The God Who Hopes
Most people expect Christians to have hope in God and His promises. The hope that follows faith and commitment to Jesus Christ is indeed a powerful blessing beyond exchange (Hebrews 6:15-20). But, did you know that God has hope in you? He is an optimistic God, who believes in you! This is a profoundly encouraging thought, but this same thought also implies a responsibility to live up to that hope. In this article, we will first examine the case for God's optimism, and then we will consider the applications that can be drawn from this great truth.
The Optimistic God
Both human experience and Bible examples teach us that one of the most powerful lies, which the Devil feeds, is that we are born failures whom God long abandoned (II Corinthians 2:6-11; John 8:44). You can almost hear the words, "You are loser. You can't do it. It is too hard. You are so hopeless that God forgot about you a long time ago." Have you ever felt that way? Sin breeds this despair; however, no lie could be further from the truth. Notice the motivation ascribed to God in the following passage:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)
Who is the subject hoping in the above verse? To answer this question, please consider, "Who is the only being capable of subjecting the entire creation beside the Creator Himself?". Moreover, please consider that this being is also benevolent, because this hope looks forward to the revealing, deliverance, and adoption of God's children (Romans 8:21-25). Again, who else has such power and love beside God Himself?
Who or what was the object of God's hope? Did He hope in Himself? No, this cannot be. Beside being absurdly circular, hope does not exist where desire is realized and known (Romans 8:24-25), and "known to God from eternity are all His works." (Acts 15:18). Could this hope have been vested in angels or some other heavenly race? It seems unlikely, because they are not part of the context. Furthermore, in the above context, "the creation" is the object of subjection and deliverance, and elsewhere we have learned that angels do not enjoy the mercy of redemption (Hebrews 2:14-16). Therefore, this verse must be referring to our race, which was indeed subjected to the "futility" of "thorns and briers" and the "bondage" of the "fear of death" (Genesis 3:16-24; Hebrews 2:14-15).
While you are meditating on the implications of that thought, please consider this description of love:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. ... (I Corinthians 13:4-8)
Love by its very definition is optimistic. It looks for the best in people. It wants them to succeed. Love looks for people succeed - even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Considering that "God is love" (I John 4:8-17), would it not be fair to assume that God also "believes all things, hopes all things"? Is He not identified with the virtue, which is identified as being optimistic?
The Accused But Confident God
God's optimism and belief in us has not gone unnoticed. In fact, it has drawn Him criticism, even accusations. As one brief glimpse into the dynamics of that spiritual world, please consider the following introduction to the story of Job:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. ... Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!" And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. (Job 1:1-12)
Please notice how the Lord lifted up Job as an example to Satan. Even after the Accuser indited the Lord of unfairness and partiality, God continued to assert His confidence in Job. How did God manifest this belief in Job? He released the Enemy to persecute and tempt Job! Even though the Devil destroyed most of Job's life, He could not destroy Job.
Later, God again exalted Job before Satan, which ultimately resulted in an even broader authority for Satan to afflict Job. But still, Job did not yield. He patiently clung to God, even though He could not reconcile his sufferings with God's character (Job 1:20-2:10).
What lessons can we derive from this story? Among many applications we can learn that God may maintain profound confidence in us! Furthermore, He may volunteer and assert that confidence before the most aggressive and hateful of accusers. Can you imagine God holding you up as a worthy representative of His efforts? If it was true of Job, then it can be true of us, if we are willing to live like Job (Job 1:1).
Another application that we can make from Job's suffering is that God permitted Job's trial because He believed Job could triumph. Although we are not privileged to the heavenly discussions that pertain to the example of our faithfulness, we have been given this promise:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
Because we will never be pushed beyond our capacity to overcome, we know that every temptation and every trial that we suffer is a vote of divine confidence on our behalf.
Please recall that God is not only a God who forgives, but He is a God who wants to forgive (II Peter 3:9; Romans 2:4; Ezekiel 18:32). Now God is not man (Hosea 11:9), but it seems unreasonable that any being would seek to redeem that which is unredeemable. Would you try to salvage something that was truly hopelessly lost? The very fact that God has invested so much in an effort to save us is a testament to the fact that He believes we can be saved!
Furthermore, if my old truck should break down while driving it to work, do you think I would give up, abandon it, and go buy another truck? Would you? Well, you might, if you saw my truck, but that's not the point. People generally do not "throw more money after bad". People only invest or continue to invest in something that is of value to them. In my case, I would invest more money to fix my truck, because I value the transportation it offers. Greater investment signifies greater esteemed value. Given this truism, let us consider the investment God made in 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 8:32)
What more can God invest in us than He has already invested? Although Jesus' sacrifice on the cross certainly constitutes the most extravagant gift bestowed upon us, His redeeming death is far from being the only blessing God has bequeathed to His children. Many of the derivative blessings that flow from the cross are well known to Christians, such as prayer (Hebrews 4:14-16), the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:11-16), acceptable worship (Ephesians 5:18-20), revelation and the Bible (John 16:7, 13-16; Ephesians 3:3-5), and many more! However, please consider the following blessing, which highlights God's hope and desire for us:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
Please notice the patience exhibited by the heavenly Father. Admittedly, His chastening arises out of His own love for us, but the chastening is also performed in expectation of our transformation. Every time that God patiently administers discipline, He is manifesting a hope that we will be purified by His refining efforts. He is continually investing in us! And, that patient, persistent investment necessitates the existence of His hope in us!
God's Hope for Return
God's investment in us was performed not without some hope of return (Romans 8:20). He wants us to do more than respond to the message of repentance. He wants us to persevere through temptations and persecutions, while bearing much fruit (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). Jesus warns us that those who do not bear fruit will be cut down. Immediately following Jesus' instruction to repent (Luke 13:1-5), He illustrates our urgent need to not only repent, but to also bear spiritual fruit, using this figure:
He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.' " (Luke 13:6-9)
This passage indicates God's patient desire for us to repent and bear fruit. However, it also warns us that He will not wait forever. At some point, He will "cut us down", if we do not bear "the peaceable fruit of righteousness"! Jesus corroborates our responsibility to bear fruit in a similar parable:
"I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. ..."
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. ..."
By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)
Given this warning of danger that awaits those who do not bear fruit, we should all be properly motivated to produce much fruit. However, this is not the most noble motivation, nor is it the ultimate driving force that sustains the mature Christian. This is reserved for the desire to glorify God and help others, which flows from our love for God and our fellow man (John 15:8-14; Matthew 5:13-16; I Peter 2:11-12).
To What Profit?
Does this mean that God expects us to perform enough works to justify our salvation? Can we hope to produce fruit enough to return a profit on God's investment? Jesus clearly indicates the futility of such a thought:
"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' " (Luke 17:10)
Clearly this verse shows that we cannot claim or even hope to produce a profit for the Lord. We cannot even claim to be a "break-even investment", because we have not even "done what was our duty to do".
Does Jesus' advice contradict all that we have just studied? Is Jesus foretelling that we can never achieve God's goal for us? Well, yes and no. As far as servants go, we have done a fairly poor job. Some have certainly done better than others, but none of us will be profitable servants. However, this begs the questions, "Was profitable servants the ultimate purpose of our creation?". Certainly, Jesus "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:14). But, was God focused on creating a special people, primarily for the purpose of serving Him?
"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
Although the Scriptures abound with references to Christians being "servants", "bond-servants", and "disciples", the Scriptures also contain a multitude of references to our being "children of God" and "the family of God". As seen in the above passages, some were even called "the friend of God" and "greatly beloved" of God (James 2:23; Daniel 10:11, 19). Furthermore, Jesus extended to each of us the invitation of "brother" and even "friend" by being made like us, so He could give His life for us on the cross (Hebrews 2:10-17; John 15:12-14). Each of these tender designations indicate a desire for a relationship that transcends bond servitude (Romans 8:15-17).
Although God does not hope like men, in that His hope will never be mixed with uncertainty, He does exhibit hope in that He desires for that which is yet to come, which is our ultimate salvation with Him in heaven (Romans 8:19-25). We can derive great comfort and confidence by knowing that God holds such hope for us. We can derive further assurance by observing the confidence He is willing to assert on our behalf, whether by subjecting us to testing, or whether by offering His Son so that we might be redeemed. However, this blessing does not come without responsibility:
My son, be wise, and make my heart glad, That I may answer him who reproaches me. (Proverbs 27:11)
There is one who would accuse us, but his ultimate aim is to accuse our Father (Revelation 12:10). Our God has exhibited great confidence in us. Let us not fail Him. Rather, let us "walk worthily" of His investment and of Him, since He has given us all things, even His own Son, so that we may be reconciled to Him. By sacrificing Jesus on our behalf, He as already demonstrated His belief in us. Will you reciprocate His optimism, confidence, and love by believing in Him?
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