I’ve argued before that the Christian life is lived in the victory of the gospel. Life in Christ is the victory of Christ overcoming the sin in our hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit. If we don’t understand that, we end up with a vision of Christianity that amounts to little more than being nice, moral people and upstanding citizens who work hard and go to church regularly. On the other hand, if we misunderstand it, we’re likely to think Christianity means “your best life now.”
We often run into trouble with biblical words like “love” because we unreflectively assume they mean what the world uses them to mean. “Victory” is no different, and so there are plenty of peddlers like Joel Osteen around to tell us that God has promised us worldly victory full of worldly rewards. That’s dangerously wrong. The victory of Christ in us isn’t our victory for our purposes, it’s God’s victory for his purposes. He has shared it with us not for our glory but for his own. His victory is not about us getting what we want, or making us look good, or keeping us from hard times and pain—no matter how much we want it to be.
For me, the great exemplars of this mistake continue to be the pastors who prophesied in the fall of 2008 that John McCain would win the election. They were so sure they knew what God’s victory had to look like, they were willing to stand before a microphone and declare their vision to be God’s vision. When they were proven wrong, it shook their faith, because they had more faith in their own ideas about how things had to be than they did in God. They thought Sen. McCain would be a better president than Barack Obama, and they thought that was all that mattered. They might well have been right on the first point, but that’s not the victory God intended—and we don’t get our victory, we get God’s.
Again and again, we name our agenda as God’s agenda. We think that God’s glory requires that we get rich or that our church have more people. We forget that America is not the kingdom of God to which we pledge our highest allegiance. We assume that God’s victory has to mean the fulfillment of our own worldly ambitions. Inevitably, we’re disappointed. As long as we keep making that mistake, we’re going to keep meeting those disappointments, because we’re going to build up expectations that have nothing at all to do with what God’s actually on about. God may be intending to do what we want him to do; then again, he may not. Even if he is, it might not come the way we expect it to come, or look the way we expect it to look. He doesn’t promise to fulfill our expectations, he promises to glorify his name, and what glorifies him in our lives isn’t always what we think of as glorious. Sometimes it even means our suffering.
(Excerpted, edited, from “To the Glory of God”)
Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece: The Adoration of the Lamb, 1425-29.