- Have you ever thought of hope as a starting point for conversation about the gospel?
- Have you ever had someone ask you to offer a reason for your hope?
As I was listening to a great song about hope (In Christ Alone), I thought about first century Christians who seemed to have little earthly reason for hope yet displayed it so powerfully that others inquired about its source.
These believers were encouraged to, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15).
Why was their hope so attractive? Could people look at my life and be drawn to ask about my hope? Does your Church display this kind of attractive hope? These are the questions that bothered me as I reflected on my first century brothers and sisters.
Squirming under a bit of conviction, I pondered the possibility that the first century believers’ hope was noticeable because it seemed incongruent. Their hope was radiant because their circumstances appeared to be so hopeless.
Perhaps, I thought, believers who don’t appear to have desperate circumstances must accept a different basis for evangelistic appeal. But is hope conditioned on ones’ circumstances? Is it only able to shine in our desperation? There must be more to it.
Looking more closely at hope:
Hope, according to Scripture, is forged through a process familiar to all believers. This is described in Romans 5:2-5 “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Suffering—-perseverance—character—hope (hearts filled with love by the Holy Spirit). The gracious and transformational influences of the Spirit within always lead through this path to hope.
But how would people see hope in my life? I was still bothered by this question. Is there a cultural backdrop for hope in affluent societies–in apparently good circumstances? Clearly, we see a lot of despair in our culture but perhaps the despair comes from the another source—the Ecclesiastes syndrome—the vanities of vanities experience.
Whatever the cause, cultural despair is real in affluent cultures. Drug and alcohol abuse, deeply fractured and dysfunctional relationships, addictions of all kinds, alarming rates of suicide… these are dominant features of affluent cultures. Perhaps the affluence itself elevates the despair. After all, we have enough stuff to keep us happy, don’t we? Evidently there is occasion for hope to shine and to draw inquirers–even in affluent cultures.
Hope shines in its complimentary features of peace, contentment, simplicity, generosity, joy, security, and servanthood. If these qualities are evident in us, hope shines through us. But if people see anxiety, restlessness, greed, selfishness and despair, we have nothing to invite them to inquire. They can find these triats everywhere.
Future focused hope:
But let’s think more deeply about hope. How should our lives be affected by the event called the blessed hope–the coming of the Lord? How should anticipation of the return of Jesus affect us? We don’t hear much about this today. I remember the annual prophecy conferences from my younger years. They are rare now. In fact, some Christians are fearful of focusing on prophecy. Unlike those who read prophecy into everything that happens in the Middle East, they avoid discussions about it! They under emphasize large portions of Scripture or try to reinterpret them into the present when they clearly deal with the future.
But what happens to a Church when it loses its future focus, its expectation for Jesus’ return? Does it become inappropriately fixated on the here and now? Do they exchange an eschatology of hope for a trendy environmentalism? Does the outward man who is perishing become so important that the inner man is not being renewed day by day as intended?
What happens to believers who forget that, “…our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21).
We need to place our hope into a larger context. For all believers, hope (like celebration of communion) has a past, present, and future dimension. At the Lord’s Table, we “take the bread,” that is, we “do this”– (present), “in remembrance of Jesus…” (past), “until He comes” (future). This is how we should view hope! It is based on what God did for us in Christ’s death and resurrection (past); it is evident to unbelievers as they look at our lives (present) and hope has an anchor in what the Lord has in store for us (future). It conveys a settled and transformational assurance. According to the apostle John, the future dimension of hope has a transformational affect in the present: “…we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3). And, scripture reminds us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
Earlier in I Peter (before mentioning that we should be always ready to answer for our hope), the apostle connected hope to the future: “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, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3-5). “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:13) (emphasis mine).
Our great need:
There are many earthly reasons for despair in this life. Examples of human depravity bombard us each day and are sometimes emotionally overwhelming. But depravity is not merely out in the world somewhere distant to us. It runs like a fault-line with deceptive twists and turns through every human heart and cries for intervention and rescue. Some people take lightly (even ridicule) the language of rescue and salvation found in the Bible. They bristle at the notion of needing to be saved. But the language clearly fits our condition.
It’s not hard for me to accept the Biblical categories of sin and salvation. We are all self-evident sinners. We continually fall short and transgress the good. Habitually, we think and do evil. We need God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is why the Scripture indiscriminately states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Religion or love:
Some suggest that we need religion. I totally disagree. Most religion is a man-made system of seeking God’s approval. Like pagan mythology, religion positions humans before an angry deity and demand that they offer something to pacify the wrath of the god. What we need is the mercy and grace of God! In religion, I hope to do sufficient good things to offset the bad I have done and to avert the just wrath of God. This is the complete opposite of what the bible teaches about God’s forgiveness and salvation.
Don’t misunderstand. The scripture speaks clearly about God’s wrath and sinners deserving it. But it equally describes us as those who are unable to change things by our own strength and resources. We are too weak in our sinfulness to change our standing with the creator.
This is where God’s love accomplishes what we are unable to do. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins (NLT, I John 4:9-11). Unlike pagan mythology and man-made religion, the Bible offers, “The appeasement of the wrath of God by the love of God through the gift of God” (from: John Stott). Undeserving though I am, my only response is to receive as a gift this salvation through Jesus Christ (see: Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-6).
It shouldn’t surprise us that the apostle John wrote concerning Jesus that, “…all who believed him and accepted him, he (God) gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12). It should, however, alarm us to read that, “…whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). Sound too simple? For whom? It wasn’t easy for God the Father and Jesus our savior. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves (See: Galatians 2:21).
This is not religion. It is love. All sinners (which is a way of saying, ‘all people’) need God’s love offered through Jesus Christ. Not surprisingly Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Jesus inspired hope in his despairing disciples by reminding them that, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3).
Perhaps our hope is deficient because it is not engaged in the fullness of past, present and future. This thought challenges me. I hope it will do the same for you.
Here’s a song that captures hope based on past, present and future:
In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, Who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save.
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied;
For ev’ry sin on Him was laid—
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
Words and Music by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright © 2001 Kingsway Thankyou Music