Hope

Hope has been redefined. It has been morphed and melted down from something strong and dependable to something vague and unsubstantial; something that speaks of doubt rather than faith. “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow;” “I hope I pass this exam;” “I hope he’s not mad at me;” or even, “I hope I get away with this.” This sort of “hope” is a mere caricature of true hope, a watered-down, anxiety and guilt-ridden shadow of the real thing. It is not how the Bible presents hope. In the world today hope is the vague glimmer of positivity for the glass-half-empty person, whereas for the biblical writers it was a concrete expression of anticipation for the glass-half-full, whose complete and overflowing fullness is ultimately assured.

Consider how the Bible speaks of hope:
“Hope does not put us to shame” (Rom 5:5)
The hope of salvation is a helmet, part of the full armour of God (1 Thess 5:8; Eph 6:17)
“Full assurance of hope” (Heb 3;11)
“a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19)
“a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3)

What is this hope, which is certain, living and secure? It is the hope of salvation. It is not some elusive wish, a pie-in-the-sky tenuous desire that may or may not come to fruition. It certainly does not rely on us being “good enough” or worthy. Quite the contrary, hope is the acknowledgement that what we are assured of is still future and is something that we look towards with absolute confidence. It is there ahead of us in time, in the hands of a timeless God, ready and waiting for us. That which we anticipate, which we long for, the focus of our hope, is eternal life in perfection with Christ in his consummated Kingdom.

The reason we hope for it is not because it is uncertain, but simply because it has not been fully manifested yet. We have eternal life now, with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. In Christ we are now justified and are already citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Greek basileia), under the reign (basileia) of God in our lives. This hope, this guarantee is an anchor of our soul because we know that the God who promises our salvation cannot lie and is fully able and willing to bring it to completion. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Eph 1:17–19). To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:8–9). Paul greeted Titus, “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2).

Notice that the apostles don’t express any doubt about the object of our hope. Their words of encouragement are not directed at God, pleading with him to follow through (“I hope God meant what he said”). Absolutely not! Their words of encouragement are directed at us, those who have every reason to hope in the sure and certain promises of God. We are not to waver, we are not to lose faith. We are to persevere, knowing that the strength to do so lies not with us, but with the God who cannot lie. Hope is not an expression of false modesty as to our worthiness; hope is something to be grasped with absolute confidence because it is anchored to a rock. That rock lies within the veil, in the very presence of Almighty God, whose throne Jesus shares. He has gone before us and laid that anchor, which cannot be moved, no matter what turbulence and storms we face in the seas of our lives.

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (Heb 6:17–20).

How can anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ, believing the promises of God, doubt their salvation? Doubt only arises when we forget that the basis of salvation is the work of God; Father, Son and Spirit, not our own work. That is why it is not a case of making ourselves “worthy,” for that is impossible. These exhortations about our hope are not there to make us worry whether we are good enough, as if we could save ourselves. If that were the case, then there would be no hope. Consider the encouragement in these words of hope; for the purpose of these exhortations is to build up our faith in Jesus Christ, the captain of our salvation, and to give us courage (“en-courage”) for whatever lies ahead. Hope prompts us to rejoice, and to persevere.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1–5).

The key elements of hope in this passage are that it comes through the work of Jesus Christ, who has justified us and reconciled us to God and given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our sonship (2 Cor 1:21–22; 2 Cor 5:4–6). A guarantee makes a promise certain. Paul elaborates on this in Ephesians, having just prayed that they would be enlightened as to their hope, “the riches of his glorious inheritance” (Eph 1:18). Remember, he says, that once they were alienated from God, strangers to the covenants of promise, “having no hope and without God in the world, but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace…” for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father and are now fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Eph 2:12–19). Christ reconciled us; tore the veil, broke down the wall, anchored us to the very throne of God in heavenly places. The writer to the Hebrews paints this picture; “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Heb 6:19–20). “A better hope [than the law] is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Heb 7:19). “Let us then hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). This hope is the same as that which God promised to faithful Israelites, which is why this reconciling work applies to both Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:12–19) and Paul could proclaim, “It is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain” (Acts 28:20).

This hope is a call to endurance and a source of rejoicing (Heb 10:23; Rom 5:3–11; 1 Thess 4:13–18; 2 Thess 2:16–17) Speaking of the hope of salvation, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another, and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess 5:8–11).

The certainty of our hope lies not in ourselves or our efforts, but in the very character of God, as manifested in the person and work of his Son Jesus Christ. This is indeed good news.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:5–10).

God’s Son came into the world, humbling himself even to death, to do what we could not do for ourselves. He conquered sin in the flesh it which it had always reigned and bore our sins on the cross, redeeming us by his blood. We were ransomed, not by perishable things like silver and gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:19–21).

Our hope is situated in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God with us, and currently “laid up for you in heaven” (Col 1:5) where Jesus is at the right hand of God, behind the opened veil. We, who have “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” wait eagerly for the bodily completion of our adoption and redemption; “for in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope…but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8: 23–25). That hope will appear with Jesus and be made a reality. Until then we are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us…” (Titus 2:13–14).

Given the certainty of our hope, vested as it is in the unchangeable promises, person and work of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, what should be our response? As the New Testament repeatedly emphasises, good works are the result of, not the cause of our salvation. We are not called to sit on a remote mountain top, navel gazing as we wait passively for his appearing. Nor are we to simply blend in with the world, keeping our hope to ourselves. We have been called to the hope of the glory of Christ by the gospel and are to make this hope known, for it is good news indeed (Col 1:27). “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:14). Paul encouraged Timothy to strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, the Saviour (1 Tim 4:10). He reminded Titus that we have been redeemed and purified to be Christ’s own people, “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:13–14). We are to hold fast in our hope (Heb 3:6; 10:23) but not hold still! “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:10–12). Because of our living hope, our imperishable inheritance, we are to prepare our minds for action, setting our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3–5, 13). We are not to be “conformed to the passions of our former ignorance,” but be holy as Christ is holy, knowing the price of our redemption (1 Pet 1:14-21). Peter concludes this exhortation with a reminder that our hope is not in ourselves and our works however, but in God.

Let’s be clear, a works-based view of salvation, which sets its hope in our own abilities to please God, to earn his favour, to add to the all-sufficient work of Christ, is no hope at all. Such a hope is no firmer a base for our lives than the hope that it won’t rain tomorrow, or that someone won’t be too angry with us, or that we get away with our imperfections. If any Christian doubts their assurance of salvation, the reality of the hope set before them, they should reflect on where their hope is actually placed. Are they clutching the strong rope of the anchor which holds firm in the holy place, or relying on themselves? Is a lack of faith in Christ’s work a result of a lack of understanding of, and faith in him, as “our great God and Saviour,” the one who  has by his blood redeemed, reconciled and justified us and will bring us to the certain hope of glory?

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Psa 42:5 )

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