A shift has occurred. Undoubtedly, the church desires the gospel, but is it for different reasons altogether - than what - the gospel was meant to establish?
Do we desire its immediate usefulness? Has our approach to it cause us to demand: "Change me now! Change my life now! Make it stop hurting now!".
I certainly see this in my own life. In my struggle against sin, I desire again and again to be changed overnight. Listening to the miraculous testimonies of men and women who have had their lives turned upside down by the kingdom of God, I reflect on my life in complete dismay; knowing that I often remain tangled in the same web of unrighteousness for significant periods.
Much more, we often can't reconcile the pain we experience in this life with the promise of joy and peace in Jesus Christ.
The question I pose - So for what, then, was the gospel established? If we are not to expect a complete and full rescue from the kingdom of darkness that frees us into the life we seem to be promised in the pages of the Bible, what are we to expect?
A Better Theology
A theology of the cross can return us to a biblical and historical perspective of Christianity. This is what will help us reject this pervasive narrative of immediate usefulness that does not take into account the central role of suffering in the process of sanctification.
Central to this understanding of the story of the bible is the cross of Christ. The suffering of Christ centralises itself in the sanctification narrative of the body of Christ.
I''ll glance at two passages that help point us to this theology.
In Colossians chapter 1 verse 24 Paul begins to formulate a theology of suffering. The Apostle Paul had endured countless beatings and continuous suffering for the sake of his ministry. He had experienced hunger and homelessness, as he had been forced to flee time and again to preserve his life.
Certainly, at some point he would he would have wish his suffering could end. Yet, here in his letter he insists that through this suffering the church is extended and in that he rejoices. And in the same way, our lives can extend the church of Christ. Our lives can be a conduit through which suffering flows and is altered into a powerful agent that extends the kingdom of God.
Then in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 10 brings even deeper significance to the role of suffering in sanctification. Speaking of Jesus, "For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering"
The example of the suffering of Jesus creates the paradigm through which we can interpret the functionality of the gospel. Christ himself endured the full range of suffering so that we might find our perfection in him.
This new establishment brings freedom that is not found in an immediate fix. It is found in the continual turning of the heart towards the perfect work of Jesus; a continued reliance on the enduring power to be had in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It is found when we know that through suffering we walk the road of Christ by resting in the power of Christ.
Whether suffering is borne of the wrestle against a besetting sin or of the general brokenness of this world or because of our allegiance to Christ call on our lives, the Gospel presents to us a firm and steady power that not only enables us to endure, but to be changed into every increasing shades of glory in the midst of it all.
Dan Peterson lives near Chicago, Illinois, USA. He enjoys discovering old books, new places, and good coffees. His dream is to summit a mountain on every continent and have a pet pygmy marmoset.
Dan Peterson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dan-peterson.html