What is Biblical Hope?
In the previous chapter I said that faith was made up of three elements:
- Precise knowledge: the words of Christ in the Bible.
- An act of the will in responding to this knowledge in belief and obedience.
- The experience of joy, determination and confidence or hope.
In this chapter I would like to more closely examine the idea of hope, the natural outgrowth of a sincere faith.
Wishing and Hoping
Back in the 1960's a singer named Dusty Springfield recorded a song entitled "Wishing and Hoping." It was about a girl who was wanting a boy, who was ignoring her, to notice and care for her. I think this is how the world interprets the idea of hope. It is just another word for wishing or dreaming about something. For example, "I hope I win the lottery," or "I hope it is nice for the picnic," or "I hope you will have a great vacation." For most people hope is seen as a fond gesture of goodwill or the expression of an unfulfilled desire. The English word hope, however, has a much narrower meaning. According to Webster's Dictionary, hope means "...a confident expectation that a desire will be fulfilled."
When the Bible uses the word hope it uses it in this sense. In the earliest times the Hebrew word for hope in the Old Testament was a word that meant a cord or an attachment, signifying that a person was attached in safety. By the time the book of Job was written this word included the sense of longing and expectation. When David and Solomon expressed this idea in their writings they included all three concepts of security, desire and waiting.
- David: "My flesh also shall rest in hope." (Psalm 16:9)
- Solomon: "The righteous has hope in his death." (Proverbs 14:32)
New Testament writers used the word hope in only one way and that was to express the idea that one anticipates (usually with pleasure) what one waits for. In the world, the general use of the word hope is akin to wishing or dreaming for something. The writers of the Bible, however, used the word hope when they wanted to convey that someone had a confident expectation of a future blessing of some kind.
Earthly Hope vs. Heavenly Hope
There is one important difference with the meaning of the word hope that is in Webster's Dictionary and the meaning of the word hope contained in the Bible. The hope in Webster's is based on the idea that one is relatively sure that things are going to work out. For example, you have worked hard in your math class, done well on the assignments and all of the previous tests, therefore, you hope for success in the final. Based on what you know, your hope to pass the exam is well founded. Of course, you could have an accident on the way to the test, or a bad night before the exam or the teacher decides to ask questions based on obscure material not really covered in class. In other words, the hope referred to in Webster's is relative, that is why they call it hope, you are pretty sure but not one hundred percent sure.
When the Bible mentions hope, however, it is talking about something that is one hundred percent sure! The Bible uses the term hope when it refers to something that is not yet present or visible but is certain to take place. Webster's uses the term hope when it refers to something not yet present or visible, but pretty sure. See the difference?
Pretty sure vs. one hundred percent sure!
Why This Difference?
The difference between the two concepts of hope is based on the issue of guarantee. In the world only human strength, intelligence and honor can guarantee what is hoped for. Since there is a limit to these things, there is only a limited guarantee for our hope (a limited guarantee because you never know).
In the Bible, God is the one Who guarantees what we hope for, and since there are no limitations on God, there is no limit on His guarantee for what we hope for. Our hope, therefore, is sure.
The psalmist describes this truth so simply:
For You are my hope;
O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth.
- Psalm 71:5
God is the foundation, guarantor and provider of all we hope for, so the odds of us receiving what we hope for in Christ are one hundred percent.
The Things We Hope For
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
- Hebrews 11:1
The Hebrew writer tells us that faith produces a feeling of confidence that we will receive the things we hope for and the things we confidently expect to receive. Herein lies another difference between Webster's hope and the hope spoken of in the Bible. Hope in this world is for things we do not have now but expect to have in the future... maybe (i.e. good health, prosperity, etc.).
Biblical hope, on the other hand, is certain because God not only guarantees it but has already given to us the things we hope for, we simply do not see all of them yet. This is what the author of the Hebrew letter is getting at in this passage. By faith we accept as true that God has already given us the things we hope for, but are unseen for the moment. A good example of this phenomenon takes place at Christmas. We have the presents, they are all under the tree, our names are on the boxes, they are ours, but we have to wait until Christmas morning in order to unwrap and actually see them. Paul talks about this:
24For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
- Romans 8:24-25
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
- Ephesians 1:3
Note that in Ephesians 1:3, Paul says that every spiritual blessing has already been given. Everything that we can ever hope for (forgiveness, peace, freedom from condemnation and punishment, eternal life, spiritual power and character), all of these and more have already been given to us.
Some of these things we already perceive in ourselves, and some we do not, but the point that the Bible makes is that we already possess them, that is why our hope is secure.
How to Obtain Hope
Webster's does not explain it, but the way to have hope in this world is through effort. Work hard, prepare, invest, hope for the best. For example, the student who is lazy, never does homework, pays little attention in class and refuses any attempt to get help cannot have real hope to pass the final. He can wish or dream but he cannot have hope because hope is confident expectation based on effort or some guarantee.
The Bible explains that biblical hope is not obtained through effort but through faith in Jesus Christ. I have explained this in the previous chapter but briefly, here is how that works. Faith is produced when a person:
- Believes as true that Jesus is the Lord and Savior (Mark 16:16).
- This belief leads one to respond to Him in obedience expressed in repentance and baptism (Acts 2:37-38).
- As a Christian this person will receive all the spiritual blessings promised by God to those who believe (Ephesians 1:3).
None of us have worked or prepared in such a way that will guarantee that we will receive these blessings. We are all like the student who has neglected his studies and has no chance to pass the test through skill or effort. God, however, has abolished the test and guarantees the rewards to all those who believe and obey Christ, something that everyone is able to do.
We have hope because through Jesus Christ we possess all the heavenly blessings. We may not see all of them yet, but our names are on every one of them and God is saving them for us until the appropriate time (when He comes and we are resurrected like children awakened to finally open the gifts awaiting us).
Do you have hope about heaven? I don't mean, "Well, I am pretty sure about heaven" or, "I think so/I hope so." I mean the 100% absolutely sure kind of hope that the Bible talks about. You have this hope if your have obeyed Jesus Christ and are faithful to Him. Rejoice in this hope, launch out on it, be courageous in it because you already have everything you hoped for.
If, on the other hand, you do not have this kind of hope, why not secure it today? Why not attach yourself with that cord of safety (like the Old Testament writers used to say) to the Lord today by confessing your faith in Him, repenting of your sins and being baptized in His name? It is in this way that your biblical faith will lead you to biblical hope and the joy that this hope will produce in your heart.