Our only hope in life and death

June 22, 2017

Recently, I’ve become interested in catechesis, the instructions that the church gives to people who are going to be baptized or confirmed. Our church’s confirmation class, for example, is one form of catechesis: “Here are the essentials of the Christian faith and our Wesleyan movement. Here’s what it means to be a Christian. Here’s what it means to be a Methodist Christian.”

A couple of centuries ago, churches often expected confirmands and converts to memorize catechisms, a series of questions-and-answers about the doctrines of the faith, along with scripture references. Some churches still use these. Earlier this year, I began studying one famous catechism, which John Wesley adapted for us Methodists, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The well-known first question and answer is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Drawing upon classic Protestant catechisms of the past—like the Westminster Shorter and Heidelberg Catechisms—Crossway, publisher of the ESV Bible, recently produced The New City Catechism. Pastor Tim Keller, one of my favorite contemporary preachers, helped to put it together.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the version that included devotionals—one historical and one contemporary—for each entry. John Wesley is one source for the historical devotionals. I’ve been reflecting on the first question and answer, which you can see in the photo above:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.[1]

The scripture reference is Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

I’ve written and preached before about my sinful tendency to compare myself to others. Even last Sunday, describing my experience the week before, I said the following:

I can hardly enjoy Annual Conference without looking over my shoulder at what my fellow clergy have—how prestigious their appointment is; how high their church’s steeple is; what awards and recognition they’ve received. And I compare myself to them, and I’m miserable because I worry that I’m falling behind.

Why do I do this? In part, it’s because I don’t believe that my only hope in life and death is that I belong to God and his Son Jesus. I place my hope in many other things: in career success, in other people’s opinions of me, in physical fitness, in my enjoyment of leisure time and hobbies. How do I know I do this? Because if something threatens any of these things, I fall apart. I’m filled with resentment.

Even last week in Athens, tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon (which is itself an “overuse” injury from trying to get in shape for an upcoming beach trip) prevented me from running in a 5K with my son Townshend. And I was so angry about it! Why? Because I derive some measure of my self-esteem from being able to compete (and beat) other people in 5K races. I place some measure of hope in this kind of success. And now—suddenly—my body tells me I can’t do that? Then what good am I? How will others know I’m valuable?

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous.

By contrast, suppose I believed—really believed—that my life was not my own; it belonged solely to the Lord. Suppose I believed that every moment of every day was his to do with as he pleases. Suppose my chief concern in life was pleasing the Lord and not myself?

“What a wonderful world this would be,” as the song says.

Are you like me? Are you placing your hope or hopes in something or someone other than Christ? Where are you placing them?

Here’s the prayer that accompanies the New City Catechism’s first devotional:

Christ Our Hope, in life and in death, we cast ourselves on your merciful, fatherly care. You love us because we are your own. We have no good apart from you, and we could ask for no greater gift than to belong to you. Amen.[2]

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 17.

2. Ibid., 19.

2 Responses to “Our only hope in life and death”

  1. Bob Says:

    So vulnerable, Brett.

    thank you.


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