Visualizing the future God promises | Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
Being Christlike - becoming like Jesus - requires a fierce struggle against your own sin. It's literally that or nothing, and we have to be honest about it with each other. The Christian life is a grueling, humbling, very long struggle. Against ourselves. And that's not only because we are so very far from being like Jesus. It's also because Jesus himself struggled in the flesh. He agonized against it. And he prevailed. If Jesus struggled, why wouldn't we? And how can we say we are like him if we don't struggle? Struggling is nothing to be ashamed of. The struggle is the thing.
To promise anything else is like recruiting people to become soldiers without informing them also that they're going to be fired upon. They might come home paralyzed or missing limbs. They might come home traumatized, weak, confused, and directionless from the suffering of facing death all day long. They need to know this.
No different for a Christian. Expect to get fired at; expect to get knocked down; expect to get wounded. What's super intense about the Christian battle - what sends you home with spiritual PTSD - is that many of the shots fired against you came from your own gun. Most of our suffering in this life is the result of our war against sin inside ourselves. It's a bloody, brutal battle and it makes us feel like we're losing our minds because when we're really doing our best fighting, it's often against ourselves.
But here's the key to keeping your head and staying in the fight: as you suffer, look forward, always forward, and never back. Look to Christ, always to him, and not to yourself. The victory in this battle depends on his love for you.
Your purity and power - in the imperfect but ever-increasing measure they are given - are gifts of God that are rooted in his love and desire for you, not in your own track record.
And his love for you, my friend, is relentless. There are so many ways of looking at his love instead of yourself - we've been over these in our journey through Romans 8. His love is evident in his willingness to lay down his life for you. His desire to be with you, to live with you in spite of your sin. The fact that you are his son. His ability to suffer with you.
Our sin grieves us, deeply. But in the suffering of sin, we look not to ourselves but to him.
If you look at your past, it's going to make you feel hopeless. But hope is a thing that is rooted in the future, not in the past. And your future, my friend, is a very bright one. "Glory" is the word Paul uses to describe the level of brightness, in fact.
It's helpful to know that this "glory" that is revealed comes in degrees, starting now (2 Cor 3:18). These degrees of glory measure the Christ-likeness that the Spirit is already producing. The whole sh'bang will happen when he glorifies (raises) our bodies out of death. But until then, the degrees happen through increased holiness. The new creation is being formed inside us, in our hearts, as God brings light into the darkness of our sin and Godlessness. Just as God did not create the universe in a single day, so he does not create the world of eternal life in a single day. He could, but he doesn't. And this, in his wisdom, is very good. Maybe simply because it puts us front and center to recognize and savor - and struggle for - each degree of glory as it comes. We labor, like a woman bringing forth life, and the Holy Spirit stands with us, holding us, like a strong, caring husband, urging us not to quit.
Look to your future glory in varying degrees of present suffering.
1 degree of glory: Sometimes you're in the middle of temptation and you need to look one degree ahead. The glory to be revealed in you is, for that moment, the very near-future possibility of passing through the temptation without giving in. God has promised glory in this - power over sin, in the radiance of Christ's righteousness - and if you consider that the future glory of freedom from sin is greater than the suffering of temptation in the moment, it will empower you.
10 degrees of glory: Sometimes you're in the middle of despair because you've failed in the glory of the moment, and you need to look farther down the road. Yes, we fall short of the glory. But over time, the general trajectory of his work in our lives is up. He will succeed in us even with many failures. In this moment, look to the glory of next year, or of five or ten years from now. Look at what might be possible if you continue to struggle against your sin with courage and faith. Look at who might be in your life, what you might be doing, what ministries or service you might be needed for because of the strength you have built through this struggle. This future glory - your fruit, your growth, your maturity - is being revealed in you. Don't despair, because your suffering now will lead to that glory of wisdom and grace in five, ten, twenty years.
1,000,000 degrees of glory: Sometimes we're just battle-weary. We haven't given in, we haven't given up, and because of it we're just tired. Nothing seems to matter. Every day starts to feel the same. The world is gray. That's when you need to look ahead all the way to the miraculous million degrees of glory that God will work in you when he raises your body of death to newness of life - and does the same with the whole world. Look to the green - it's there, in the future. Maybe nearer than we think. Daydream about it. Consider it. Feel it.
How would it feel to be done with the battle?
How would it feel to truly love and be loved without fear?
How would it feel to live apart from death - to experience life that doesn't hurt?
This is the glory to be revealed in you at the very end, when everything is made new. And just as surely as today came, so surely will that day in the future come. It's a real day on the calendar. Just because you don't know the date doesn't mean you can't put it on your mental calendar and start counting the days. Every day is a day closer to the glory of perfect life.
But you've got to get there in degrees - one today, one more tomorrow. Today there will be discouragements, temptations, weariness. Look ahead a degree and get through them. That one degree of resurrection is another degree closer to total restoration.
Claim it. Learn how to look into the sure future degrees of glory that God has put on the calendar for you and is working now, through love and through suffering, to accomplish in you. Visualize yourself in the future God has set for you: a future of freedom from sin, and from fear of punishment or judgment. When you feel the condemnation of past failure sucking you into sin, remind yourself that you only have to walk one degree, right now, towards the radiance of the glory that God has promised. Just walk towards the light, one step at a time.