What are You Hoping For?
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for….” Hebrews 11:1
There were two separate incidents that occurred in the past few years that spoke volumes to me. The first involved listening to a message from a Christian evangelist to a congregation at a Sunday morning service. I was there in the congregation. I don’t recall the content of the entire message, but I know that he was referencing the 5th chapter of Romans, and specifically spoke about verse 2 of that chapter. Here’s the verse:
“Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Romans 5:2
As the speaker expounded on this verse, he painted a picture of a time when many people would be brought into the kingdom of God and would join together to worship God in one voice. He suggested that this great revival of new converts was the hope that was spoken of in this verse. He suggested that this great crowd of believers giving glory to God was the thing we could rejoice in. As I listened to this explanation, I couldn’t agree with it. I thought that there was a different hope being referred to.
At the end of the previous chapter (Romans 4), the following is mentioned about Abraham:
“In hope he believed against hope……He did not weaken in faith……fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness…….It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.”
In other words, our faith in God’s promise (our hope of having a glorified, resurrected body and sharing the glory of God) is equated to Abraham’s faith, and is what is reckoned, or accounted, to us as righteousness. This leads me to conclude that it is this same hope in God’s promise of eternal life that Paul is referring to in chapter 5. The speaker, though, had not once mentioned heaven as a possibility for the hope we should be rejoicing in.
After his message was completed, I had a conversation with the speaker and asked if he ever considered that this verse could be talking about our future resurrection and the hope we have in heaven and the glory of heaven that we will be sharing. His response was something like this: “My 85 year old mother thinks about heaven, but I’m more concerned about what is happening here.” I don’t remember his exact words, but that’s the gist of it. His answer shocked me somewhat and revealed his attitude towards heaven. I’ll discuss this more later, but for now, let’s move to the next incident.
The second incident occurred early in the morning at a restaurant where a few of us were having breakfast. One of the guys with us, who is a professing Christian, noticed a group of older, retired men who had gathered there for breakfast and to socialize. He made a comment something like: “that’s where I’ll be when I’m an old man, sitting with my friends, talking about old times; that would be heaven to me.” One of the other guys, also a Christian, made a comment something like: “But what about the real heaven and eternal life, do you ever think about that?” The first guy’s response was: “No, I have that covered.” Again, I don’t remember the exact words that were exchanged, but it was clear from the situation that what he was really saying was “I believe that Jesus died for me. I said the sinner’s prayer. I committed my life to Jesus. I’m a Christian now, a child of God, so it’s settled where I will spend eternity after I die.”
In both of these situations, it was clear to me that these Christians were not focused on their hope of eternal life in heaven. Their hope had been placed on a mental “shelf”, so to speak, somewhere in the back of their minds. They had accepted, believed, and acknowledged at some point in their Christian lives that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and that they too would be resurrected to eternal life, but this truth was not a part of their daily lives and thinking. It wasn’t something that influenced their daily view of situations in their lives. It wasn’t a source of strength or joy to them.
It is a fatal flaw for Christians not to focus on our hope in the resurrection. When we were in the world, most of us focused on the hopes and dreams we had in this life. These dreams were something that drove us every day. Most of us worked towards something and that something was often on our mind, giving us a reason to live, and a hope for our future. We could find strength and joy in this hope. When we come to Jesus, we are commanded to “take up our cross and follow him” and to “die to this world”. This death includes dying to the hopes that we had in this life. You might say that our original reason for living is removed, since that reason was a part of this world and we have died to this world.
Having removed our world centered, fleshly reason for living, we must then replace it with a spiritual reason for living. We must shift our hope from this life to the next life. Our hope is now fully centered on the promise from God through Jesus for eternal life.
If we keep our hope in this life, then we haven’t fully died to this world, and we will be carnal in our thinking and acting. The enemy will use these worldly hopes and desires to ensnare us. We will be trapped in a condition where we may want to do the right thing, but we won’t have the power to do so because our “mind is set on the flesh”.
If we remove the hope in this life, but don’t replace it with the hope in the promise from God, then we will be in a void, with no hope and no reason to live. This will also leave us powerless. I think that many Christians find themselves in this spot where they have died to this world, but they haven’t shifted their hope to heaven and haven’t focused their energy on this hope. They aren’t rejoicing in this hope. They aren’t waiting expectantly for Jesus to come and take them home. They are not storing up their riches in heaven. As a result, their life is unfulfilled and empty. They don’t have anything to life for. Eventually, I think they go back to finding an earthly hope, something in this life to live for. They usually convince themselves that it is a good thing, therefore it’s not a problem. But it becomes a problem. The focus of our hope on anything in this world will cause us to be carnal and restrict our spiritual maturity.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8: 5-6
Paul in Romans 6, when talking about dying with Christ, is sure to emphasize that we will also live with Christ, reinforcing the need to place our hope in this promise of eternal life in heaven:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5
“But if we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him.” Romans 6:8
We cannot truly and fully die to this world without something to live for. We cannot live with no hope, so if we don’t shift our hope to heaven, then our hope will be set back onto something in this world. I believe this is clearly what Paul was emphasizing to the Colossians in chapter 3 of his letter to them:
“If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with him in glory.” Col. 3: 1-4
Peter also admonishes his brethren in his first letter to have this full focus of hope:
“Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13
The apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 15, gives a concise definition of the gospel:
“Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of the first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” 1 Cor. 15:1-6
After establishing this as the gospel that he had preached to them and that they had believed, he then rebuked some of them for saying that there is no resurrection of the dead. He goes on to explain that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we have no hope of eternal life, and that’s not good.
“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.” 1 Cor. 15:19
For the rest of this long chapter, Paul explains what our resurrected bodies will be like, contrasting the carnal, fleshly body with the new spiritual body. He also reminds them that death had been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ, who also gives us the victory over death. He ends the chapter with these words:
“Therefore, by beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58
Note that Paul suggests here that we could be thinking that our labor is in vain, or that the life we are living is in vain, if we have no hope. Our eternal hope of life with Jesus in heaven with immortal, spiritual bodies is a crucial source of strength for us and is at the core of the gospel message that we believed. Let us not make the mistake that many Christians have made and put this hope in the back of our minds, waiting until we are old and approaching death until we consider it, or just thinking that eternal life is something that we have dealt with in the past and no longer need to contemplate.
I will leave you with this amazing revelation of a mystery from 1 Corinthians 15 about what we have to look forward to and savor:
“Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. “ 1 Cor. 15: 51-53