The Christian life is filled with all kinds of challenges and trials that easily raise questions about the goodness of God and what it means for us to continue on in faith, even in the face of hardship. In this episode of the CCL podcast, Chase Kuhn and Peter Orr discuss how good our God is and why we can entrust ourselves to him as we continue in the life of faith.
Links referred to:
- Our August 2023 event: Self-control in an era of self-actualisation with David Höhne
- Support the work of the Centre
- Contact the Centre about your ethical questions
Runtime: 27:03 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Chase Kuhn: The Christian life is filled with all kinds of challenges and trials that easily raise questions about the goodness of God and what it means for us to continue on in faith, even in the face of hardship.
Today on the podcast, we have a very special episode where I’m handing off my colleague, Peter Orr, as he’s going to be taking control of the podcast for the next few months in my absence. We’re talking about how good our God is and why we can entrust ourselves to him as we continue in the life of faith.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn and I’m coming to you from Sydney at Moore Theological College. I’m joined today by a good friend of mine—a guest who has been on many times before: Peter Orr. Peter, welcome.
Peter Orr: Thanks for having me, Chase! It’s great to be on the podcast.
CK: Yeah, it’s great. Today’s a bit of an interesting episode because we’re doing a tag team: I’m handing off to you because I’m about to go on study leave for six months and you, for better or for worse, I guess—I mean that for you, not for anyone else [Laughter]—for better, for worse, you’re taking on work from me!
PO: That’s right. This is my experience of being interviewed, but also learning how to interview from the master.
CK: Yeah, right!
Chase’s book on ethics
PO: Chase, you’re going on six months’ study leave.
CK: I am.
PO: What are you going to be working on?
CK: I’m working on a book on ethics that I’ve been working on for about four years. The main idea is that I want people to be persuaded that God’s ways are good. In fact, when we speak about ethics as Christians—when we talk about what’s good and what’s right in this world—we can say so with real confidence, because it’s God’s world, and so there really is an order to how we should live in this place.
PO: So is this a book for Christians to help them to live the Christian life? It sounds like it also has something of an apologetic edge that speaks to the non-Christian as well.
CK: Yeah. I’m calling the book God, the World and Goodness. That’s the provisional title, at least—unless the publisher changes it later, which they very well may [Laughter]. I originally was going to call it An Apology for Morality and I might call another book that later.
I don’t want to make it an apologetic book, per se. But when I talk to Christians these days, I find more and more people are less persuaded that what God says is good, right and true. Even if people believe that what we hold to as Christians is a good way to be, they’re not persuaded that that’s something that can be used out in the public space. It’s not something they can actually stand in confidence with. They almost like to keep things secret. They like to keep it to themselves—that they’re Christian and what they believe as Christians—because maybe they’re afraid that they can’t stand up against the pressures of the world. I want people to be persuaded that that’s not the case—that actually what’s good, right and true is so because God has made this world, and that stands no matter who you are or wherever you are. That’s a good thing.
PO: So rather than Christians living in a particular way simply because God tells us, and we might say, “Well, we’re not really sure why, but God said it, so we’ll do it”, you want to say, “Obviously that’s true. But there’s more to it than that: God says it and it’s a good thing to do.”
CK: Absolutely, yeah! I think people often hear things and they think, “Well, I know I should do that because that’s what I’ve heard I should do. But I’m not really sure why.”
PO: Or even (and I’ve sometimes heard it said), “I don’t really like this. But I have to do it, because the Bible says it.” That’s not a great place to be as a Christian. Are there particular examples that you deal with in the book? Or are you more giving us a framework for how to think?
CK: Yeah, at this point, it’s mostly a framework. The subtitle will probably be something like “A theological framework for ethics”. By the way, that’s an academic book: I’m not writing this for popular consumption at this point. It’s mostly for my students and for others in seminaries and other theological colleges.
I hope later on to write something for people look at this in a more accessible way. But at the moment, I’m not necessarily dealing with a lot of issues and giving a lot of concrete examples. I’m trying to show people that when we believe something, say, about humanity, that what God tells us about humanity now plays into a whole lot of other decisions that we’ll make later on down the track. So when we’re thinking about, say, the beginning of life and why life is dear at the beginning of life, or at the end of life, when we’re thinking about what it means to die well, any of those kinds of ethical dilemmas that come up later on as we’re thinking about it, in one sense, we’ve got a theological reasoning for why we believe what we believe about those things, and we’re seeing that cast as a really good vision—that this is something that has purpose and real meaning, because God has designed it that way. So again, it just reinforces a better way of thinking. I guess that’s what I’m really concerned for—that people think better on the issues, and not just be told what to think, but how to think.
An ethical foundation for life
PO: So when we’re faced with a particular issue in the public square, we don’t just simply have the kind of Christian position on it. What you’re trying to help us to see is that there’s a whole framework behind the way that we think—which, in some ways, means that we can deal with any issue as it comes up, because we’ve got this ethical foundation.
CK: Totally! One of the recent guests we’ve had on has been Professor David VanDrunen. A lot of his work has been pretty formative for me. Dave has a really interesting way of looking at how we think about things as Christians in our lives—particularly within the church—but also how we think about things more common—that is, humanity as a whole in society, and whether or not that includes government, or other things.
So even today, Mark Earngey, a colleague of ours, popped into my office, as he does from time to time, with a first edition book from the 16th century. In it, he’s reading to me how the Lord has given two swords: he’s given a sword to the monarch or the government—whatever you want to think about in the public square—to exercise justice in society. In other words, we have laws that frame up how we engage in the world as a whole, whether we’re Christian or not.
Obviously back then, they were thinking about the whole nation being Christian. But no matter what, the secular government, if you will—the national government or whatever it may be—has a certain kind of power that God has ordained. Yet then there’s the other sword, which is the sword of the Lord—the sword of the word, the sword of the Spirit—and the minister’s will—that sword. That is, they command certain kinds of things for Christians to understand and come under within that frame.
So you could think about almost two different domains: a public existence in society and then an existence as Christians within the church. You could think about how the Lord has ordained different ways of those spheres being governed, even though the Lord is the sovereign over all.
That’s pretty technical, I know. But I think it actually helps Christians to see that our participation in different spaces may make reference to different sources of authority. Even though they’re all God-given gifts, we’re actually appealing to different kinds of authority in different domains. That helps us to make sense of our existence together, even in a multicultural, increasingly pluralistic world and especially in public society.
PO: I’ve been thinking about how, as the Western world, we’re becoming increasingly post-Christian. That’s not to say that we were Christian before that, but we’re rejecting our Christian heritage. So this sort of thinking presumably, then, is more important in that context as we move into that more complex and multicultural world—that we’re clear on how we think as Christians.
CK: Yeah, absolutely! There’s a lot live discussions about this. In Australia, for example, parliament still says the Lord’s Prayer. One of the interesting things that’s been a point of contention is whether or not we ought to hold to that as an institution in society. I’ll probably upset people by saying this, but in one sense, that’s trying to maintain a particular vision of what a public sphere should be—as something Christian, which, I would say, is maybe not the appropriate place to put a prayer like that, because our society is not Christian. It’s actually very multicultural, it’s multi-ethnic, it’s even got a lot of religious pluralism. So how do we cohere in that space? I actually think religious freedom is a really good thing, because religion is not something that should or could be coerced. In one sense, then, we’re thinking about cohabitation in a society with different kinds of people in a way that gives recognition to an existence that God has allowed—a free existence.
That’s not to say that choosing against God is good, but that human beings are free to choose against God—as we all have done, but for grace, of course. The Lord has kindly redeemed some of us, and yet life goes on in his good provision for the world, even in rebellion against him. As we think about public space there, in one sense, preserving that freedom is preserving an opportunity for us to continue to speak the gospel into a space where the gospel can really be heard, received and believed. That’s just a—I don’t know if it’s simple, but it’s an example of exactly why this is increasingly important in a day like today in a post-Christian world.
Chase’s vision for his book
PO: Five years after your book is published, what impact would you like to see?
CK: [Laughter] Well, the aim is to help people think better about ethics—to have a real theological vision. When I say “theological vision”, I mean that in terms of thinking about theology, but I mean thinking about God in particular. I want us to see how God has given us this whole existence. It’s been framed by him. Furthermore, because it’s been framed by him, it’s good. So there is actual goodness that we can see, reference and have confidence in. I want us to see that there is a real order to this world and to have a real confidence that that’s true.
This leads to us continuing to walk in faith: I want people to have a better theological vision to cling to so that as they journey through this life in faith, there’s really good reason to keep holding onto that faith, and believing and walking by faith, even unto the end. That’s my real goal.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I’d like to tell you about some resources for your Christian life. First, I’ve mentioned a few times a new initiative that we’re taking with the CCL podcast where we’re hoping to interact with more listeners like you. Many of you have burning ethical questions or scenarios that you’d like advice about. We’d love to hear from you. Please send us your issues and listen out for an answer in our upcoming episodes, where we’ll begin to feature a short segment on your ethical challenges. I’m really, really grateful for those of you who have sent in some excellent issues already. We’ll be addressing those issues very soon. If you want to hear about an issue, please get in touch through our contact page on our website.
Second, our next event in our series on “A virtuous life” is coming up on 30 August. In an age when authenticity, personal potential and the fulfilment of that potential is so highly valued, the virtue of self-control seems counterintuitive. In contrast to the world, the Bible tells us that the good life is not located in unbounded self-expression, but in purposeful self-restraint.
Why is self-control so necessary to the Christian life? What does the Bible say about it, and how can we cultivate it within ourselves? Furthermore, does the deliberate curbing of our desire really play a key role in our self-actualisation? Come and hear Moore College lecturer David Höhne speak on the virtue of self-control. All the details and how to register are available on our website, and as always, the event is free of charge.
Now let’s get back to our program.
The life of faith
CK: Pete, I want to turn the tables on you, because I’m still technically co-host with you. You’ve been hosting me; that’s very kind of you. You’ve been doing a lot of work right now on Luke’s Gospel and you’re writing a commentary on it, which I’m so excited about. Tell me: a lot of the things that you’ve been thinking about—not just in Luke’s Gospel but in other projects and things you’re speaking on—are the life of faith. What have you been thinking about in faith?
PO: Yeah, I’ve been working on Luke’s Gospel. I’ve also been working on another project on faith—although it’s interesting that Luke’s Gospel has a lot to say about faith—perhaps more than any of the Gospels. John speaks a lot about believing, using the verb “to believe”. In Luke, Jesus speaks a lot about faith. It’s not surprising, because we know that the Christian life is a life of faith. But it’s one of those things we can easily think simplistically and not very reflectively about. I’m just trying to step back a little bit and think about questions like, “What does it mean to keep believing in Jesus?” and “What exactly is faith?”
CK: Very good.
The importance of ongoing faith
CK: What have you discovered? Is there anything particular you’d like to share?
PO: The importance of ongoing faith. Colossians 1 is striking: there’s this wonderful description of what Christ has done for us. Paul says we were alienated, we were hostile in mind, but now, God wonderfully has reconciled us through Jesus’ death in order to present us holy and blameless, and above reproach. These are wonderful, familiar ideas. But then Paul adds, “if indeed you continue in the faith” (Col 1:23). That conditionality is interesting.
But it’s not a conditionality in what we do; it’s a conditionality in continuing in faith. That’s the stress throughout the New Testament: yes, we believe in Jesus, but we need to keep believing in him. It’s because faith is what unites us to Christ. To be a believer but not believing is an oxymoron. That’s an impossibility. The New Testament stresses the need to keep trusting in Christ and keep believing him.
CK: Yeah, it’s interesting. That’s one of the rich calls of our lives, but one that I know really unsettles some people. I don’t know what your experience has been, talking to people about the life of faith, but as people hear ,“Look, you have to keep going in the faith”, they often think, “What if I don’t? What if I don’t? How do I do this? What does it mean?” How do you help people through that kind of anxiety-ridden experience?
PO: Well, I think there’s a couple of things. The life of faith is simply a life of looking to Jesus. That’s how we’re saved in the first place. We are put in a right relationship by God through trusting in Christ, and so we benefit from his death and resurrection. The way into the Christian life is the same as the way on in the Christian life: it’s just a life of dependence on Christ. That shouldn’t cause any kind of anxiety any more than the initial trusting in Christ caused anxiety. Faith is the gift of God, but it is also something that we exercise: we exercise faith. But it is, by its very nature, a dependence on God. So it’s an ongoing dependence on God—dependence on Christ—for our salvation.
It is interesting, though, that the New Testament does warn us to keep doing it. This means there should be an appropriate level of “I don’t want to just take it for granted that I raised my hand in a meeting and that’s me”. No, it’s an ongoing, daily trusting in Christ for our salvation.
CK: I love how you said that. There’s something reassuring to me about that. As I start thinking about it, I think what makes people so upset is that they feel, “Ohh, do I then have to do something to be showing that I’m in the faith? Do I have to keep doing, doing, doing more and more and more and more?” But as you’ve framed it, it’s the most healthy, wonderful, rich vision. Trust Jesus. Keep trusting Jesus. Don’t stop trusting Jesus. From now until you die, the only hope you have is Jesus.
So just as you started, you started in faith. How are you going to keep going? You’re going to keep trusting. How are you going to finish? You’re going to trust Jesus for everything. The moment we depart is the moment, almost, that we look to ourselves.
CK: Which is exactly what you don’t want to do! That’s the thing that would make you feel most insecure. So then, in one sense, the security is sticking with Jesus. Trust him.
PO: That’s right! So if I was to paraphrase a little bit, John Calvin said that Christ is the mirror of our election.1 There’s this sense in which, as long as we’re looking to Christ, we know that we’re saved. As soon as we stop looking to Christ, well then, of course, we’re not saved.
So yes: the New Testament does give us an exhortation to continue in faith. But that’s not a stress on us having to do or produce. It is, in the words of Jesus in John’s Gospel, “abiding” in him. It’s remaining in him—continuing in him.
CK: That’s beautiful. Can I just say, Pete, I’m a theologian. Any time I hear a biblical scholar quote John Calvin, my heart gets a little warm. [Laughter] So thank you for that, man!
CK: [Laughter] I appreciate that.
How to keep going in the life of faith
CK: As you’re discovering this life of faith and keeping going in the faith, how do you encourage people in that practically? Are there things that you’re working on in terms of what faith is and how it gets worked out? Philippians, for example, encourages us to work out our faith “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). How do you encourage people in that life of faith?
PO: Yeah. I think Scripture’s full of it. I think popular culture talks a lot about faith and almost turns it into an end in itself: you know, “You just have to believe and your dreams will come true”. It puts the stress on almost the psychological impulse in us, whereas the New Testament puts the emphasis much more on the object of our faith—who we’re putting our faith in.
There are lots of places we could go to in the New Testament. I find Romans 4 really interesting: Paul’s reflecting on the life of Abraham, and there are some really nice, interesting expressions there. In Romans 4:18, he says, “In hope [Abraham] believed against hope”. That’s just a really nice paradox: “against hope”, because he looked at his own body, which was as good as dead, since he was about a hundred years old. He looks at his wife Sarah, who, at that time, was unable to have a child. So it’s against hope: there’s just no hope there. And yet, “in hope”, he believed.
Why did he believe? Well, Paul almost gives us a definition of faith a few verses later when he says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:21). I think that is a great definition of faith: it’s being fully convinced that God is able to do what he had promised. There’s content to our faith: God has given us promises and we are convinced that God is able to do what he had promised.
So faith is being convinced in the action of another. It’s not being convinced in myself—in my ability to believe and make my dreams come true. No, it’s being convinced in God, and not just God in the abstract; it’s the God who has made promises.
Now for Abraham, those were very specific promises about him having a family who would then bless the world through his offspring. For us, think of the promises that we have: if we believe in the Son, we’ve passed from death to life (John 5:24). In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom 8:1). These are wonderful promises that we have, and like Abraham, we can be fully convinced that God is able to fulfill those promises.
CK: That’s really beautiful. That’s a theological vision. Again, that’s a vision set and anchored in God—that God is able. This is the kind of God that we trust in. He is good. He is faithful. He is true. Continuing to frame up our faith by a bigger and bigger vision of our God who’s made promises is wonderfully reassuring.
Faith and trials
CK: As we think about this in the Christian life, so much of the call to faith is directing us to the promises. You think about the kinds of trials we’ll face: something like what Peter opens up for us in the beginning of 1 Peter 1. The ways our faith is refined, if you will, is through those trials. I think people are often tempted to become derailed as difficulties come. Or on the positive said, some people want to claim the life of faith, but the temptation for them seems to be making faith turn into sight prematurely. They expect a certain kind of experience that might be a taste of the supernatural, a taste of something really ecstatic, or whatever it may be—which, almost as much as it claims a life of faith, is somehow in opposition to what faith really is [Laughter]. The life of faith is continuing without seeing. How can we balance these things out? Do you have any advice about how trials push us deeper in faith to make it richer and how actually sometimes seeing things actualised now is a departure from faith?
PO: Yeah. Again, you’ve hit on some really important themes in the New Testament: the place of trials—and this is something the apostles come back to again and again, because the Christian life is a life of trial. Think of Romans and the wonderful picture Paul gives us in Romans of the Christian life—particularly those central chapters in Romans 5-8. They begin with the idea that we’ve been justified by faith and that we boast in the hope of the glory of God. But we also boast or rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that our suffering produces good things in us—endurance and hope—and that hope doesn’t disappoint us, because we know God’s love (Rom 5:3-5). What Paul holds out to us is the reality of the experience, which will be one of trials. Yet even in the midst of that, as you say, we walk by faith and hope, because we know that God loves us.
Those are things that he talks about at the beginning of Romans 5. At the end of the section in Romans 8, he returns to that and reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. But as you say, that’s something we have to hold onto by faith, because often as we live in this world, it’s a world, as Paul says, of “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” (Rom 8:35). Those are the things that we face in this world. Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. But that is something we have to hold onto with faith.
However, our faith is not something that we simply produce in ourselves: God has given us the Spirit, and the Spirit is the one who softens our hearts, enable us to grasp the word and hold onto it. God has given us his word; he’s also given us his Spirit to believe that word.
CK: That’s great. And again, it begins and it ends with God. It’s with God’s work in us. It’s that gracious, loving intervention in our lives to bring us from death to life and to keep us all the way through. That’s a beautiful picture of a wonderful God.
The life of faith now
CK: How do you then keep people on the other side of expecting that kind of ecstatic experience now? Some people think that what faith looks like is almost the materialising of something soon—whether it be miraculous healing or that turn of good fortune. How do you help somebody see that that may not be faith actualised—that faith actualised might be keeping hold of something, even in the absence of something else?
PO: Yeah. I’d say two things. First of all, it’s human nature: none of us walks naturally towards suffering or trial. We want to walk towards things being easier; that’s what what we want. In one sense, it’s understandable. But again, we’ve got to see the picture of the Christian life that the Bible gives us from beginning to end, and the experience of God’s people. Yes, there are highs. But by and large, it’s much more a life of challenge in this life. It’s carrying our cross. It’s being dead to the world: as Paul says, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). Very simply, that’s following in the footsteps of our master, who endured suffering, endured the cross, and then experienced the glory later. So those feelings we have—those desires—will be met in the new creation. It’s recognising them, but understanding that, according to Scripture, we have no claim on them in this life.
CK: Thanks Pete! Just as we conclude, I guess that’s the right place to end: we look at Jesus. When we look at Jesus, we know how good God is. When we look at Jesus, we know what a life looks like lived in faith. And when we look at Jesus, we know why we have good reason for our faith to keep going, because our life is secure in him. That’s wonderful.
PO: Absolutely! That’s right.
CK: Well, Pete, I’m really excited to hear upcoming episodes when you’ll be taking control of the CCL podcast for six months or so. I’m really looking forward to some of the guests that I know you’ve lined up. I’ll be listening in from my own study leave and will look forward to catching up with you later. Thanks so much!
PO: Thanks Chase!
CK: To benefit from more resources from the Centre for Christian Living, please visit ccl.moore.edu.au, where you’ll find a host of resources, including past podcast episodes, videos from our live events and articles published through the Centre. We’d love for you to subscribe to our podcast and for you to leave us a review so more people can discover our resources.
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As always, I would like to thank Moore College for its support of the Centre for Christian Living, and to thank to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for her work in editing and transcribing the episodes. The music for our podcast was generously provided by James West.
Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 In the recording, Peter said “salvation”, but the translations say “election”. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed John T McNeill, trans Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols, LCC 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), III.xxiv.5; trans of Institutio Christianae religionis, in libris quatuor nunc primum digesta, certisque distincta capitibus, ad aptissimam methodum: aucta etiam tam magna accessione ut propemodum opus novum haberi possit (Geneva: Robert Estienne, 1559).