I firmly believe one of the reasons so many people hold a negative view of the Christian faith stems from the fact that the church has failed to preach and teach the entire gospel, but instead, has given believers a watered-down, single-faceted version, which is at best a half-truth. Focusing on Christ’s “vicarious atonement,” the church has evolved into an institution that is obsessed with sin and the forgiveness of sin. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not in any way minimizing the importance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, even though I fully admit I don’t particularly understand it. What I am saying is this: by focusing so exclusively on the atonement and the forgiveness of sin, the church has jettisoned the empowering half of the gospel and, as a result, turned out cadre of well-meaning but spiritually impotent believers who are consistently unable to live the Christian life as envisioned by the Master.
This situation is not only tragic, it is wholly unnecessary. Christ was quite clear about the full extent of his gospel and the kingdom he came to establish. Further, to make sure his message got through, he scared the living wits out of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road, and in one bold action did away with the fledgling church’s most ardent persecutor and, at the same time, conscripted into service its greatest Apostle. Neil Anderson, one of the most thorough Bible teachers on the contemporary scene, takes great effort to describe the gospel of Jesus from a more complete perspective:
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for our redemption fulfilled a twofold purpose. First, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). . . . . . . . . . .The second purpose for Jesus’ coming was stated by Christ Himself: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He was not talking about our present physical life, which He is going to make full by giving us an abundance of physical things. He was talking about our spiritual life, which is our relationship with God.
Anderson continues with what in my view, is an unexpected but highly accurate assessment as to what constitutes this “life to the full.”
The fullness of life is the fruit of the Spirit, which is “ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22,23). He was talking about a redeemed humanity that is fully alive in Christ. What a gospel!
When we look at the gospel message, the “good news,” which Jesus consistently preached, beginning with the time he stepped forward in the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61, it is hard to fathom why many so-called “sincere believers” walk around looking like they have been baptized not with water, but with vinegar and pickle brine. Our faith is a joyous affair and we, as living epistles of Christ, should spread that joy in all that we think, do, and say. This is what it means to be fully alive in Christ.
. Some of the worst scowls I have ever seen draped the faces of Christians as they sat like rigid corpses in their Sunday sanctuaries. These good folks had come together to make a joyful noise unto the Lord but believe me, if one of these stone-faced soldiers of the Living God ever cracked a genuine smile on the Sabbath, the ensuing shock waves would register over 7.0 on the Richter Scale.
This is not how God intended those of us who consider ourselves followers of the Master Jesus to live. On the contrary, I firmly believe that being a Christian is synonymous with being an optimist.
Both scripture and common sense screams that negativity and pessimism are not what God intended for his children. The Christian life was meant to be a joyous affair instead of an ordeal to be endured. Granted, life will always have its difficulties, but even when we face trials, I believe that God desires that we do so with as much optimism and hope as possible.
Personally, I have come to believe that one of the fundamental keys to a life of Christian optimism is to have positive expectations based on scripture and the integrity of God.
Think about it. In Romans Paul tells us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. In and of itself, that promise should keep us in a positive frame of mind, even during times of difficulty and trial. In case you are not familiar with this passage, or if you have forgotten it, let’s take a look at what Paul says in Romans 8: 38-39
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)
If we trust God and believe what scripture tells us, then we have every right to be completely optimistic about the present and the future. This is not a false, “pie in the sky” optimism nor is it a Pollyanna style denial of reality. No, this biblical optimism is based entirely on scripture and God’s character. God is a being of integrity and further, he cannot lie. Our optimism is based on the firm foundation of God’s promises and his character.
The enjoyment of life flows from trusting God and, through that trust, to have positive expectations in life. We have every right to believe deep in our hearts that God truly desires our happiness because he is the Father of Lights and we are Children of the Light. Indeed, scripture affirms that God wishes that we “prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2)
This has nothing to do with what has come to be known as the “prosperity gospel.” Here I think John is speaking of the fact that God desires our happiness and enjoyment of life and that we prosper in life. Yes, this can mean financial wealth, but it can also mean emotional and spiritual wealth. We have every right to expect the best because God wants the best for his children.
John mentions here the fact that our soul prospers. What is he talking about? In brief, as humans we are tripartite beings, meaning that we have three aspects to our being. Just as God exists as a Trinity, in a real sense, so do we. Our three-part make up consists of body, soul, and spirit. The soul consists of our mind, our emotions, and our will. God’s original intention was that our spirit be in the driver’s seat and in direct communication with God. Based on this divine connection, our spirit governed our soul and our bodies. As a result of the Fall, this arrangement was distorted and, because of our spiritual death, it became necessary that the soul take up the command of our lives. The results of this, of course, are quite negative and adverse to God’s intentions.
When we accepted Christ into our hearts, ideally the original order of things was restored, at least on a spiritual level. Whereas before we were spiritually dead, we now have a new life within us, the vital Spirit of God. As a result, our own personal spirit is now alive and vital. When we live from our spirit (walk according to the Spirit, not the flesh), our soul does indeed prosper and we can enjoy life and expect the best.
Having positive expectations based on scriptural promises leads to a realistic and practical optimism which impacts all aspects of life. That is why at Sacred Mind Ministries we often refer to the Christian brand of optimism as “Holistic Optimism.” Rather than a vague, generic form of positive thinking, true holistic optimism is a dynamic force that affects the disciple’s life on all levels. Further, the Christian optimist is a person who is highly practical, very resilient, and enjoys life, even at times when things may not be going as we desire. The Christian optimist knows that God wants her best and wants her to prosper and enjoy life in all its magnitude and glory. Also, she is well aware that God has said very directly that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate her from God’s love. (Romans 8:38)
How can we justify anything less than positive expectations which flow from a biblical worldview and dynamic optimism? Personally, I think to expect less or expect the worst is an insult to God. It is telling God you do not trust him or his promises.
………..to be continued
© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved