Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

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In yesterday’s post I wrote about how Christians live in the tension between the “already and not yet.” Though God’s kingdom has already begun to be present on earth, it is not yet here in all fullness. Though sin has already been defeated through Christ’s death on the cross, we have not yet experienced life without sin. And so forth and so on in our “already and not yet” reality. Because of what we already experience as believers, we have hope for the future. We have confidence that the “not yet” will someday come.
One common mistake with regard to hope, one made by Christians and non-Christians alike, is to place our hope in the wrong thing. This inevitably leads to disappointment. Thus we must pay close attention to the proper content of hope.
We get help in this regard from the first letter of Peter in the New Testament. Notice how Peter begins his letter to suffering Christians:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, unstained, and undefiled, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by the power of God through faith, for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this fact you are rejoicing, even if for a little while you have had to suffer various kinds of trials, so that the genuineness of your faith (being more precious than gold, which, though perishable, is shown to be genuine by fire) may be found to result in your praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him, and though you still don’t see him, believing in him you are rejoicing with unspeakable and glorious joy, as you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:3-9, MDR).

Though the recipients of Peter’s letter are suffering “various kinds of trials,” they nevertheless embrace a “living hope” because of the resurrection of Jesus. Here the resurrection serves, not only to exonerate the ministry of Jesus and confirm His status as God’s chosen Messiah, but also to show us what lies ahead for us. Our hope is a resurrection hope, in that it is both based on the resurrection of Jesus and looking forward to our own resurrectiopn. In time we will also be raised and will receive an “imperishable, unstained, and undefiled” inheritance. Additionally, we will receive “praise and glory and honor” when Christ is revealed. In the meanwhile, we hold fast to our hope with “unspeakable and glorious joy.”
Notice carefully the content of Christian hope. We place our hope in God, in his ultimate victory through Christ, and in our future inheritance. Hope that depends on what God has already done in Christ and focuses on what God will certainly do through Christ is a “living hope,” a hope that will not disappoint us (Rom 5:5). Christian hope is not, however, a Pollyanna-like naïveté about life, a simplistic affirmation that everything will turn out just the way we want it to. Surely, everything will turn out right in the end, if by “the end” we mean the end of human history when Christ returns and God’s kingdom is fully manifested. But along the way, many things won’t turn out the way we’d like them to.
I still remember a line from a sermon preached by Bruce Larson when I was in junior high. He was critiquing the simplistic view that Christians will always be delivered from suffering. “The early Christians were delivered from the lions,” he said, “they were delivered as lion dung!” You can see why this so impressed a junior high boy that I remember it to this day. Larson was right. Thousands of faithful Christians were put to death by Roman gladiators or consumed by Roman lions. They were delivered, not from suffering and death, but through suffering and death into eternal life.
Yet our hope of a future with God isn’t something we put on our spiritual shelf to admire from a distance. Rather, it gives us motivation to live each day for God and His kingdoms. And it helps us to face life’s challenges and pains with distinctive hope. In my next post I’ll provide some specific examples of how hope makes a difference for people in the midst of suffering.

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