Hope Ends at Death for the Unbeliever
“When the wicked man dies, his hope perishes; and the expectation of the godless comes to nothing.” Proverbs 11:7
Throughout our lifetimes we are all absorbing knowledge and information from our surroundings. Some of this information and knowledge is more practical, like how to cook, or how to do our job better, or how to repair things, but I’m referring to the deeper knowledge that frames or values, morals, ethics and philosophies. Some of us do so purposefully and consciously while others may do so more haphazardly and subconsciously, but we all are observing and learning from experiences or life’s lessons. These activities are a part of our growth and maturing and we start these activities at a very early age and continue until we die. More specifically, we all are determining what we consider to be truth, and what we consider to be important to us. We use this information to develop a philosophy of life or a world view that guides us and determines our lifestyle, the type of friends we have, the decisions we make, what makes us happy or sad, our goals in life, our political views, etc. The process works something like this: we determine what is truth, then we prioritize that truth, some being of high importance some lower, some much lower, etc., and some things we discard as untruth or of little or no value to us. This process is ongoing but most likely slows down greatly as we get older, as we become more established in our views and less likely to change, although some of us remain more open and flexible than others.
The real challenge is to align our actions and decisions with this set of truths and values, or principles, which we have determined to be our world view. This can be especially difficult when it will cause some pain to us. For example, we may have established a high value in always telling the truth, but when telling the truth causes a serious problem for us (loss of a money, anger from a friend or loved one, looking bad to others), then we struggle and many times fail to keep to our value code. Having this alignment of beliefs with actions is known as having integrity. The dictionary definition of integrity is “the complete adherence to a set of moral and ethical principles.”
As Christians our major source of truth is the revelation from God through His word, the Scriptures. Additionally the Bible also gives us a means of prioritizing these truths, and this is something that many Christians are not aware of or are not taking into consideration. It is critically important that we should be prioritizing the truths that we are learning and looking to the word of God for guidance in doing so. In fact, it is a grave error to incorrectly prioritize the truths that we are taught, and we have a tendency to “major on minors”. Jesus corrected the religious Pharisees of His time for this very same error when He said, “you strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.” They were making something small and insignificant (the gnat) important and the focus of their screening, and they were ignoring the large, significant item (the camel). Here’s the full quote in context as Jesus was dealing with the Scribes and Pharisees as their incorrect prioritization caused hypocrisy:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23: 23 – 28
It is easier for us to look upon and focus on the external, physical things, and ignore the internal things. But the internal things are of higher priority and should be focused on. We look at appearances, or church attendance, or credentials, or religious speak, but we ignore the things of the heart and the real fruit of the spirit that comes from internal purity of heart. Peter referred to the importance of these internal things of the heart when he was advising women to focus on their inner beauty rather than their outer appearance.
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arrangement of hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
I have said all of this to make one very important point: Our hope, or more specifically the placing of our hope upon the promises of God (i.e. eternal life and heaven), is a very important, high priority truth that we need to give much attention to. The Bible is very clear on this and I have dedicated many of my messages to emphasize the importance of the Christian’s hope.
All humans have a choice regarding hope; we can either have a physical hope or a spiritual hope. We can set our hopes and affections upon something in this physical world or we can set our hopes and affections upon something in the spiritual world. As Christians, we must have a spiritual hope that is set entirely upon the promise of eternal life that comes from being in Christ Jesus.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3: 1-4
The internal transformation that must occur in a Christian’s heart mostly involves the placement of our hope. We are instructed to die with Christ, meaning that we should put to death all of the desires and longings we have for the things of this world, all the things we had set our hopes upon. Jesus told us to focus our hopes on heaven, to wait for His return, and to store up our riches there, knowing that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. This internal shifting of our hope from physical things to spiritual things that occurs in our hearts is symbolically represented by circumcision and initially represented the shifting of Abraham’s hope to the promise made to him by God. It is also represented by our baptism when we were joined to Christ death when immersed in the water, dying to the things of this world, and then coming up out of the water like the resurrected Christ and joining Him symbolically in heaven.
This internal transformation requires faith. In fact, it is an exercise of our faith to make this shift of our hope. This shift of hope also causes us to become spiritual. It is the critical element of our spiritual walk, as the things of this world are no longer important to us because they are no longer the focus of our affections and longings.
The constant temptation is for us to allow our attention and affections to shift back to the things of this world. We must be on guard and not let this happen. We must be completely clear and aware of the fact that placing our hope in the things of this world is vanity.
Today in the United States it has become clear that the “American Dream” is just a mirage, out of the reach of most Americans. Even for those who have attained what they thought was the dream, I assure you that what they have is not what they dreamed that it would be, at least not in what it does for them in their hearts. Material things cannot satisfy us completely and the things of great value in our lives are not purchased with money.
Ultimately our lives come to an end. For the unbeliever all of their hopes and dreams also come to an end, as the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you when you go.” Or as Job said when he found out that he lost most of his worldly possessions:
“Naked (without possessions) came I (into this world) from my mother’s womb and naked (without possessions) shall I depart.” Job 1: 21 (Amplified Bible)
In contrast, for the Christian our hope is fulfilled at death. This is payday for us when our patient continuance in doing good will pay off:
“who will render to each one according to his deeds, eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness – indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2: 6-11
We have had great promises made to us by the living God and Creator of the universe that were established and confirmed by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, the Christ. We should not take these promises lightly but should place them at the forefront of our lives, with our hopes established fully upon them in full assurance of their fulfillment when Jesus returns. Let’s encourage one another to continue in our patient endurance until the end.