Often underemphasized in the lives of many, hope is a tremendous spiritual gift at work in all who will be in God's coming Kingdom.
The Bible speaks of three great fruits of God's Holy Spirit: faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13). Most Christians readily and easily understand that love, called the greatest of these gifts, and faith are essential for salvation. But what about hope? What is hope, even? Given equal rank with love and faith, hope stands as one of the most important spiritual gifts, to be sought after and exercised by every one of God's people.
What is hope?
Let's understand first what hope is not. It is not watered down faith. In everyday conversation, people often say hope when they mean wish. "Let's hope it all works out for the best" sometimes means the person is afraid it won't! Hoping is not wishing. Hope is confident, powerful, bold. Hope is not afraid. Hope casts out fear and doubt. To hope means to look forward to with confidence of fulfillment, to expect with desire. There is nothing weak in true Christian hope. It is positive, assured, looking ahead to the future. Hope lifts a person's thoughts beyond the immediate trials and problems of the present. Hope sees God's plan at work — God producing His character in us, by what we experience, to qualify us for eternal life. A Christian filled with hope has zeal and purpose. He is alive with spiritual energy to keep overcoming and growing no matter what negative factors and influences are at work to discourage and frustrate his progress toward God's Kingdom. Paul goes so far as to say, "For we are saved by hope" (Romans 8:24, Authorized Version)!
Hope makes the difference
Every Christian fights a daily and lifelong spiritual battle against sin. Even the apostle Paul, a deeply converted Christian, was frustrated by his own personal failure to measure up to the goal of spiritual perfection that is in Jesus Christ. Paul cried out, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (verse 18). Certainly you, too, have been overwhelmed at times by physical pulls, thoughts and attitudes you knew were contrary to God's perfect" law of love. Yet you were unable to resist their power. You may even have feared losing salvation because of your inability to root sin completely from your life. The thought of sin is abhorrent, but its pull on our flesh is strong. All Christians might well echo Paul's insightful words: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (verse 14). As long as we live, the battle against sin rages. It is our mortal enemy. Toward the end of his long life and ministry, the apostle John instructed, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (l John 1:8). Since no Christian, apart from Jesus Christ, God's own Son in the flesh, ever fully conquered sin, what separates those who qualify for eternal life from those who do not? God led Paul to describe the problems common to all Christians. He also inspired Paul to reveal the way out of them. We are to undergo a transformation of character by the power of God's Holy Spirit working within our minds. A Christian must completely repent of past sins, surrender to God, be baptized in water and by the laying on of hands by God's true ministers receive the Holy Spirit. Once begotten by God's Spirit, the Christian begins a life dedicated to growth and overcoming, developing God's character. Here lies our hope for the future. Paul tells us, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). This is God's promise to us! God the Father places His Holy Spirit in the mind of each newly converted believer to grant him power over sin, in order that He may develop His own character in us. Jesus Christ, our Savior, paid the penalty of death because of sin for us so we might be born into the God Family and receive everlasting life at His Second Coming (Romans 6:23). This is the very purpose for our being alive, and the foundation of our hope for the future! "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:14). No Christian is yet born into God's Family, but is an heir, an inheritor of the promise. True Christians are part of the firstfruits of God's Family, to be born when Jesus Christ returns. What will it take for you to be a part of this glorious future hope? More, perhaps, than anything else the realization that God earnestly intends and desires that you be in His Kingdom. God wants it for you (I Peter 1:3-5)!
Hopelessness and fear
Many of God's people, though they realize God's Kingdom will be set up on earth and even desire to be a part of it, nevertheless despair of receiving eternal life. They are overcome by fear and self-doubt. These hopeless attitudes come from Satan and his demons, who know the Kingdom is coming and have no hope. For them Jesus Christ's return will be a time of judgment for their sins of rebellion. James writes: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!" (James 2:19). The nature of Satan and the demons is set. They will not change and submit to God's direction in their lives. They are archenemies and rebels. On the other hand, human beings, caught by sin because of weakness or ignorance, have hope. Some of those listening to Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost had called out just short weeks before for the death of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind. When convicted of their sin, they cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). They were afraid and hopeless. Then Peter preached hope through the repentance of sins and the mercy of God (verses 38-40): God created all people to qualify for His Family (I Timothy 2:4). When a person who is given this opportunity by God's calling fails to act on this hope, he becomes like the individual described in the parable of the talents, who refused to produce with the one talent given to him. In an attempt to justify his failure, he replied, "And I was afraid" (Matthew 25:25). He possessed no vision for the future. He lost out. No matter what the obstacles, the apostle Paul was not afraid. He well understood it was God's will that he be in the Kingdom, and he always had his mind on that goal: "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32). For nearly 6,000 years God the Father and Jesus Christ have endured the sins and rebellion of mankind against God's government and way of life. Soon God's deliverance to this earth will come. As Romans 8:21 predicts, "Because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Paul concludes the powerfully written Romans 8, which might well be called the "hope chapter" of the Bible (just as I Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the "love chapter" and Hebrews 11 as the " faith chapter"), with this: " For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
How does hope grow?
Like all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit, hope is a gift from God that increases directly as a Christian dedicates his life to God. By a life of prayer, diligent study of God's Word and living always with eyes set on the goal of God's Kingdom first and foremost, hope will grow. The apostle John describes what knowing our future should do to inspire us to overcome: "Beloved, now we are the children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (I John 3:2-3). The time is drawing near for the return of Jesus Christ, when the parable of the talents will have an actual fulfillment. May we all set our sights clearly on the Kingdom and be among those to whom our Lord says: "Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:21).