When weighed next to our experience the promises of the Gospel seem to be too good to be true. The Gospel provides us with some nice thoughts and can be inspirational, but we have a hard time accepting it as reality. Our experiences: terrorism, miscarriages, cancer, and accidents scream at us that God is not real. When it comes to the way we live our lives we tend to live them based on our experiences, on what feels true, rather than on inspirational ideas.
This is why many Christians in the United States are functional atheists. We find a sense of comfort in our religious traditions, but most of the time we live as if God doesn’t exist. In our more truthful moments we would admit that the way of faith seems to be naive compared to the harsh reality of our experiences.
I think it is important for us to be honest about this tension between the hope of the Gospel and the experiences of life, because it is something many Christians will face during their life. I want to suggest that this tension is not evidence of a lack of faith. Many Christians through the years have struggled to reconcile the experience of their lives with the promises found in the Bible. I believe that this tension is a good thing, because it shows us that we are not content with the way things and that we have a longing for a better type of life. Ultimately this tension exists because we still live in a world corrupted by sin and the fullness of God’s new creation has not been achieved.
As much as we want to, we are not going to understand why this event happened or that event happened. We will not be able to clearly see the line between the free will of angels and humans and the sovereign will of God. There will be times when we fall to our knees and cry out to God, like David did in Psalm 13:1-2:
1 O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand? (NLT)
This helpless feeling is a common experience to people of faith, and there is nothing I can say that will take this feeling away.
The apostle Paul wrote the book of Colossians to a struggling young church to remind them of the supremacy of Jesus Christ and their initial faith in Jesus. The Apostle wanted these Christians to know that their lives were totally different because of what Jesus had done, even though things in their lives did not feel any different.
In Colossians chapter 2 we discover a lengthy explanation of the foundation of salvation. Paul told the Colossians that their salvation was not based on what they did, on their religious rituals and traditions, but on the actions of Jesus. That sets up Colossians 3:1-4:
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. (NLT)
As we reconcile the tension between God’s promises and our experience in this world, I think it is important to remember three realities.
- We must remember our devotion. The reality of our lives is that we have new life because of Jesus. It may not feel new, but that is the spiritual reality. We can’t see it, but in faith we accept it as true. The only way we can begin to experience this new life is to be devoted to the things of God. Paul told the Colossians to “set their sights” and to “think about” the things of heaven. This was not Paul urging the Colossians to meditate on heaven, rather, Paul urged them to think about God, His purposes, and His ways. They were to pursue these things in an effort to make them a part of their life. Paul wanted them to understand and live God’s will. This could only happen if they were devoted to the things of God. This is how we experience the new life we have in Jesus.
- We must remember our death. Paul wrote that Colossians had died to this life. Just as they were seek to be filled with the things of heaven, they had to desire to let go of the things of this world. One of the first steps to following Jesus is the desire to be dead to the sin, violence, lust, power, and greed of this world. Elsewhere (Romans 6:1-4 and Galatians 2:20) Paul claimed we have died to this world by being united to Jesus in his death. This is the spiritual reality, but physically we are still wrapped up in the things of this world. This is why we need to remember to let go of the things of this world, that there is a truer reality, and that is God’s kingdom.
- We must remember our destiny. Paul knew it is not easy to let go of the things of this world, because they are desirable to us, they are what we know. That is why Paul urged the Colossians to think about the destiny promised to them in Jesus Christ. The new life that they have is hidden, but one day, it will be fully revealed. This is the source of the tension that we have, the reason why it is hard to believe in the promises of God, because they remain hidden. Yet, if we really do have new life flowing in our veins, if we have really died to this world and live for the things of heaven, then the glory of Jesus is going to peek through. It is this glory that will give us hope to continue on, even when we have doubts about God.
When our perspective on life is blurred by the lens of this world then we are going to have a hard time accepting the promises of the Gospel. It is going to feel like the way of faith is shallow and unreal, while the experiences of life form true reality.
Jesus gives us a new perspective on life and on the world. This new perspective flows from setting our minds on the things above, remembering that we have died to this world, and looking forward to that day when Jesus comes to make everything right as we share in his glory.
As we begin a new year, let us do so with a new perspective. A perspective that focuses on the truer reality of God’s promises and not just on the common reality of our experiences. May we live knowing that the life of Jesus Christ flows through our veins, preparing us for the glory to come.