Faith. Hope. Love.
These three great words are a kind of triumvirate in evangelical terminology, taken from 1 Corinthians 13:13. In Scripture, plenty of discussion occurs regarding faith. And love is a dominant theme in many passages, and it is specifically identified by Paul as the greatest of the three. But hope sometimes gets overlooked by us in our reading and teaching. I think it would serve us well to better understand this wonderful gift called hope.
The very word “hope” is like turning on a light in the darkness. It’s like bringing joy into a sorrowful situation. It’s like introducing life into a scene of death. Hope is a word that immediately brightens and lifts. It produces joy. Life without hope is bleak.
But, it is also important to note what kind of hope we’re talking about.
In 1 Corinthians 15:19, Paul says, “If in this life only you have hope, you are of all men most miserable.”
This life is at best very, very brief and full of trouble. And if all your hope is tied only to what happens here, that is a severe misery.
But that’s how it is for the vast majority of people in the world. There is a bleakness to life because there is no sure hope in the life to come. There are some fantasies, some religious promises that offer false hopes, but for most of humanity throughout its history, there has been no real hope. And of course, death immediately brings the realization that any hope outside of God was a false hope.
In Ephesians 2:12, in describing the plight of lost humanity, the apostle Paul says, “They have no hope, being without God in the world.” If you don’t have God, you have no hope.
In fact, many people in Paul’s day acquiesced to that. Unable to find anything that they could anchor their soul on, unable to find anything that was a sure and true hope, they came to the conclusion that life was futile. Some philosophers said that after death the soul would depart into the shade world where the dead bemoan their existence without comfort.
One writer, Diogenes, said, “I rejoice, I play in my youth, long enough beneath the earth shall I lie, bereft of life, voiceless as a stone and shall leave the sunlight which I loved. Good man though I am, then shall I see nothing more.”
That is the hopelessness of those without God who have nothing they can be sure of in the life to come. They have hope only in this world and are, therefore, truly most miserable. They drown their misery in alcohol, sex, entertainment, and materialism. They try to make something out of their hopelessness.
But for those who know God, things are very different.
And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:23-25)
We have salvation. And the greatest part of this salvation has not yet been realized.
Our souls have been redeemed. Our old nature has been replaced. Our hearts have been transformed by the renewing, regenerating power of the Spirit of God. But we still suffer from the same old unredeemed flesh, and we look forward in hope to the day when our bodies are redeemed — that is, replaced with the new bodies which God has prepared for us. We look forward to seeing Jesus as He is and being changed into His image.
This is why death, for us, is not an ending. We are in bondage now, our redeemed inner person incarcerated in unredeemed and fallen flesh. And death is the moment of liberation for us. It is indeed the spirit being freed from the debilitating effects of sinful flesh. This is our great hope.
In the next post we will look at some of the details of this hope — what, exactly, we are looking forward to.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2003, titled “A Theology of Hope.”
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