Your new book is entitled Hope Reborn. Give us some insight into the title and what you’re trying to accomplish overall with the book.
As I argued in a recent article, hope is a uniquely Christian attribute. Paul makes this very clear throughout 1 Corinthians 15 where he underlines that we have a hope that goes beyond the grave, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Our first goal with this book is to introduce people to this hope. And for those who are already Christians, we pray that their own hope will be renewed, so they are inspired and equipped to share their faith with others.
Peter tells us “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
We believe that many Christians simply don’t understand the gospel clearly enough to explain it without any assumptions. We hope this book will lead many to share their faith with renewed enthusiasm and clarity, and that as a result, many will literally be reborn.
Right at the outset of the book, you guys take shots at mere religion.
You write, “Perhaps you have a desire to ‘become religious.’ While this is a noble desire, please don’t settle for it alone. Instead, we want to introduce you to the living Jesus so you can get to know Him for yourself. Mere religion is not enough.”
Religion isn’t always bad, right? What do you mean by “mere” religion?
When we refer to “mere” religion, we are talking about religion that is devoid of a true reliance on Jesus Christ. Mere religion bears no evidence of a relationship of trust and dependence on Jesus.
While Christianity is a “religion” in the sense that it is a set of beliefs and practices, on the other hand it is unlike all other religions because it calls us to a dependent relationship with God.. Where other religions urge us to work harder and get ourselves out of own own pit, Jesus climbed down into the pit with us and helped us get out.
Many people who attend church simply don’t understand this point. If you ask them, “What makes you a Christian?” or “Why do you think that God will allow you into heaven?” they answer vaguely something like “Well I try to be good.”
True Christianity depends not on our own imperfect attempts to follow religious rules, but on the fact that Jesus was completely righteous on our behalf, and we can be forgiven from all our sins and failings because of what he accomplished through his death and resurrection. As we said in the book,
Mere religion tells you, “You are a sinner.” But true Christianity tells you, “There is a Savior who will love you as you are, but will not leave you as you are.”
The first chapter of your book is devoted to helping people identify with either the Pharisee or the prostitute. Why is it helpful to identify with one of those types of people? How does that help receive the gospel?
When a person is willing to identify with one of these types of people, it leads to humility, which leads to repentance.
We find that in our society there is a lot of misunderstanding about sin. The very concept of sin is rejected almost completely. There are a few truly heinous sins that are still recognized as such, so for example, most people would call Adolf Hilter a sinner. But many in our society get very defensive if you say they have sinned. This is because you may as well have called them a Nazi in their minds. Imagine saying to someone “I think you are a Nazi, but that’s OK, Jesus can save you!” That explains the reaction that many people have to the gospel. They believe we are angry people who hate those who don’t reach up to our standards of behavior.
The way so many people think of themselves as “superior,” whether they are churchgoers or not, is actually very like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Such people like to think of themselves as very good at following a religion, whether it be “churchianity” or “secularism.”
The story of the Pharisee and prostitute breaks down our pride, and shows us that Jesus will accept a repentant person who recognizes that they are a sinner, but rejects anyone who thinks they are already righteous. The truth is, even a Pharisee is a sinner if they will only acknowledge it.
The first chapter aims to help lead all of us to a point of recognizing that we are sinners, but that Jesus will lovingly accept us if we just turn to him in faith and repentance.
Often, as you note in the book, “repent” and “believe” are two words that are said together almost all the time when it comes to sharing the gospel and hearing about what it means to be a Christian. Can you explain how the two words are different and why it matters that they are two different words rather than one-in-the-same?
The possible confusion about these two words seems to be greater in English than in Greek. We have a tendency to think of “believe” as representing mere intellectual assent to the truth of a fact, and think that it doesn’t necessarily affect our behavior.
We tend to think of “repent” as solely meaning a change in behavior, without any change of attitudes or heart. The reality is that the gospel demands a total turn around that requires a miraculous rebirth. The transformation encompasses a change in our beliefs, but a change in our beliefs is not enough on its own. Here is how we define repentance in Hope Reborn:
There are four components to what it means: a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of behavior, and a change of direction.
Repentance means changing what you think about Jesus, and apologizing for ignoring Him, belittling Him, excluding Him, and not trusting Him. It is a radical change in perspective.
Repentance involves your heart being miraculously renewed so that you now love and value Jesus above everything else and are satisfied in Him.
Repentance includes turning from your sins. However, Christianity is not primarily external behavior, but an internal conversion. The outer works flow from the inner work. Repentance means reorienting your life around Jesus, and asking Him to rescue you and to be in charge from now on. It means changing from a life that is all about you, to a life that is all about Jesus.
As you help lead new Christians through what they do once they believe in the gospel, you emphasize the importance of baptism. A lot of times, I think, baptism can be neglected or seen as “going through the motions.” Why is baptism such a big deal for the new Christian?
Key to repentance and faith is the determination to follow Jesus. Paul puts it this way in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Baptism is the best way to openly declare or “confess” that you are making Jesus your Lord and intend to follow and worship him. Family and friends get to see the reality of your faith.
Baptism is no optional extra. Jesus commanded us to be baptized, saying to his disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
It would be very strange to claim that you want to follow Jesus as your Lord, but then refuse to obey the first command He gives you after you have repented.
I’m thankful that toward the end of the book you devote an entire chapter to prayer—it’s such an important, yet often neglected part of our faith. What are some personal obstacles you have faced when it comes to prayer, and what are some of the most helpful solutions?
Prayer is a real challenge in our busy, distracted world. We do not tend to find it easy to unplug, switch our phones to airplane mode, and connect with God. It is always easy to think that there is something more pressing for us to do. This is, of course, not true. I find I often need reminding of the importance of prayer.
We also need to remind ourselves what prayer is and is not. Prayer is intended to be communicating with God. When we truly see it like that, it is a wonder that we do not desire to spend more time in a relationship with our Creator. Prayer is not supposed to be merely worrying out loud, but rather is primarily about worshiping God.
One very helpful technique is to use the Bible to inspire our prayers. For example, in the book we demonstrate how it is possible to use The Lord’s Prayer as a model. We also share a number of simple pointers, like to try and pray out loud wherever possible; although that can feel awkward, it helps us to see God as a real person to talk to. We explain that some people find prayer walks very helpful, and that for most people it can be very helpful to learn how to pray with other people. Most Christians do not feel their prayer lives are as good as they should be; our hope is that the chapter may have a few tips that will help all of us as we learn how to pray.