Persevering in Hope

Dr. Brian Allison

A little while ago, I went to the funeral of a twenty year old man, Daniel Hodges. The last time that I had seen him was fifteen years ago. He was the son of my friend, Edward. I went to school with his dad, I graduated with his dad, I served in the pastorate with his dad. Daniel was on his way to work. In approaching a highway entrance ramp, he apparently was not able to negotiate the turn. He lost control and barreled into the guard rail. He was catapulted to the back seat. He was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. As I stood beside his coffin, I felt melancholic. What a waste—dead at twenty. At the funeral, a number of people stood up and testified to this young man. One lady reflected on the time when she taught him in Sunday School; and she said, "He had a lot of potential. What a waste, the future gone."

As Christians, regardless of what happens to us, and regardless of what we experience or must endure in this life, we have the certainty that the future will be bright and glorious. I spoke to Daniel's mother, and she said, "I am looking forward to getting to heaven. Now I have a bigger reason for going there—to see Daniel again one day." She exuded hope. As Christians, we are to live in hope. We are to live not only in the hope of one day being reunited with deceased Christian loved ones, but in the hope of a glorious future, in the hope of seeing Jesus as He is, in the hope of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Every day we ought to live in that hope; and if we live in that hope, we will persevere and eventually lay hold on that which has been promised to us. Romans 8:18-25 teaches us about the Christian's hope, and what our disposition should be in view of it.

Suffering and corruption

The whole of creation exists in a state of suffering and corruption. Romans 8:18a reads, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time." As we think of our lives in this world, there is one thing that we can be certain about—life is characterized by pain. Our lives are peppered and sprinkled with disappointments, hardships, difficulties, and problems. Many, over the last little while, have shed more tears than they would desire to count. It is an indisputable fact that this life is characterized by manifold sufferings—bereavement, loss, rejection, failure, humiliation, disease, illness, etc. But regardless of the amount, and the kind, of sufferings that we endure in this life, they are proportionally incomparable to the future blessings. We read, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (v. 18). If we could put the sufferings of this life and the glory to come on the balancing scales, there would be absolutely no comparison. The coming glory will far outweigh and outshine—totally eclipse—the sufferings of this present life to such a degree that the sufferings of this life will amount to virtually nothing; they will be utterly insignificant.

I do not know what burden you are carrying today. I do not know what faces you next week, next month, or next year. I do not know whether your body is racked with pain and disease right now, or whether you are overwhelmed with unbearable stress—which may be depleting your energy reserves, making you tired, and possibly causing you to lose hope. But remember, there is a coming glory; and when that glory is revealed, the suffering of this present age will be like 'a tale that was told'. This truth should communicate hope.

The apostle Paul writes further about this present-age suffering—"For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it" (v. 20). The root cause of suffering is sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, the curse came upon the creation; when sin came into the world, death became a reality. Sin resulted in suffering and death—the judgement of God. Because of the sin of man, God subjected the whole of creation to vanity—the curse affected the whole of creation. Creation (here personified) had nothing to do with the state in which it eventually ended.

Even though He cursed the creation, God also had a plan for the creation; and the plan was that one day the creation would be set free, restored, and renewed—"in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (vv. 20,21). God had planned to eventually remove the curse. We further read, "For we know that the whole creation groans [because of sin and the curse of sin] and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now" (v. 22). It is as if the whole creation is looking forward to, and anticipating, the time when it will be set free; but in the meantime, it groans.

Groaning is a sign and symptom of pain. A little while ago, I pulled a muscle in my back. I would restlessly lie in bed, unable to get comfortable. I would toss and turn, going from my side to my back to my stomach, trying to get comfortable. I would lie in bed and groan, just longing for relief; and that is like the creation, it is groaning, longing for relief. Groaning indicates suffering. We further read, "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (v. 23). It is not only the creation that groans, but we who experience the beginning work of the Spirit—we who have been born again, we who have been baptized in the Spirit, we who have been sealed with the Spirit, we who have the earnest of the Spirit, the first fruits of the Spirit—we also groan. We have begun to taste the glory of salvation and there is a deep desire for more. Having tasted a bit, we want the full experience; and because we have begun to taste of the Spirit, because we have begun to taste of that coming glory, because we have the first fruits of the Spirit, the groaning is intensified. We feel the weight of the burden of being in this life, and we long to know that future life. We groan, and say, "How long, O Lord? How long?" I was speaking to a Christian brother this past week, and he shared with me that he was envious of Daniel Hodges. He said, "I want to go home. I want to go home so badly. This life is one of disappointment, suffering, pain, and hardship." That is a brother who is groaning. He has the first fruits of the Spirit, and he knows in himself that there is much more to receive and to enjoy. He wants his inheritance in Christ. Again, the creation exists in a state of suffering and corruption.

Expectation and hope

On the backdrop of suffering and corruption, we should eagerly and expectantly wait for the coming glory. Romans 8:19 reads, "For the anxious longing [the strong desire] of the creation waits eagerly [earnestly] for the revealing of the sons of God." Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, my children are asked what they want for Christmas (they never get surprised any more!). This past year, my daughter mentioned a few items, and insisted that she really wanted one thing in particular. On Christmas Day, she opened gift after gift, and still had not found what she really wanted. She finally opened the last gift, and exclaimed, "I knew it! I knew it!" She had a great desire for this gift; and because she had this great desire, there was a strong anticipation for it. When there is a strong desire for something, often it is accompanied by a strong anticipation for it. So, it is with respect to the creation—"For the anxious longing [the strong desire] of the creation [for glory] waits eagerly [has strong anticipation] for the revealing of the sons of God."

I suggest to you that this language should typically characterize us. We should be longing for the coming glory; and there ought to be the accompanying strong anticipation that the glory is coming. Romans 8:23 further reads, "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Are you waiting eagerly? Are you saying, "Lord, I cannot wait to get home. I love this life, I love my family. I love the work that You have given me to do—there is a sense of purpose and accomplishment—I love the time that I spend with my friends, but I cannot wait to get home, and I am eagerly anticipating the coming glory." Is that your experience? Are we able to say—not just with our lips, but with our hearts—"Even so, come Lord Jesus"? Is that the cry of our hearts? If we are living in hope, it will be. That is the nature of hope.

Having stated what our natural disposition should be, as we consider the future glory, Paul focuses on the matter of hope—"For in hope we have been saved" (v. 24a). If we are living in hope, we will persevere. If we are really living in hope, we will believe that we will receive what God has promised. Hope is powerful. It is motivational. Hope drives us on to lay hold on that which has been promised; and so, in this sense, we are saved in, and by, hope. If we give up hope, if we no longer anticipate, then we will no longer persevere; and thus may not be saved. Victor Frankl, in his book, Man's Search for Meaning, talks about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp. He came to realize (and it was part of his own survival) that when the POW's did not have a future goal, they thus did not have inner strength. These ones were more susceptible to hopelessness, and thus physical deterioration and precipitated death. They simply gave up on life. Victor Frankl maintains that without hope and courage, one may just as well roll up in a corner and die. He attests that through hope and courage, he persevered and was able to transcend his sufferings and survive—"For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope [that is simple logic, of course. If we see reality, then we have no reason to hope for it. That is self-evident. But Paul is simply underscoring the need, the importance, and the power of hope]; for why does one also hope for what he sees?" (v. 24). He raises this self-evident question simply to make his point. Of course, if we have not seen that which has been promised, then we ought to continue to hope. Hope answers to the invisible, hope answers to that which has not yet been experienced. The power of hope drives us on so that we will eventually lay hold on it and experience it.

We further read, "But if we hope for what we do not see [if that is the case, what is going to be the result?], with perseverance we wait eagerly for it" (v. 25). Notice that it is assumed that we will be in a posture of waiting eagerly or earnestly. Being in a disposition of waiting eagerly, we ought to persevere; and we will persevere, if we really have hope. That is the power of hope. In 1965, the naval aviator James B. Stockdale was shot down in Vietnam. He was one of the first American pilots shot down and taken captive by the Vietcong. For seven years, Stockdale was a POW. He was horrendously tortured by the Vietcong. They wanted to break him, and they wanted him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. For long periods of time, they would chain his arms above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes that ravaged his body. Today he walks with a very severe limp because they broke his knee cap and did not reset it. As he reported, one of the cruelest things that the Vietcong did to him was to keep him in isolation. Only the interrogators and guards had access to him. Stockdale says that the thing that got him through this bitter ordeal was hope. Every day he would think about eventually returning home to his family and to his friends. He allowed these thoughts to fill his mind and that is why he pressed on. Hope kept him alive. The power of hope saved him. As Christians, we should earnestly and patiently wait for the coming glory in hope.

Perfection and freedom

The coming glory will be great, and is sure—"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (v. 18). One day Christ will break through the clouds with the elect angels. The very moment that our eyes see the King of glory—if we are yet alive, and on the earth—we will instantaneously enter into glory. We will enter into a majestic, exquisite, splendorous, and wonderful existence. When we think of this notion of glory, we, no doubt, think of the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, at which time, He was changed in a moment and His face shone like the sun and his garments glistened exceedingly as radiant light. The disciples saw His glory. When we see Him as He is, we will enter into His glory; and His glory will be revealed in us, as well as to us.

When Christ's glory is revealed to us, and we partake of that glory, then we will, at the same time, experience "the manifestation of the sons of God"—"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (v. 19). The reality of the glory being revealed to us is synonymous with the revelation of the sons of God. Right now, as believers, we are sons (generically speaking) of God in position, but our true identity has not been publicly revealed. The world has not yet acknowledged nor witnessed to the fact that we are God's spiritual offspring; but when Christ returns and reveals His glory, and we receive that glory and that glory is manifested in us, then we will be manifested as the sons of God. When we see Christ, then we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 Jn. 3:2). The world will yet see that we will reflect His character. At that point, we will enter into the fullness of the partaking of the divine nature (cf. 2 Pe 1:4).

So, two events will occur when this manifestation takes place—liberation and transformation. We will be freed from sin and corruption—liberation, and spiritually perfected—transformation. Romans 8:21 reads, "That the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." When the glory is revealed, then we will experience freedom from everything that is associated with this fallen world. Moreover, we read, "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit [which is a guarantee that we will enter into the full fruits of the Spirit], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (v. 23). The revelation of the sons of God will be seen in receiving perfect redeemed bodies. That is one way that people will recognize, at the same time, who we really are.

We are the children of God right now. The Spirit of adoption has come into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father;" but a fuller adoption awaits us. This fuller adoption is associated with the public declaration that certain ones are God's children. Philippians 3:20-21 reads, "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself." We, as Christians, are anticipating new bodies. We have been spiritually born again, but the body has yet to be redeemed and transformed. When that happens, then we will experience full salvation, full redemption, full adoption.

Our new bodies will never get tired, never get sick, never be ravaged by some disease, never be overtaken by cancer. Our bodies will be powerful, lovely, imperishable, and eternal—bodies that will be just like Jesus' body. That is our hope. This world is not our home, we are just passing through. It may be nice to visit for awhile, but we won't be staying here. Glory calls us forward; perfection beckons us home; liberation encourages us to press on. My Christian friend, I encourage you to live in hope because we have been born again from the dead to a new and living hope (cf. 1 Pe. 1:3).

If you are reading this message and are still spiritually outside of Christ, I know for sure that you are without real hope. You may be wishful, but you do not have hope. I offer you hope, my friend, for time and eternity; and that hope is in Christ. I offer you Christ and the hope of eternal life. Won't you accept Him as your Saviour and Lord? May God give you grace.