Christ shares His place of highest favor with God with His followers. Let's believe this truth. Let this truth open your eyes to a new reality and open your heart to a new rest of faith. The gospel can change a gloomy pessimist into a cheerful optimist.
The gospel can change even a die-hard, gloomy pessimist into a cheerful, confident optimist. This bright hope rests on solid facts. You don't need to "whistle in the dark" hoping things will get better. Things have already gotten better. Totally better. Forever better.
The resurrection of Christ has changed the basic circumstances of our life. Grasp the full significance of this change and hope will become your normal viewpoint.
Even if you slip into momentary despair, you will not stay there long. The facts revealed in Scripture demand that you look at life with confidence. Even death itself, man's greatest and final enemy, has lost its sting.
Neither faith nor unbelief can change the facts. Faith simply opens your eyes to see the wonderful new reality which is forever yours in Christ. Faith knows that the believer is on a path that is bound to grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Obviously, many Christians have not caught this incurable optimism. I must confess, I've been slow to catch it myself. Looking back, I wonder what made the difference? What caused my faith to shift from mere theory to a lively hope that daily relieves my anxieties?
One factor was knowing someone who had this kind of faith. Realities like this are caught, not taught. I had an experience that made me hungry and thirsty for this better life.
I was a young seminary student working with the late W.E. Hawkins. Things were going badly. My melancholy nature caved in.
Brother Hawkins set about to reassure me. "You need a new hat," he chimed, eyeing my old one. "Here, try this one." It was a perfect fit.
"That hat was given to me yesterday, but it looks too young for me. You keep it and let me have yours."
I left his office in high spirits wearing a new Texas-style Stetson. When he showed up at church wearing my old hat, a friend cornered him and insisted on buying him another.
The way W.E. Hawkins jauntily wore my old hat and confidently stood up under all kinds of crises left a lasting impression on me. I could tell he had inner resources I had never tapped. This made me hungry and thirsty for greater inner strength.
Seeing his lively hope helped. But it was seeing the facts in Ephesians that settled my new hope on a solid foundation.
Several years ago I memorized Ephesians. I began by confessing to myself and to God that deep down inside I was starving to death. I had no inner resources for life's storms.
Through Ephesians, God has led me to actually possess some of the riches of grace. I believe there are four elements which came into my faith and transformed empty theory into confident assurance.
Let me tell you how my eyes were opened to a new reality. It all began with Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23. I prayed this prayer for myself.
I noticed Paul used several words to show our need for enlightenment (vs. 18). Obviously we Christians are blind to something very basic. We need to know three things.
First, the hope of God's calling. Second, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. Third, and most importantly, the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe. This is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and set Him at God's right hand far above all other authorities.
"Well," I thought, "wasn't Christ in that position of power before He came to earth? What did He gain by dying and rising to that place again?"
Then it hit me. He gained the right to share that place of power and favor with us.
Our status in God's kingdom has changed. We're like Joseph. Once he was in jail under the wrath of the king. Then, suddenly, he was exalted to the highest position in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.
We were under God's wrath. Now we enjoy His highest favor. Our standing with God has changed 180 degrees. This is how things have gotten forever better for us. The basic circumstances of our life have permanently improved.
God likes to see us relax and enjoy our new standing. Our bright future is guaranteed. We will finally be like Christ and live with God forever. That's the sure hope of our calling. God will be honored by the great resulting change that comes in us. That's the wealth of the glory of His inheritance in us.
In the light of this truth, a change has taken place in my inner life. Deep down inside where my worries spring up, I'm beginning to feel the assurance that comes from knowing where I stand with God.
The other day I faced a substantial financial loss due to a mistake someone had made. I was tempted to be upset and irritable. Then I remembered that I enjoy the highest favor with God. He is my Father. I'm His dear child. He'll take care of me. So, I just relaxed. Money is not as important as a gracious spirit, anyway.
The resurrection and exaltation of Christ has brought me into the highest and tenderest favor with God Himself. This is a fact. An unchanging fact. This fact is the foundation for confidence and cheerful hope at all times.
Look at it like this. Suppose your boss is "out to get you." You will go to work full of anxiety and fear. You're on pins and needles. Every mistake is a crisis. All because you're at odds with your boss.
Then you change bosses. You enjoy the best relations with your new boss. You know he's on your side, pulling for you. Now you're relaxed. If you make a mistake, you're sure he'll understand. He'll even help you get going on the right track again.
This change of bosses produces a new spirit in you. You have a new reserve strength. You come to work relaxed, confident, cheerful, hopeful.
The resurrection and exaltation of Christ has given us a new "boss." Think of what a change that makes in the very spirit in which we may now approach life. How do you think Joseph felt when he left Pharaoh's court and went out into the land as the second in command? Can't you picture his confidence and buoyancy? In like manner, you can now approach life from a position of strength.
I find this relieves me in the face of life's strains, stresses and anxieties. It's wonderful to be in this world as a son of God. Sometimes I do wonder, however, how well a weak fellow like me can represent the throne of heaven on earth. How can I carry out my role as God's son and ambassador? I'm afraid I'll fail.
Here's where I've had to discover the second element of this optimistic faith. I've had to find a new rest in His love.
I knew God loved me enough to bring me into His family. But does He love me enough to bring me up? Any parent will tell you it takes a lot more love to bring a child up than it does to bring him forth. I've discovered God's love is enough to bring me to maturity.
I needed to know God's love in a deeper way after I returned from the mission field. After a hot battle with fellow missionaries, I had come home crushed, defeated, feeling like a failure.
"Has the Devil whispered to you that God is through with you?" W.E. Hawkins gently probed. Exactly. I thought I would never preach again. I had given up on myself. I had no idea that the word of the Lord would come to me the second time as it did to Jonah.
It was here I began to know how large the persevering love of God really is. This is the subject of Paul's second prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. (I've prayed this one for myself, too.)
This prayer called me to open my heart to the full length, breadth, depth and height of Christ's love. I needed this. You see, I was so disappointed with myself that I found it almost impossible to believe that Christ loved me as a stumbling, failing Christian.
A story I read illustrates the state I was in. A little boy was stricken with a serious illness back in the days when hospitals were rare. His mother placed him in a room at home apart from the rest of the family to prevent the spread of the disease.
Faithfully she nursed him day by day. The fever, however, left the lad depressed. He finally voiced the fear that his mother might give up on him and leave him to die.
"Son," she said, taking him gently in her arms, "if your disease did not prevent me from coming to your side when you first became ill, it will never cause me to leave you or forsake you."
I discovered that Christ's love for me has this same dimension - and much more.
In this prayer, Paul seeks deep roots and strong foundations in love (Ephesians. 3:17). Once I believed Christ still loved me as much as He ever did, I was on my feet again. But now my roots in love ran a lot deeper. Such love staggers my mind. It surpasses knowledge.
Why do you need to know this love to be filled with all the fullness of God (v. 19)? Because only when you are confident of His love can you afford to be completely honest about yourself. And God is fully at home only in the man who is honest about himself.
God has the persevering love necessary to cleanse us, perfect us and fill us with Himself. He has taken on this responsibility. The prayer closes with a tribute to His ability to accomplish this (vs. 20-21).
I think this is what Peter discovered after his great failure. Jesus gave him a very personal invitation to come meet with Him after the resurrection. "Go tell my disciples and Peter," He said. Why single out Peter? Because he needed to know that He still belonged. The Lord had not given up on him.
To know this assures you that you are not "on probation." It leads to the restfulness of spirit that marks real Christian living. You're confident of where you stand with God even if you fail.
This confidence will enable you to assume a new responsibility in life. The responsibility to behave like a real son of God. You are a beloved son of God, so act like one.
I desperately needed this on the mission field. There was a need for a lot of "foot washing" among us missionaries. We offended one another with all manner of bitter, harsh words.
But no one would confess that he had done anything wrong. We were all jealously guarding our reputation for being very "spiritual". We thought we were far too spiritual to ever be so wrong.
Consequently, we exploded with charges and counter charges. And no one stooped down to confess his sin to a brother missionary or ask his forgiveness. We went to save the heathen, but there was no one to save us!
This sort of thing happens in Christian homes, churches and mission societies all too often. It happened when Jesus was with His disciples.
The disciples needed to have their feet washed. But whoever did it would have to take the place of a servant. Washing dirty feet is bad enough. But whose reputation for spirituality is secure enough to stoop down as the servant of all?
John 13:3 gives this significant insight into the Savior's confidence: "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God..." began to wash His disciples' feet.
Jesus knew very well where He stood with the Father. He didn't have to jealously guard His reputation for being spiritual. He was free to take the place of the sinner and the servant.
Many arguments between Christians are never healed because no one is humble enough to make the first move. Who will break the ice and say, "I know I was wrong. Will you forgive me?"
As a young married man, I tried to go to sleep without patching up an argument with my wife. I laid there stiff as a board, quiet as a mouse. I wanted her to understand that my conscience was perfectly clear! It wasn't my fault.
Finally, she poked me in the ribs and said, "Are you sleeping or pretending?" MY mask fell off. We confessed our faults to one another. Forgave. Wept. And then slept soundly.
My wife could break the ice because she was more secure than I was. You have to be secure in His love to confess you are a sinner and, as a servant, seek to restore your neighbor.
Christ was not a sinner, but He was willing to take the sinner's place. The only time He ever described His own character was when He said, "I am meek and lowly in heart." That means he took the position of a sinner and a servant.
He promised that, if we will take this position and responsibility, we will find rest deep down inside (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul marks humility and meekness as the leading characteristics of a person who wants to live in a manner that really matches our claim to be sons of God (Ephesians 4:1-3).
The confidence that we really are sons of God and that all the wealth of God actually is ours grows and becomes stronger was we accept this responsibility by faith.
We are sons of the Almighty by faith, not by sight. Some folks say if we're really sons of God we should all be driving Cadillacs. They forget that our outward circumstances may not always reflect our royal status. We are "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10).
I think W.E. Hawkins saw this. That's why an old, worn-out hat didn't dampen his spirit like it did mine.
The secret is to know our wealth and strength in the midst of outward poverty and apparent weakness. Jesus lived in poverty, but He was confident His Father would provide an upper room for the last supper.
He seemed to be weak, but He told Peter, "Put up you sword, I would call an army of angels," when He was arrested. He died without even owning a tomb for His burial, but a rich man was ready when the need arose.
Our wealth and strength is primarily inward, but it includes the confidence that our Father stands ready to meet all our outward needs.
The reason our wealth is essentially inward and spiritual is because we are spirits who have a body, not bodies who have a spirit. Furthermore, life's great battles are not against flesh and blood, but against great powers and authorities in the spirit world.
Christ has already conquered the Devil, but He has allowed him to run loose for a while to train us to conquer him, too (Romans 16:20).
The story is told of a Russian teacher who ridiculed the existence of God. Leaning over, he challenged, "If there is a God, let Him send an angel to kick me right now."
A bold student got up and accepted the challenge.
"What did you mean by that?" The teacher stormed. "You are not worthy to have an angel kick you," the young Christian replied, "So God sent me to do it instead."
This young man accepted a challenge to God's honor which many of us avoid. If we take up this challenge, we will discover how God has prepared us for a new resistance against the Devil.
By His grace, we can get beyond our battle with selfishness so we are free to fight the Lord's battle with Satan. We should reach the point where our prime concern is with the way our God is dishonored in this world.
But many believers are blind to the challenge. It was that way in Israel in David's day.
A heathen giant defied the armies of the living God. If he beat them, he'd defeat their God. Yet, no one in the whole camp seemed to care nor did they realize that God gives special power and protection for those who march at His command.
But a young boy, too young to join the army, was there that day. He saw what this meant to God. No heathen should get away with such an insult against the Almighty.
So, David accepted the challenge. Protected only by the name of the Lord. Armed only with a little slingshot and the power of the Lord.
But that was enough. One little stone killed the giant. All because a young man understood the purpose and power of his relationship with God.
We've lost this power today. It's as rare in the church now as it was in the army of Israel in that day. How can we put on the whole armor of God today and be strong in the power of His might (Ephesians 6:10-20)?
To put on the armor of God means to be clothed with Christ in a special sense. It is like a soldier putting on his uniform. The day he dons his uniform, the soldier commits himself to fight his country's battles. He will march at their orders. He will fight for their cause.
The Christian puts on the armor when he commits himself to a life of obedience because he is concerned for the honor of God. Whatever he does will then be done " in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). Goliath strode forth with sword and shield, but David went in the name of the Lord (I Samuel 17:45).
A believer who is thus committed to obedience will discover the power of delegated authority. The principle is quite simple. A soldier on duty, carrying out orders, has all the power of his commander back of him.
A frail little policewoman can stop the traffic on a busy street by her uplifted hand. She has no power of her own. But those drivers recognize that she speaks with all the power of her government.
We need this power today in the church and in the Christian home. For lack of it, the church and the home are backing down when they desperately need to stand.
I lost control of my oldest son when he was in high school. But I discovered where I had lost my power over him. My hot temper had robbed me of moral weight and authority. I confessed my sin and asked his forgiveness.
God taught me to first rule my own spirit, then rule his. Slowly I watched God break his rebellious attitude. Today, he is serving the Lord.
I have seen the power of God in church discipline. I had to go to a man who fell into sin. He sassed me and threatened to leave the church.
"You can leave if you like. I'm not begging you to stay," I quietly replied, "but I can tell you one thing. The God of Jonah will follow you and finish the job of discipline. It'll be easier for you to take the medicine the elders of your church have prescribed for you." He apologized and agreed he wanted to make matters right before the church.
The battle has already been won for us. Let's take our stand and claim it!
This article was originally published in Moody Magazine.
Copyright 1998 by Oliver Price. All rights reserved.
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