What is our hope and is it secure? Can we rely on our hope? These are some of the things I want to address. First, we need to define "hope." In Greek, the word "hope" is elpis which means expectation or confidence. So, when Paul or Peter were discussing hope, they didn’t mean wishing, but rather something expected, in which they could have confidence. A backwards example of what I mean comes from Paul’s voyage to Rome:
Acts 27:20 “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”
They lost hope of being saved because there was no reasonable expectation of living through that storm. It is in the next few verses after this that Paul tells them that God promised they’d be saved. Before that promise, however, there was no reasonable expectation of surviving, so they abandoned hope. While most undoubtedly wished for something to save them, there was no hope. That’s the difference between wishing and hoping, at least in the New Testament.
Our hope, of course, is set on God and because of that, our hope is not built of flimsy wishes:
2 Cor. 1:9-10 “. . . But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. . . On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”
If God is able to raise the dead, surely He can be counted on to fulfill His promises. Abraham certainly felt that was the case:
Rom. 4:18. “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”
It’s interesting how Paul writes this “in hope he believed against hope”. There was no reasonable expectation for Abraham to have children. He was past the age of begetting children. Sarah was past menopause. She had also been barren all her life. Everything Abraham knew about the birds and bees told him to give up all hope in children, but God had promised. Abraham knew that the promises of God were sure and so he believed in the promise of God despite what earthly knowledge told him. That is how secure the promise of God is: we can reasonably believe in it when all other reason tells us it doesn’t make sense. So Abraham held to his hope and received the promise.
Abraham hoped for a seed. What is it that we hope for? I don’t know about you, but I hope for salvation from Hell. I have sinned (so have you) and the consequences of that is a ticket to Hell unless I am saved by God. In His love, He has effected this salvation and promised it to us:
Eph. 2:7-9. “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
To emphasize what Paul wrote, salvation is by grace through faith. More pointedly, it is not by works. Grace is translated from the Greek word charis which means gift or liberality. It is often redundantly defined as unmerited favor. It is benevolence bestowed to those who don’t deserve it. If salvation is by grace as stated in Ephesians, then there is nothing I can do to earn it. It doesn’t depend on my efforts at all. And this idea doesn’t come from an isolated passage in one epistle, either:
Rom. 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE AS A GIFT, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Rom. 11:6. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
So, God is saying that salvation is His gift to us, offered freely to all who will have the faith to accept it. It is not by works and I CAN’T EARN IT. Either this is true, or God is a liar.
Now, let me slow down a bit to state some obvious things. We are saved by grace through faith, but how do we show our faith? James 2 makes it clear that saving faith is active faith, that because we believe in God, we work for Him. In John 14:23 the Lord says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. Romans 6 says we are the bondservants of him whom we choose to follow: sin to death or God to life. So as our faith leads us to God we become His servants and servants obey their Master. So, there is work to be done, but none of that earns us salvation.
Luke 17:10 “Even so you also, when you shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.”
As someone who used to study accounting, that word “unprofitable” jumps out at me. How are we unprofitable? Let me ask you a question: What was the price God paid to purchase us? 1 Cor. 6:20 clearly states that we have been bought with a price, what was the price? The death of God’s Son, that’s what the price was. If that is what it cost God to obtain us as His servants, is there any amount of work I can do to pay Him back? If every second of my life is devoted solely to Him for the rest of my life, would that balance the books? No, regardless of my efforts I am an unprofitable servant. So God purchasing me unto salvation is always benevolence granted, no matter what I do. I CANNOT EARN SALVATION. So, my hope should not rely upon how well I am living right now. My hope, instead, is in His grace
1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
2 Thess. 2:16-17 “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
According to Peter, I should set my hope fully on God’s grace. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they could take comfort is the hope of grace. In other words, God has promised us that His grace will secure our salvation. So, hoping in His grace is hoping on His promises. Which leads to the question, can we trust the promises of God? That isn’t meant to be blasphemous, but rather a reasonable question. If my hope, or reasonable expectation, is to be based on His promises, I need to know that it is reasonable to believe Him. I could spend hours nailing down from the Old Testament example after example of how God always keeps His promises, but two New Testament passages based on all that history will have to do for now:
1 Cor. 1:9 “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God is faithful. He is trustworthy. He does what He says He will do. Paul can confidently write that because he knew of the OT history I mentioned previously. God always followed through.
Heb. 6:17-18 “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”
Notice the phrase “it is impossible for God to lie”. So, God has a long history of fulfilling all His promises and it is impossible for Him to lie. I think it is safe to rely on His promises.
So, if my hope of salvation is not based on how good I am at any particular moment, but instead is based on the grace of God, then I can have peace. I don’t have to be constantly worried about “making it to heaven”, but can be at peace. This is how God intended it. Notice that Paul describes the Gospel as the Gospel of peace in Eph. 6:15. In fact, the readiness of the Gospel of peace are the shoes we are to wear as part of our “armor of God”. In Phil. 4, we are told to be anxious about nothing. Why, because we can take all our worries to God and He will handle them and give us the “peace of God”.
Christians should have no fear or anxiety about their salvation. I think one of the saddest things on the planet is when I hear Christians say things like “Well, if I make it to heaven. . .” or “maybe I’ll make it”. No, there is no maybe if we walk in faith. Why, because my hope isn’t in me or my righteousness but in God’s promises! Your hope isn’t in your righteousness but in God’s promises. If my line of argument isn’t good enough to convince you of that, perhaps you will listen to Peter:
1 Pet. 1:21 “who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
“Your faith and hope are in God.” So, to be saved I don’t have to figure out how to live perfectly every moment of every day. My salvation doesn’t depend on me, but on His grace. As an unprofitable servant, I can’t be saved no matter how careful I am, so I should gratefully trust in His grace and be at peace. Now, let me hasten to say that I am not trying to justify sin. I am not giving you an out for living your life however you want. If you are in sin and you know you are in sin, you had best repent and return to living faithfully before the Lord. But as it says in 1 John 1:7, if we are walking in the light his blood will cleanse us from sin.
So, I am not trying to give you assurance that you can continue in sin and be fine before the Lord, but rather that we don’t have the pressure of living a sinless life. We shouldn’t have the anxiety of hoping to die in between sins, right after we’ve prayed for forgiveness. As Christians we should be continually growing as we walk with Him. I don’t know about you, but as I’ve grown I’ve realized that some things I had been doing I probably shouldn’t be doing. That there were things I should be doing that I hadn’t been doing. That certain passages applied to me in ways that I hadn’t realized before. What if I had died before realizing those things? Would I have gone to hell? NO. Since my hope in not on my righteousness but on His grace and since I was walking in the light as best I knew how, and continuing to grow I have no doubt that my salvation was secure. Having learned to be better, however, I now need to make those changes to continue to be “in the light”. No matter how we look at it, salvation is God’s gift which I can’t earn. If we are following Him as best we can in faith according to His word, we WILL be saved by His grace. We should be at peace about that because our hope is secure in His grace, in His promises, which cannot fail.
I once heard Dee Bowman describe how he’d feel if he happened to live to see the return of the Lord. He did not mention fear. There was no dread or worry. He described jumping up and down in excitement and joy hollering “Yes! Yes! Come on, Lord!” That is the kind of faithful assurance we should all have, knowing our hope is not in our own righteousness, but instead in the promise of God. God’s promise not only assures us of salvation, it grants us peace.