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Is It Sinful to Skip Church?

What Is Christian Hope?

Posted January 10, 2023
Christian LivingHope
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When I was in 3rd grade, I was filled with hope. I believed I was going to get the autographs of every Boston Celtic because I would be going to my first Boston Celtics game. Yet my hope was put to shame, because not only did I not receive any autographs at the game, I sat so high up in the stadium, I could barely see the players on the court.

The Christian faith boasts of a great hope. We believe God became man, and we believe this God-man lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death in the place of his people, rose from the dead with an incorruptible body, ascended into heaven, and is going to return the way he left to judge the world and usher in his kingdom. These are quite some claims. This is quite some hope. But is this all just wishful thinking? Do we have any more reason to believe this will happen than my third-grade self believed I would get all the Celtic’s autographs?

A Three-Dimensional Hope

The Bible almost never uses the word “hope” the way we do. For us, “hope” refers to something like a “wish” or a “dream.” But in the Bible, “hope” refers to an “expectation”—a future certainty. Do you see how radically different these two ideas of “hope” are? One is something we do. The other is something we have. What makes the difference?

My hope to receive the Celtics’ autographs wasn’t based on past experience, nor was it supported by anything at the game. But the hope of the Christian faith is three-dimensional. First, it is oriented toward the future. Second, it is grounded in the past. Third, it is sustained in the present.

Oriented Toward the Future

In Isaiah 40, Isaiah prophecies hope for God’s people Israel who have been ravaged by invading nations. The biblical storyline picks up this prophecy in Matthew 3, showing us how Israel’s hope and our hope come together in the work of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah 40 alludes, there is not only a coming King, there is also a coming kingdom. This is the hope of the Christian faith: Life together with God’s people, under God’s reign, enjoying God’s rule and blessing through Christ the King.

It all sounds wonderful, but its wonder quickly fades when we turn and look at ourselves (clumsily trying to follow Jesus), and when we look at our world (still incredibly broken). So how sure is our hope to come? What makes it an expectation rather than a wish?

This future hope becomes sure when we see how it’s grounded in the past and sustained in the present.

Grounded in the Past

Our future hope is grounded in what has already happened the past. The apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, sincewehave been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…and we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:1–2, emphasis added).

God has been faithful to his promises by sending Christ. Christ’s birth has addressed the problem of our alienation from God. By coming to us himself, he has brought us near. And Christ’s death has addressed the problem of our sin. He has canceled the record of our sin-debt by nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:14). And his resurrection has addressed the problem of our decaying bodies and broken world, for the glory of his resurrection was a preview of the same resurrection all God’s people will experience in his kingdom, the new creation (Rom. 8:19–21). Our future hope is grounded in what Christ has already done for us in history: he came, he died, and he rose.

Sustained in the Present

But we also need to look around as our hope is not only grounded in Christ’s past work; it is also sustained in the present. Paul goes on to write, “[H]ope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Our hope is sustained as we look to God’s present faithfulness through the Holy Spirit at work creating new faith where it doesn’t exist and strengthening the faith of those who believe.

The kingdom of God is breaking into our present world through the Holy Spirit as he makes new creations out of people like you and me, bringing us to faith in Christ and enrolling us as citizens of this coming kingdom. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Hope Without Shame

This three-dimensional nature of Christian hope makes it so sure that we can confidently prepare for it to come. But unlike my preparations in third grade—getting my autograph sheet ready only for it to sit unused— the Christian hope doesn’t put anyone to shame (Rom. 5:5).

We may experience great despair and hopelessness in life, but we are sustained by hope. As we look to the past—knowing that God has pardoned us through Christ’s work on the cross, that he is preparing a way for Christ’s second coming by his Holy Spirit, and that he is making all things new that we may dwell with him in his coming kingdom—we receive courage to move forward in the present, looking ahead to the future glory that awaits.

May we praise God for his grace and hold fast to the hope we have been given in Christ.

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Ethan Wormell

Ethan Wormell serves as Pastor of Forestdale Church in Sandwich, MA, where he lives with his wife and children. In 2021 he graduated from Westminster Seminary California (M.Div). Prior to that, he served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps.