Hope is a word that is used frequently in the New Testament, with at least a couple of different uses. Sometimes it is used in the sense of something that we want to happen but have no assurance of, which is how we commonly use this word today. But other times it seems to have a much different meaning, a confident expectation of something that lies in the future. And in that sense, hope is a key concept in the New Testament, yet one that most believers I have encountered seem to struggle with.
Implicit in hope is that we are dealing with something that has not yet happened, or at least that it is something that we do not currently recognize as having happened; it is something that I am looking forward to. Paul expresses this idea in Romans 8:25 when he talks about waiting patiently for what we are hoping for, what we do not yet have.
In Ephesians 1:18 and 4:4, Paul talks about the hope that we are called to. As believers, we are not called to hope, but to a hope. Hope can be a kind of vague thought about what the future may hold. But we are called to something much more specific that than. And knowing what that hope is, will help us to keep our focus during this phase of our life.
What is our hope?
So what is this hope we are called to? When I ask this question of other believers it often amazes me the silence I get in response. Most will eventually get a response out, but it is apparent that it is not something that they are eagerly anticipating. It seems rather to be something that is so far removed from their daily lives that it has little impact. But it is clear from reading the New Testament, especially Paul, that this hope was a major motivating factor for his life.
It is not uncommon to hear believers talk about salvation as an event in their past, the specific time when they surrendered their lives to the lordship of Jesus. But it means so much more than that. The New Testament talks about salvation in a present tense, work out your salvation, as well as in a future sense, now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul tells us to put on the hope of salvation as a helmet. We will be delivered, or saved, out of this corrupt and failing body and world, and we should hold onto that expectation as a helmet, protecting us from the struggles and trials of this life as well as the pleasures and distractions of life here.
In Acts 23:6 & 24:15 Paul expresses his hope as concerning the resurrection of the dead, that his life here is not the end of the read, but only a step along the journey. He also expressed this thought in 1 Corinthians 15:19, that this life is not all there is; if it was, we are to be pitied. While resurrection is not all of the hope I have, it is a critical part of it. Without resurrection, when I die in this life, it is over; there is nothing to look forward to.
In Titus 1:2 & 3:7 Paul expresses our hope as concerning eternal life. Resurrection does not just lead to another temporary step, or series of steps, that eventually come to an end. Instead we look forward to an eternity in fellowship with God. Often we think of eternal life as simply living forever; but Jesus defines it in John 17:3 as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ. Eternal life is not simply living forever; it is living in relationship with our creator and God.
And finally, in Romans 5:2 & Colossians 1:27 we see the expression hope of glory. I am looking forward to experiencing the glory of God, and not merely as a spectator. My experience with the glory of God will be very personal and first hand as a child of God and in intimate communion with him.
The hope of salvation, the hope of resurrection, the hope of eternal life, and the hope of glory; all of these are really aspects of the same hope. Death in this life is really the entrance into the life that God is even now preparing me for. I do not know nearly as much about that life to come as I would like to. But I look forward to it with confident expectation. And that expectation should have a dramatic impact on life today. The more I look forward to that day, the more it will effect today.
What difference does it make?
If I have no hope for the future then I might as well enjoy this life to the fullest (1 Corinthians 15:3). But as believers we do have that hope, and it should impact today. If it makes no difference to the way I live today, is it really hope?
Colossians 1:3-6 describes two impacts that our hope for the future has on our today. The first is that it enables me to have faith in Christ. Sometimes there is some overlap in faith and hope, but here I believe Paul is saying that because of the hope we have, we are able to walk by faith today. I can trust him now because I know he has my future.
The second impact mentioned in this passage is that I am enabled to love my fellow believers because of my hope. Because we share a common hope we are drawn together. And because we will spend eternity together, it behooves us to learn, not just get along, but to be one in heart and mind.
The author of Hebrews (6:19) describes this hope as an anchor for the soul; an anchor that is in the most holy place where God dwells. No matter what storms of life may blow, that anchor will not drag and will keep us secure. There are many things in this world that we might be tempted to put our hope in, but all of them could let you down and cause a shipwreck in your life. But if our hope is in God and what he is preparing us for, then we are secure. Even if we lose everything in this life, it is nothing compared to what is to come.
In Peter’s first letter (1:13) he tells us to set our hope fully on the grace to be given us, and to do it with minds that are fully alert and sober. The hope I have should not be something I keep on a back shelf and just pull out when I need a little boost. Rather, it should always be at the front of my thoughts. If that hope is ever before me, the tendency I have to get caught up in the things of this world would be tempered by the recognition that they are only temporary, and at most a faint imitation of what is to come; nothing to hold to or trust in.
One of the challenging things in life is dealing with the death of someone close to you, and for me that has been my parents. But because of the hope that we all shared, even though I miss them, I was able to rejoice that they are, as my dad frequently said, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13 tells us not to grieve over those believers who pass before we do, knowing that death in not the end, but rather a transition into something even better.
My hope should not not keep me from living in this world and making a difference. But it should help me to keep from getting to attached to the temporary things of this life, and to put my trust in what God is preparing me for. All the little things, and sometimes bigger things, that trouble me during the course of a day will not have nearly as much impact on my life and attitude if my hope is set where it needs to be. All that goes on in this life is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
All passages below are from the NIV
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
through whom 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.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
1 Corinthians 15:19
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:32
If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people — the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you.
if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 5:8
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,
while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
1 Peter 1:3
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 1:13
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.