Hope has been defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “desire with anticipation.” Other definitions given by Merriam-Webster include a “deeply held wish” or a “feeling of wanting something to happen.” I’m certain that this is how the broader culture defines hope, but is there more to it?
From a Biblical worldview, we must ask ourselves the questions, “What is Christian hope?” and “How is it different from a wish or wishful thinking?” In order to do that our minds and feelings must be informed by the Scriptures. I’d like to draw your attention to a passage that you may not think of when thinking through this word, hope. In Romans 15:8-13, the Apostle Paul takes us by the hand and says:
8For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
In this passage, the Apostle Paul quotes from three different sections of the Old Testament and his audience would have picked up on this instantly. He quotes from the Law in verse 10, which can be found in Deuteronomy 32:43. He quotes from the Prophets in verse 12, and this can be found in Isaiah 11:10. And finally he quotes from the Writings in verses 9 and 11, which can be found in Psalm 18:49 and Psalm 117:1.
Why is this important when seeking to grapple with Christian hope? God made a promise in the Old Testament for the newly depraved Adam and Eve and consequently their children (including us). He promised in Genesis 3:15:
“I [God] will put enmity between you [serpent] and the woman [Eve], and between your offspring and her offspring: he [the coming Messiah] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Every covenant promise in the Old Testament pointed to the promise of this coming Messiah. Every covenant in the Old Testament revealed more and more the glories of this majestic promise. Could you imagine the anticipation for this promised to be fulfilled in the Old Testament? Could you imagine the urgent hopeful desire to see this promise fulfilled?
Now, in our text here in Romans we have the Apostle Paul saying that God is truthful. God is a promise keeper. Paul says that Christ (whom he mentions in verse 8) is the One that the entirety of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and Writings) prophesied about. After all these years, the long-awaited Messiah has come! Therefore, you can be hopeful. This is force behind verse 13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
So, why do we have hope according to our text in Romans? Because Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. Therefore, biblical hope is rooted in God being faithful to His promises and we can look to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to be reassured of this. Christian hope then isn’t wishful thinking? There is certainty in the hope of a believer. There is a God-centered confidence. We don’t hope with our fingers crossed. We hope knowing that God keeps His promises and we only need to look backwards to the cross to be reminded.
There is another reason Christians can hope differently than the world hopes. That is because as Christians, the Holy Spirit lives in us. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:13-14:
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
When we trust in Christ Jesus and repent of our sin, God seals us with His promised Holy Spirit who is the “guarantee of our inheritance”. This isn’t wishful hope. Our inheritance is so certain it is as if it has already happened. We can look forward to the “city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14) with a sure hope. So the next time you hear the word hope, think back to these two passages of Scripture and be assured that Christian hope is grounded in the unshakeable foundation of God Himself (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Joey Tomlinson (DMin, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is a husband, father, and pastor at a local church in Newport News, Virginia. He blogs regularly on broadoakpiety.org and hosts a weekly podcast called The Broad Oak Piety Podcast with another local pastor in the community.