Characteristics of the Christian
by Bob Burridge ©2001, 2011
Anyone can seem cheerfully optimistic when everything seems to be going well. The problem is: those times are very rare. There’s always something that isn’t quite what it ought to be. God made us so that even after the infection of sin took hold of his creation, there is hope that brings joy to the hearts of those redeemed by grace.
We regularly face troubling challenges. At the root of all our hard struggles is the guilt of the principle of sin at work in us. When Adam sinned in Eden corruption spread to the souls of every one who would descend from him. This corruption is the foundation for physical as well as spiritual adversity, sickness, and death.
Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”
God summarized the corruption that sin would bring after the fall of the human race in Adam. He told Eve that there would be a struggle between her offspring and Satan. Then God said to her in Genesis 3:16, “… I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
After that, God said to Adam in verses 17-19, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”
These far reaching effects of sin, both in our world and in our hearts, are why people constantly struggle against temptations and become morally confused. We see a society flooded with crime. Neighbors often find it easy to justify breaking the law, or lying in circumstances which they think are minor or unimportant. Justice is often perverted into injustice, and immorality becomes the treasured ethic of a fallen world. Even believers often find it hard to cope with calamities such as natural disasters, disease and death itself.
God never promised that believers can escape these kinds of things in this life. But he has given us a way of rising above the agony and discouragement that can accompany such troubles.
Those who have a negative outlook are often called pessimists.
Those who have a positive outlook are usually called optimists.
Optimism is a huge topic with many vast territories to explore. Our mind-set as believers, and how we respond to adversity, involves the whole issue of sanctification and spiritual maturity. Therefore, this study only attempts to be an overview to help us along to a more optimistic way of living.
You have all probably heard the standard jokes, stories, and classic sayings about optimism and pessimism. I did a quick search of the Internet about these two mindsets using the google search engine. In less than half of a second it returned 1,350,000 web sites containing both “pessimism” and “optimism”.
One of the most posted examples was the old poem written by McLandburgh Wilson (with variations) Between the optimist and the pessimist,
The difference is droll.
The optimist sees the doughnut;
The pessimist the hole!
There were many web sites with either that whole quote or variations of it, including a few that identified themselves as Jewish humor sites where they substituted a bagel for the doughnut.
The old tired saying about seeing the glass either half empty or half full appeared 728,000 times. But there was an interesting update of that one for our computer age …
An optimist would say the hard drive is half full.
A pessimist would say the hard drive is half empty.
A true computer geek would upgrade regardless.
These examples point out a clear difference in outlook. They show what we see in people, and they are classic illustrations of humor, but none of them really gets to the heart of the issue.
There is an optimism the world invents,
which is a counterfeit of the biblical version.
There is a head-in-the-sand optimism.
This form of optimism just tries to ignore negative things. It refuses to face problems or admit to things not going well. It is nothing less than lying to self, or at least a denying of the truth to one’s self. Christian optimism should not be unrealistic, or willing to overlook unwelcome truths.
There is a false optimism that pretends to be Christian, but is not.
It says that it expects things to work out for good by faith. That sounds good, but what is meant by faith is only wishful thinking. It doesn’t mean finding encouragement according to what God has actually promised. It believes something to be so,simply because it is believed to be so. Faith becomes the creator of hope, rather than a gift of God which must be anchored in Christ, the ground of our hope. Faith needs to be in something. It is a trust in something trustworthy. Faith in faith itself is just empty deception. This false optimism is pure existentialism and New Ageism. It is not biblical Christianity.
Christian optimism begins by seeing things
with a God-centered perspective
Everything fits in with the bigger picture, as God directs his universe. Shorter Catechism question 7 says, “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”
There are some key parts in that answer:
1. God has an eternal purpose
2. His eternal purpose is according to what he desires, according to his perfect will
3. He directs all things without exception, for his own glory
That means that sin, disappointments, failures, defeats, crime, persecutions, and eternal judgments all fit together into the large plan of God. And all of it promotes his glory.
Therefore, as we try to understand things around us, both the things we like and the things we dislike, we need to keep this main principle in mind: God’s sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.
God in his word clearly explains his sovereignty over all things: It is a teaching found in every section of the Bible. For example …
Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”
Nahum 1:3 “The LORD has His way In the whirlwind and in the storm”
Matthew 10:29-30 “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Revelation 4:11″You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”
If we knew nothing more than this, we would still have the most important encouragement a person could ask for. Since God is absolutely in control of all things there is no reason for discouragement.
Of course we still sometimes get discouraged, but in Christ we know it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to hide our heads in the sand and pretend nothing bad will happen to us. And we don’t have to fool ourselves with wishful thinking. God rules over all things and moves them toward a glorious end.
Nothing is left to chance in God’s universe. Calamities don’t blindly stumble our way. They are part of something bigger than our own expectations and understanding.
God never has to change his eternal plan, though our understanding of it changes because he reveals it to us in stages. There is no enemy that can force God’s hand, or derail his plans.
Even the wicked, when they strike out against God, only serve him though ignorantly. The unbelieving hands that nailed Jesus to a cross for execution meant to silence him. Instead they became the tools in God’s hand that finished the work of Salvation. Peter explained speaking of our Savior in Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”
God didn’t excuse this most horrible sin. But he turned the diabolical scheme around.
Though we might not appreciate their importance, even hard times have a good purpose. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
A few examples from the Bible can help us apply this important principle:
In the time of Habakkuk there were
serious threats against God’s people.
The prophet Habakkuk had become discouraged, so he asked God to explain. In chapter 1 he prays for understanding …
2. O LORD, how long shall I cry, And You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” And You will not save.
3. Why do You show me iniquity, And cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; There is strife, and contention arises.
4. Therefore the law is powerless, And justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; Therefore perverse judgment proceeds.
14. Why do You make men like fish of the sea, Like creeping things that have no ruler over them?
15. They take up all of them with a hook, They catch them in their net, And gather them in their dragnet. Therefore they rejoice and are glad.
Because of his discouragement, Habakkuk waited for God to explain. In chapter 2 verse 1 he said, “I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am corrected.”
In verse 4 God gave a different kind of answer than he expected, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.”
God pointed him toward his duty instead of toward his obsession with the problem. The redeemed, those made righteous, are to live by trusting what God has made known. What God has not revealed should not be our concern.
This brings us back to that verse we quote so much …
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to find out all than can be known about God and his creation. But it does mean that God’s reasons behind things should not be guessed at beyond the boundaries of what has been made known.
As children, there are many things we should leave up to our Father. When we worry about things we can never control or explain, we show a mistrust in our Father. We trouble ourselves unnecessarily with unfounded anxiety about God’s secret work, often to the neglect of our own revealed duties.
King David also became discouraged
by the seeming success of the heathen.
In Psalm 2:1-3 he asked why the heathen nations get away with being so bold and wicked?
Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!”
Then the Psalm reminds us who is in charge …
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury: “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
It is a superficial delusion to imagine that what we see in the wicked is really success . The discouraged heart doesn’t look far enough to see things as they really are.
Part of David’s life was spent being hunted by armies of kings trying to kill him. Through it all he remembered that the kings who tried to kill him were never beyond the control of God. He wrote the so often repeated words of Psalm 23:4, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (KJV).
Joseph knew God’s sovereign assurances too.
When his brothers conspired to kill him and sell him into slavery Joseph later said…
Genesis 45:7-8, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
So God uses even the sins and selfish attitudes of his creatures to accomplish his decrees. This doesn’t excuse the sin. But it shows that evil is employed to accomplish God’s wonders.
Paul was a very optimistic prisoner.
From his captivity in Rome he wrote the letter to the Philippian Church. In the fourth chapter of that letter his words teach us a clear lesson …
Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Christian optimism responds to negative things
with confidence, peace, and resolve.
We leave the success of things to God. We accept the things that are beyond our own responsibility. In place of confusion we should have a sense of duty and promise.
Noah was not a pessimist simply because he expected a calamity. It wasn’t a sense of impending doom that drove him to start making an ark long before there was a flood. He understood that it was not his responsibility to stop the flood. He turned his attention to the duty God had called him to perform. He made an ark. He was confident in God’s promises.
We need to remember this when we go about our duties too. When we explain the gospel to others, or stand up for God’s truth and moral principles, some may not believe. Some may ridicule us or think we are foolish. Some may even persecute us. Our duty is to represent Christ and his grace which has been shown to us as sinners. It is God’s work to change hearts. It is our duty to tell others about the good news he has provided. We trust God’s promises and assignments. We see the bigger picture and have confidence that all things are working together to serve that higher purpose.
Remembering the Sovereign hand of our Loving Heavenly Lord should give us a positive attitude as we look for our duties, and appreciate his blessings.
We may have lost a job, or an election campaign. We may get sick, see pain in someone we love, lose our house to a storm, or realizing that our car spends more time in the repair shop than in our drive-way. In whatever circumstances that come along we can rest joyfully and securely knowing that the hand of God employs all things for good.
God is glorified even in a sinner’s rebellion, or in a nation’s fall and corruption. These will one day dramatically display his attribute of justice and holiness. Such things humble us, knowing we deserve the same wrath, yet we see his grace and love. These things work together in the larger good plan.
Our mind-set is the key. We need to see things with a God-centered perspective. Everything fits in with the bigger picture as God directs his universe in the most perfect way. His sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.
This brings us back to a familiar verse. Instead of fixating on the problems, or on trying to figure out the pain, there is a better way …
Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”
The right cosmic perspective is to see all things as the unfolding of God’s wonderful plan.
Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Note: The verses in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.