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Hope is a psychological necessity; without it there is only despair, which leads logically to suicide. Most individuals aspire for hope—it tends to make the present bearable and the future anticipated. The hope of most people, however, is irrational and imaginary, because it is without foundation.

Even some secular writers have understood the emptiness of human hope and have classified it as illusory, fleeting, fanciful, or phantom, merely a crux that is created to assist the individual as he faces the vicissitudes of life. Still man hopes and searches for something or someone on which to focus his feeble and foolish hope. Even without rational justification people still have hope; it arises from a need that must be met. But the tragedy is that most hope is false and without value.

To Paul the apostle was revealed the true state of the matter concerning man and hope; he characterized man as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Here is profound insight on several levels:

The condition of man is diagnosed—he has no hope; he may speak of hope and affirm hope, but for the natural man there is no hope; to claim otherwise is to speak spuriously.

Man is without God in the world—the fact of God is affirmed by the text, and man is without the God that the text affirms; God exists but man is separated from Him.

The absence of hope is related to the absence of God—to be without one is to be without the other; no hope because one is without God; to be separated from God means that there is no hope in the life.

To be without God and, therefore, to have no hope means that man is not prepared for this world or for the next world.

Indirectly this text is affirming the opposite: to be with God is to have hope.

These nine words from Ephesians are instructive, establishing the reality of God, explaining the predicament of man, and, implicitly, providing the solution to man’s emotional and spiritual emptiness. Cutting through silly positive thinking and imprudent affirmations of personhood, the text exposes man’s struggle for sanity when he denies his Maker.

What exactly is hope? How is it to be defined? What distinguishes valid hope? What are the main characteristics of hope. The foundation for hope is outward rather than inward; it is not related to historical processes but transcends them; it does not focus on the present but contemplates the past in preparation for the future.

Hope can be defined as the trustful expectation in God to fulfill His promises—
it is a firm assurance or a confident anticipation in who God is
and in what God will do.

Hope is Theistic
– The discussion of hope must be in terms of God; this is the elementary lesson learned from the text in Ephesians. Hope is not about man and his ability to manipulate his thinking in an optimistic vein, but it is about Deity, the God who knows and who intervenes—the God who acts.

Hope is about God. For this reason Jeremiah refers to God as “the Hope of Israel” (14:8), and the psalmist affirms: “My hope is in You” (Ps. 39:7). Paul speaks of God as “the God of hope” (Rom. 15:13). Hope, therefore, is anchored in the words/promises of God and in His character to fulfill His word.

Understood from this perspective, it is obvious that natural hope is different from the believer’s hope. Natural, or human, hope is based on people and circumstances, and the individual’s ability to channel his thinking along constructive and so-called positive concepts.

The Christian hope has a different focus; the source of the hope is stated in diverse ways, but all affirm that the source of hope is related to God. To be instructed properly is to know that hope is from God, His Word, His calling, and His Gospel:

God - He is the “God of hope” (Rom. 15:13);

God’s Word - through the “comfort of the Scriptures" we might have hope (Rom. 15:4);

God’s calling - Paul speaks of “the hope to which He has called you” (Eph. 1:18), and he writes of “the one hope that belongs to your call” (Eph. 4:4);

God’s Gospel - Paul warns against “shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).

Man has no resources sufficient to establish and maintain hope, for hope is not in what God created—the natural order of things—but resides in the Creator of creation. Most human hope is based upon people or changing circumstances. But within creation there are no resources for establishing and maintaining hope, in spite of the belief in the inevitability of progress that characterizes the thinking of many individuals. Confidence in scientific advancements and sociological developments is misplaced; both are part of history and have no control over what follows the historical process. In other words, hope predicated on the human level cannot be relevant to the future, especially eternity.

Hope is of God and His doings. He is Sovereign over people and circumstances (see: God is Sovereign). If things are to be better and if there is to be a future, then God must act. The hope of history is not in history but is outside of history; history will be transformed into eternity from that which transcends history, or by Him who transcends history.

God’s Kingdom is an invasion from outside of history and does not arise from within history through social, religious, or political dynamics; the Kingdom is not the culminating conclusions of a long societal evolution; the Kingdom is according to His plan (see: Rule of Christ).

Hope is Soteriological – Paul speaks of “the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope” (I Tim. 1:1), and in so doing personifies hope; hope is not a something but Someone. It is not a state of mind that the individual strives for and attempts to attain, but hope invades the life as Christ imparts Himself to the believer. Hope then is not a psychological state, but a soteriological Person.

Thus there is an intimate relationship between hope and the person and work of Christ, particular His resurrection. Peter is definitive:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, reserved in heaven for you . . . (I Pet. 1:3-4).

The “resurrection of Jesus Christ” is indicative of His total work of redemption; by His resurrection He confirmed the significance of His death for sin—the resurrection culminated and vindicated His passion. In the text the resurrection makes possible the new birth, which produces for the believer two blessings: a living hope, and an inheritance (the text reads: “to a living hope” and “to an inheritance”). Both of these come to man through the resurrection and because of “His abundant mercy”; God has “caused” these things to happen for the one who is the recipient of His affection.

The hope is “living,” a word used several times by Peter in his first epistle (1:3, 23; 2:4, 5, 24; 4:5, 6); the Greek is a present active participle denoting continual, ongoing action. The hope is living because Christ is living—He has risen from the dead. When Christ comes to the believer it is the living Christ, it is not merely a concept or an intellectual belief—He comes as a living reality. And the believer is identified with Christ (see: The Principle of Identification) and thereby partakes of the One who is living. To partake of Christ is to partake of hope.

Hope was given prominence and significance when Christ arose. In His resurrection is the basis for hope and the anticipation of hope; in this sense our hope looks backward to His death and resurrection, and looks forward to our resurrection and coming inheritance. The backward orientation teaches that hope is soteriological, whereas the future orientation reminds us that hope is eschatological (see next point).

The resurrection was the act of God, and His act is the basis for hope. God who raised up Christ is also the One who has caused us to be born again—the entire drama is the doing of God. He provides the basis for the hope and then causes one to become the recipient of the hope. So God supplies what God requires; man is not capable. God is to be blessed for what He has done and is doing; He is to be blessed as God and as the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hope is Eschatological – The above text from Peter speaks of the one who is born again as being the recipient of “a living hope” and “an inheritance”; both of these are the believer’s possession because of the resurrection of Christ, a resurrection which indicates who He is and justifies what He did. And through His sufficient accomplishment an inheritance belongs to the one who belongs to Christ.

Though listed separately in the text as “hope” and “inheritance,” the two seem directly connected. To have hope designates one who has an inheritance, and to have an inheritance is to be filled with hope. Surely the inheritance is the content of the hope, that is, the hope is defined by the inheritance.

The inheritance is given three characteristic: it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” This inheritance does not deteriorate, it is not contaminated, and it will not grow old—this inheritance does not decay, is not flawed or defective, and does not change. This is unlike any earthly inheritance; this is a heavenly inheritance. It is not an inheritance from man but from God. With the inheritance the focal point is on the future and the coming and certain realization of that which is hoped for.

In fact, the text affirms that the inheritance is kept in heaven, so the focus of the hope is not only forward but upward—hope looks toward the future with firm conviction because hope knows that its basis and essence transcend the natural. The inheritance is for those “who are kept by the power of God,” waiting for the salvation that will be revealed in the last time, a salvation that includes an inheritance. The believer is waiting for an inheritance that is kept in heaven and will be manifest at the end-time—what a hope.

“Blessed is the man . . . whose hope is the Lord” (Jer. 17:7).

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