What Is Christian Hope?
The wonder of joy, peace and hope! If we can sense joy when the world is sad, if we can find peace when the world is troubled, and if we can have hope when the world is hopeless, we are of all men most blessed. Feelings of joy, peace and hope will sustain our souls, even in the midst of the daily trials of life. Each of the three provides its own unique kind of comfort, but the three are so intertwined, that each depends on the others to bring full contentment to the soul.
In a prayer for the Christians at Rome, Paul tied together the three Bible concepts: joy, peace and hope. Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Rom 15:13) [Emphasis added.] Paul did not pray for a little joy and peace, just to get them through. He asked the God of hope to fill you with all joy and peace. Paul noted that this soul-filling joy and peace comes in believing. He further explained that the joy and peace was so that ye may abound in hope. So ‘abounding hope’ was Paul’s ultimate desire. As Paul ended his prayer, he acknowledged that all this was possible through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Let us start by focusing on the words: in believing. I suppose God can directly pour joy, peace and hope into our souls, but Paul did not pray for that in this prayer. He prayed that by the means of believing, we would be filled with joy and peace, so that our hope might abound. So if believing is the means to joy, peace and hope, many would say that we just need to believe ourselves into this blissful triad. Yet, such a belief about believing is not based on the Bible.
I do not argue that believing is a prerequisite to joy, peace and hope. I just say that God’s gift of faith is a prerequisite to believing. Most of today’s Christians seem to think that we can just dream up faith by our natural abilities. It is as if we can just do a little faith, and rise up to a spiritual realm, where we see and hold to heavenly things. Faith is not imagination. Faith is not fantasizing about spiritual things with a natural mind. God defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1) God’s miracle of faith gives real present substance to future hoped for things, so that what we hope for becomes as if it is already real. The wonder of faith proves to our souls the truth of spiritual things, to such an extent that we can even see invisible things in the spiritual realm. God’s miraculous faith allows God’s child to (even now) take hold of what he hopes for, to (even now) see what he looks for. Through the miracle of faith, we can begin to experience something akin to what is in heaven, even while we are still on earth.
So faith is not something that we just decide to have. Faith is not something that we just do on our own. Faith is a God-given miracle. The Bible is clear about the source of faith. Faith is the gift of God. (Eph 2:8) Faith is a fruit (result) of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22) Jesus is the author of our faith. (Heb 12:2) It is given unto God’s people to believe. (Php 1:29) The Bible teaches that it takes the great power of God for us to be able to believe, even the same exceeding great power that it took to raise Jesus from the grave. (Eph 1:19-20) Believing is not something we choose to do on our own. In order for a person to believe, God must first directly implant the gift of faith into that person. Faith is a miracle!
So joy, peace and hope come through believing, and the ability to believe comes by the God-given miracle of faith. Yet beyond the ability to believe, we also need to know what to believe, in order to experience real joy, peace and hope. This is where preaching the gospel comes in. True joy, peace and hope come in hearing and believing the gospel of salvation by grace, and grace alone. Genuine joy, peace and hope come in believing that our eternal salvation is totally of the Lord. If we know that our eternal life is grounded in God’s unchangeable plan of amazing grace, and if we know that nothing can stop that plan, then we have the assurance that affords us real joy, peace and hope.
So God’s gift of faith through the power of the Holy Ghost lets God’s children be able to believe, and the preaching of the gospel through the power of the Holy Ghost lets God’s children know what to believe, so that in believing the gospel of salvation by grace alone, the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace, that ye may abound in hope. To abound in hope is to be on Peter’s mountaintop of ‘joy unspeakable’. To abound in hope is to be in Paul’s paradise of the ‘peace that passeth understanding’. To abound in hope is to mount up on wings as eagles, and to walk above the troubled waves. Oh, the wonder of ‘abounding hope’!
Now joy, peace and hope are each important. Yet hope is perhaps the greatest of the three, because of its essential view of the future. By definition, hope is present desire, based on future expectations. So we possess joy, peace and hope, all three for help through the trials of today. Yet hope is the one that always looks toward tomorrow. It is hard to imagine real joy or peace in this present world, without a hope-filled view of the future. Joy and peace come by knowing that the troubles we endure down here are nothing, compared to the glory that awaits us up there. So the more hope we have in the ‘up there’, the more joy and peace we have in the ‘down here’. Christian hope is not based in the things of this world. Christian hope is based in heaven. Paul put the empty hopes of this world in perspective with these words: If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. (1Co 15:19)
The Bible does not generally connect hope with this world. The Bible ties hope to resurrection. As Paul faced death, he tied his hope to resurrection three different times. He declared to the mob of Jews: …of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. (Act 23:6) [Emphasis added.] He confessed to Governor Felix to have hope toward God…that there shall be a resurrection of the dead. (Act 24:15) [Emphasis added.] He preached to King Agrippa: I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope‘s sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews. Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? (Act 26:6-8) [Emphasis added.]
In Paul’s letters, he tied his hope to the appearing of Jesus at the resurrection. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. (Tit 2:13) [Emphasis added.] John tied his hope to Jesus’ appearance at the resurrection. When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1Jo 3:2-3) [Emphasis added.] Peter’s hope hinged on the resurrected living Jesus, who has promised to come back for us: …a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1Pe 1:3) [Emphasis added.] The hope of God’s people is that Jesus is coming back to raise the dead, even that He is going to give us eternal life. The Christian hope is resurrection.
The hope of the Bible is not the same as the hope we often speak of in our everyday conversation. In today’s language someone might say, “I hope I win the lottery.” Yet everybody knows that such a thing is very doubtful. The Greek word, elpis, (which is translated as hope) does not refer to some long-shot, pie-in-the-sky, happily-ever-after, never-really-going-to-happen fairytale. Elpis speaks of a future event with assurance of its happening. At this point, resurrection is still just a hope that is somewhere out in the future. Yet resurrection is a certain hope. It is reality. It is just not here yet. The hope of eternal life is a hope that is going to happen.
Three times in his letter to Titus, Paul spoke of our hope of eternal life, and each time he proved in a different way the certainty of our hope. Paul first said: In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Tit 1:2) [Emphasis added.] Even before creation, the God who cannot lie had already promised eternal life. In His Covenant of Grace, God had already established His unchangeable plan of salvation, even before He created Adam. So by two irreversible actions of God, we can be certain that eternal life is certain. Our sure hope of eternal life is based in both the irreversible purpose of God, and the irrefutable promise of God: Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us. (Heb 6:17-18) [Emphasis added.] God’s immutable counsel is His irrevocable, irresistible determinate purpose to give eternal life to His children. God’s immutable oath is His inflexible, inevitable binding promise to give eternal life to His children.
Eternal life is certain because God always does what He purposes and promises. I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning… My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure …I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. (Isa 46:9-11) Because God is unchangeable, His people will never perish. I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Mal 3:6) We have strong hope in God’s unchangeable promise of eternal life. This hope is truly a refuge for our souls. Eternal life is certain. God promised it.
Paul next mentioned hope in the words: Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us… (Tit 2:13-14) [Emphasis added.] Here hope is tied to Jesus’ appearance at the resurrection, but further tied to the thought that Jesus gave himself for us. The point here is that if Jesus came the first time to give His life for us, so that we would have eternal life, then He will surely come back the second time to give us the eternal life. Since Jesus endured the shame of the dying part, we can be certain that He will not miss the honor of the resurrecting part.
Along the same line of reasoning, since God went so far as to give His Son, it is sensible that He will also give the eternal life that His Son secured. If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him freely give us all things? (Rom 8:31-32) If God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us, there can be no doubt that God is for us. If God was for us to the point of giving His Son for us, then nothing can ever turn God against us. The God, who went so far as to deliver up His Son in order that we might have eternal life, will certainly someday give us the eternal life.
So since the God who cannot lie has promised eternal life, it is improper to think that He will not give the eternal life. Yet, for the sake of finding certain assurance of our hope of eternal life, let us attempt to reason in what is unreasonable. If God could have denied His very essence of being truth, and taken back His promise of eternal life, He surely would have done it before Jesus’ death on the cross. Or if God could have changed His immutable plan of salvation, He surely would have changed it before Jesus’ death on the cross. The point is that since God followed through with the death on the cross part, nothing can stop Him from the eternal life part. If God did not take back His promise, or change His plan, at the moment when He faced the cross, then it is certain that He is totally committed to saving His people from their sins.
So on the basis of reasoning (which is admittedly based in the unreasonable realm of the impossible), I submit to you that if God has gone so far as to deliver His Son to the cross, and if God has gone so far as to go to the cross, then nothing can stop God from giving eternal life to all the ones Jesus died for. As we consider the commitment God has thus far proved toward His plan of salvation, it is only reasonable, even absolutely certain, that eternal life is absolutely certain. God has already paid for it.
Paul finally spoke of hope in the words: Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Tit 3:5-7) [Emphasis added.] Some admit that God promised eternal life, and they further affirm that Christ paid for eternal life, but then they ask the sinner to someway work his way into the eternal life. This loophole in their proposed plan of salvation takes all the certainty out of our hope of eternal life. If our eternal life depends on us, then our certain hope of eternal life goes out the window. If we have to do something good enough, or think something right enough, in order to save ourselves to heaven, then our certain hope of going to heaven inevitably becomes uncertain.
If our hope is in our works, how much good is good enough? If our hope is in our faith, how much faith is faith enough? If the apostles’ faith was such that Jesus called it little faith, or even no faith, how can we put any faith in our faith? If our hope is in our hoping hard enough, we flail in a sea of doubt. If our eternal life hinges in any way on us, our hope of eternal life becomes more uncertain, than certain.
According to Paul’s words, our eternal salvation does not hinge on our works, but on the work of the Holy Ghost to regenerate us to that eternal life. We do not actively do anything to cause our new births. We are passive recipients, while the new birth is shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ. We do not actively do anything to make ourselves heirs. We are passive recipients, as we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. There is no weak link in God’s plan of salvation, because in God’s plan of salvation, God does all the saving. From start to finish, our eternal life is totally of God. God promised it. God paid for it. God applies it. That is what makes it so certain! Indeed, our hope of eternal life is a hope that is going to happen!
So how can we have the certain hope of eternal life? To have certain hope of eternal life, we need to be certain about God’s plan of salvation that gives eternal life, for certain. Our eternal life is anchored in God’s plan of salvation by grace, and grace alone. Before time, the Father purposed to save His people, and His purposes always come to pass. In the Covenant of Grace, God promised to save His people, and He is the God who keeps His promises. God’s infallible plan and failsafe promise guarantee the certainty of salvation for all God chose to save. On the cross, Jesus redeemed His people from their sins and secured for them eternal life. The angel said, …He shall save His people from their sins. (Mat 1:21) Jesus did save His people. The successful finished work of Jesus guarantees the certainty of the salvation of every one for whom Jesus died. In time, the Holy Spirit breathes eternal life into each one of God’s elected and redeemed people. Salvation is not by man’s help. ‘Born again’ is totally by God’s grace. The Spirit moves as He pleases, and so it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit. The life-giving work of the Holy Spirit guarantees the certainty of the salvation of all God’s children. At the natural death of each of God’s children, their spirit goes to paradise. At the last day, each of them will be in glory. There will be none lost, and none missing. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord. God planned it before the world began. God paid for it on the cross. God applies it at the new birth. God assures it in the end. To God be all the glory!
God’s children can have eternal life, without knowing anything about the certainty of God’s plan of giving eternal life. Yet only God’s children, who are certain about the certainty of God’s plan to save them, can have a certain certainty about their hope of eternal life. Oh what joy and peace comes from the certain hope of eternal life.
There are many benefits in knowing the certainty of God’s plan of salvation, and having the certain hope of eternal life. Knowing the truth about certain salvation frees you from doubts. Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (Joh 8:32) Having the certain hope about certain salvation guards the mind: …putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. (1Th 5:8) Knowing the certain hope of resurrection gives patience in troubles: …if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. (Rom 8:25) Knowing the certain hope of resurrection leads to purity. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1Jo 3:3) Knowing the certain hope of resurrection saves us. For we are saved by hope. (Rom 8:24)
Let us look closer at the words: For we are saved by hope. This does not mean that we can hope our way into heaven. That is Wizard of Oz mentality. That sham of a wizard told Dorothy to close her eyes, click her heels together three times, hope real hard, and she could hope herself from Oz to Kansas. Only a child would really believe such a thing. The Wizard of Oz was a movie. Besides that, Dorothy was dreaming. Heel clicking and hoping have never gotten anybody to Kansas, and if we cannot hope ourselves to a nearby Kansas, how can we expect to hope ourselves to a faraway heaven? Now we all may hope to get to heaven, but our hoping to get to heaven is not what saves us to heaven. The Lord Jesus Christ saves us and gets us to heaven.
Yet that certain hope that Jesus is going to get us to heaven will save us right here. In the context of Paul’s writing, ‘we are saved by hope’, is sandwiched between groaning within ourselves as we wait for the resurrection, and being in such despair that we forget how to pray. When we come to this point, we need help. We need deliverance. We need to be saved from the misery that we feel. Having the certain hope of eternal life lifts us above the troubles of this life. Having the certain hope that we will soon be in heaven helps us get through a few more days of ‘down here’. That is how we are saved by hope.
Oh the sadness of living life without hope! Job knew what it was to lose hope. In his troubles he cried: My days…are spent without hope. (Job 7:6) Satan tries to rob us of our hope. Some mocked when Paul preached the hope of resurrection. Some said that there was no resurrection of the dead. Others said the resurrection was already past. With feeble arguments, the Sadducees challenged Jesus that such a thing could not be. Scoffers still say, “How can the dead be raised?” I cannot tell you how the dead are raised. I do not know how. Yet with certainty, I can tell you that the dead will be raised. I can also tell you with certainty that God certainly knows how to do it. Oh, the blessing of having a certain hope!
Paul prayed that ye may know what is the hope of his calling. (Eph 1:18) If we know this hope, it will save us in times of despair. The hope of something better helps us through our troubles now. We read of a day when all troubles will be gone. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Rev 21:4) I regularly preach to imprisoned souls in nursing homes. Those lonely dying mortals know how it feels to be close to death. They know pain and sorrow. They know misery. Yet, they hope for something better. When I preach of resurrection, smiles replace the tears. When we sing together of heaven, joy comes alive. They yearn for their ultimate peace. Their hope is now real, but their hope will soon be sight. Paul put things in perspective when he compared this world to the next: For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom 8:18) Resurrection fixes everything! The hope of resurrection sure helps things here.
We need the certain hope of eternal life, whether we face our own death, or the death of a loved one, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (1Th 4:13) Even with hope, we still sorrow at death, but we sorrow not like those who have no hope. The certain hope of eternal life brought Paul to proclaim an unworldly view about dying: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2Ti 4:6-8) As Paul faced death, his certain hope of eternal life saved him. (Paul’s hope of eternal life had nothing to do with how Paul would be saved to eternal life. Yet, Paul’s certain hope that he would be saved to eternal life had everything to do with his being saved from despair, as he faced his death.)
Paul had spoken many times of the connection between hope and resurrection. He was convinced of the certainty of that hope of a resurrection, which the God who cannot lie had promised. Paul had seen his resurrected Lord, who died for him, and Paul could hardly wait to see Him again. He had often groaned within himself waiting for the resurrection. He was ready to fight his final battle, even ready to be offered as a martyr for Christ. Paul’s certain hope that eternal life awaited him saved him from his natural fears. This hope will save all God’s children who are looking for Jesus as they face death.
The certain hope of eternal life will get you through life. It will get you through death. It will get you through anything and everything. The Lord is coming back. What a hope!