So far in our Advent Attitude Assessment on hope, we have seen that hope is not wishful thinking, but rather a confident expectation based on the promises and the power of God. Abraham had such hope, and according to Paul, anyone who follows his example will be numbered among his innumerable offspring. The promises he received are the promises we will experience! In Romans 4:24-25 Paul continues his reflections on hope in Christ.
“… It [i.e., righteousness received by faith] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord … And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
We receive a wide range of blessings right now because of our relationship with Jesus. However, in this passage Paul shifts his focus to what is true about the future because our relationship with Jesus: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” “Boast” is not usually considered a good activity to be engaged in, and certainly, there is nothing that we have to flaunt in the face of God. Instead Paul says we should only boast about “the hope of the glory of God.” So this boasting is about what God will do for us.
“Boasting in the glory of God” alludes to something Paul wrote back in Romans 3:22-23: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Falling short of the glory of God means that we sinners, by ourselves, can never live up to the goal God has for humanity (to be like God in character in order to reflect something of his glory in how we live). However, because of the grace of God in our lives and through our faith in Christ, we can joyfully and confidently expect to experience that glory some day. By what route will we eventually reach that goal—experiencing the glory of God? It will be through the trials we face—the illnesses, the injuries, the persecutions, etc., that we face. Paul is saying that we should boast in how God uses trials for his overarching purposes in our lives. Our trials are not random, meaningless, chance experiences.
Paul teaches us that God uses suffering to strengthen our hope. God’s strategy is much like a body builder who uses weights to strengthen his muscles. By progressively forcing his muscles to move a little more weight than they are used to moving, they grow stronger. Suffering in our lives strengthens us spiritually first by producing endurance—a willingness to keep trusting God’s promises rather than be sidetracked by current losses, however significant those losses may be. Endurance, in turn, produces tested or proven character. Undoubtedly, the character Paul has in mind is the character of our Lord, by which we reflect the glory of God. If we see the growth of godly character in our lives, then that further spurs our confident expectation—our hope—about what the future holds.
Returning to our definition of “hope”: Although we might expect the difficult challenges of life might drain us of hope, Paul says otherwise. Hope will not be diminished by the difficult trials of life, if we understand that those trials are the work-out weights God uses to produce endurance and tested character in our lives, and seeing that tested character in turn reminds us of the glorious future God has promised us.
Paul’s perspective on how God uses trials in our lives is further expanded in chapter 8:
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it [i.e., God], in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
Here Paul uses “hope” is a fascinating way: God cursed the creation to frustration & decay because of human rebellion in the Garden, but he did so with the expectation of reversing the curse in the future.
23 … we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For with this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Here Paul specifies that God’s promises include the final redemption of our bodies after Christ returns. Logically, then, we will experience hope with a sort of tension. We’ve tasted some of the blessings of salvation now, like the pardon of our guilt by God and the work of the Holy Spirit in producing godly character. However, our salvation also includes blessings we do not have yet, culminating in a new, renovated body like Jesus had when he was raised from the dead. Experiencing or witnessing illness, injury, or death will make an impact on our experience of hope. Hope includes an eager and intense longing for the remaining blessings associated with redemption to be fulfilled in our lives. That’s what Paul calls our “groaning.” This “groaning” is not “grumbling.” Grumbling occurs when we express dissatisfaction over God not conforming to our expectations. It is not necessarily wrong to eagerly desire to be freed of the trials, but if we truly accept that God’s plan includes a perfect time table, then we also will be patient in our eagerness. Groaning in this passage is the tension between what we already have and what we legitimately long for in our experience of redemption.
So then, let’s complete to our biblical definition of “hope”: Hope is a confident and eager expectation of receiving God’s blessings that is based on the promises and the power of God and that grows as we patiently persevere through our trials with those promises in mind.
The Second Hope Assessment
The second hope assessment has to do with the already/not yet tension in our experience of hope. Do you (or your counselee) acknowledge that our hope in Christ necessarily means experiencing this tension? (Hope is comforting, but not always comfortable!) To what extent have you (or your counselee) experienced how hope grows with patient perseverance through trials? If such growth has been elusive, ask yourself, “How much do I meditate on ‘all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ’ [Ephesians 1:3] before or during trials?” (Hope grows in the fertile soil of meditation!)
Join the Conversation
Paul’s perspective on hope might not correspond to our assumptions that we bring to our reading of his letters. What unhelpful assumptions about “hope” have you encountered in your counseling? How have you attempted to address them?