The following is adapted from my book, Gospel Regeneration, available on Amazon and other online retailers.
For most people, the “good life” is always on the horizon. Even as the realization of our dreams unfold before our eyes, our taste for “more and better” breeds new dreams that will one day disappear in our rear view, just as the last ones did. This is the nature of human discontent.
But why is discontent a reality? Is the whole problem of discontent only an issue within the “heart of stone” that abides in the unregenerate? Or is the perpetual longing for glory in our hearts evidence that there truly is glory to be had one day? C.S. Lewis says that when we experience God’s glory fully, “the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” In that sense, does discontentment continue until a Christian fully and finally sees God face to face?
New life in Christ provides new lenses through which we see all of life. So discontent is a heightened and redeemed reality within the regenerate life. But I don’t mean the kind of discontent that we might experience in the longing for temporal comforts. I mean the kind that longs to see the current age of sin and decay ended and the new age of eternal life, renewed in Christ, ushered in. This is a holy discontent that has an eye toward the horizon, longing for the return of the King.
This kind of discontent is bred in the hope of the second advent of Jesus. We long for a time in which all creation will be restored and sin and death will finally be defeated. It is the kind of hope that sees beyond the shadow of suffering and loss and into the eternal light produced by God’s glory (Revelation 21:23). It is the kind of hope that is founded in the confidence of the redemptive work of God.
But this kind of hopeful discontent is not always experienced in the life of a Christian. All kinds of things can stifle it. Perhaps the darkness in your life has become so black that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Perhaps your relative comfort and stability in life cause you to cling to your current circumstances too tightly. Perhaps fear of the unknown consumes you.
In this, we have help from a hobbit, or at least from his creator. Toward the end of the epic Lord of the Rings saga, Sam Gamgee has good reason to be hopeless. He has just rescued Frodo Baggins from captivity by the Orcs, and his reward for this is having to help navigate through the black land of Mordor in an impossible attempt to destroy the ring of power. All is black, as if night were endless. After such a long journey, Frodo and Sam can hardly recall the homeland they were fighting to save. So much has happened to them.
In the midst of a sleepless night, something curios happens to Sam Gamgee:
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
Sam knew that there was something far greater on the horizon. He knew that the light which was to come would far outshine the darkness of his current circumstance. Rather than succumbing to his fear, Sam was bolstered by the hope of a greater future. He was strengthened by the notion of a kind of victorious “better.” His resolve was to outlive the night in order to behold the day. This is holy discontent.
And this is the kind of hope that should mark the life of a regenerate believer. Peter communicates this truth perfectly.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
What a beautiful passage describing the regenerative hope that God grants to His chosen. We are born again to a kind of hope that is alive! How glorious! The new hope which is granted by God in Christ is filled with, well…life. Living hope.
That hope is made possible through the resurrection of Christ. Because He was made alive, our hope is kept alive. And the full realization of that hope will not be revealed to us until “the last time.” This means that, even in the midst of trials, we hold on to the hope, the belief, the reality, that there is a coming light that far outshines the darkness.
And what’s more, the endurance of such trials actually produces a genuine stamp on our regenerate life. In other words, you can take literally everything from a regenerate person, except this: the expectant hope of the future. You can torture him, rob him, ridicule him, and even kill him. None of this will remove his hope in the outcome of his faith, the salvation of his soul! Why is this true? Because of the whole scope of new life in Christ! If God is the one who does it, God is the one who will complete it (Phil 1:6). No man can take away a hope that was implanted at regeneration by God. It is a living hope. It will not be killed. It will, by the power of God, be fulfilled upon the return of Jesus Christ.
I think Tolkien may have taken his cues from the Apostle Paul when he wrote of Sam Gamgee’s resolve. Paul, a man who suffered deeply, once wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). He was peering out over the darkness in search of the bright light of God’s glory which would be fully revealed to him at some point in the future. He looked around and saw that even if there was beauty to be had, it was only a shadow. He saw the futility of sin and death manifested throughout all of creation, and he longed for the day all would be set right. So it was in this kind of hope that Paul found the confidence to endure beatings, shipwrecks, prison stays, the loss of his idols, and much more.
Paul lived his life in such a way that the hope of the future sustained him in the midst of present discomfort. He called his intense suffering “light and momentary” compared to the weight of future glory. He eagerly anticipated the moment when his body would no longer be subject to sin and decay. He was driven by his deepest desire, to be with Christ—to finally be made whole in him. That is a living hope.
If God is the active agent in taking cold, dead hearts and replacing them with beating, fleshly, feeling hearts which are stirred to live new life for Him, then His promise to make all things new should carry the weight of assurance that He is totally capable of doing this, and He will not be made a liar.
Thus, hoping in this promise is an assured reality for regenerate believers:
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. (Revelation 21:5-6)
We just came out of a season called Advent. Advent reminds us that the king has come. And it reminds us that he is coming again. Church, be ready.
Soli Deo Gloria
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (HarperCollins e-books, 2009), 40.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (HarperCollins e-books, 2012), 922.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
 See Romans 8:23
 See Philippians 1:21-23