Monday, August 28, 2006

For those who are looking for the shirt similar to the one found the cover of Christianity Today (Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy), try http://www.cafepress.com/computerate.71169512.

The Christian Experience of Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy Unspeakable

Monday, August 07, 2006

Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that
is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith,
the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9

When those who claim Christ doubt their salvation today, the question often on the lips of the pastor is, “Have you ever prayed and asked Jesus into your heart?” or “Have you ever accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” Is this the essence of your Christian experience? Is that the core of your salvation that will be your refuge in times of suffering? If you summarize your salvation with those statements, will it comfort you? Will that summary stimulate your faith and encourage you unto hope? In Matthew 7, Jesus says that the Christian experience is likened unto building a house on an unshakeable foundation, so that when (not if) the rain falls and the floods come and beat upon the house, your house will stand! As we look at this text, it is important to note that some of Peter’s chief concerns are the sufferings of the elect, assurance of their perseverance, and their holiness. Are these not concerns that face us today? When we face questions like “How do I know if I am saved?”, I believe that the Christian experience goes much deeper than is often discussed. It is the experience of faith, hope, love, and joy that brings deep assurance, whereby we can go beyond the changing tide of emotionalism and stand on the solid foundation of true salvation. Through this, we may know if our faith is genuine and saving faith.

Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy
The two negative phrases “Though you have not seen him” and “Though you do not now see him” leading these sentences are reminiscent of Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Connecting this definition of faith with the entire thought in 1 Peter 1:8, we see the interconnectedness of faith, hope, love, and joy. Moreover, it will be my attempt to show you that these four things cannot be divorced from each other and are essential to Christianity. Let us now look at

  • the foundation and orientation of the faith,
  • the focus of the hope,
  • the object of the love, and
  • the center of the joy.

The Foundation and Orientation of Our Faith
With these verses, I believe that the foundation of the faith is grounded at the cross but that it is future oriented. Saving faith is assured of “things hoped for.” How does this hope in future things have assurance in faith? Recall Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Again, the hope of future mercies—for example, the ability to face tomorrow’s evils, the fact that God will continue to speak through His Word to you, and knowing that one day you will be standing in the presence of God—is the essence of faithfulness, but how were these mercies made available? All mercies are purchased at the cross and imbued with power through the resurrection. I think this is the essence of 1 Peter 1:3, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” From 1 Peter 1:9, the “things hoped for” can be summarized as the “salvation of your souls.” Therefore, saving faith hopes. In his book Future Grace, John Piper states, “Standing on the bygone grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, justifying faith is future-oriented trust in the promises of God” (p. 29). In 1 Peter 1:3-4, Peter calls this a “living hope,” and it is “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

The Focus of Our Hope
From verse 4, our hope is in an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance. What is this inheritance? The inheritance is being kept in heaven for us. Since the inheritance is a mercy (the chief mercy), it had to have been purchased at the cross. We need to know the chief mercy that was purchased at the cross for us. Now, if we follow Peter through his letter, we approach a similar passage discussing suffering and the Christian. In 3:18b, Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….” Thus, our hope is in coming into the presence of God. For a moment, let us look at 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Notice that if we are Christians, then we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for his own possession. Do you see the assurance: we are called by God so that we may enter into His presence, a holy and acceptable people, and we are his, held by him forevermore, so that we may testify to his glorious saving power! The inheritance of the priest is God himself (Numbers 18:20).

The Object of Our Love
Now, why would we want to be in God’s presence forever? Eternity in heaven is not about pearly gates, streets of gold, freedom from sickness, or reunion with departed loved ones. Eternity in heaven is about abiding with God eternally because that fellowship is the hope of our faithful souls. According to Deuteronomy 30:6, the Lord our God has circumcised our hearts, so that we will love him with all our hearts and with all our souls, that we may live. The only hope you have for eternal life is if your heart is captivated with love for God, so how do you know if you genuinely love God? How do you know if your faith is real, your hope steadfast, and your love sincere? The clearest way to answer this question is to look at John 14:15. There, Jesus declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You must walk in the way of the way of the righteous if you are a child of God. Obedience is the outpouring of your love for God because it is the evidence of possessing the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 36:26-28 gives an illustration of God circumcising your hearts and the effects. Look for the changed heart, the obedience wrought by the Spirit, and the inheritance that is promised.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

God creates within you a love for himself, a heart that beats after Him. He births faith within you, calling you up to new life from the deadness of your sin. Then he pours his Spirit within you, bringing forth obedience, which is sanctification. Saving faith is not stagnant or hidden; it is living faith that works through love, according to Galatians 5:6. This explains why Peter so soon speaks on the holiness of his letter’s recipients, and by holiness, I mean a growing love for the things that God loves and a burning hate for the things He hates. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22).

Joy Unspeakable
Let us summarize what we have seen up until now. Saving faith has as its foundation the cross. While grounded in this past event, the nature of faith is that it hopes for the time when we will be with God forevermore. Hope is the expression of our love for God because faith works through love with the expectation of our lives becoming living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Hebrews 12:14 states that we strive for holiness because without it no one will see God. Here is an important question: Is it possible to have this type of faith, this type of hope, and this type of love without having joy? Let us look to Jonathan Edwards, who wrote this in his essay Religious Affections,

“And as it is with the love of the saints, so it is with their joy, and spiritual delight…. And this is…[the] difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege, and happiness…True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. This is the spring of all their delights…it is the joy of their joy.”

Because true salvation is based upon

  • believing in,
  • being assured of,
  • hoping for, and
  • loving of

Christ, it would be a great hypocrisy to say that such belief, assurance, hope, and love can be separated from joy. I do not think that the joy inexpressible mentioned in this verse is optional in your salvation. Believing and rejoicing are what obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Delighting in God is the joy in salvation.

My understanding of the core of the Gospel is this: saving faith is a hope directed toward joyful delight in God which is the consummation of our love for him, founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ and upheld by the power of the Holy Spirit. Anything less than this is not genuine salvation and dangerous. A person that claims to possess all of these but has no joy is a legalist and will not obtain salvation. It is this distortion of Christianity that leads people to be givers but not “cheerful givers,” to suffer but not to “count it all joy.” True Christians rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let us try to understand what Peter means when he says this joy is unspeakable. Now, the only way for Christians to expound upon this joy would be to describe the center of their delight, namely God. However, how do you describe the God of your salvation? Well, you cannot fully describe your God because there is none holy like the LORD; he is incomprehensible. We can name attribute after attribute, but every attribute of God is holy. For example, when we say that God is wise, his wisdom is holy. His holy wisdom cannot be compared to the wisdom that we see expressed in the world. The wisdom in this world, even at its best, is fallen, skewed by sin. Therefore, you cannot put to words the joy by which you are captivated; it is a holy joy. In other words, there is nothing comparable to the joy of a Christian because there is nothing comparable to the God of a Christian. Moreover, the joy that we have in God is the joy that Christ has in the Father. This joy found between the Father and the Son is so powerful that, as it has proceeded from the Father and Son eternally, it has been eternally personified by the Holy Spirit. In John 15:9-11, Jesus declares,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

I believe this to be what God means in Ezekiel 36:27 when he says that he will put his Spirit within us and cause you to walk in his statutes and be careful to obey his rules (cf. Romans 5:1-5). This is the foundation for unspeakable joy.

Joy Filled with Glory
This joy may be unspeakable, but it will find its outlet. I believe that is why Peter says that it is filled with glory. When we think of glory, it is helpful to think of the radiance of holiness. So, when we say that the joy is unspeakable, which we understand to be a holy joy, the joy must radiate its holiness. I think that this is what Peter means by joy unspeakable full of glory. This joy will go public. How? If you cannot explain it, then how does it go forth? Jesus said you are let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Peter says we are to regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is us (1 Peter 3:15). It is joy that is evangelical. This is a joy that converts people because it is the outworking of the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the joy that you have will overflow. This is why when Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest, he proclaims, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-21). If you are a Christian, people should be able to see your fruit, your good works, and then when they ask the reason for your hope, that is the intrinsic joy that accompanies the works, you point them to Christ who makes God’s holiness accessible.

Finding and Fighting for Joy
Some of you may be realizing that your experience with Christ has not been like this. God is not an object of exultation in your life. How do you come to grips with this text? I suggest two things that will transform your experience with God:

  • Systematically read through your Bible, praying as you go, so that your heart may be rent open and the joy of the Gospel shed abroad in your soul.
  • As you pray in other circumstances, lean on the promises of Scripture; your prayers should be saturated with Scripture.

It is my belief that joy is week in the congregations across this nation because prayer is minimal and study of the Word is a superficial search for feel-good quotes.

Let us close by looking at Hannah, a great woman of Scripture when her soul is downcast.

“After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.’ As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you go on being drunk? Put away your wine from you.’ But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.’” (1Samuel 1:9-15)

Here is a woman who has been pouring out her soul before God; she is fighting for joy. God answers her prayer, and what is her response? “And Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God’” (1Samuel 2:1-2). Her faith, hope, and love, culminate in joyful praise. Indeed, these four things are inseparable!

This message was preached at Harrison Baptist Church on August 6, 2006 by Joseph Dethrow.