[What follows is an article published in the May/June issue of “Faith & Fellowship” Magazine, which can be found here.]
What is Christian hope? What is it that we hope for? And what is the basis for such hope?
While commenting on Galatians, Luther says this:
Faith and hope are different affections, for faith is not hope nor hope faith; and yet, because of the great affinity that exists between them, it is impossible to separate them… By faith we began [our spiritual life], by hope we continue it… Hope is nothing else than spiritual courage…
A friend of mine once told me of an experience he had while walking down the road from his bible college. It was nighttime, and he saw a great and bright light shining all of the sudden. The thought that came rushing to his mind was,
Why? He believed he was witnessing the return of Christ and, in his estimation, he was not yet ready. “I haven’t done enough yet,” I remember him saying…
We are given warnings in Scripture to be ready for the return of Christ, but we are told that no one knows the day or the hour, not even Christ Himself (Matt.24:36). My friend did not know Jesus was going to be back. It was a surprise to him–an almost unwelcome one. I don’t know what else went through my friends mind, but isn’t it interesting that the prospect of Christ’s imminent return brought him not to a joyful place of confident expectations finally realized, but rather to: Oh no… It perhaps wasn’t what he was expecting, what he was hoping for. Opposites of Hope, according to the Thesaurus, include “distrust, doubt, despair.” Was my friends distrust, doubt, or despair justified? Did he have true Christian hope?
Christian hope is inseparably connected to right faith. To paraphrase Luther in the Large Catechism: right faith is the heart clinging to and trusting in Jesus Christ as God; looking to Him for all good, and calling out to Him in every time of need. Christian hope is characterized by ‘right faith’ because the object of our hope is the same: Jesus Christ. Right faith looks backward, while Christian hope looks forward; both to the fulfillment of God’s promises through Christ. Christian hope is sure because, in Christ, through God’s Word, we have already seen God’s grace and faithfulness, and have been convinced by the Truth at the cross of Jesus Christ. This happened through hearing the Word, The Gospel (Rom.10), where right faith was kindled in our formerly dead hearts. This faith is properly understood (and perhaps translated in the New Testament) as trust. Right faith = right trust.
Who do you trust? Because it determines what you hope for.
In the garden, we chose to trust another word, that of the serpent–not that of God. So in the Gospel, God speaks, revealing Himself in Christ and winning back the trust and hope of His prodigal creation. To trust something or someone necessitates being convinced, namely, assured and certain, of it or them. Hence the book of Hebrews teaches us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things unseen. (Heb.11:1)”
Right faith, as Hebrews says, is certainty, based on God’s Word fulfilled in Christ. It is assurance of things hoped for.
So what are you hoping for? Where does your confident expectation lie? In Christ?
I wonder if my friend was hoping Christ would really return. Or, perhaps he was hoping for a different manner in which Christ would return. What I mean is this: If Christ, as my friend knows it says in Matthew 24 and 25, is returning to separate the sheep from the goats and the basis for whether you qualified as sheep or goat is your works, then perhaps my friend hoped that he would have more time to prove himself a sheep, or that Christ was not returning for that purpose. Perhaps the assurance my friend had was not in Christ at all, but rather in himself. Maybe what he confidently expected was the inevitable punishment for his wickedness, the wages of his sin. Maybe what he hoped for, then, was for something to change the outcome.
Are we any different? What hope would you have? That God would be merciful? On account of who? of what? You?…
My friend reacted precisely how anyone would react, how I would, and how you would, because we, in our sinfulness, don’t want to trust Christ, or place our hope, our confident expectations, in and upon Him!
This is the natural state of our hearts. Outside of Christ, we never could, and never would trust Him. Therefore we never could or would have true Christian hope, which longs for His return. But thanks be to God! We are no longer certain only of God’s wrath upon sinners, but of God’s mercy upon those who are in Christ!
We hope for His return because we know what to expect–that which God has already given us at the cross: mercy and grace.
So what do you hope for?
God’s Word teaches us that all “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death… [And] if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Rom.6:3-5).”
We are no longer enslaved to sin. Death no longer has the last word. There is hope: Resurrection and everlasting life with Jesus-without sin and without death, because of his mercy and grace.
Like my friend, I have often longed for an existence outside the realities of sin and death. I have wept thinking about what it might be like to no longer live in sin or the consequences of my wickedness. God has not given us another chance, nor given us more time, but He has instead given us the gift of right faith in Him alone, and therefore the assurance that, in His time, for His glory, God indeed “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. (Rev.21:4)”
You, my friend on the road, and I no longer need to worry about not having done enough before Jesus returns. We no longer need to hope for more time, or another chance to prove ourselves a sheep. We know with certainty that Jesus Christ the Son of God has already done it all, and extended it all to us in Him.
So, this is what we hope for: that Christ would return, and quickly, because when He returns the remnant of a defeated sin and death will be swept away, and those who are in Christ will spend an unimaginably glorious eternity with their God. We do not know the day or hour, but we do know He is coming, and that we will be united with Him forever when He does. May we spread this good news in the meantime, and may we rejoice. By faith we began, and by hope we continue…
“Not in works, not in any other things, but purely in hope the heart of man rejoices.”
– Martin Luther.
by pastor nick.