Oh the Humanity -3- Human Perseverance

Scripture:  Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:31-39

Integra Hellsing:  (to the hoard of vampires surrounding her) “You want me to roll over like a dog?  Give up and accept defeat?  Ha!  That seems to be the sort of language that your kind is used to using.  Language for cowards who forfeited their humanity, because they were too weak to survive as such.  Don’t look down on humans, you monsters!  Come on, I’ll send you all to hell!”

What are some of the challenges and trials that Christians face these days?

Integra finds herself in a desperate situation.  She is surrounded by vampires whose sole objective is to kill her.  Having her cornered, they suggest that she just give up since a human is weak and stands no chance against a vampire, much less a group of them.  Integra responds with the charge that it is the vampires who are the weak ones.  Sometimes we feel as if we are cornered as well and are ready to throw up our hands in dismay.  We have trouble mustering the resolve to keep going and adopt a mindset that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:32

“If, in the manner of men, I have fought with the beasts in Ephesus, what advantage is it to me?  If the dead do not rise, ‘let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”

What good does it do to “fight the good fight”?  By turning on any given media outlet, we are almost guaranteed to find a story about injustice or human suffering in the world.  Why don’t we just curl up into a ball and hope that the world doesn’t notice us?  Why not just place our faith in Christ on a shelf in the back of our minds solely as an investment in our eternity?  It seems so much better to conform to the World because we don’t stand to change anything by struggling with it, right?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul gives some words of wisdom and encouragement to remind us that such a cynical mentality is not fitting for Christians.  He begins by laying out exactly what the hope is that fires and inspires us.  It is through faith that we are justified, not anything that we do.  It is Jesus’ work on the cross that allows us to be justified by faith and accounted as righteous.  God has done all the shaking and moving when it comes to our redemption and we can rejoice in the grace He has shown us.  This is our ultimate hope.

Having laid out the basis of Christian hope, Paul continues by giving us some practical applications of this hope.  These applications take the form of a progression starting with our trials and struggles in life.  He says that we “glory” in our struggles, the word he uses also carries the meanings “boast”, “exult”, and “take pride in”.  As stated in the previous installment, this does not mean that we should ask or yearn for tribulations.  Instead, Paul is making a point about how we respond to them when they do come.  He says that the reason we glory in tribulations is because such struggles produce patience.

The word that is often translated as “patience” can also mean “steadfastness”, “constancy”, or “endurance”.  Initially, we learn to exhibit patient endurance in our trials.  To endure is a natural characteristic of all living things.  Take for example the weed that has been cut and sprayed but just won’t die.  The weed doesn’t possess any cognitive or spiritual prowess, but it endures all the same.  There are many processes that our bodies carry out at an unconscious level that are aimed at survival.  Our body doesn’t just give up when it is cut, it fights off any potential infections and repairs the damage.

Patience, Paul writes, produces experience.  The meaning conveyed by “experience”, in this case, is similar to “approved”, “tried”, or “trustiness”.  We can feasibly boil this down to something along the lines of tested and proven character.  When we learn to be patient in our trials, it becomes a part of our character.  As such, being patient becomes a part of how we spontaneously respond to struggles as opposed to something that we have to force ourselves to do.

Finally, experience produces hope.  When we are not completely focused on being patient, we become able to look beyond our current struggles to see the hope we profess.  That is when “finding God” in a bad situation becomes more than a platitude.  We are able to acknowledge our current suffering, but we are able to keep it in the perspective of eternity.  Paul goes on to say that hope does not disappoint.  He is not talking about the idea that “maybe tomorrow will be better”.  He is talking about actual knowledge.  We know that there is something better (Hebrews 11:1, 8-10).  We have evidence as well, via the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).  This hope, this knowledge, this faith is what supports us in times of trouble.

What’s more, this hope of ours is unshakeable because it is grounded in God’s love.  When we are standing on God’s love, it is God’s love which comes under attack.  In Romans 8:31-34, Paul speaks about the love of God to assuage our doubts and questions.  First of all, Paul states that God is the only one who can judge and justify.  If God declares us to be justified and forgiven, who can say that we aren’t?  It was Christ who suffered and died for our sins.  Who else, then, has any claim to condemn us?  These facts are particularly important when we are tempted to judge or pity ourselves.  Paul finishes the passage (verses 35-39) by emphatically stating that nothing can come between us and God’s love.  He runs down a laundry list of things that may threaten to separate us from God’s love and pronounces their power insufficient to do so.  God can and does reach us wherever we are, we need only take his hand.

Although we may be assailed on all sides by all manner of struggles and monsters, we have an unshakable hope for greater things and it is that hope which guides us ever forward through all circumstances.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways are we tempted to “give up” in our walk with God?
  2. In what ways are we tempted away from God’s love?
  3. What steps can we take to keep ourselves in the love of God?
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