Sure hope. It sounds like an oxymoron. How can hope ever be “sure”?
When I was 5 or 6 years old, I ‘hoped’ my parents would one day take me to Disneyland. Given where we lived (a thousand miles away) and our lower socioeconomic status (I thought ‘scrawny chicken’ was a delicacy 😉), a trip to Disneyland was an unlikely event. Yet, I had a childlike dream that one day I might be able to get there. That was my hope. There was nothing ‘sure’ about it.
Our modern idea of hope is like a wistful or longing expectation for something that may or may not transpire. It implies a lack of confidence and surety about the outcome. We’d like for something to happen, but there isn’t sufficient evidence to guarantee that it will happen. We may also doubt the reliability of the person who is offering the hope. Will they deliver? Can they deliver?
The good news is that the Biblical concept of hope is very different to our contemporary understanding. I believe this is true in at least three important ways:
Biblical Context for Hope
I suppose it might have been helpful if the English translators of our modern Bible had chosen a different word to convey the meaning of our hope in Christ. However, given what we can understand and believe about Christian hope in the Bible, the word is actually very precious, on par with Christian faith and Christian love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; Heb. 11:1).
The word that the Bible uses for “hope” is the Greek word ἐλπίς or elpis. In the historical and cultural context in which the Bible was written, the reader would have most likely understood elpis to imply “confident expectation” – assuming full confidence in the outcome.
Take for example our passage in Romans 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.” (Rom. 5:5)
The recipients of Paul’s letter to the Romans would not have assumed or even entertained the prospect of God not fulfilling His promises. The hope (elpis) that Paul writes about is assured. It is 100% reliable. We won’t be disappointed or “put to shame” because we placed our confidence in the hope that God provides through Jesus.
Theologically speaking, Paul clarifies in Rom. 5:5 that our hope for the future is secured through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Eph. 1:13-14; cf. Rom. 8:16-17; 15:13).
Quoting John Piper:
Biblical hope not only desires something good for the future — it expects it to happen. And it not only expects it to happen — it is confident that it will happen. There is a moral certainty that the good we expect and desire will be done.
In fact, later in Romans, Paul refers to God as “the God of hope”:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13)
Evidence for Hope
Our hope in Jesus and His promises is also based on the evidence of His perfect sinless life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension (cf. 1 Cor. 15). By contrast, things we hope for in this physical world (like my desire to visit Disneyland as a kid) seldom have sufficient evidence to guarantee their outcome. Indeed, in my childhood example, the evidence pointed to the opposite outcome – it was highly unlikely that I would get to Disneyland.
As for our faith in Christ and His promises, however, it’s because we can know and believe that He accomplished all the things described in the Bible that we can know and believe with 100% confidence that He has secured our salvation. He will deliver on His promise of salvation just like He delivered on all His other promises. His word has never failed in the past and it will never fail in the future. For that reason, we have a ‘sure hope’. The evidence guarantees it!
Intrinsic Nature of the One Offering Hope
The third way Biblical ‘hope’ differs from our use of the term ‘hope’ is related to the second point, but worth highlighting and calling out on its own. The Christian’s hope is guaranteed by God. If we believe in the God of the Bible, we know that He is perfect, eternal, all knowing, all loving, all powerful, always reliable, unchanging, always truthful,…all the time! (cf. Gen. 1; Job 38-41; Psa. 19 & 139; Isa. 40; Rom. 11:33-36).
God never waivers, never fails and never disappoints.
J.I Packer wrote:
… in God boundless wisdom and endless power are united, and this makes Him utterly worthy of our fullest trust.
We can have 100% confidence in God’s promises, such as the guarantee of our salvation, because of His intrinsic nature, His very essence. No earthly person who offers us hope can be trusted like that.
We’re wise to be cautious about ‘hope’ offered by people, even our parents or best friends. While we are all made in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), we are not God. Except for Jesus (cf. John 1:1-34; 5:17-18; 10:27-30; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 1:15-17; 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1:1-3), no human being possesses God’s intrinsic nature. We all have profound limitations that disable us from offering ‘sure hope’ to anyone.
Thankfully, God possesses no limitations. Therefore we can be sure of His Word because we are sure of Him! This is by far the most powerful basis for our ‘sure hope’.
Paul brings all three points together in one emphatic declaration in Titus:
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3)
If we’re ever having doubts about our ‘sure hope’ in Christ, the best thing we can do is fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth and ask Him to give us comfort and peace about the assurance of our salvation. He will answer our prayer. He guarantees that too.
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)
“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:11-15)
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!