Christ-centered hope grounds us and keeps us from drifting into the lie that our own efforts will result in a reward for success—or punishment for failure. Jesus has already borne our punishment and he gives us his very life. That’s not a gamble, but a sure thing.
I’m not sure I fully understand the appeal of slot machines. Drop a couple of quarters into the slot, pull the lever, and see what happens. Repeat. Do it again and again. If I were to gamble (which I’m not recommending), I would gravitate toward the games that at least have some skill involved, like blackjack or poker, rather than a game that relies completely on chance. And yet, there is a certain appeal, I guess, toward spending money with the hope that there might indeed be a big payoff or at least some return for our “investment.”
Too often we approach the Christian life, relationships, and ministry with similar expectations. We assume that if we put in enough time, effort, and faithful service—enough quarters in the slot—in the end it will turn out well for us. The payoff will come—and even in this life. But surely, we don’t think that way, do we? We who are heirs of the Reformation and its recovery of the doctrines of grace? Don’t be so sure. Consider, in your most honest moments, whether you’ve ever thought this way or had these expectations:
- If I raise my children in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” they will follow Christ and carry on a Christian legacy for another generation.
- If I live a chaste single life, pursuing God with all my heart, he will provide a spouse for me.
- If I follow Christ, surely I’ll be spared the worst tragedies (we expect suffering but not too much suffering).
- If I preach the gospel faithfully, people will come to Christ and the church will grow.
This is not likely to be our “confessional” theology but it may well be our latent, operating theology. Such a mindset reveals a subtle “health and wealth” pseudo-gospel whispering lies in our ear. Without realizing it, we can become captive to the lie.
Not convinced yet? How do we know this mindset is operative in our lives even if only in the subterranean places of our hearts? It shows up in at least two ways. First, by our response when the payoff doesn’t come. We are surprised by suffering. We are thrown when things don’t go as we anticipated and the hidden treasure of our heart is suddenly revealed (Matt 6:21).
- We descend into depression and self-pity when, despite our best efforts, we get Cs rather than As, ensuring we will not go to medical school.
- We say to our wayward child, “After all that we’ve done for you, this is how you repay us?!”
- We stop going to church because the so-called “abundant life” hasn’t materialized.
- We say, along with Saint Theresa of Avila, after she was thrown from her horse into the mud on her way to a convent, “If this is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few!”