The church is a community of hope, and as such, our Sunday gatherings must train people in hope. The church is an outpost, an embassy of our home country, and when we gather, our goal is to encourage and build one another up in hope and anticipation as we see that future day approaching (Heb 10:24–25). Author Jonathan Wilson says that worship provides a “corrected vision” of our lives and of the future. He says, “In the midst of lives that are continually shaped by other visions of reality, worship corrects our vision and enables us to live in hope in every part of our lives.”[ii]
According to 1 Corinthians 13:13, there are three great spiritual virtues: faith, hope, and love. And of these three, Paul says that the greatest is love. Paul makes it clear that love drives our spiritual lives, and without it, we are as worthless as a rhythm-less drummer. In addition to love, as good Protestants, we understand the importance of faith. Faith alone saves. In addition, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Paul spends large chunks of his letters making sure we understand the role of faith in our spiritual lives. But hope? Hope can easily get lost in the shuffle like a middle child in a minivan. It’s easy to think of hope as a nice addition to our spiritual lives if we happen to have it, but not necessarily something to be purposefully cultivated and intentionally pursued.
Perhaps we overlook hope because we have re-defined it in incomplete ways. I’ve often heard hope described as a confident expectation for the future. On the surface this makes sense. This definition even attempts to correct a common misunderstanding born from its normative use. In day-to-day life, most people use the word hope to speak of a wishful desire. For example, I hope the Detroit Lions will win the Super Bowl, or I hope I will inherit money from an unknown rich uncle. It would be hard to classify either of those hopes as a confident expectation. The above-stated “confident expectation” definition moves our characterization of hope away from common cultural usage and toward the biblical understanding, but it’s still lacking in significant ways. These shortcomings tend to cheapen hope, and they fail to accurately reflect the biblical picture.
There are two ideas that need clarification before we arrive at a proper understanding of hope. First, hope must be understood as a Christ-like emotional virtue because of its strong connection to joy. As we grow in sanctification, not only do our actions become more Christ-like, but so do our emotional dispositions. In other words, as we are growing more like our Lord, the emotion of hope will be more consistently present, leading to greater and greater joy and fruitfulness. Hope cannot be true biblical hope without joy. We find this connection repeatedly in Scripture. Proverbs 10:28 puts it like this, “The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” Romans 5:2 agrees that we rejoice in hope, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Paul even commands Christians to bring joy and hope together in a series of imperatives in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” But why does biblical hope require joy? This brings us to our second clarifying idea concerning hope.
Biblical hope grows with joy because true hope is fixed on our future bodily resurrection in the presence of God in the new creation. The biblical picture of hope is focused on the future, but it is not a vague and abstract belief about what will happen. Biblical hope brings joy because I know that one day, based on the promises of God, I will rise from the dead to a resurrection body and dwell on the new earth fully enjoying the presence of God, entirely free from sin. Hope dwells on a particular moment in the future, and is thrilled with the prospects of that moment. Romans 8:18–25 makes this clear. Paul explains that our future culminates in the full and complete redemption of the entire creation, along with the redemption of our bodies. This is the moment when all will be set right. In fact, in verse 24, Paul says that “in this hope we were saved.” The outcome of our salvation is joyfully fixed on a concrete, embodied reality, not an abstract possibility.