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Sainthood, Service, Suffering, Holy, Holiness, Christians, World.

Sainthood, Service, and Suffering

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2007 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

Sainthood, Service, and Suffering: Introduction

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Sainthood . . . service . . . suffering. What do these have to do with each other? What do they have to do with our hurting world? How can a better understand of sainthood, service, and suffering make a difference in our lives, and through us in the world?

These are questions I hope to answer in this series.

I've chosen to address these topics, in part, as a response to last week's rampage at Virginia Tech. The actions of one terribly disturbed human being have caused widespread suffering, most of all to the families and friends of those who were killed, but also to all who are part of Virginia Tech, and in many ways to all of us in this country. In the last week, there has been much discussion of what we can do as a society to prevent such tragedies from happening again. This is an important conversation, and it will surely continue for many months.

This blog series is a part of that larger conversation, though it focuses on an area where I believe I can say something of value. I'm not going to talk about a security on university campuses, or about how to deal with people who are mentally ill, or about how our society can keep dangerous people from possessing guns. Rather, I want to focus on the question of how Christians can live in the world in such a way that we can make a tangible difference in it. At times that difference will help to comfort the grieving. And at times we'll be able to bring God's love and peace to troubled souls, perhaps even keeping them from doing terrible harm to others or to themselves. (The painting to the right, by Giotto, pictures St. Francis and St. Clare, two so-called "saints" who made a major difference in the world through their service.)

I say perhaps, because there's no way of knowing what our efforts to care for people, troubled or not, will produce. Christians are called to love people in response to and imitation of a loving God, not because our efforts to love will necessary make people's lives better. But I have seen many instances in which God's love, mediated through caring Christians, has transformed the lives of hurting people. I've seen withdrawn people come out of their shells, mean people become more kind, and self-centered people start to have compassion for others because of compassion they have received.

This series on Sainthood, Service, and Suffering will discuss how Christians ought to live out their faith in the world. Thus I will be speaking primarily to my Christian readers. But there will be much of relevance to non-Christian folk as well. If you are not a Christian, not only will this series help you understand more of what Christianity is all about, but also it may encourage you to live differently, no matter what you religious beliefs may be. If you are a Christian, I hope this series will help you grasp your distinctive identity as a "saint" and see, perhaps in a new way, how you might live out this identity in the world.

(Note: This series includes elements from my now out-of-print book, After "I Believe." If you've read that book, you might recognize some parts of this series, though much will be new and all of it will be re-worked.)

Why You're Like Saint Truman Burbank

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In the hit movie from 1998, The Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays the role of Truman Burbank, a happy-go-lucky insurance salesman who lives in the perfectly manicured town of Seahaven, "the best place to live on earth," according to the headline of the local paper. So it would seem to be for Truman, his "perfect" wife Meryl, his best friend Marlon, and all of their flawless, sparkling neighbors.

As the movie begins, Truman goes about his simple daily routine, having no idea that everything around him is a farce. In fact, he lives on an elaborate stage set filled with professional actors. Even his wife and best friend are paid to co-star in the wildly successful television hit, The Truman Show. Poor, sweet, idealistic Truman is completely unaware that he is the most famous man in the world, the star of a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year show about his life. He lives each day without realizing that every moment is being broadcast to the world (with some careful editing to keep the show PG).

Living his apparently ordinary life, Truman never imagines that he is a special person, someone set apart by "the powers that be" for a particular purpose. He does not understand that he is fulfilling the vision of The Truman Show's creator and producer, an enigmatic genius named Christof. His entire life has been dedicated to something far beyond Truman's wildest dreams, a fact that eludes his grasp until strange happenings finally begin to reveal the truth. (Photo: Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank)

Christians are like Truman Burbank. I'm not suggesting, thankfully, that our lives are being televised to the world. Nor am I implying that our world is simply a complex stage set. But we are like Truman because we too have been set apart by "the powers that be" for a purpose far beyond what we may imagine. We too can go through life unaware of our specialness, never understanding that we have been designated to fulfill the vision of our Creator and Producer, the God of the Universe, the Lord of History.

If this comes as a bit of a surprise to you, you may be even more startled to learn the title that the Bible has given you to indicate your specialness. According to Scripture, you're a saint. That's right, a saint!

In the beginning of the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses believers in Corinth in a peculiar manner:

"To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called "saints," along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2). The Corinthians are called by God to be "saints."

The Greek word translated here as "saints" refers to people who are set apart for some special purpose. It can also be translated as "holy ones." (In Greek, "saint" or "holy one" is hagios. You sometimes hear this root in the English word hagiography, which is a biography of a saint.) In the ancient world, "saints" were usually priests and priestesses, those who were set apart from common people to serve in the holy precincts of a temple, offering holy sacrifices to the gods. Analogously, believers in Jesus are saints, though they don't exercise their sainthood in some secluded temple. Rather, they serve God in the world with the sacrifices of their worship and obedience to God (Rom 12:1-2).

We typically use the word "saint" in a way that differs considerably from Paul's practice. We tend to label as "saints" those few Christians who demonstrate moral and spiritual excellence. For us, saints are extraordinary human beings, believers in Jesus who have lapped the rest of us in the race of the Christian life. But Paul identifies all believers in Jesus as saints, without regard to their moral or spiritual achievements. We receive the title of "saint," not because of our exemplary lives, but because God has chosen us to belong to Him and to do His work. To be called a saint is not to receive an honorary degree in Christ's kingdom, but rather a letter of admission to his school of discipleship. It's the starting point, not the goal. Our goal should be to live consistently as a saint of God because that's what we already are, not because that's what we want to become. The fact that Paul refers to the Corinthians as saints underscores this point. As the rest of 1 Corinthians reveals, the Corinthian believers are exemplary of everything we ought not to be as Christians. Their sainthood has nothing to do with getting a high grade in Discipleship 301, since most of them are stuck repeating Discipleship 101. They are caught up in divisiveness and self-centeredness, not to mention sexual immorality and idolatry. Yet the Corinthians are still saints, people set apart by God for him and his work.

So, when I say, "If you're a Christian, then you're a saint," I'm not really complimenting you. Instead, I am noting that if you have put your faith in Christ, then you have been "set apart" in him (1 Cor 1:2). You are special to God, and, importantly, you are a member of God's special people.

In my next post I want to examine what it means to be one of these special people.

A Member of God's Holy People

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In my last post I explained that every Christian, regardless of the quality of his or her discipleship, is a saint, a person set apart by God for His purposes. Each and every believer in Jesus is a member of God's holy people. But what does this mean? And what does it imply?

From the very beginning of creation, God intended to form a people with whom to have intimate fellowship. According to Genesis 1, God created the man and the woman in His image, telling them to "multiply and fill the earth" (Gen 1:28). In other words, they were to make babies, who will make babies, etc., so that the earth would someday be filled with a people for God.

When God called Abram (later called Abraham) to leave all that was familiar to him, God promised that he would "become the father of a great nation" (Gen 12:2). Indeed, "All the families of the earth will be blessed through [Abram]" (Gen 12:3). God set him apart, not only so that he would be special to God, but also so that through Abram a nation would formed that would be special to God. Abram was a saint in order to become the father of a saintly people.

After the descendants of Abraham fell into captivity in Egypt, God set them free through the leadership of Moses. When Israel's freedom was finally secured, God revealed to Moses His plans for His people:

Give these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel: "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle's wings. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation." (Exodus 19:3-6)

God chose Israel to be His own special treasure, His prized possession. The Israelites were to be a "holy nation," or, one could say, a "saintly nation," a nation set apart by God for His unique purpose in the world.

Centuries later the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to a bunch of Christians scattered throughout the land we know as Turkey. Peter described their specialness as believers in Jesus by borrowing God's language to the Israelites in Exodus 19:

And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What's more, you are God's holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ . . . . You are a chosen people. You are a kingdom of priests, God's holy nation, his very own possession. This is so you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:5, 9).

When we believe in Jesus, we are joined to the people of God, God's holy nation. We serve as "holy priests," offering sacrifices of service to God and telling others about God's all-surpassing goodness.

As saints, therefore, we are set apart from the world and yoked to the community of saints, to the church of Jesus Christ formed by the Holy Spirit. Paul underlines this point in his address to the Corinthians:

To the assembly of God that is in Corinth, to those who have been set apart in Christ Jesus, to those who are called "saints," along with all of those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord and their Lord (1 Cor 1:2).

As Christians we share sainthood with other believers everywhere. It would be accurate to say, therefore, that a Christian saint is a person set apart from the world, by God through Jesus Christ, to be a member of God's special people and to serve God in a special way in the world.

The Olympic games provide an apt analogy for the biblical concept of sainthood. The athletes who gather for the Olympics every few years are special people, set apart by their individual nations for the purpose of competition. When they arrive at the city that is hosting the games, the athletes are not allowed to mix with the crowds who come to watch the competition. On the contrary, they are sequestered within the Olympic village, a fortress that keeps the athletes in and the others out. They are literally kept apart from the masses so that they can focus on their particular sport. If we were to speak in biblical languages, we might refer to the Olympians as "saints," people set apart for something special. They live "holy" lives in order to fulfill their unique, "holy" purpose. Yet they do not live in isolation, but in a community of others who have been set apart for a similar purpose. And they don't compete as individuals, but as members of a national team. They are saints together with other athletes. (The picture to the right is from the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.)

We who believe in Jesus Christ have also been set apart from common folk and dedicated to a specific purpose, though, as we'll see, we are not separated from the world because the world is the arena in which our competition occurs. We fulfill our purpose in fellowship with other saints who share our identity and calling. We live out our sainthood by serving God in the world, by extended His love and justice throughout creation.


Called to Holiness

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In my last post I explained that all Christians are saints, in the biblical sense of the word. All who put their faith in Jesus Christ have been set apart by God for relationship with Him and to serve Him as special people in the world. So, if you're a Christian, you are a saint, no matter whether you live like it or not.

Of course the ultimate Saint, the One who is uniquely set apart from creation, is God Himself. In Scripture, God claims to be holy (Lev 19:2), is worshipped as holy (Ps 99:9), is called "the Holy God" (Isa 5:16) and "the Holy One of Israel" (Isa 43:3). God's holiness embraces, not only His distinctness from creation, but His utter perfection: morally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

For those of us who belong to God, acknowledgment of His supreme holiness leads to a surprising implication. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus God calls His people to be like Him in holiness: "You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own" (Lev 20:26). The context for this passage shows that Israel's holiness impacts how people live, in a moral and spiritual excellence modeled after that of God.

Lest we think that this standard applies only to the Israelites, in the New Testament Peter applies it to those who are God's children through Christ:

Obey God because you are His children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of doing evil; you didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you to be His children—is holy. For he himself has said, "You must be holy because I am holy" (1 Pet 1:14-16).

That which the Lord once applied to Israel now directs our lives. We must be holy because God is holy. Our holiness comprises, not just our religious activities, but everything we do. Since we have been set apart from the world, we must no longer engage in the evil behavior that characterized our "old ways," but instead we must live in obedience to God as his children.

Returning to the Olympics analogy, every now and then we hear of scandals in which athletes test positively for illegal drugs. These stories make news, in part, because they are so rare. The vast majority of Olympians recognize that their "sainthood" or "set-apart-ness" requires a "holy" or "set-apart" lifestyle. They refrain not only from illegal substances, but also from the junk food the rest of us love to consume. They don't abuse their bodies through inactivity. They live differently because they have been dedicated to a special, higher athletic purpose. (Most Olympic athletes don't choose to be couch potatoes.)

And so it must be for us, as God's holy people. Many of the activities we once enjoyed are now seen in a new light, as compromising our sainthood by drawing us away from God and God's purposes. Consider Sunday mornings, for example. Most non-Christian people I know fill their first waking hours of Sunday with "doing nothing" -- eating food, relaxing over the morning paper, or watching news shows and sporting events. None of these activities could be counted as obviously sinful. In fact, they sound pretty attractive, to tell the truth! Yet, even new believers in Jesus understand that their sainthood requires a change in Sunday morning behavior. They start attending worship services, often rising early enough to join an adult class or fellowship group. Sleeping in and lounging around in slippers become some of the "old ways" left behind by new believers. Even though a part of us may still yearn for such leisurely moments, we nevertheless commit ourselves to the "set-apart" disciplines of Christian community and celebration. That's part of what is means to be a saint, a person who is holy even as God is holy.

There are a couple of dangers in what I have just written. First, by choosing the example of church attendance, I might have wrongly implied that holiness is mostly a matter of "doing religious stuff." Nothing could be farther from the truth! Holiness encompasses all of life.

Second, given what I said about changing your Sunday behavior, you might conclude that being holy is simply a matter of your own effort. Even if you'd rather sleep in on Sunday mornings, you must grit your teeth, drag yourself out of bed and into church because God demands it. To be sure, God expects us to invest our hearts and bodies in living as holy people. But this perspective neglects the true source of our holiness. We are to be holy, not only in imitation of God, but also by His power. In another passage in Leviticus, God says:

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I, the Lord, am your God. Keep all my laws and obey them, for I am the Lord, who makes you holy (Lev 20:7-8, emphasis added).

Here God commands our holiness, but also claims to be the one who makes us holy. Not only does He set us apart for Himself, but He also supplies the motivation and ability to live holy lives.

I realize that holiness is not a familiar concept in our world. That's one reason why I've used the illustration of Olympic athletes. In your own mind, you might find it helpful when you hear the word "holiness" to replace it with "set-apart-ness" or "specialness for a purpose" or something like this. Indeed, holiness is more than this, but for many of us the word "holiness" sounds old-fashioned and narrowly religious.

When we think of holiness, we might wrongly envision a kind of reclusiveness, something that involves being wholly cut off from the world. In my next post in this series I'll talk about what it means to be "in the world, but not of the world."

In the World, But Not Of the World

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So far in this series on Sainthood, Service, and Suffering, I've explained how Christians are called to be saints, that is, to be set apart from the world for God and God's purposes. Yet, Christian saints do not live in seclusion from the world, or at least we should not.

Certainly some Christians have separated themselves from common folk, living in cloistered communities without any significant contact with the outside world. I think of the Amish people, who have made an effort to live apart from the world even though they're in the midst of it. Unfortunately for them, their uniqueness has also made them popular among tourists who flock to so-called Dutch Pennsylvania to gawk at the Amish and their other-worldly ways. (The picture to the right is of an Amish couple from about 1940. See

Other Christians live in the ordinary world, but sever all meaningful relationships with non-Christian people. They want to live holy lives, and they recognize their tendency to be drawn into sin through their contacts with the world, so they decide to back completely away from significant interaction with non-Christian people and institutions.

Some of the Corinthian Christians tried this experiment. In a letter Paul wrote before our so-called 1 Corinthians, he had told them "not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin" (1 Cor 5:9). The Corinthians took Paul to mean that they should have no contact with sinful unbelievers. Consequently they withdrew from their pagan neighbors and related only to other Christians. But in his next letter, which we call 1 Corinthians, Paul clarifies his teaching and corrects the Corinthian separatism. Concerning his earlier advice not to associate with sexually sinful people, he explains:

But I wasn't talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or who are greedy or are swindlers or idol worshipers. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. (1 Cor 5:10-11).

The apostle states that we should not leave the world in an attempt to avoid pagan sinners. He assumes that our rightful place as saints is in the world, in relationship with sinners who have not experienced the forgiveness of Christ.

Paul didn't make up this idea. Jesus did. In the hours before his death, Jesus prayed for His followers, those who were with Him in the flesh and those who would believe in Him in the future (John 17:20). Jesus recognizes that His followers are special, that "they are not part of this world any more than I am" (John 17:16). This specialness will cause problems for them, because the world will hate them even as it hated Jesus Himself (John 17:14). But removal from the world is not an option, according to Jesus: "I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one" (John 17:15). In the classic phrase, we who believe in Jesus are to be "in the world, but not of the world." We must live in the world. We must have meaningful relationships with people in the world. But we must not be like the fallen world, adopting its godless values or its twisted activities.

Of course being in but not of the world is easier said than done. Sometimes the world and its ways seem strangely inviting. Even when we see the world's brokenness, we are drawn to participate in it. Yet in our desire to honor God, we also yearn to get away from that which tempts us. Thus it's tempting to pull away from the world, the very world into which we have been called as God's saints.

In my next post I will consider a fascinating example of somebody who sought to back away from this world, and reflect on the implications of this story for us.

What Sainthood is Not

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Jon Krakauer is best known from his gripping portrayal of tragedy on Mt. Everest in his bestselling book, Into Thin Air. But Krakauer has written other engaging books, including Under the Banner of Heaven, his study of Mormon polygamists, and also Into the Wild.

Into the wild is the fascinating story of Chris McCandless, a young man who once hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the vast wilderness. Four months later his partially-decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. Why did he do it? Why did this well-liked, successful, young college graduate sacrifice his life in such a bizarre manner? Krakauer decided to investigate this mystery, presenting his findings in the book Into the Wild.

As Krakauer explored Chris's background, he discovered some alienation between Chris and his family, but nothing unusual. Yet, whereas most teenagers funnel their youthful angst into a drive for worldly success or a rebellious flirtation with fleshly excesses, Chris became increasingly estranged from the world around him. After graduating with distinction from college, one day he simply disappeared. Taking his car and a very few belongings, he journeyed far and wide across America.

But even the freedom of the road was too constraining for Chris. Possessions and relationships were just too entangling. So he set his sights on Alaska, a place as far from civilization as a young American could reach. After a hair-raising trip north, he walked out into the Alaskan wilderness woefully unprepared. According to one of the last people who saw Chris alive, "Said he didn't want to see a single person, no airplanes, no sign of civilization. He wanted to prove to himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody else's help" (p. 159). So, with a small rifle, a couple of books, and a large bag of rice, Chris McCandless set himself completely apart from the world -- a saint in the most extreme sense.

With ingenuity and determination he managed to survive for four months. But after eating some poisonous roots he became ill and began to lose the strength required for self-preservation. His last journal entry read: "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!" (p. 199). Shortly after writing these words Chris passed away, 120 days after hiking into the wild, and only 19 days before his body was discovered by the six hunters, only 20 miles from a major Alaskan highway.

Chris's story is extreme, to be sure. I doubt that you've been tempted to walk into desolate regions of Alaska in order to preserve your saintliness. But many Christians, either intentionally or accidentally, end up just about as cut off from the world as Chris McCandless. We can get so wrapped up in worthy Christian activities and so involved in Christian community that we have no time left over for meaningful connection with nonbelievers. Even as we rightly reject the values of our fallen world, we wrongly reject the people of the world, those whom God loved so much that he sent his only Son to save them (John 3:16).

Not only does Jesus pray that we will remain in the world, but also He gives us a very particular role in it:

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it useful again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matt 5:13-16).

Notice that Jesus does not present us with an imperative: "Go out and become salt and light in the world." Rather, he states in indicative, "You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world." The crucial question, therefore, is: Will we be who we are in this world? Will we live in the relationship to the world that God has assigned us? Will we maintain our distinctiveness, or become insipid salt and darkened light?

I don't mean to suggest that it's easy to be salt and light in the world. Sometimes we Christians can struggle to know how best to season and enlighten our part of the world. And sometimes, our effort to do so meets with resistance. I'll talk about this in my next post in this series.

The Cost of Being a Misfit

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Jesus says that we who follow Him are to let our light shine into the world, so that people might see our lives and give glory to God. Shining the light of God into the world sounds like a safe, praiseworthy task, the sort of service for which one eventually receives the key to the city. After all, who wouldn't be thankful for the light of God? Jesus shows us who:

The light from heaven came into the world, but [those who don't believe in Jesus] loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished (John 3:19-20).

Being the light of the world, therefore, turns out to be much riskier than it first appears.

Earlier in this series I used as an example of holy behavior what many Christians do on Sunday mornings in contrast to non-Christians. If you are faithful in church attendance, most of your nonbelieving friends won't worry about it much. They may think you're a little too zealous. They may wonder when you'll get over it. But they won't be too upset with you. You might get some jesting, perhaps some pity, but probably not anger.

Consider, however, another situation that has become increasingly common in our day. What I said about leisurely Sunday mornings won't ring true for many people because they find themselves sitting, not on their couch watching TV, but on hard bleachers watching their children play soccer, or baseball, or tennis, or you name it. Sunday morning, once reserved for church-going and dilly-dallying, is now prime time for youth sports.

Many parents in my church have confronted the question of what to do about athletic events that conflict with church attendance. Their answers differ, but many have taken an unpopular stand out of commitment to the Lord. When one young soccer player was told by his coach to show up for a Sunday morning game, he dutifully reported the assignment to his parents, Jim and Donna. They graciously but firmly told the coach that their son could not play on Sunday morning because of the family's commitment to church. The coach was miffed, and tried to persuade Jim and Donna to change their mind. When they held firm, he made several threats concerning their son's future in soccer. Undeterred, the boy's parents stood their ground. From that point onward their relationship with the coach was strained. He resented their "unrealistic" priorities. Other parents of boys on the team also were critical of Jim's and Donna's decision and their "lack of commitment to the team." Sadly, even some Christian parents disapproved of their actions. I have a suspicion that Jim and Donna, by putting Christ so obviously before soccer in their priorities, shone a bit too much light into the lives of other Christians whose values were more worldly. Jim and Donna didn't say anything about the behavior of others, but the light of Christ shone through their actions. (In the photo above, my daughter kicks a soccer ball, but not on Sunday.)

Social conflict stemming from Christian holiness is nothing new. In his first letter, Peter writes to Christians whose distinctive living got them into hot water with their pagan neighbors:

Of course, your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join them in the wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you (1 Pet 4:4).

Though Peter doesn't spell out in detail what the believers had stopped doing, he notes that their new abstention created tension with old friends. It's likely that the behaviors now avoided by the Christians were pagan religious practices that permeated the ancient world. For example, if those living in the first-century Roman world wanted to go out with their friends for a nice steak, they would go to the local pagan temple. Not only would there be an excess of sacrificed meat there, but the temples were often set up like restaurants, and were places where friends met for food and fun. Suppose, however, that some who once hung out at the local temple of Apollo became Christians and realized that eating meat offered to idols in a pagan temple contradicted genuine fellowship with Jesus as Lord. What would their friends say? Some might have dismissed their behavior as innocuous religious enthusiasm. But others might have been hurt, even insulted. Genuine holiness can often seem like "holier-than-thou-ness" no matter how humbly and graciously we try to explain our actions to others.

In the case of the recipients of Peter's letter, their former friends did more than express surprise. They also began to say evil things about the new Christians, accusing them of wrong doing (1 Pet 2:12; 4:4). As a result, the believers experienced social ostracism, perhaps even a measure of local persecution. But Peter urges them to keep on living holy lives, even if they must pay a painful price:

Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! (1 Pet 3:16-17).

Suffering, as it turns out, is not an abnormal and avoidable aspect of Christian living, but something to which God calls those who follow Jesus: "This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps" (1 Pet 2:21). When we experience criticism, false accusations, or harassment because of our commitment to Christ, we should not be surprised. It's all a part of our Christian vocation.

In my next post in this series I want to consider another real-life example in which a person's Christian commitment led to costly choices.

A Saintly Struggle

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In my last post I explained how living "saintly" or "set apart" lives can lead to conflict, even suffering. I cited the example of Jim and Donna, whose unwillingness to let their son play soccer on Sunday morning alienated them from the coach and other parents. Today I'd like to consider yet another example, this one from the workplace.

Steve was on the fast track to success in his corporation. An executive with outstanding talent and integrity, he quickly climbed the ladder of success. Before long he was one of the corporate vice presidents, an up-and-comer touted for future greatness. Steve was also a Christian, a man who sought to live out his faith in every segment of his life, including his professional life. For a while Steve's faith seemed to be an asset to his work since it undergirded his exceptional honesty and integrity.

But then Steve became friends with Ronald. Ronald also worked for the corporation, not as an executive, but as a custodian. Steve didn't see Ronald as a lackey, however, but as a fellow human being and, as it turned out, a brother in Christ. Casual interactions became deeper as they began to share their lives together. Their friendship was that of equals. So Steve thought nothing of it when he began taking Ronald to lunch in the executive dining room every now and then. All the vice presidents entertained personal friends in the dining room, and no one ever said anything about not allowing certain employees to eat there. But as soon as Steve started hosting Ronald for lunch, he perceived a subtle change in his work environment. Nobody said anything directly, at least not right away. Yet Steve's peers seemed less interested in his input, and his superiors were less willing to hear his ideas.

Finally Steve confronted the company's president with a direct question: "Why do I feel like an outsider around here? Have I done something wrong? Is there a problem with my work?"

His boss was honest. "No, there is nothing wrong with your performance of the things on your job description. But there's a problem with your attitude, with your sense of company values. Frankly, bringing that custodian into the dining room just isn't acceptable. Your doing so shows very poor judgment."

Steve responded with equal frankness. "But there is no rule that governs whom we have for lunch. And we talk in this company about the value of all employees. I don't see what's wrong with having my friend join me for lunch every once in a while, even if he's a custodian for this firm."

"That is the problem," said the president. "You just don't see it."

When Steve tried to explain how his being a Christian led him to treat all people with dignity, he was told that his religious convictions belonged at home, not at work. End of conversation.

Before too long Steve was offered a new job in the company. He would maintain his official position and salary, but would no longer be in the main office. It was safer to move him out to the field, away from Ronald and the executive dining room. Steve declined to move primarily for family reasons. A few months later he was told to take a position at a distant location, with a loss of position and salary. The message was finally clear: Steve was no longer welcome at the company. No matter what his performance had been, he had committed the unforgivable sin of seeing a custodian through the lens of his faith, and not through the prejudice of the corporation. (Picture to the right: No, Steve did not work for Enron. But I wonder how the Enron story might have ended differently if Christians in the corporation had taken more risks to live out their faith at work.)

The details of this story may be unique, but the general themes are experienced again and again when Christians try to be saints of God and successful employees. A woman I know lost her job when she wouldn't obey her boss's order to tell "a little white lie" in a business deal. A lawyer who tried to live according to God's priorities for his life started working less than the 80-hour a week norm for his firm. Soon he was shunned as someone who "just isn't pulling his weight around here." As in first century, authentic sainthood can lead to suffering.

In America, we are blessed with an exceptional quality of religious freedom. We will not be incarcerated for worshipping God or publicly proclaiming the Gospel. But if we dare to question openly the values of the cultural elites, we will soon find ourselves the target of sustained verbal persecution. When a prominent leader, for example, publicly suggests that homosexual behavior is sinful, that person is attacked as a "hate-monger" and a "homophobic extremist." He is even accused of inciting hate crimes against gays and lesbians. When a Christian denomination makes a public commitment to evangelize Jews and Muslims, that denomination is denounced, not only by media pundits, but even by political leaders in the official meetings of state and national legislatures. As Yale law professor Stephen Carter demonstrated so persuasively in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, Christians in America who express their faith in public will be written off by the cultural elite, if not libeled and blacklisted for their religious convictions.

Of course many Christians experience far more painful and extreme forms of suffering than being fired, or shunned, or attacked in public. Throughout history, and in many countries throughout the world today, Christians have been imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their faith. As we speak, believers in the Sudan are being sold into slavery because of their faith in Jesus Christ. A fellow Presbyterian pastor who serves in a Vietnamese congregation not too far from my own spent many years imprisoned in Vietnam, often locked in solitary confinement in a space so small he couldn't even stretch out to sleep. The suffering of our brothers and sisters throughout the world needs to motivate both our prayers and our activism. Fellowship with our persecuted Christian family will touch our hearts, both inspiring our prayers for their deliverance and moving us to work for their freedom. Moreover, knowing that thousands of Christians are standing up for Christ in the midst of severe persecution emboldens us to endure whatever suffering we must face.

But, even if our suffering does not compare in harshness to that experienced by some of our spiritual siblings, we should expect to face adversity as we live holy lives in an unholy world. If we never experience difficulties because we are Christians, then we are probably falling short in holiness or insulating ourselves completely from the world into which Christ has sent us. Suffering is not an avoidable accident, but an essential element of the genuine Christian life.

Suffering and Christian Fellowship

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In recent posts I've talked about how living as saints–people set apart from this world for God and His purposes–can sometimes lead to suffering. Often, however, our suffering comes not as a result of our faith in Christ, but simply because we live in a fallen world. Sickness and starvation, for example, are part and parcel of a sin-infested creation. When we suffer from natural causes, we can't attribute it to the world's rejection of our holiness because the material world torments believers and non-believers alike. The same is often true of socially-based suffering as well. But the pain of natural or social suffering does remind us that "this world is not our home," that we are on a pilgrimage to a world where God will remove all of our sorrows, "and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain" (Rev 21:4). (Picture to the right: All that was left of Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis, MS, after Hurricane Katrina)

Suffering, whether it comes from religious persecution, natural causes, or social oppression, can lead us into a deeper experience of Christian fellowship. On the one hand, suffering forges more profound relationships among Christian brothers and sisters. In Paul's description of the church as the body of Christ, he notes that "if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it" (1 Cor 12:26). He advises the Romans to "weep with those who are weeping" (Rom 12:15). If you've ever had the opportunity to share your suffering with those who have genuine sympathy, you know how this kind of sharing gives new depth to relationships. Friendliness is augmented by tenderness. Mutual enjoyment becomes mutual gratitude. Christian fellowship only realizes its full potential when brothers and sisters suffer and weep together.

On the other hand, suffering also can lead us into deeper intimacy with God. Certain kinds of pain help us to feel God's heart for us in new ways. I remember counseling with a father whose teenage son had walked away from his faith and into the perilous world of drug abuse. As this dad wept for his son, he shared what God was doing in his own spirit through this terrible experience. "I think I'm just beginning to know something about God's heart for us. I am angry with my son for the wrong he has done. I want him to stop it. But more than anything else, my heart is breaking for him. I would do anything, literally anything, if it would save my son. I would give up my very life for him." Indeed, this father was getting to know the heart of God, a God who in fact did everything for us through Jesus Christ.

When we hurt, God can seem very distant. Our prayers sometimes echo that of the Psalmist:" O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?" (Ps 10:1). But there is a wide chasm between our sense of God's apparent remoteness and the truth of his proximity. God does not stand far off, "watching us from as distance," as the popular song proclaims. On the contrary, our Heavenly Father has drawn near to us in his Son. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, entered fully into our humanity, even into our suffering and pain, in order to help us. The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way:

It was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted (Heb 2:17-18).

Jesus knows our suffering from personal experience. Even though He is fully God, He is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses, since he has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sinning" (Heb 4:15). When we hurt, Jesus, the Son of God, understands. When we wonder if God has forgotten us, Jesus knows our desperation. Our triune God–the Father who loves us as His children, the Son who shares our humanness and died for us, the Spirit who dwells within us–hurts when we hurt, agonizes with our agony, and never leaves us or abandons us (Deut 31:6-8; Heb 13:5).

Amazingly, this is true even when our suffering comes as a result of our own sin. I'll have more to say about this in my next post in this series.

God is With Us Even When We Suffer Because of Our Sin

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In my last post I began to explain how suffering draws us into deeper fellowship with other Christians, and even with God. Astoundingly, this is true even when we suffer as a direct result of our own sin.

All suffering stems ultimately from human sin, but that does not mean every instance of suffering results from the sin of the sufferer. When His disciples ask Jesus whether a man's blindness is a result of his sin or that of his parents, Jesus rejects both options (John 9:1-3). Many who suffer do so because of the brokenness of the world or the viciousness of human oppressors. But sometimes our suffering comes directly from our sin. The pain of shattered family life, for example, can result from adultery. In cases like these, when our suffering is in some sense deserved, does God stand far off in dispassionate judgment?

In Hosea 11 God recounts the history of Israel, the son whom He loved and delivered from bondage in Egypt. Yet the more God called out to Israel, the more Israel spurned the Lord and turned to idols. As a result, Israel will return to servitude, this time under the Assyrians, whose military might will squash the nation. God rightly judges His people for their sin, their adulterous rejection of Him and His love. Their suffering is deserved. But this doesn't mean the heart of God has been hardened against his beloved people. After predicting the coming judgment, God laments:

Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows (Hos 11:8).

When the season of discipline is over, the Lord will bring His people home again (Hos 11:11) because His love and compassion for them have never been quenched.

This is the same Lord who "showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners" (Rom 5:8). Even when our sin made us God's enemies, our gracious Father sent His own Son to die for us so that we might live forever in fellowship with Him. "So now we can rejoice," Paul continues, "in our wonderful new relationship with God -- all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God" (Rom 5:11). Even as our entry into intimate fellowship with God depends upon God's grace and not upon ourselves, so it is true of our ongoing fellowship with Him. When we sin, and when our sin leads to suffering, God is still with us, sharing our sorrow while offering forgiveness, healing, and hope.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not in any way minimizing the wrongness of sin. I'm not saying that our sin doesn't matter to God, or that God doesn't judge our sin. Without a doubt, our sin grieves the heart of God and stands under His righteous judgment. Scripture tends to use an even scarier word for God's response to sin: wrath. God's wrath is more than just His anger toward our sin. It's also His condemnation of sin. So we who sin deserve the wrath of God.

Yet the God who condemns our sin doesn't forever reject us or hate us. In fact, the good news is that God came Christ came to deliver us from the results of divine wrath. In Christ we see God's compassion and mercy, God's care for us even when we are caught in sin. In this reality we find reassurance and hope. In my next post in this series I show in greater details how we can be people of hope in the midst of a hurting world.

People of Hope in a Hurting World

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Genuine, lasting hope is in short supply these days. Oh, you might hear some hopeful words from political candidates. And every now and then somebody suggests that things might be getting better. But mostly we are inundated with bad news and the despair it engenders, whether we're talking about world events or local challenges. A hopeful word usually gets drowned in a sea of naysaying if not cynicism. It's much more cool to be cynical than to be hopeful.

Christians, however, are to be people of hope. Our hope does not involve denying the genuine pains and frustrations of this life. But it is hope in the midst of them. Our hope begins by seeing the genuine good news in the midst of the bad news.

The eighth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans begins with lots of good news:

• There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ (Rom 8:1).
• God destroyed sin's control over us (Rom 8:3).
• If we belong to Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in us (Rom 8:9-11).
• We are God's children who can call God "dear Father" (Rom 8:14-16).
• We will share in the treasure and glory of Christ (Rom 8:17).

But then, on the foundation of such encouraging news, Paul adds something that hits us like a punch in the solar plexus:

And since we are [God's] children, we will share his treasures -- for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Rom 8:17).

Whoa! What is this? As believers in Jesus we look forward to sharing in his own glory. Now that's hope! But also we share in His suffering right now. This may seem like more than we bargained for when we became Christians, both positively and negatively. The idea that someday we will be glorified along with Christ exceeds our expectations for heaven. But the notion that we must suffer in the meanwhile pours a bucket of icy water on our warm passion for following Jesus.

Why, if we are part of God's new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), must we still suffer? The answer is that, though we begin to share in the new creation at the moment we believe in Jesus, we are still caught in the old, fallen creation for a while. As Paul explains in Romans 8, God's perfect world has been subjected to a curse because of human sin. Death and decay replace life and health as the chief characteristics of creation, a creation that "has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Rom 8:20-22). So, even though the Spirit of God lives within us, giving us a foretaste of glory to come, we also "groan to be released from pain and suffering" (Rom 8:23). In fact, we wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as His children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Now that we are saved, we eagerly look forward to this freedom (Rom 8:23-24). (Picture above: When I think of glory, I remember watching sunset over the Grand Tetons.)

In the midst of our current struggle, we look forward with hope to the completion of what Christ has begun with His death and resurrection. We yearn for the day when "The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. And he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!" (Rev 11:15, translation from Handel's Messiah).

Living with such hope in the midst of a hurting world necessarily creates tension in our lives. Tomorrow I'll have more to say about that tension.

Living in Hopeful Tension

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Yesterday I explained that Christians acknowledge the suffering and pain of this world, but live, nevertheless, with hope. Our hope is oriented to the future, when God will fully reveal His kingdom in the transformation of heaven and earth. This means that we live with a certain tension between what is now and what will be in the future.

Theologians have called this tension the "the already and the not yet." Christ has already died on the cross and rose from the grace, thus banishing sin and defeating death. We have already begun to experience the new creation. The Holy Spirit already lives within us, giving us new life and sharing God's power with us. But . . . God isn't finished with us or with creation. The battle between God and Satan still rages, even though the final outcome is secure. We still struggle with sinful and mortal flesh. The powers of this fallen world continue to oppose God and those who align themselves with His kingdom. Suffering is an inevitable component of our "in-between" status, as we live for God in a world that opposes Him. Some suffering comes from the brokenness of creation, from disease and natural disasters. Some suffering comes from the brokenness in human relationships. Some suffering comes from a world that hates us because of our allegiance to Christ (Matt 24:9; John 15:18-21; 17:14).

It's hard to live in tension. Some Christians try to resolve the tension by over-simplifying the Christian life. You might hear some believers focus entirely upon new life in Christ, even claiming that people with adequate faith should never suffer. Others over-emphasize our suffering with Christ, virtually denying the experience of new creation in the Spirit. But if our life is to be primarily shaped by scriptural truth and not our own lopsided experience, then we must continue to live in the awkward tension of the "already and not yet."

Our life in Christ is like that of a woman who is nine months pregnant. I marveled at my wife's fortitude during her last month of pregnancies. She was extremely uncomfortable, carrying what looked like a giant pumpkin in her belly. Sleep came with great difficulty, since no position would take away her discomfort. Yet, as Linda suffered with physical struggles that would have turned me into a self-pitying pouter, she abounded with hope. She counted the days until she would hold her baby, and faced her physical discomforts with particular joy. What kept her going? The sense that she was in some way already a mother, even as she was not yet the mother she would become when she could finally hold her child. She lived in the "already and not yet," sustained by hope.

That's exactly how we should live as Christians, with joyful hope in the midst of genuine suffering, not denying the pain, nor succumbing to despair. The tension we feel in this world as Christians will not be resolved this side of the new creation.

The Content of Our Hope

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In yesterday's post I wrote about how Christians live in the tension between the "already and not yet." Though God's kingdom has already begun to be present on earth, it is not yet here in all fullness. Though sin has already been defeated through Christ's death on the cross, we have not yet experienced life without sin. And so forth and so on in our "already and not yet" reality. Because of what we already experience as believers, we have hope for the future. We have confidence that the "not yet" will someday come.

One common mistake with regard to hope, one made by Christians and non-Christians alike, is to place our hope in the wrong thing. This inevitably leads to disappointment. Thus we must pay close attention to the proper content of hope.

We get help in this regard from the first letter of Peter in the New Testament. Notice how Peter begins his letter to suffering Christians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, unstained, and undefiled, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by the power of God through faith, for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this fact you are rejoicing, even if for a little while you have had to suffer various kinds of trials, so that the genuineness of your faith (being more precious than gold, which, though perishable, is shown to be genuine by fire) may be found to result in your praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you still don't see him, believing in him you are rejoicing with unspeakable and glorious joy, as you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:3-9, MDR).

Though the recipients of Peter's letter are suffering "various kinds of trials," they nevertheless embrace a "living hope" because of the resurrection of Jesus. Here the resurrection serves, not only to exonerate the ministry of Jesus and confirm His status as God's chosen Messiah, but also to show us what lies ahead for us. Our hope is a resurrection hope, in that it is both based on the resurrection of Jesus and looking forward to our own resurrectiopn. In time we will also be raised and will receive an "imperishable, unstained, and undefiled" inheritance. Additionally, we will receive "praise and glory and honor" when Christ is revealed. In the meanwhile, we hold fast to our hope with "unspeakable and glorious joy."

Notice carefully the content of Christian hope. We place our hope in God, in his ultimate victory through Christ, and in our future inheritance. Hope that depends on what God has already done in Christ and focuses on what God will certainly do through Christ is a "living hope," a hope that will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). Christian hope is not, however, a Pollyanna-like naïveté about life, a simplistic affirmation that everything will turn out just the way we want it to. Surely, everything will turn out right in the end, if by "the end" we mean the end of human history when Christ returns and God's kingdom is fully manifested. But along the way, many things won't turn out the way we'd like them to.

I still remember a line from a sermon preached by Bruce Larson when I was in junior high. He was critiquing the simplistic view that Christians will always be delivered from suffering. "The early Christians were delivered from the lions," he said, "they were delivered as lion dung!" You can see why this so impressed a junior high boy that I remember it to this day. Larson was right. Thousands of faithful Christians were put to death by Roman gladiators or consumed by Roman lions. They were delivered, not from suffering and death, but through suffering and death into eternal life.

Yet our hope of a future with God isn't something we put on our spiritual shelf to admire from a distance. Rather, it gives us motivation to live each day for God and His kingdoms. And it helps us to face life's challenges and pains with distinctive hope. In my next post I'll provide some specific examples of how hope makes a difference for people in the midst of suffering.


Hope in the Midst of Struggle and Suffering

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In my last post I explained that Christian hope is focused in God and God's future. It is not believing that everything in our lives will turn out as we'd like it to be. As a pastor I often meet with people before they have major surgery. I listen to their fears and try to encourage them with God's unfailing love. Sometimes I hear their friends make an effort to be hopeful, saying something like: "Oh, I just know it isn't cancer. I'm sure everything will turn out just fine." The intention behind this sort of hope is noble, but it isn't Christian hope. Wonderful, faithful, God-fearing people get cancer. Sometimes they die unexpectedly in surgery. Although God is present in medical procedures and often heals in marvelous ways, sometimes, for reasons beyond our wisdom, tragedies occur.

For example, some years ago my heart was heavy as a young woman from my congregation was giving birth to her baby, a baby who died several days earlier in her womb. I ached for this dear woman and her husband. Their suffering was real. Yet so was God's presence with them in their pain. They could have unfailing hope that God would be with them as they "walked through the valley of the shadow of death" (Ps 23:4, KJV). Furthermore, they could be certain that, when someday they stand in the presence of Christ, their pain will have passed and their rejoicing will be complete. They can embrace the sure hope of the future, even as they suffer through the sure suffering of the present.

Hope is elusive in our world today. Oh, to be sure, if the economy is strong people can be hopeful, in a way. Technological advances seem to offer a better life, sort of. Political candidates promise prosperity and peace. But despair always seems to be lurking right around the corner. Dismal financial news sends the stock market plunging. Technology presents us with the ease of e-mail and the scourge of on-line pornography. Hopeful candidates become elected officials who fail to fulfill their promises while claiming glorious success. Terrorism threatens to rip apart the very fabric of civilized, free society. Then you add all of the personal struggles: families falling apart, marriages on their last legs, job insecurities, terminal illnesses, etc. etc. Why have hope? What sense does it make to be hopeful in a world so broken and hurting? How can we have hope in a post 9/11 world?

From a merely human perspective, it makes no sense at all. If there is no God in heaven who cares about us, if Christ has not died for our sins and risen as a sign of what is to come, then hope should be banished as happy-faced poppycock. Postmodern people have peered behind the veil of modernist hope in human achievement and discovered that there's nothing there. Cynicism is our last defense in a hopeless world.

But Christians are set apart from this world by being people of hope. We know what God has done and we are confident in what God will do. Jesus says, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Jesus has conquered the fallen world and is in the process of finishing up what His death and resurrection began. Not even death, however painful it might be, can steal away our hope. As Paul writes to the Corinthians:

When our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die -- then at last the Scriptures will come true:

   "Death is swallowed up in victory.
   O death, where is your victory?
   O death, where is your sting?"
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless (1 Cor 15:54-58).

Even as we look forward to God's final victory, we begin now to rejoice in hope. Our hope gives us strength to continue in the Lord's work, knowing our labors have everlasting value. For us, the world is not only a hostile environment in which we suffer – it is not only a hurting place that will someday be transformed by God's reign – but it is also the realm in which we serve the Lord.

How to Begin to Live as a Saint

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As I've explained earlier in this series, if you're a Christian, then you're a saint, a person set-apart by God for relationship with Him and to serve Him in the world. So how do you begin to live as a saint on a daily basis?

First of all, don't get all puffed up about receiving the title of "saint." Remember, it's not a reward for a godly life, but an invitation to start living one. I wouldn't recommend that you change your business card by adding the title "Saint" to your name.

Remember also that your sainthood depends upon what God has done, setting you apart for himself and his service through Christ. If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, then you are a saint. So be what you are! Live like it! As you get up in the morning, remember your primary purpose for the day: To live as a person dedicated to God and God's work.

It may be that the Holy Spirit has revealed to you an area of your life in need of transformation. Watch out for the natural tendency to rationalize away what God is saying to you! Instead, let the Scripture be that which tells you the truth about your life. Ask the Lord for help in living by his standards, not the standards of the world.

Also, remember that sainthood is not a solitary journey, but a pilgrimage shared with other believers in Jesus. If you try to be different from this world all by yourself, you will surely fail. Commit yourself to a community of Christians who understand that they have been set apart by God for special purposes.

You cannot live a holy life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. God has given you his Spirit, in part, to help you live in way that is different from the world. The more you spend time in fellowship with God, the more you will be empowered to live distinctively. Bible reading, prayer, and worship contribute mightily to our active holiness. (Photo: Even kids know they need fellowship with other believers to grow in faith.)

One of the ways the world reinforces its godless values is through peer pressure. If "everybody's doing it," then why shouldn't you? That's especially true if "everybody" includes your close friends or family. We often talk about peer pressure as a problem for teenagers, and indeed it is. But most adults I know work hard to be like those around us and to gain their approval. We just don't call it peer pressure; we call it "getting along" or "socialization." If we are going to live in a way that displeases our secular peers, and perhaps even causes them to turn against us, then we need an alternative peer group. We need intimate communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Regular support, prayer, encouragement, and accountability will help us to fend off the world's disapproval, and to delight in God's approval above all.