The Call to Hope
Hope is a biblical concept that should characterize the life of the Christian. I’ve heard people being criticized for depending on some whimsical hope and I’ve listened to sermons that discourage Christians from thinking about their reward. Yet hope is a topic mentioned throughout the Bible. Hope is good. Hope, correctly defined and based on something stable, is a good thing. Far from seeing hope as a crutch for the weak, hope is a primary motivating force for the Christian. Perhaps it is in the face of difficulty and in the midst of perceiving our weakness that the value of hope is best seen. When there is a higher contrast we can make out its utility far better. That doesn’t mean, however, that it is only present or only important in those moments.
Paul clearly expressed his desire to see hope in the lives of those who belong to Christ. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). God is the God of hope. That hope should abound in the Christian who trusts him. We aren’t in some gloomy, fatalistic religion. Our faith in God should produce joy, peace, and hope.
The Content of Hope
Christian hope isn’t a wish or whim. It isn’t naively expecting things to be easy or to work out the way we want. Hope, as we see it in the Bible and is commonly defined from the pulpit, is “a confident expectation” akin to trust. Hope has to do with waiting for something in the future to be realized. So the content or object of the Christian hope cannot be for something that we already have.
God gives us many good gifts when we are saved: forgiveness, newness of life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to name a few. Hope, however, refers to something promised in salvation but not yet present in our lives. Again, Paul makes this clear in his letters. He wrote, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:24, 25). And in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Our hope for a future with God after this life is not only important, Paul considered it key to the Christian life. If there is nothing waiting for us after this life, why risk shipwrecks, hunger, and illness on missionary journeys? If we aren’t waiting for something beyond this life, why risk ridicule, economic hardship, and persecution? If there is no hope of a future reward with God, why deny ourselves pleasures? Why should martyrdom be admirable? The promise of the resurrection, a future life with God, was a primary motivating factor for Paul.
Not long ago, I was in a church in Santiago, Chile busily preparing for my next class on hermeneutics when I received a phone call from my mother informing me that my dad had died a few hours before. One naturally questions in those moments if being away from family is worth it. Why have we chosen to risk being absent at important times like that? Of course, we believe it is worth it, because our hope is not for this life only. A bluegrass song (yeah, I’m weird, I know) I like contains the phrase “We haven’t lost him; we know where he is.” If our hope is for this life only, death and tragedy could be completely overwhelming. Any risk associated with living out biblical instructions might be better avoided. So many have lived through things far more difficult, unimaginable tragedies. They face them in Christ, because there is hope after this life is over.
Accept no substitutes. When people try to emphasize inappropriately “creating Heaven on earth” or some such theology that eliminates or deemphasizes the Christian hope we see in the Bible, it deprives us of a key component of our motivation.
The Consequences of Hope
So our hope moves us forward through pain, through risk, through tragedy, and all kinds of hardships. And we don’t have to move forward as though on a death march. Our hope should make moving forward a good and positive thing, even in the face of enormous obstacles. Our hope motivates and emboldens. It helps us persevere in our personal lives, in our churches, and in our ministries.
Hope, far from a distraction, should produce a Christlike life of holiness and purity, bold evangelism, and tangible good works. Hope isn’t a substitute for living in the here and now, as some may fear. The results of a real hope are practical and tangible. It is a fundamental factor in our transformation in our Christian walk. Here are a couple more passages that convince me that this is how God sees hope too.
“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).
“That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:11, 12).
The Cornerstone of Hope
The Bible details why our hope is solid and trustworthy, not just illusory or whimsical. We shouldn’t see our hope as just a fantasy borne out of convenience or an attempt to create meaning in a difficult life.
Our hope is founded first and foremost on something concrete, a real, historical fact. Jesus died on the cross to save us and rose again in power and victory. The Bible clearly connects our Christian hope to the reality of Jesus’ mission. He died to save us and give us hope for a resurrection. The first part of 1 Corinthians 15 is clear about this, but it is not the only passage linking our hope to Christ’s work. Elsewhere we read, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3) and “through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).
Our hope founded in Christ is made firm by the promises made in God’s Word. If God has promised it, we can be sure. His Word is the surest thing in this world. It isn’t relative or subjective. Our future hope is real, objective truth because we have promises in God’s Word. We are wise to expect and wait for God to fulfill his promise. “We wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
This Christian hope is far from a distraction or a naïve whim. The Christian hope of everlasting life is firmly grounded in Christ’s salvific work and in his Word and encourages faithfulness in all circumstances.
Mike and Tabi teach, train, and equip church leaders as full-time missionaries in Chile.