What Can One Say About Hope?
Can we say that to have a healthy outlook on life, and any sense of excitement or anticipation about the future, hope is absolutely indispensable? That every lifeless face; every disheartened soul; every gloomy gaze; every pessimistic outlook; every discouraged tear and lethargic spirit is in some way the result of a loss of hope?
The loss of hope evidences itself in many ways—when you find yourself depressed, listless, or adopting somewhat of a “whatever” or “who cares” attitude toward things in general; when you find yourself ready to give up on some life-long dream, or some important relationship, or in the worst case scenario, when you find yourself wanting to call it quits, entertaining suicidal thoughts, or thinking about “throwing in the towel,” as they say. Suicide is the ultimate expression of the loss of hope.
Dear friend, do you display any of those symptoms?
Have the things of life got you down? Do you feel like a sandcastle on the beach where each successive wave of despairing circumstances just continues to hit you and erode your hope more and more?
One of the oldest symbols for hope was the anchor. It’s an appropriate symbol since an anchor fixed to a rock solid object on shore would hold a vessel fast even when the ship was beaten by the winds or waves of a storm. Hope that is solid and sure must be grounded in something equally solid and sure. An anchor set in nothing but sand will pull loose, but an anchor hooked around an outcropping of bedrock will hold firm!
So what is that rock solid object around which we need to hook our anchor? How do we gain the hope we need and desire?
1.) The Infinitely Strong and Rock Solid Object We Call God.
Three times the despairing Psalmist preaches to himself in Psalms 42-43 and tells himself: “Put your hope in God…” And he does so because he knows that God and God alone is the source of all true, solid, stable hope! Hope comes as we fix our eyes of faith upon the mighty and unchangeable God who is the well-spring of all hope. “You are my God and Savior and my hope is in You all day long,” says the Psalmist elsewhere (25:5). Hope, then, comes from having a right perspective and a right perspective comes from focusing our attention on God and not on the things that are getting us down. Hold a tiny object like a dime one eighth of an inch from your eye and it totally blocks your ability to see anything else out of that eye. But hold that same dime out at arms length away from that eye and you can see it and nearly everything else as well. Focusing on God instead of our troubles is like moving that dime an arms length away from our eye. We get a clearer and more objective picture of things. “Blessed is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps. 146:5).
2.) The Divinely Inspired Word of God.
Five times Psalm 119 repeatedly declares: “I have put my hope in your Word…”(119:49, 74, 81, 114, 147). This is good advice to us. Sometimes we make the mistake of letting our feelings or our present circumstances be the gauge of what we think will continue to come our way in the future. We let doubt and despair get the best of us, and unwisely become our own “prophet of doom.” We let those things rather than God’s promises to us in His Word be the indicators of what God must surely have in store for us in the future. Yet those who “build the house of their hope” on the shifting sands of their present feelings, or circumstances; on speculation and probabilities, will not see it stand when the hardships of life beat down upon it like unrelenting torrential rains, or the floodwaters of despair rise to engulf it. But those who hear, believe, and set their hope upon God’s word and His promises is like a man who builds his house on solid rock. Neither flood, nor storm, nor wind, nor rain can bring it down! (Matt. 7:24-27)
“I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate upon your promises.” (119:147-148). One such promise for me has been Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They were words spoken to Israel, but words that we too—who by faith in Jesus Christ have become part of the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16)—can also take as words spoken to us. “In His word I put my hope.” (Ps. 130:5)
3.) Not Just God, and Not Just His Word, but Also His Love.
Psalm 147:11 says: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him; who put their hope in His unfailing love…” It isn’t enough during difficult times to merely hope in God and His word, because for hope to grow it also needs the assurance that the God who is, and possesses all power, and has spoken His promises to us also loves us—strongly, unfailingly, everlastingly, incomprehensibly. The knowledge and assurance that God loves us purely and passionately is absolutely essential to the cultivation of hope. We can believe in God, and even believe He gave us His word and His promises, but if we don’t believe He loves us our hope will soon fade. How can we know God loves us in that way? The Bible tells us so. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39). “I pray that you…may have power along with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love which surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the full measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). God’s love is sacrificial, profound, and proved by His actions. And most mind-boggling of all, God’s love was not only given to us while we were yet sinners, it was given to us in the same measure that it was given to Jesus!
If I may quote J. I. Packer in speaking about the Christian doctrine of adoption: “God receives us as sons, and loves us with the same steadfast affection with which he eternally loves his beloved only begotten. There are no distinctions of affection in the divine family. We are all loved just as fully as Jesus is loved. It is like a fairy story—the reigning monarch adopts waifs and strays to make princes of them. But praise God, it is not a fairy story: it is hard and solid fact, founded on the bedrock of free and sovereign grace.”
4.) Faith in the One Who Died For the Weak, Despairing and Heavy-laden!
Sometimes our problems seem to come on us out of nowhere as was the case with Job in the Bible. Other times we bring them on ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, either by sinning outwardly or feeding the appetites of sin inwardly until they become compulsive urges or full blown addictions that send us in a downward death-spiral. Either way we need the grace, faith, hope, and love that God holds out to us at all times and on all occasions. That’s the way of God in the Gospel: The favor He gives comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We don’t have to earn it or work for it. We need only receive it as a gift and take it from His out-stretched hand by faith. He achieved it all for us! In His LIFE of perfect obedience to all the commands of God (which we’ve repeatedly broken) Jesus Christ the God-man purchased for us—in our place and as our righteous substitute—the flawless obedience to God’s commands that the Law demands. That’s the saving life of Christ. And by His DEATH on the cross He then made atonement for all our sins (all the times we broke those same commands), securing for us a complete forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation with God. That’s the saving death of Christ. And we lay hold of all those Gospel blessings by nothing other than faith in Him who lived, died and rose again to purchase our “justification” or acceptance with God. Christ doesn’t make us righteous and therefore acceptable to God, Christ Himself is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. God credits His perfect righteousness to us when we trust in Him. That (and that alone) is why we can have peace in the midst of any storm, and hope even when we mess up badly.
So what is the most important ingredient for hope and salvation? Faith in Jesus Christ! Trust in Him and His totally-sufficient and 100% completed work on our behalf! All we need do to be saved is believe the promise of God that whosoever believes in Jesus “will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) That’s why Horatius Bonar could write: “Nothing except a believed Gospel can give us hope… A believed Gospel brings us peace; and, with the peace, it brings us hope. The peace is sure and steadfast, and so also is the hope.”
A heathen jailor once asked the Apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,” was his reply, “you and your household as well.” The jailor was looking for something he must “do” to earn God’s saving favor. He was thinking he must do some good deed or perform some good work to appease what he perceived to be an angry deity. “Just believe,” was the Apostle’s response. “You don’t have to “do” anything worthy or meritorious. Just lean upon Jesus in faith, cast the whole weight of your lost soul upon Him, and trust in what He did to save you. Stop striving to “do” something and merely trust that Christ did everything that was necessary to secure your full acceptance with God—a gift that can now be yours if you’ll just believe in the One who secured it for you.”
That’s the Gospel. Out of love unspeakable but true, Christ died to purchase our salvation for us, so that we might simply receive it by faith as a gift! Jesus paid the infinite price to purchase the salvation of fallen people, that He might then take it and offer it to them free of charge (Isaiah 52:13-53:12—the infinite price paid /Isaiah 55:1-7—the gift freely offered to all).
And what Paul said to that jailor, dear friend, I say to you:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Then, “The God of all hope will fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13). It’s a gift that comes as you simply believe. Horatius Bonar was right: “Nothing except a believed Gospel can give us hope…”