Since there is already plenty of speculation about what it will be like when Jesus comes back, my imagination is wandering off in a different direction.
What would it be like if St. Paul returned?
I imagine him running into some eager Christian asking him, "Are you saved?"
Paul furrows his brow, in disbelief that someone would ask such an ignorant question.
"Sir, do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?"
Paul chuckles, with plenty of scars to prove it, and says, "Oh yes."
"So you are saved," the Christian continues.
"No, obviously not," Paul replies.
Now the Christian makes a face, perplexed, confused.
"No one is saved, pal" Paul explains, exploding a few more brain cells.
"Don't you see all the injustice and pain and idolatry and longing and anxiety and self-
centeredness and suffering in the world and everyone in it?
"No one here is saved.
"But I do have complete peace with God because I am justified thanks to Christ."
Whenever Paul wrote about salvation, it was always work in process, not mission accomplished.
It was never we are saved; it was always we are being saved.
Salvation is a condition in which all things are made right, within us and around us, and we ain't there yet.
In salvation, all relationships and body parts and systems and creation are healed and made well.
God is working on it, but we don't see the finished product yet, in the world or in the mirror.
We are being saved; we are justified.
Our relationship with God, right now, is fine.
There are no obstacles to overcome, no debts to pay off, no sins to apologize for—all that was removed by Christ before we even asked and long before we had any threadbare reason
to pretend we deserve any of it.
All we do is trust it is true—that trust, or faith, is how we relate to the God who gave so much in order to stay in relationship with us.
The peace, the grace, the justification are fully ours now; we can bank on God's love for us and our good standing with God because of Christ.
But we're not saved.
Read the headlines and look in your own heart: we're not there yet.
So Paul guides the Romans, who liked to boast about their own accomplishments on social
media and feel proud of what they have achieved and believe they deserve good things as
a reward for their virtue and hard work (maybe you've met people like this), to start
seeing life very differently.
Christ did it all, when we were still enemies of God, so grace has nothing whatsoever to do with our deserving even a sliver of credit.
So let's boast instead about our sufferings.
Let's post about our failures, insecurities, vulnerabilities, shortcomings, struggles, and the
secrets that cripple us with shame and grief and pain.
Let's trumpet to the world how weak and hurt we are.
It's a truer picture of who we are and also who God is.
And it sets the stage for the beauty and power of Christ's work in our own dog-eared story.
The fruit of suffering is patience, the most celebrated virtue in the early church.
The fruit patience produces is reputation, a verified character.
The fruit that produces, as anyone who has a trustworthy mechanic or dentist or plumber
will tell you, is hope that does not disappoint.