Paul stands firmly upon hope.
- In his letters, he speaks of it in one form or another 55 times.
To unpack Paul’s hope, it will help to survey his use in Romans thus far.
- Romans 4:18 (ESV) — 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
- Romans 5:2–5 (ESV) — 2 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. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
And then our text today:
- Romans 8:24–25 (ESV) — 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
What is Hope?
But what is the hope about which he speaks?
A modern dictionary definition of hope is:
- “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” (Oxford)
- “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true” (Merriam-Webster)
These definitions express what we might call:
- Hope as Wishful Thinking.
- Hope as Weighing the Possibilities.
Do these capture Paul’s view of hope?
- That would be a big fat, “NO”!
When we unpack Paul’s use of hope in these verses we find the following:
- Hope is something had by those who posses saving faith – 4:18 (Abraham).
- Hope is grounded in God’s promises – 4:18 (“as he had been told”).
- Hope happens in the now – as in hoping, the “verbing” of hope – 4:18 (“in hope he believed”).
- Hope is connected to the future – 4:18 (“he should become the father of many”).
- Hope’s “now” context is our new address, the realm of grace, which is accessed by faith – 5:2 (“obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope”).
- Hope arises out of suffering for the believer – 5:4 (“produces hope”).
- Hope is evidence of the love of God expressed in us through the Holy Spirit – 5:5 (“hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”).
- Hope is all the cool indicatives of the Gospel – the person and work of Christ – 4:24 (“For in this hope we were saved”).
- Hope is all the cool future stuff we are groaning/lamenting for – new nature and new status, e.g. – 4:24 (“For in this hope we were saved”).
- Hope is not seen – 4:24 (“hope that is seen is not hope”; “we hope for what we do not see” ).
- Hope, therefore, requires patience – 4:24 (“we wait for it with patience”).
It seems fairly clear from these that Paul’s hope…
- Is not wishful thinking or weighing the possibilities.
But even with these observations…
- We have only scratched the surface of Paul’s hope.
- So I want to go a little deeper into a few of elements of hope we have identified.
Hope and Faith:
We saw that there is a particular relationship between hope and faith.
- The indicatives of our hope are “recognized, accepted and appropriated through the act or attitude of faith” – John Paul Heil.
It’s like this:
- Faith secures our entry into grace.
- This then gives us a stance from which Christian hope is produced.
- This is the idea behind Paul’s words that suffering produces hope.
- Faith-suffering produces faith-hope.
- All of this is something the unbeliever simply doesn’t have.
Hope Is Not Blind:
We saw that a couple elements of Paul’s hope are:
- God’s promises.
- And the indicatives of the Gospel.
One scholar puts it this way:
- Hope begins with, “What God has promised and/or already accomplished on our behalf” – John Paul Heil.
This means that hope is not blind!
- Hope is grounded in who God is, what He has done, what He is doing.
- These things form the foundation upon which hope is built.
For Paul this includes things like:
- The reality of the person of Jesus Christ.
- Jesus as the fulfillment of the Father’s promise to Abraham.
- The work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
- The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- The exaltation of Jesus Christ.
- The indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
These things definitively rule out hope as wishful thinking or weighing the possibilities.
- In fact, for Paul, without these things there is no such thing as hope.
- Christian hope only exists because of these things – these indicatives.
Hope Is Not Seen:
We also saw that Paul said:
- “hope that is seen is not hope”
- “we hope for what we do not see”
How do these mesh with the idea that hope is not blind?
It parses out like this:
- We hope – as in the verb – because of the indicatives of the Gospel.
- They supply the reason for our current hoping – they fuel it.
- Again, our hope is not blind.
But the things of hope itself (the nouns of hope) – resurrection and new status, e.g. – are in the future.
- In other words, they will become reality at Christ’s return – a future event.
- They are “God’s future salvific activity” – John Paul Heil.
So obviously our resurrection; our new status; Christ’s return – are not seen.
- This is simply because they are in the future.
- Which means, of course, that they are not in the present.
So this is why hope (the noun) “is not seen”.
- It is in the future.
- One doesn’t hope (the verb) for what one already has – the now.
- One hopes (the verb) for specific future events (hope the noun) – the not yet.
Douglas Moo puts it this way:
“That ‘glory to be revealed,’ which is the focus of our hope, is not visible; and the frustrations and difficulties of life can sometimes all but erase the image of that glory for us. But hope would not be what it is if we could see it, for “who hopes for what one sees?” – Douglas Moo.
How might all this inform our understanding of this verse?
- Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) — 1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hope is a Verb:
We saw that hope is a verb.
- Or to put another way, hoping is the “verbing” of hope.
I love how John Paul Heil puts it:
- Hoping is the believers’ “act or the attitude of confident expectation” about the contents of our future hope – John Paul Heil.
This is a huge deal.
So, although Paul’s “nows” consist of:
- “sufferings of this present time”
- a “creation subjected to futility”
- a “bondage to corruption”
- Creation groaning
- The inward groaning of the believer.
Paul’s now also consists of:
- Christian Hope
This is such a big deal because:
- Christian hope connects our Christian “nows” to our Christian “not yets”.
I look at it like this:
- Christian hope actually extends forward through time.
- It exists both now and goes forward into the future.
So, for example, Christian hope:
- Is attached to Christ’s resurrection…
- And goes forward into time and is attached to our resurrection.
And we travel along this hope everyday of our life.
- This is a huge reason why the Christian life has purpose at every moment.
- As we move through time, we move along Christian hope.
Think of it like this:
- The hope that exists “now” and goes forward into time to our “not yets”…
- Is like the path through the Red Sea.
This path was attached to the Israelites “now” of slavery…
- And also connected them to…
- And, thus was attached to,…
- Their “not yet” of freedom and promised land.
Why is this Christian hope so important?
- “The Scriptures describe all too well the despair of hopelessness. Job lamented in his pain: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope” (Job 7:6). King David said in his final address to the Israelites before he passed away that even the covenant people feel like “our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope” (1 Chr 29:15). The apostle Paul wrote that Gentile Christians were once a people “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). There is perhaps no place more despairing than one in which a person does not know hope for the future” – Michael Bird.