the beginning of verse 32 with the words, “And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me….”  These words “speak” to his audience though their reader.  They reinforce the sense of urgency. In the examples that follow, the author employs a piled-on style in the phrasing that builds the tension even further.  We must listen carefully because he wants us to catch something in the sound of his voice.

Triumphant in Victory or Tragedy

I believe the point that he wants to make is the multiplied collective power of past witnesses to their faith.  Whether they received immediate reward or waited for something better, they refused to surrender their commitment to their faith. The first four characters in his summary presentation—Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah—all judged the fledgling nation of Israel in the years following Joshua’s Conquest.  That period, depicted in the book of Judges, was among the darkest in Israel’s history, and each of these characters hides a shadowy underbelly.  In some cases, we must use a magnifying glass to find the good that they did.  Yet the author finds reason to mention them as champions of faith. David and Samuel come next.  Though they stand much more brightly than the previous characters, they still carry their own baggage. Following David and Samuel, the author drops the character names and focuses strictly on the deeds that they performed. All the examples in this summary point to specific events in Old Testament history, and all are victorious.

Then, seemingly before he has a chance to catch his breath, he launches into a litany of tragedy.

  • Hebrews 11:35b-38
  • 35. …. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
  • 36. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
  • 37. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—
  • 38. of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.

Those who met tragic ends did not suffer despite their faith.  The suffered because of their faith.  They could have walked away, but instead decided that the value of their hope was great enough to accept the pain of torture and ultimate loss in this life. Here the author ramps the urgency to the greatest degree.  His interjected phrase, “of whom the world was not worthy,” again acts as spoken word to place the author before the people and make his message as personal as possible.  He wants his audience to understand that if the cause is great enough, suffering is as glorious as victory. These tragic examples, though, pose a serious question.  Why was future hope such an important issue to those who suffered for their faith, and how did it embolden them?  We will consider that question in the next installment, when the author draws the past, the present, and the future together.  Commendation, hope, and endurance provide the ultimate strength to endure difficulty.  The author is about to use all three of these qualities to drive us to a dramatic challenge in Hebrews 11:39 – 12:2.

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Faith and Hope - Part 5

Hebrews 11:39 - 12:3

Hopes Obligation


The purpose of the sermon that is the book of Hebrews is to spur a discouraged group of Hebrew Christians to stay true to their commitment to Jesus Christ.  Persecution has made their faith difficult, and the anonymous writer urges them to remember their shared heritage with the saints that have gone before them. The writer builds to a clear climactic moment in Hebrews 11.  There he walks his hearers through two great themes—the commendation that faith brings to those who believe, followed by the glories that faith achieves through hope, whether they arise in victory or tragedy. Now, the writer comes to the most difficult part of the faith-and-hope discourse.  How does he call his audience to action?  How does he tie the Old Testament saints’ future hope to his expectations for his audience?

A Better Plan for Us

He does it by connecting the past to the present with unbreakable bonds.  He begins the conclusion to the discourse with these words:


Hebrews 11:39-40

39. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,

40. since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.


The first thing that the author does in this paragraph is connect the witnesses from the past with the listeners in the present.  For the first time since verse 5, he returns to the word commended.  Those who span the ages of the Old Testament possess faith that has been proven—from the word martureo in the original language.  However, they remain incomplete because they wait for yet unfulfilled promises. The promises remain unfulfilled because God has provided something better for us. In this context, that something has nothing to do with our position as New Testament saints under the completed work of Christ.  As great as that position is, we are not the new and improved version of our Old Testament counterparts. After all, the author has made the point clear that the Old Testament saints have received their commendation.  God honors all faith, regardless of whether it occurs before Jesus’ work on the cross or after. The key to understanding the moral force of the chapter lies in a proper reading of verse 40.  Upon reading the phrase, “since God has provided something better for us,” we might expect to see the words, “that apart from them, we should not be made perfect.”  The correct reading, however, is “that apart from us, they should not be made perfect.” Our commitment to faith, in other words, is their hope.  The Old Testament saints wait for us to finish our faith journey.  The whole point of the chapter is to establish a continuum of faith and hope.  Those in generations past began their journey in faith, and they continued toward the hope that God had given them.  But they wait for us.


Why Our Mutual Connection Matters

I need to interject a biographical note at this point.  When my first wife Marie was alive, we had a locksmith business.  She loved to serve others, and she considered the business a ministry.  I did not, and after she died, I began to train my son-in-law to take it up. Significantly, the last service call that I performed was for an elderly woman who also had been widowed.  She was a Christian, which meant that we shared two deeply significant points of identity.  I told my sister that I had come to take comfort in Hebrews 11, believing that Marie watched my journey from heaven. She said, “Oh, no.  I think the saints are so caught up with God’s glory that they don’t even know that we are here.” At the time, I could not answer with chapter and verse, and I consigned myself to that conclusion.  After a couple weeks, however, a deep depression began to set in.  I began to study this chapter, along with other related Scriptures, to see what the Bible had to say. I finally concluded that my sister in Christ understood the first principle in Hebrews 11—the fact that the witnesses to faith have received their commendation—but that she had missed the corresponding truth that they wait for us. In short, history matters.  After all, God’s redemption takes place in history.  The Bible never ignores it, and neither do the saints in heaven.


The Centuries-long Race

For that reason, I have come to understand the saints’ presence among us literally.  I believe that the text supports such an understanding.  The author pictures an unimaginably large audience who watches us .

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus , the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The race that the author pictures is our history-long relay race, and he uses especially forceful language to drive his point home.  In the phrase, “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” the word translated witnesses is the noun form of the term commended that the author used in the opening of chapter 11.  Here it means eyewitnesses. We also can note the strength of the word translated surrounded.  This word occurs in three other contexts in the New Testament, and each carries a graphic meaning.

  • Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2 record Jesus’ declaration on the one who causes one of his little ones to stumble.  Both passages declare that it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck so that he drowns in the sea.”
  • In Acts 28:20, the Apostle Paul stands before King Agrippa as a prisoner of Rome and declares, “For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”  (Bible versions are evenly divided between this translation and “bound by this chain.”)
  • Hebrews 5:1-2 builds
  •  a case for empathy.  Every Old Testament high priest, appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices, is able “to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.”

Hung, bound, and beset.  Each of these examples focuses on inescapable attachment.  I do not consider us to be out of line at all to translate the beginning of Hebrews 12, “Therefore, since we are corralled by so great a cloud of witnesses….”


Endurance in a Race that We did not Choose

The remainder of the conclusion moves to Jesus’ example.  Here again, his persuasive language is masterful.  We have not chosen our race.  We are appointed to it.  But then again, so was Jesus.  Notice the parallel language between Jesus’ calling and ours.

We are called to “run with endurance” because Jesus also “endured the cross.”

Our race is “set before us,” just as Jesus’ final joy was “set before him.”

If the Father has chosen Jesus’ mission, he certainly has every right to call us to ours.  But the race is a priceless privilege.  For all our grief, our hope is greater.  Jesus calls us, and the saints of all ages cheer us on.

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Faith and Hope, Part 6

Romans 8:18-23



The Confluence of Two Streams
Whenever I am around a forest, I feel compelled to explore it. For me, the lure is irresistible. During one of my walks several years ago, I followed a creek after a storm. The water was high and muddy and would remain so for a couple more days at least. At one point, I came upon a tributary that fed the trunk stream. The tributary carried about a third of the volume of the larger stream, leaving a much gentler flow. The mud had settled in the branch creek, and it ran clear. To see these merging streams, one muddy and one clear, was a fascinating sight. Of course, when they joined, all traces of the clear water from the side stream vanished. The water downstream from the tributary looked no different from the water upstream. As Christians, we spend our lives in a similar confluence, the collision of history and hope. The Apostle Paul introduces the two in Romans 8, with these words:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

--Romans 8:18

The Meaning of History
The phrase, “the sufferings of this present time,” describes history. While Paul does not use the term, its meaning is clear. In this context, history is the lifetime of experiences that govern our lives. It is muddy and unpredictable. Often it ends tragically, and no one escapes the pain. For the Christian, however, history is more than a litany of negative events. Hope flows as a source of clear water amid the rapids that churn around him. Paul describes our hope as “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Hope is the promise for something better. In order for hope to blossom, three relationships between history and hope must be true.

  • First, even though history can be dark, it must be meaningful. Concepts like right and wrong or good and evil must be real. Justice must be a cause worth seeking. When we know that these are true, then we can have hope.
  • Second, history will not continue to run forever. It must reach a conclusion at some point. The Scripture is firm on this point. One of my middle school history teachers described history as “His-story.” He believed firmly in the ultimate meaning of history, and he taught his subject with zeal.
  • Third, history will come to a happy end. The ability to possess that hope in the middle of difficulty makes the life endurable.

The Biblical Reality of History and Hope
These three points are not made up. They form the weave of Scripture. Paul acknowledges the reality of pain in history as well as the reality of hope in the next couple verses.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

--Romans 8:20-21

Did you notice the personification in the first sentence? The creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” This revealing signifies the culmination of history. In other words, our ultimate deliverance will mark the conclusion of God’s story. The creation waits for our happy end. The passage above expands on the ultimate meaning of history by speaking of the ultimate imposition. “The creation was subjected to futility….” These words refer to the Genesis account of creation, rebellion, and judgment. At the end of Genesis 1, we read, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." In the beginning, history was full of promise. When the man and woman rebelled, they brought injustice into the world. This, in turn, led to the condition that Paul calls “futility.” We must realize that none of the actors in the rebellion—the serpent, the woman, or the man—brought futility into the world. God himself did this. The Genesis account makes this clear.

The LORD God said to the serpent,

Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock,
and above the all the beasts of the field…

And to Adam, he said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I have commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you…

--Genesis 3:14, 17

God’s judgment alone forced the confluence of futility onto history. And it is precisely this fact that allows for hope because this same God has promised to remove the curse.

The Glory of Hope in Pain
The first appearance of hope takes place in the curse itself. When God calls judgment on the serpent for his deception in the rebellion, he tells him,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heal.

--Genesis 3:15

The prophecy is a cryptic pronouncement that God would send a deliverer for the man and the woman. From our New Testament perspective, we know that this is Jesus. But God also does something else. In Genesis 3:21, he makes garments from skins for the couple. This concession requires him to destroy part of his creation, but it also proves that he will bring grace to them, even at a cost to himself. That act gave the man and woman hope for a future redemption from sin. In Genesis, that hope is a glimmer in a very dark cave, but it is real. Over the course of the Old Testament, that glimmer becomes brighter and brighter until it reaches its fullest glory with Jesus. However, Jesus’ act of redemption took place in history. We still live in a world filled with pain, but we have a blessed hope as well. Paul writes,

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together to in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

--Romans 8:22-23

As believers, then, we recognize two truths:

  • The world remains under a curse while history continues. This is the reality of history.
  • The Holy Spirit in our lives is the guarantor of our ultimate deliverance. He is the witness to our hope in glory.

Paul has one more thing to say about hope. In the next segment, we will finish paragraph. There we will see the surprising truth between our two realities. Even though the currents of history and hope fight against each other, they both remain necessary to maintain a rational grip on our life with Christ.

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Faith and Hope - Part 7

Romans 8:22-30

History and Hope


Two Realities and their Consequences

Romans 8 forms the capstone to the first part of the book of Romans.  If we follow the course of the chapter carefully, two things begin to stand out.  One, the strength of the praise for God’s glory becomes ever greater through the course of the chapter until it closes with some of the most glorious doxology in the Bible. Two, Paul’s most glorious doxology takes place in suffering.  All the praise from verse 16 on shines against that dark canvas. Why is this?

Part of the answer—and only part—grows from the reality of history.  Paul writes,

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.


--Romans 8:22-23

The world around us is broken, and we share that brokenness—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  The futures that we planned in our younger days fail to materialize.  Relationships crumble, sometimes irredeemably.  Conflicts between ourselves and our loved ones remain unresolved. How, then, can Paul call for praise when life is so unbearable?  He knows that Christ’s redemption has guaranteed a glorious outcome. God created the world and the human beings that inhabited it knowing full well that things would break.  But his greatness does not come from the power to keep things from breaking, as great as that would be.  It comes from his ability to take the broken pieces and make something greater from than what would have arisen from an unbroken universe.


Necessary Brokenness

The hinge pin for the chapter lies in verses 20-21, which we discussed in the previous segment. 

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.


--Romans 8:20-21 


The creation’s bondage to decay is something that we feel all too acutely.  At the same time, “We…who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  These two realities form the comprehensive foundation that includes history and hope. We need to hold both close to our hearts if we are to remain in a stable relationship with our Lord.  Let me show you what happens if we deny either reality, because denial occurs on both sides. 


The Consequences of Denying Hope

If we deny the existence of hope, we are left with only history.  The extreme form of hope denial ignores the existence of any god whatsoever.  One of the chief contemporary champions of this view is Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist.  For Dawkins, history is the only reality.  Here is how he describes his world in his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. 

On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, [then] meaningless tragedies...are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune.  Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention.  It would manifest no intentions of any kind.  In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. [1]

While Dawkins denies rhyme, reason, and justice, he fails to realize that these very concepts allow him to publish his book under the protection of copyright laws.  If the world were truly without justice, it would be completely lawless.  He would have no book to his name.


Consequences of Denying History

A more subtle difficulty occurs among in Christian thinking when we try to ignore the reality of history.  Western culture has become obsessed with comfort, and Christians have been swept into the flurry.  We cringe at the concept of suffering.  The result has been the growth of a praise-only culture among believers. For example, one of my Christian friends—who has endured a great deal of physical suffering, by the way—posted a message on Facebook a couple years ago that read, 

“Try this.

Don’t pray.

Only praise.”

This line of thinking has permeated contemporary Christian culture.   The sentiment is unstated but powerful.  If we learn to praise through pain, our prayers will become more God-honoring and therefore carry greater weight. This lie tries to sever our inward groaning from our worship.  The end of that line of thinking is just as ugly as Dawkins’s denial of hope.  Here is an observation by Christian blogger Sam Williamson.

I once met with a man—let’s call him Nathan—who described himself as a “recovering charismatic.” He was open to it; but his experience of modern worship gave him pause.

As he grew up, his mother frenetically flitted from one worship experience to the next.

After Toronto she visited Florida, then Bethel Church, and then anywhere she heard “something” was happening.

Worship music unceasingly blared throughout the house. She seemed to need its euphoric “oomph” to motivate her for the tiniest of tasks. Wiping kitchen counters took the combined efforts of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Paul Baloche…. But she remained anxious, fearful, self-concerned, and neglectful of her husband and sons. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it really seemed she just wanted an escape, a place where her problems could be sedated.

After describing all this, Nathan added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”

 “I wonder,” he continued, “if modern worship is like a cocaine rush.”[2]

The glory of Romans 8 lies in the fact that pain is the soil from which which future hope grows.  God’s work in our fallen world guarantees the coming of the new world where we will be completely redeemed.  We can endure now because God has promised a day when all pain will be gone, and our joy will be perfect.