|by Rev. Sterling M. Durgy
Hope is a powerful force in the life of any human being. Lack of hope leads to the condition we call depression: flatness of emotion, disorientation, lack of energy, and impaired ability (sometimes the complete inabilty) to perform tasks. The antidote to depression is hope, which energizes people in the same manner that water makes a wilting plant spring to life. Christian hope promises far more than just an antidote to depression, it re-orients the entire direction of a person's life.
This hope is completely foreign to a world that does not walk with God. The only people who have some grasp of hope in the same manner as Christians are believing Jews, the people from whom Christians inherit their hope, the "hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20, 26:4-8). The apostle Paul explained to Felix, "according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men (the Jews) cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:14-15). This resurrection would occur on the "Day of the Lord," a day when God would rescue His people and initiate a new age in which He would abolish evil and rule over His people forever.
The difference between the hope of Jews and the hope of Christians is, however, profound in one important manner. Jews have the promises of God and wonderful examples of God's work in history, such as the Passover. Christians have all of this and also the physical evidence that this hope that is alive and sure in the resurrection of Christ (Acts 26:22-23, 17:31, I Peter 1:3). In all truthfulness, it is not fully correct to say that the Jews do not have the resurrection of Christ, because Jesus Christ, a Jew according to the flesh, is God's "Anointed One," the Messiah promised to and long awaited by Jews; and the Gospel is the "good news" to the Jew first, and only then to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). It is more precise to say that many Jews do not recognize the resurrection of Christ, and in that manner do not "have" it. Christian hope, then, is centered upon trust in God, focused on a future time of deliverance, evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and helps determine how Christians live their lives.
The hope of Christ's return and the coming "Day of the Lord" with all of its wonders and rewards Paul called "the blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) and spoke of non-Christians as those who "have no hope" (I Thessalonians 4:13). It isn't that there isn't anything worth hoping for on earth. There are good and beautiful things in this world, things that God placed here for us to enjoy (I Timothy 4:1-5). It isn't even that there cannot be a growth in righteousness on earth prior to Christ's return. There have been many occasions since the ministry of Christ where the Kingdom of God has forced back the kingdom of darkness. But this world has nothing to offer when it comes to the ultimate things. In fact, even the salvation offered in this age is incomplete. When we so often speak as if it were, we rob people of the hope that God means to sustain us in our journey through life.
Peter spoke of a "salvation ready to be revealed" and told Christians to "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Christ" (I Peter 1:5, 13). The author of Hebrews pointed out, "But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him (Jesus)" (Hebrews 2:8). Paul spoke of "the hope laid up for you in heaven" (Colossians 1:5), taught that even those Christians who have died feel a sense of incompleteness until they are joined with their resurrected and glorified bodies (II Corinthians 5:1-4), and that even the creation "longs" for the Day of the Lord in the sense that the time when things decay and die will end (Romans 8:19-23). All of this is consistent with the teaching of Jesus, who taught us to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20).
Yes, healing is in the atonement (Isaiah 53:5). But complete health can never be achieved on earth, only with the resurrection. Yes, there will be full reward for everyone who sacrifices for the Lord (Matthew 19:29). But it will be given at a time when Jesus judges His servants after His return. Yes, there will come a time when there is no more suffering (Revelation 21:3-7). But not until evil and death have been conquered at Christ's return. Until then, there will be healings, there will be blessings, and there will be comfort, but they will be sufficient, not complete, in this age. And those who try to act as if they will be find the difficulties of this age unfathomable.
On the other hand, for those who place their faith in God and look to the future He promises, there is a cleansing of one's mind and spirit. John wrote, "And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (I John 3:3), so that this hope is part of God's plan for the sanctification of Christians in this age. But we need to be careful here. This is a verse of great promise, but also a verse that requires careful application.
When John writes that we can be as pure as God, he means "in the same manner as God" not "to the same degree as God." We know this because, in the words of Christ, "No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:17-18). We also know that Christians are entirely dependent upon the grace of God for their purity and salvation. Anything that God calls upon us to do that helps our spiritual growth can only be done with His empowerment (John 15:5).
Surely the purification of which John speaks is the purification of replacing something bad with something good, similar to the command of James for the double-minded to "purify" their minds ("hearts," James 4:8). The "blessed hope" of Christians both gives an incentive to rid our lives of anything that is sinful (II Corinthians 7:1-2) and gives us something to fix our minds upon so that evil and destructive thinking has no place to take root. All three of Paul's "things that abide," love, faith, and hope, preclude evil in this manner (I Corinthians 13:13, I Thessalonians 1:2-3).
Not only does hope preclude wickedness, it cleanses us from being tied too tightly to the circumstances of daily life, giving us a stability rooted in the eternal trustworthiness of God.
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 3, March 1995.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
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