Most readers are probably familiar with the phrase, “Hang in there!” It all began with a poster of a Siamese cat hanging from a bamboo pole produced by Los Angeles photographer Victor Baldwin in 1971. The posters became wildly popular and the phrase became (and continues to be) a way to encourage people to persevere and not give up. If you can just hold on a little longer, everything will work out ok. You can do it!
While many of us have likely used the phrase, few of us have literally had to hang on for dear life. Not so for Florida man Chris Gursky who went hang gliding in Switzerland in November. At takeoff, both the man and the instructor realized that Gursky’s harness hadn’t been connected, and he went soaring with only his hands keeping him from plunging to his death. The Washington Post article quotes him as saying, “I just thought, ‘I’m just going to hang on as hard as I can for as long as I can.’”
While a cute kitty might make a good poster, and the story of the hang gliding man with the good grip might make for a good video to watch, many people sadly view life this way. We have to “hang in there” or “hang on for dear life.” To those who are struggling, the best the world has to offer is superhuman (or super cat!) efforts to provide encouragement. All this hanging seems to be such a perilous thing. Is it all up to us to hang on and hang in there? Even Christians can easily fall into the trap of focusing on self-effort or living as if they have no safety harness.
In preparing a recent women’s Bible study on Romans 5, I listened to quite a number of sermons on Reformed Voice by some of my favorite RP pastors. While this chapter speaks of sin, suffering, and death, it also speaks of grace, security, and eternal life. Something that particularly caught my attention was that at least three of the pastors made reference to Puritan Thomas Goodwin and how he explained with a word picture the representation and imputation spoken of in this wonderful chapter – of death through Adam and life through Christ. Goodwin imagines two giants standing before God – Adam and Christ, each representing a group of people. Each giant has a large belt around his waist with tiny hooks, and everyone who has ever lived is hanging on one of the two belts. On Adam’s belt are those who are still dead in their sins and trespasses. On Christ’s belt are those who have been justified through faith.
Ted Donnelly speaks of this word picture in his book Heaven and Hell. He says, “Can you visualize the picture which Goodwin draws for us? You and I, and all humanity are hanging either at Adam’s belt or at Christ’s belt. There is no third option, no other place for us. And God deals with us only through Adam or through Christ. If you are hanging at Adam’s belt, you share in the experience of sinful, fallen Adam, and your entire relationship with God is through him. But if you are hanging at Christ’s belt, all God’s dealings with you are through Christ. When you received Jesus as your Savior, you were involved in a massive and momentous transfer. The Almighty himself unhooked you from Adam’s belt and hooked you onto Christ’s. So you now have a different Head, a different Mediator, a new representative. You have passed from Adam into Christ, and whereas God formerly dealt with you only through Adam, he now deals with you only through his Son. You are in Christ unchangeably and for ever” (pp. 87-88).
Two giants – Adam and Christ. If you are in Christ today, Romans 5 gives you wonderful words of encouragement. You are justified and have peace with God, you are saved from God’s wrath, you have been reconciled, you have grace, and you have eternal life. Yes, this chapter also speaks of sufferings, and we know that we still struggle with sin in this life. But take heart, dear friend! Paul reminds us that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). In a sermon on Romans 5, Ted Donnelly said, “At times we might think, ‘I don’t love him enough; my faith isn’t strong enough; I don’t obey enough.’ He loved you when you were none of these things! The more convicted you are the more you qualify. That’s the wonderful truth of the Gospel. The very sin in us qualifies us.” It is not our work; it is his work on our behalf. We don’t represent ourselves; through Christ’s obedience we are made righteous and kept secure.
While reporting on the hang gliding incident, an ABC commentator said, “How does the instructor connect himself but doesn’t connect [his] passenger?” This is not us when we are in Christ. We do not hope that we remain connected to Christ by our own efforts, waiting to come in for a safe landing. We “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). Let us give thanks to the Lord, knowing that though we may stumble, we will never fall, because the Lord upholds us (Ps. 34:27). “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13).
What is our assurance? It is Christ, standing before the Father bearing us on his belt. He declares on our behalf, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
Now, that’s something you can hang onto today!