What is biblical hope?

What is it that drives human beings to get up again after they’ve fallen? What makes us happy or makes us sad? What elevates our emotions and then dashes them to the ground? What gets us out of bed each morning? There will be many different answers to these questions depending on a person’s unique set of circumstances, but I would like to propose an overarching theme that reaches beyond the borders of personal lives and affects us collectively as human beings. And that theme is hope. Hope is a primary force that drives us moment by moment each day. When we are put down, experience a setback in our plans, or face a temptation we often without directly acknowledging it, look to the emotional reservoir of hope to fight and move forward. It has a way of reaching and influencing every aspect of our lives positively and negatively. What is biblical hope? We tend to ways use this word ‘hope’ in two different ways:

  1. A desire for something good in the future– “I hope…that I find a job soon”; “I hope this business deal pulls through”; “I hope this conflict will be resolved soon”; “I hope the weather clears up today”.
  2. The reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled– “Less traffic is our only hope of arriving on time”. In other words less traffic is the reason we may in fact achieve the future good that we desire. It’s our only hope!

I will be the first one to confess that this is the way in which I speak about hope on a daily basis. Yet recently I have been challenged to consider a different point of view that is contrary to my thinking. It is a biblical understanding of hope. We tend to use the word hope to express uncertainty about the future but biblical hope expresses certainty about the future. It is not a mere desire for something good to happen but rather a confident expectation for something good in the future. When we say “hope in God” it does not mean “cross your fingers” and hope for the best, it means expect God to come good on His word. This sounds an awful lot like faith doesn’t it? So what is the difference between faith and hope? To simplify it as much as possible the difference is this: Faith is our confidence in the Word of God, and whenever that faith has reference to the future you can call our confidence in it hope. In other words, when faith in God looks to the future it can be called hope. And whenever hope rests in the Word of God it can be called faith. Is this difference Biblical? Let us look briefly at what the writer of Hebrews said in Hebrews 10:22-23 “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Notice firstly that we are to draw near to God in “full assurance of faith”. This is the beginning of Biblical hope. A person must place their confidence or trust in the Gospel message. The content of the Gospel is given to us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day- All according to the Scriptures! It is faith in Christ alone that produces hope. Secondly the writer goes on to say in verse 23 that we are to hold fast to Christ by the “confession of our hope”. Previously in his letter he used a similar phrase “full assurance of hope” (Hebrews 6:11) to also encourage his readers to not give up and to continue serving Christ until the end. He seems then to use the word hope and faith interchangeably but it is looks more as if hope is rooted the faithfulness of God and His Word.

Hope is like a strong tree. The seed of this tree is the new birth of a sinner in Jesus Christ through faith. The nutrient that sustains this new hope and makes it grow strong is the Word of God, especially the promises. I like the way John Piper describes the tree of hope “The strong fibers of the wooden trunk are the confident expectation that someday we will meet Christ face to face, we will have new bodies that never get sick again, we will be totally free from the struggle with sin, we will share in the glory of God, and we will never be threatened with loss because the new life will last forever and ever.”

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