Don’t Forget the Hope

The church we attended when my sons were teens wanted to emphasize the need for modesty among the young women. Speakers shared that women displaying too much flesh or too-tight clothes could cause men to lust. Men are aroused visually, we were told, and therefore women and girls should take care how they present themselves visually.

I didn’t realize until years later that this information created a problem for one of my sons. If he was aroused visually, how was he supposed to respond when immodesty came into view through no fault of his own? It’s not that he had an extraordinary problem with lust, but he felt bombarded by what he saw constantly on billboards, in stores and public venues, and yes, even at church. He felt like he was at the mercy of temptation in a world that didn’t value modesty. The battle seemed impossible to win.

He spent his college summers volunteering at a Christian camp. One year the camp had a new director who had previously been an evangelist. At one meeting with the counselors and staff, the director happened to share about a time when his plane landed in a tropical country. Women surrounded the disembarking passengers and placed leis around their necks. To this man’s astonishment, the women were topless.

One of his listeners asked, “What did you do?”

The evangelist replied, “I looked in their eyes.”

That one statement was a watershed moment for my son. When faced with temptation, there was a way out—just as the Bible said. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Evidently previous youth leaders and pastors were so intensely concerned about modesty that they forgot to present the other side of the issue: that God can give men victory even when women are immodest.

It’s true that women should be modest. The Bible tells us so. The problem comes in defining exactly what that looks like. But women shouldn’t have the attitude, “I should be able to wear whatever I want, and men shouldn’t look.” If we had a friend we knew was trying to lose weight, we wouldn’t serve her doughnuts, would we? Or if a friend had credit card debt and spent money too easily, we probably shouldn’t invite them to a mall shopping spree. Yes, people are responsible for their own sin, but we don’t have to make it harder for them.

And there is a higher principle for women’s dress than not tempting others. We are daughters of the king. We should honor Him in how we dress. I’ve often thought that if our young people were encouraged more in their inner walk with the Lord, getting to know Him better in His Word, the outer standards would take care of themselves.

But this post isn’t primarily about modesty. It’s about remembering to share hope with our children, students, readers, those whom we’re discipling. Sometimes we’re so passionate about whatever we’re warning against that we forget to offer the hope that God extends to His people.

I attended church only sporadically until I was about sixteen. Then God led me to a Christian school and a good church where we were encouraged to read through the whole Bible.

I was not taught a works-based salvation or a performance-based Christian life or the eradication of our sin nature. But somehow I didn’t understand sanctification, though I’d heard the term. I was grieved to the core when I sinned. I knew I could confess my sin to God (1 John 1:9) and be forgiven. But then I’d sin again, either the same way or in a different way. I despaired of ever living a Christian life without “messing up.” I was almost afraid to step out and serve in some ways, because I knew I’d fail.

Maybe it just took a while before everything I was learning about the Christian life coalesced. But one year in college, a guest speaker preached a sermon on grace. Of course, I knew about grace: we were saved by grace and lived by grace. I don’t remember the details of the message, but I remember being so relieved. God knew I would “mess up.” He expected growth, but He knew I would continue to fall short until I reached heaven. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Sometimes the very weight of God’s requirements is what drives us to His grace. We realize we can never live the Christian life on our own, and we need His help. Some years later, I was praying for forgiveness for something, and told the Lord I didn’t deserve His forgiveness and was asking for His grace. Then the light dawned—my Christian life was dependent on His grace all along.

Another pastor taught the truth that we’ll always have a sin nature because what the Bible calls the flesh or the “old man” is still with us and will be until we get to heaven. I remember feeling deflated. You mean I am going to have to battle this all my life? This was a godly, balanced preacher, so I am sure he went on to share how to have victory. But I think I missed it because I was stuck on this point.

Then some time later, I came across 2 Peter 1:3-4:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

All things that pertain to life and godliness. All things! It was then that I realized I could truly live for the Lord. Not a sinless life. But a victorious one.

I wish I had taught these things more to my children. I was still learning them myself. The big emphasis in Christian parenting books when I was a young mom was on teaching obedience. And that’s good and necessary. If children don’t learn obedience to their parents, they’ll never learn to obey God and other authorities. If they never learn to rein themselves in, they’ll be a slave to their own desires and will. But I wish I had talked more about God’s grace not only for forgiveness, but enabling. I know we taught them to ask God for forgiveness. I’m pretty sure we encouraged them to ask Jesus to help them. But I wish I had shared grace more.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Choices will continually be necessary and — let us not forget — possible. Obedience to God is always possible. It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them” (from The Glad Surrender). Obedience is not always easy. But it’s possible, through His power and grace, by way of His Word and His Spirit.

The Bible is permeated with hope. Some of the sternest warnings of the OT prophets were accompanied by some of the tenderest expressions of God’s love and longsuffering and readiness to forgive. The New Testament is filled with encouragement to look to and depend on God’s promises to equip and supply us with everything we need to live for Him.

One of my college professors was known for encouraging a “positive faith attitude.” Not just a baseless positive thinking or a Pollyanna-ish optimism, but a positive trust in God’s presence, Word, grace, strength, and provision.

There’s every indication that life might get harder for Christians. The world is ebbing ever further away from a Judaeo-Christian ethic. Our flesh isn’t getting any weaker, and the enemy of our souls is ever persistent. But God is greater than them all.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

20 thoughts on “Don’t Forget the Hope

  1. God is so smart to give us Hope or we would fail miserably. I like your positive post about how even when we sin their is Hope through Christ that we can get back up, face another day, and do better. God is there to help with the standing.

    • Yes, without that hope, we’d be miserable indeed. And God is so gracious not to convict us of everything at once. As we grow in Christ, we become aware of more attitudes and actions that are sinful (I find the older I get, I’m more convicted about inner attitudes than I was 20-40 years ago).

  2. Barbara, 1 Corinthians 10:13 was my dad’s favorite verse because, as he would say, it’s so useful. I love the way you’ve illustrated its usefulness here … and I’m glad your son was helped by the “way out” the evangelist shared. It’s so comforting to remember that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to bear … that He will always provide a way of escape. I had never thought of this as a way He shows us grace, but it makes perfect sense!

    • My biggest problems are with issues where there’s not a definite dividing line. Chocolate cake isn’t sinful–but too much is. But when I want more, I keep finding excuse why it’s really ok to have it “just this once”–then afterwards I realize I shouldn’t have. I need to seek the way to escape rather than excuses to indulge.

    • One of my fears about having children was making mistakes in parenting. I finally realized it’s just inevitable since all parents are sinful. Plus we’re still learning and growing ourselves while we try to teach and live rightly before them. But that’s true of teachers, pastors, coaches, etc. While we seek God’s help to do the best we can as parents, we have to trust that God will lead them to better understanding than we had. And sometimes we have to apologize and correct something we told them earlier.

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  4. Barbara, Romans 15:13 has come before me several times over the last week. May we stay close to the Lord and in God’s Word so that we stay filled with hope. As I look at the graphic it becomes so clear, it is the only way we will splash hope onto those around us.

  5. It is difficult to keep the proper perspective in this. We are thankful for God’s grace which is extended to us, not based on our merit. Yet we do have the responsibility to grow in God’s grace as the rest of the 2 Peter passage reminds us 2 Peter 1:5ff – that we are to “make every effort” in this regard

    2Pe 1:5-13  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,  (6)  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness,  (7)  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (8)  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (9)  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  (10)  Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.  (11)  For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  (12)  Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.  (13)  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder….

    Thanks for the great illustration and reminder from your son’s experience about addressing the modesty issue and the response from young (and older) men.

    • Yes, as with so many things in Scripture, we need to seek the right balance. I think in my early Christian life, I focused more on my efforts rather than God’s enabling, which led to such weariness and despair. But God expects us to be in His Word and to obey what we find there, while seeking His grace and enabling to do so.

  6. Thank you so much for such an encouraging post! I am not a big fan of the “negatives” of faith, like obedience and modesty, exactly because, without hope and grace, what’s the point? If we’re all going to mess up anyway, what’s the point of trying to live a Godly life? The answer is grace and you make this so very clear.

  7. Isn’t God so good to give us everything we need for godliness, because without his grace and enabling power, we could never meet the high standards of holiness. That truly is my only hope.

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  9. You point out where our focus needs to be. Not on what we shouldn’t do, but on who enables us to be victorious in what we ought to do. You make some great points and share some personal lessons. Great reminders. Thank you for this piece!

  10. This is such a rich post! As the mom of littles, I was soaking in every word! Thank you for these reminders, sweet friend! This is just what I needed to read today!

  11. Such an encouragement to teach the full message, “They forgot to present the other side of the issue: that God can give men victory even when women are immodest. Sometimes we’re so passionate about whatever we’re warning against that we forget to offer the hope that God extends to His people.”

    So true, “Yes, people are responsible for their own sin, but we don’t have to make it harder for them.”

  12. The whole idea of having “a positive faith attitude” that’s actually based on Scripture has captured my imagination tonight. Thank you for sharing these encouraging thoughts!

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