Pitiful Christians in a Pandemic

As a brand-new, twenty-something Christian, spending a year doing intern youth ministry, I had just shared the gospel to a class of jaded twelve-year-olds, when a boy swamped in an over-sized school blazer approached me. By the look on his face the cogs of his mind were spinning fast. He politely asked if he could ask me a question and said, “What if you’re wrong? What if it all just isn’t true?”

I was flummoxed. As I floundered for an answer, a forgotten Christian lyric unfiled itself and jumped to the front of my brain:

And if I die with no reward/Then I know I had peace ‘cause I carried the sword.

I hastily quoted the line, trying to sound like some old sage. And although the boy nodded and walked away, I knew he was as unconvinced as I was.

The senselessness and emptiness of my words haunted me. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I found the biblical answer to the boy’s question. And it winded me like a blow to the gut! What if we have it all wrong? What if the gospel is not true? Paul writes to the Corinthians, ‘If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19). No Christ . . . no reward . . . no peace . . . no nothing! Just pity – more pity than the most pitiable!

More pitiful than the new-born baby found wailing in the woods because it was unwanted by its mother. More pitiful than the one long imprisoned and enslaved, denied even an ounce of humanity. If we Christians die with no reward, we are more pitiful than these!

Futile

As the death toll continues to climb and we now see death in a way that for many of us was confined to history textbooks; what peace can we have if we hope in this life only? Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 couldn’t be further from the hollow optimism I had conveyed all those years ago; missing completely the true weight of gospel hope in Christ. Paul, in seeking to defend the resurrection of the dead on the Final Day, is fighting the Sadducees’ denial of resurrection on one side, and the Graeco-Roman ideals of total ‘end game’ or a wisp like half-life in Hades on the other. So, he underscores the necessity of Christ’s resurrection to the gospel and the union of Christ’s past resurrection to the future resurrection of His saints. ‘If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1 Cor. 15:14). ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins’ (v.17). We Christians are those who declare in joyful song each week that Christ is our righteousness and freedom, even when we are stuck at home in isolation. Paul makes the point that if Christ were just a Nazarene, still lying dead in a grave in Palestine, then we are deceived and our faith is a sham. And ‘those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished’ (v.18). Meaning the belief and comfort that we will see our loved ones again is utterly ludicrous!

This is a real challenge to our spirituality at a time of global pandemic. Does our hope in Christ stretch beyond the grave, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, with such confidence that without it we are most miserable?

We are reminded that confessionally our resurrection hope in Christ is unique and unreserved. So much confidence we put upon the resurrection witness of the New Testament writers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-8) and the witness of the Spirit to our hearts, that we are kings and queens – conquerors even – awaiting the promise of a mighty inheritance! We will not be left to maggot and decay. Our Lord Jesus, with whom we are supernaturally fused, is our power beyond the grave. His resurrection is our resurrection (vv.20-23). Do you hope in Christ like those who, out of 7 billion, would be the most to be pitied?

Sting!

I have a young daughter nicknamed ‘Bee’ who loves to pretend to be a bee. She buzzes around the house, punctuating her flying with attacks to innocent members of the family. “STING! STING! SHARP! SHARP!” she says to make the point. It always reminds me of Paul’s victory cry at the end of 1 Corinthians 15 (v.55).

Death certainly has a sting. Whether by means of a slow decline or a sudden tragedy, like a scorpion, death delivers a swift, sharp and painful shock. We have certainly experienced this in recent weeks. In an instant, someone we love is gone and we are forced to bury one we don’t want to live without. Yet in the gospel there is life in death. Never before has a grisly execution been the means of eternal life, bringing about the death of death itself! When anxiety drains you of peace during the night, remember death was defeated by the Easter work of Christ, and it will not survive its own final Ragnarok on the Day of Judgement. ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (vv.25-26).

We are not pitiful but those united to ‘the Resurrection and the Life’ (John 11:25). Christ is our comfort, hope and victory in the merciless face of death. Christ is our certain reward!

So now death ‘where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Adapted excerpt from Natalie’s new book, The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman.

Natalie Brand (Ph.D. Trinity St. David) is adjunct lecturer in historical and systematic theology at Union School of Theology. She is the author of The Good Portion: The Doctrine of Salvation, for Every Woman, part of The Good Portion series published by Christian Focus. Her other works are Complementarian Spirituality: Reformed Women and Union with Christ and Prone to Wander: Grace for the Lukewarm and Apathetic. She is lives with her husband and three daughters, and hopes one day to move to Bag End in the Shire.

*** Look for a Facebook Live discussion with The Good Portion authors, Natalie, Keri, Rebecca and Jenny, on the Christian Focus Publishing page Monday, May 18, 2:00 p.m. E.S.T.

Mother’s Day Book Giveaway!

Mothers who delight in the doctrines of God are gifts to their children and models for younger women. At The Good Portion Books we want to increase your delight. So to celebrate Mother’s Day, we are having a drawing to give away two sets of the 4 books currently in our series.

To enter the drawing, Like our Facebook page and tag one other woman in the comments on the Mother’s Day post. You’ll be entered into the drawing along with the mother, daughter or friend you tagged, and if your name is drawn both of you will win the books!

You may enter as many times as you like, as long as you tag a different person each time.

We’ll draw the winner on Mother’s Day, May 10th.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Delighting in Doctrine: How Theology Supercharges Women’s Lives and Ministry

Going to The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference this June?

Join Keri Folmar, Margaret Kostenberger, Jenny Manley, Courtney Reissig and Mary Willson as they discuss why understanding doctrine is crucial for life and ministry.

Do women in your church seem to be living for the moment instead of in light of eternity? Does your small group Bible study skim the surface without going deeply into the Word? Do you want to help women know how to suffer life’s trials with joy?

This panel is for you!

First 150 attendants will receive a complimentary book from The Good Portion Series.

Register for Delighting in Doctrine here.

Are You a Contender?

by Rebecca Stark, author of The Good Portion: God

Recently, a Canadian mother saved her young son from a cougar that attacked him in her family’s backyard. She pried open the cougar’s jaws with her bare hands as he tried to drag the boy away. A few years ago I read a news story about another British Columbia woman who saved her son from a cougar using a kitchen towel. These two mothers courageously risked their own lives to protect their boys. 

If you google the phrase “mom saves child from cougar,” you’ll find stories of other heroic mamas. One mother used a camping cooler, and another a water bottle to rescue their children from an attacking cougar. One brave mom managed to save her child but died from her own injuries

Faced with a dangerous attack on a beloved child, would any mother simply stand and watch? No, a mother’s love compels her to protect and defend her children, and to fight to the death if necessary. 

When Jude wrote his New Testament letter to one of the early Christian churches, he urged the members to fight to protect and defend the faith. “Beloved,” he wrote,

“although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4 ESV).

“Certain persons” who claimed to be believers had “crept” into the church. They looked like ordinary Christians, and they settled into the church like ordinary Christians would, but they had joined for shady reasons. We don’t know the details, but it seems that both by their actions, which were immoral, and by their teachings, which were false, they attacked “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”

The believers in this church (the true ones, that is) knew enough about the doctrine of the apostles—the teachings that were probably already set down in a not-yet-completed New Testament canon—that Jude didn’t need to flesh out the “the faith once for all handed down.” These early Christians were already united around the body of doctrine that was the faith, so Jude could jump straight into his appeal for them to defend it.

The sneaky false teachers were attacking this church from within, and Jude’s letter is a plea for every single true believer there, everyone “called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1), to rise up and defend the apostles’ gospel. And because Jude’s letter is scripture, it is, by extension, a plea for every true believer down through the ages and across the world to be ready to protect and defend the gospel. The call to defend the faith is not just for pastors and deacons, but for laymen and laywomen, too. God calls us all to be defensive warriors, fighting against imposters within the church who destroy others by distorting the truth. 

Like the brave mothers who snatched their children from the cougar’s jaws, a believer’s fight to defend the faith is compelled by love. We fight, first, because we love the truth, and second, because we love people and want to save them from certain death. We fight to “save others by snatching them out of the fire” of God’s judgment against unbelief and apostasy. We defend the truth as an act of mercy toward “those who doubt” (Jude 22-23).

But we can’t contend for the faith if we don’t know what it is. We won’t recognize infiltrating false teachers if we don’t know what the apostles taught. We can’t discern a destructive false gospel if we don’t understand what the real gospel is. 

Step one for contenders, then, is to know the truth. Jude’s first readers (or hearers) had a partial canon of scripture, yet he assumed they understood what the faith once for all delivered to the saints was. We have a complete canon, and our own personal copies of scripture, so we don’t have an excuse for not knowing the whole body of doctrine handed down to us from the apostles. If we don’t know it, we can learn it as we study the Bible, and as we read or listen to faithful Bible teachers.

Step two is to step up and defend the faith we know. Although there may be cases in which false teachers need to be physically removed from the body, fighting for the faith is mostly a war of words. We fight for the faith by speaking—or like Jude, by writing. And while we may sometimes be forced to use strong language as a weapon against wolves in our midst, most of our contending won’t look like a war, not even a word war. No, our most common defense tactics will be teaching and reminding. 

We contend for the faith when we teach the truth to those among us who don’t have a firm grasp of it. Our hope is that as they learn, they become more grounded in the faith and less likely to be snatched away by false teachers with a false gospel. 

And for those who are already established in the faith? As we remind each other of the beauty of the truth we already know, we encourage faithfulness to it (2 Peter 12-13). We fight for the faith by helping each other remember how lovely our gospel is, because those who are busy basking in the glory of the real gospel aren’t fooled by a false one.

This blog is an edited version of a piece first posted by Rebecca at Out of the Ordinary.