Our president elect (Obama’s campaign in ’08) was wise to use such a word as hope in his campaign (not that he lived up to it, however). There is something crucial about it. There is an inherent need for hope in the human being. A triad that every Christian should be challenged to model his or her life after. Yet Protestants tend to take the reformer’s cry for faith and faith alone a little too far; neglecting hope and love.
I’ll tell you, I have desperately needed hope this semester. When asked if I am excited that I am a senior and that my schooling is almost over, I reply that I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. I have been wearied by many things, and my faith was having a hard time pushing along on its own. My faith needed the bolstering of hope (as well as love, but that is another kind of discussion). So in Romans, I chose my focus to be on Romans 8:23-25. Let me read this for you.
v. 23 – First-fruits of the Spirit. First-fruits were parts of the crop that began to grow before all the rest. And this part was given as a sacrifice to God, indicating a thankfulness for it, and more importantly, a thankfulness for all that it represents in what God will provide in the rest of the crop . So if we have the first-fruits of the Spirit, this indicates we have been given something initially, something of the Spirit, namely, his presence and influence and power. But also that that is only the beginning! There is so much more of the Spirit to come! There is so much more of the Spirit available! So when my faith is running dry, I can know that there is still an entire field, and entire harvest of the Spirit available. And my spirit does not have to rely on its own strength of faith. And that gives hope.
But, when I read that “hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?” the cynic in me says, ‘Well, duh. That’s why hope is so hard. I’d rather be able to skip the need for hope and have what I’m hoping for right in front of me already! Common!’ Yet, there is more to these verses. One, it says that “in hope we have been saved.” Hope and salvation have something to do with one another. No, not that we are saved by our hope. We are saved through faith alone. But the balance to the faith we so adamantly emphasize is the hope, and our hope is grounded in there being a future aspect of salvation. When I believed in Christ as my savior, and had saving faith, I was aware that all my problems were not going to go away. Life was not going to become peachy all of the sudden. Salvation is not delivered to us complete in one package. It does not arrive ‘cut and dried.’ I was saved into a realm of hope.
But why can’t I have the object of my hope right in front of me now? Would that not have more effect for God to pour out more of the Spirit’s influence into our lives right now, and give us new bodies now, and complete adoption as heirs of Christ now? Well, there are several answers. For one, we would not get the opportunity to persevere, as v.25 indicates: “with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” It is not a hope of something future and unattainable in the midst of drudgery. It is with eagerness! Imagine an nine year old child awaiting his tenth birthday. This is a milestone he eagerly awaits, and even groans out loud for in his energetic excitement and impatience for the event and the gifts he knows will inevitably come. This eagerness should characterize the entire process of awaiting future glory. If you encounter such an eager Christian saint, you will not be able to miss the first fruits of the Spirit bountifully flourishing in his life, causing you to desire it in yourself.
The boy knows his day of vacation is coming, although it seems like forever to his young mind. But when it feels like soooo long, does he loose interest in it? No! He will ask every single day until the event, “Is it my birthday yeeeeet?” He perseveres in his anticipation; prepares himself in every way he knows; tells everyone about it; he is happy in everything he does because he knows it will be so special. See how hope effects us? Having hope actually builds our character, and we act differently, and we are able to look beyond the crud, and can even look into the crud, and see something special, and have something to look forward to. If not anything else, the crud causes us to be even more eager and emphatic for the presence of our Messiah, who will adopt us and give us new spectacular bodies.
This is Paul’s “already but not yet” principle. There is this future aspect. But remember, we already have a first-fruits. Hope is not purely future. So another answer to the question, “Why can’t I just have the object of my hope right now?” is that, in a sense, we do already have some of it right now. Part of the object of our hope is with us now! The Holy Spirit is with us now! And the Holy Spirit does not just wait around until we have perfect faith, hope, love and perseverance before He comes to us. In the words of Michael Yaconelli in Messy Spirituality (one of my favorite Christian living books): “God will show up in whatever percentage we give him, which motivates us to give even more.” Yes, we are commanded to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But that is not commanding 100%. It is saying that we as Christians should love God with everything we have got, with everything that we are able, even if that isn’t always 100%.
So hope helps in the here and now, and I hope this bolsters your hope as well.