LOOKING FOR FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
In 2008 the signs were everywhere. “Hope and Change” were the call words of Barack Obama’s campaign. Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, wrote in that magazine in January 2014, “It’s worth remembering that Obama asserted a need to ‘fundamentally change the way Washington works,’ an approach Hillary Clinton regarded as naive, but that Americans embraced.” How did that work out? I think you know.
And what is it, after seven years of disappointment both on the political right and left, that the American electorate find so appealing about such divergent figures as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz? It’s that each, in such diverse ways, has promised to do what President Obama promised, but failed to do. But is that the kind of hope and change that America needs?
HEART TRANSPLANT NEEDED
America doesn’t need a change of government as much as it needs a change of heart. Franklin Graham, according to his website, “is traveling to all 50 states in 2016 to hold prayer rallies, to preach the Gospel, and to challenge believers to take a stand and take action.” He says: “America is at a crossroads, and I believe we should take every opportunity to stand up for the things of God and His Word.” He’ll be at our state capital on April 13, Lord willing. He says he’s lost faith in both political parties—faith in God is what’s needed.
I agree. But I think I might go farther. Let me quote the words I find most helpful on this subject of hope and change: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:1-5).
THE 10 PLANKS TO THE BELIEVER’S PLATFORM
Here are the ten elements to real hope and change, the kind the whole world needs. This is the true Christian’s platform, and every plank is essential. It is our Constitution, our Bill of
Rights Blessings, and our anthem. It gives our mission, our motivation, our message, and our Man in one paragraph.
1. We are “justified by faith.” More than unemployment, national security, health care, or a thousand other topics, this is the need of the hour. This is the reason Jesus came to our planet, the reason you’re still on the planet! This is man’s greatest need, God’s greatest gift, and our most pressing responsibility. Salvation, full and free, is available to all, not by our works, but by Christ’s. Must we wait, hoping we will be one of those pre-chosen to receive faith as a gift? No, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17).
2. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Note well this second plank. Unlike other religions, the gospel offers immediate proof of it’s truthfulness. We do not hope for peace in a world to come; we do not attempt to “make our peace with God”; we HAVE peace. “When we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (5:10). Salvation is complete surrender, the end of hostilities. “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace” (14:19).
3. “We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” God’s gift is not a third-class ticket to heaven, enduring here in the hopes of enjoying there. His storehouses of grace open to us with the same key that opens salvation to us. He makes available grace “sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9), “abundance of grace” (Rom 5:17), “the exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph 2:7). “May the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Pet 5:10).
4. We “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This isn’t pie in the sky when you die; it’s living God’s “Wow!” here and now. Our hope is the present enjoyment of future realities. Then, we will gather around the throne; now, we may “come boldly to the throne” (Heb 4:16). Then, we will have His name on our foreheads; now, we may have it on our lips. Then, we will see Him face to face; now, “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet 1:8).
5. “We also glory in tribulation.” We have confidence in the midst of our troubles because we know what are troubles are doing. We know that no trouble is random because “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom 8:28). We know that every trouble must be manageable because “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10:13). We pray, “Lord, don’t just make it better; please make it count!”
6. “Because tribulation produces perseverance.” These next three planks are the REAL hope and change platform! How can we endure the pain, the loss, the agony of not knowing? Simply because we know He knows. Big changes are necessary in my life to bring me into conformity to the unique design He has for me. As Spurgeon wrote: “In heaven we shall see that we had not one trial too many.” Amid the seeming chaos, don’t miss life’s most important construction sign: “God at work.”
7. “And perseverance [produces] character.” Troubles that can make the unbeliever bitter tend to make the believer better. Here “character” (NKJV) or “experience” (KJV) is the Greek dokime, and can be translated “proof” or “evidence.” It is the evidence of true worth produced in the crucible of life. It is the raw ore purified in the furnace, the rough diamond cut and polished. It is Christ’s character manifested in the life of the saint who allows the instruments of change to do their work because “we are His workmanship” (Eph 2:10).
8. “And character [produces] hope.” Man’s schemes that begin with hope end in disappointment. But this process that begins with “rejoicing in hope of the glory of God” also concludes with hope. The change that God is working IN me, no matter the sad state of things AROUND me, gives me a certain hope. Hope is what? Well, hope that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…” (Phil 1:6). Hope that, if He can do this with me, anyone is salvageable, redeemable, glorifiable—if you’ll let me coin the word.
9. “Now hope does not disappoint.” This kind of hope and change is the sure thing, because it is in the hands of God to do it. No force in heaven, earth, or hell can thwart Him. The “hope of glory” finds it’s ultimate realization in the day when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’s glory (Hab 2:14). The word “disappoint” means to be let down, to be confounded, or deceived by hope. “For vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for He it is that shall tread down our enemies” (Ps 60:11-12).
10. “Because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Here’s the clincher. “Above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14). In the dark times, in the disappointing times, we remind ourselves: “He loves me!” It is not love in theory, on paper, in hymns and verses. It is love poured out in our hearts! But even these words don’t do it justice. Try “gush out” or “percolate right through you.” Love, lavish love, into and through and out of us to the thirsty world around.
LORD, CHANGE ME, THEN CHANGE THE WORLD THROUGH ME
This is our mission, our ministry, our cause célèbre. The world, by-and-large, objects to our gospel because they object to Christ’s uncompromising call. He demands unswerving loyalty and an undivided heart. This is the sword He wields, dividing households and communities and nations. This is the “Jesus alone” message that even nominal Christians find objectionable. That’s why the day-by-day, sometimes painful, transforming of our lives before our families and neighbors and workmates is so essential. With real hope and real change demonstrated, His love then splashes out of us in a lavish display of Christ’s wonders to everyone around.