In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress the protagonist has one companion who sticks with him to the end of the journey. This friend stays close through times of despair and helps Christian cross the river of death into heaven.
His name is “Hopeful.”
To successfully make it to the end people need hope. Without hope the Christian life is a lot of seemingly unrewarding work. It feels useless to endure trials Christianly if your future seems uncertain. By contrast, when we are filled with a well-grounded hope we face difficult challenges with courageous persistence. We show grace to difficult people. We worship God even when he seems distant. We rest in God’s care, knowing that our future is secure in him. Secular thinkers too understand that “Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived (Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, 94."
The Bible intertwines human hope with the resurrection of Jesus. Peter summarizes this theme: God “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
What Is Living Hope?
Living hope is the reality of being born into an inheritance of future salvation (vv. 4-5). Hope is the expectation of something not yet attained, something we wait for with perseverance (Rom. 8:24–25). Parents promise future rewards to affect their children’s outlook in the present. Likewise God pledges to believers the full experience of salvation in Christ—complete restoration from the damage of sin. To believe, in the Christian sense, is to live consistently with the reality of new life that is not yet fully experienced. Our salvation—begun now (Phil. 1:6)—is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Salvation is sometimes a painful process; we groan for its culmination (2 Cor. 5:2).
If Christianity promised your best life now most people would find it terribly disappointing. Those who adhere to Christianity simply for a short term payoff of happiness are “of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19).
Christianity is a religion of hope. And like all worthy prizes the experience is heightened by anticipation. Scripture strengthens our hope by describing the beauty of the prize. The Christian’s heavenly inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading (v. 4). Peter sounds like Jesus who said that unlike earthly riches heavenly treasure cannot be stolen by thieves or corrupted by moth and rust (Matt. 6:19–20).
Everything in this age has a shelf-life, a best-when-used-by date. We are used to receiving gifts or starting relationships that seem perfect at first. But closer inspection reveals defects. Wonderful things in this life fail almost imperceptibly, like fading daylight. Time plus sin diminishes the glory of worldly treasure. This is why the gospel promise is so welcome! The Christian’s inheritance—sinless life with God in remade bodies—is “reserved in heaven” (1 Peter 1:4). God keeps our inheritance in a place, an age, a kingdom, a realm where loss is foreign.
Immigrants carry pictures from home that remind them of why they were willing to emigrate in the first place. Like the Jewish captives in Babylon believers on earth are sojourners, temporary residents in a foreign land (v 1). God is kind; even here we can enjoy life and perform meaningful work (Jer. 29:5–7). But, like our fathers we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who “seek a homeland” (Heb. 11:13–14). God burns this picture in our hearts: The homeland is good. It is well worth pursuing even though the way is hard!
But can people so accustomed to hardship become hopeful anticipators?
How Do We Experience Living Hope?
The living hope into which God has begotten us is not something we accomplish; it is “according to His abundant mercy” (1 Peter 1:3).
Believers are empowered to hope because they have become new people through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. At the end of his pilgrimage Jesus willingly allowed the waves of hell to crash upon him dying the death sinners deserved. Three days later he was born again from the dead. Because of his perfect humanity and complete deity death couldn’t defeat Christ. He died and was raised for elect sinners; he takes away our sin and gives us new life. Christ’s resurrection was the first wave of a mass entrance into glory of God’s loved ones.
Until that entrance, God keeps believers by his power through faith (v. 5). We can know that we will, in fact, claim the prize of future salvation. God powerfully preserves the organ of hope, which the Bible calls faith. God constantly tells us the gospel—the historically true news that Christ has defeated Satan, sin, suffering, and death, for his believing people—so that we would believe it, and through believing experience everything that is promised to us.
So, Pilgrim, press on! You don’t always feel like it. Sometimes even eternal life doesn’t seem sufficient to warrant perseverance. Hear this: Even eternal life with God doesn’t sound as good now as it will when we actually receive it. The Spirit is ministering to our imaginations. Imagine that God is a better reward than he might seem to be at this present time. No one will enter the New Jerusalem and be disappointed.
But the Spirit also masterfully ties our imaginations to what actually happened in the past. Why can we hope? Because when all hope seemed lost 2,000 years Jesus’ heart began to beat, again circulating oxygen through his body. The synapses reconnected the cells in his brain. His cool body began to warm. His joints hinged. Death was swallowed up by life.
Let Christ’s resurrection keep you hopeful until hope gives way to blessed reality.
William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI. He has written on the hope of the resurrection in his latest book, The Future of Everything: Essential Truths about the End Times.
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