“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God … Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-2, 5, NKJV).
Some years ago I was part of a group of Americans in another country who were stranded because of an uprising which caused our airline to suspend operations. For several days we stayed in a hotel trying to arrange travel on other carriers. Needless to say, we were anxious about the situation and frustrated at the delay in our return home.
When we were finally able to arrange a change of tickets with a fixed time of departure, the relief was immense and very obvious. Previously we had “hoped” that we would be able to find a new route home quickly. Once the tickets were in hand we “had hope” of imminent departure. Our attitude immediately changed from worry to joy. At last we knew that we were going home and we could relax and celebrate.
That difference is somewhat subtle but very real. The first hope is a wishful longing that something will transpire; it is inevitably accompanied by doubt or uncertainty. The second hope is a calm assurance based on faith that the object of our hope is certain. It is this hope, grounded in faith, which enables us to rejoice as if we had already accomplished our longed for goal.
New Testament writers often used a grammatical form which featured a verb in the future tense which carried a present implication. That is, they wrote of that which is to come as if it is already here.
An example of this is found in Jesus’ teaching on faith: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). In his commentary on the passage Martel Pace stated: “Verse 24 pictures one so sure of the answer to his prayer that, as far as he is concerned, it has already happened.” That certainty is the virtue “hope” that the Bible includes as one of the three abiding qualities – “Faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
This hope is attainable only by genuine faith in God. It is that which is necessarily implied in Hebrews 11:6, “. . . he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” It is not that we believe that God will reward us ultimately, but that we are already receiving those rewards, even as we seek them.
Christian joy (Philippians 4:6) is not premature. Just as a child expresses great happiness over a much wished for Christmas or birthday present when he opens it, those who trust in God may “rejoice always” without reservation. Whatever may be the outward reality of our lives in the present, we know the inner, spiritual reality of fellowship with God which ensures fulfillment and success eternally. Eternal life in heaven will be given to those who overcome (Revelation 3:5) when Jesus returns. But those who have been saved by obedience to the Gospel are already in fellowship with God and with his son (1 John 1:5, 7) and are already within the boundaries of his kingdom (Hebrews 12:28).
In the text cited at the beginning of this article, the inspired writer links future rewards to past and present experience. We believe that God will fulfill his promises in part because we know he already has blessed us beyond our comprehension. We know God loves us because of what he has already done for us. We know what he is capable of doing (anything!) because of all that he has done – those things recorded in Scripture and those things experienced personally. We have hope in the future which nothing can take from us. Therefore, we rejoice.
Forthright Magazine is an offering of Forthright Press.