What is Christian hope?

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

Paul commences the passage from 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 with the statement, ‘Since, then, we have such a hope …’

Hope is an essential requirement to live well. Samuel Johnston the 18th century English lexicographer, critic and writer said, “Hope is itself a species of happiness which this world affords.” And Martin Luther, the German religious reformer asserted that, “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”

Paul continues on to say that this particular hope that Christians have in some way inspires us to act with great boldness. So, what is this hope to which he refers?

He makes it a little clearer in Galatians 5.5 where he calls it ‘the hope of righteousness’ - being made right with God - and states that we have this hope of righteousness ‘through the Spirit, by faith.’ So, it is to do with the cleansing of sin, through faith in Christ, and the resulting salvation.

Romans 5:1-3, 5 adds one more peace of information. Here Paul writes, ‘Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, … and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

So, the hope to which Paul is referring is the Christian’s expectation that God is a faithful God who will fulfil his covenants of promise. And his promise is to provide forgiveness of sins (with conditions of course), the return of Christ, and resurrection of the dead. For those who enter into this covenant with God, the final outcome is that we will share in the glory of God. This is the Christian hope!

Now, there are a number of things that we can learn about the Christian hope from the bible passages set down for today, the first of which is that …

I. The Christian hope is found in Jesus

At the Last Supper, Jesus announced the new covenant when he took a cup of wine and gave it to his disciples saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

The new covenant is a covenant of grace by which those who trust in God and place their faith in Jesus Christ receive forgiveness of sins, eternal life and fellowship with God - in spite of our unworthiness. Christ’s sacrificial death served as the oath, or pledge, which God made to us to seal this new covenant. This is God's promise to any person who turns to him in repentance and faith.

But back in history, God had established other covenants, covenants of law, with his people. You will remember that the Old Testament book of Genesis records how God had previously made a covenant with Abraham, a covenant of promise, in which God promised to bless Abraham’s descendants and to make them his special people. In return, Abraham was to remain faithful to God and to serve as a channel through which God's blessings could flow to the rest of the world (Gen 12:1-3)

Some 430 years later, at Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel confirmed their covenant with God and promised to perform "all the words which the Lord has said" (Ex 24:3). This established what is known as the Sinai or mosaic covenant. It is a covenant of law requiring obedience to the laws given by God through Moses. But, while their leader Moses was absent from them for a period, the Israelites rebelled against God and built a golden calf idol to worship. The reading from Exodus 34:29-35 records the renewal of the Sinai covenant.

Moving forward in history again, about 25 years after Jesus had announced the new covenant, a problem arose in the young Corinthian Church whereby some false teachers were trying to get the new gentile Christians to continue to adhere to the Jewish law as given under the Mosaic covenant.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church to argue that salvation is not found in the law, but only in Christ - and the 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 reading for today is part of this letter.

In this passage, Paul says that the veil on Moses’ face (that we read about in the Exodus 34 reading) is metaphorically over the minds of the Israelites - the people of the old covenant - with the result that they have missed seeing the glory in the old covenant that pointed to Jesus. And so, even though the Jews now regularly hear Moses’ writings read in the synagogue, they failed to understand the scriptures because of a veil of ignorance.

Applying this today, we would suggest that the same veil that prevented the ancient Israelites seeing God’s glory in Jesus is still over the minds of those who have not yet placed their trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

We might then ask, “How can this veil be removed?” Paul answers that it is ‘only in Christ’ that the veil is removed. When we put our trust in Jesus, he removes the veil - and we are then able to discover the Christian hope that enables us to share in the glory of God.

So, the Christian hope of expectation that God is a faithful God who will fulfil his covenants of promise is found in Jesus.

But I think there are some people who, even though they have had the veil removed and have invited Jesus into their life as their Saviour and Lord, waver in their hope. It may be because they think of ‘hope’ not as Paul has explained it, but as defined in the Oxford Dictionary – i.e. ‘a desire that something will occur’. This raises in their mind the possibility that the desired outcome might not occur; but the bible indicates that …

II. The Christian hope is an assured hope.

To understand the assurance of the Christian hope, we need to again go back to the difference in the covenants that God made over history.

The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the covenants of law and covenants of promise. The covenants of law, such as the Sinai covenant of Exodus 24, were dependent upon the people adhering to the law and remaining obedient to God. Paul states in 2 Cor 3:7,9 that the covenant established at Mount Sinai, is a "ministry of death" and "condemnation". It is a covenant that cannot be effectively obeyed because of man's weakness and sin (Rom 8:3). So those who continue to live by the law do not have assurance in their hope.

However, the covenants of promise are God's guarantees that he will provide a way of salvation in spite of our inability to keep our side of the agreement because of our sinful nature.

Our hope in Christ is a hope that rest in God’s promises arising from his grace and received in faith. It does not rest in our own strength or ability. We are assured (e.g. in Hebrews 9) that the blood of Jesus gives us eternal redemption and daily cleansing from sin. And those who have put their faith in Jesus will receive the promised inheritance of resurrection and eternal life, so long as they stay open to God’s Holy Spirit, hear God’s voice and daily repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

Further, assurance of our resurrection in glory is provided through Jesus’ resurrection. We are assured in 1 Cor 15:20,24 that, ‘Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits’ … ‘then at his coming those who belong to Christ’ will be raised. And we also receive assurance of the Christian hope in those occasions when God pulls back the veil to give us a brief glimpse of God’s glory, of heaven and the resurrected life.

In the gospel reading for today we read how three of Jesus’ disciples received a glimpse of ‘our hope of sharing the glory of God’ in Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus had taken them with him up a mountain to pray. Before their very eyes, as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white, indicating the presence of the supernatural in him. Jesus appeared to the disciples in his glorified state.

And then Moses and Elijah, two long dead patriarchs of the ancient Israelites, appeared and were talking with Jesus. They too appeared in resurrected bodies of glorious splendour.

We also receive assurance through glimpses of the glory of God as revealed in his creation and in his works. We see his glory in the nature and acts of God in his self-manifestation, i.e., what he essentially is and does, as exhibited in whatever way he reveals himself. It may be in the intricacy of the construction of the human eye, or the beauty of a flower, or as we stand and watch the sun setting beyond the waves – in these moments we can experience something of the glory of God.

And most importantly, we get glimpses of the glory of God in Jesus. This is revealed to us in the pages of the Bible, and as he works in our life. To express it in Paul’s terminology, those who are unveiled, i.e. those who have accepted Jesus, see the glory of God even in this life, albeit as though reflected in a mirror.

Therefore, those who have had the veiled lifted, and have received Jesus through faith have assurance of the Christian hope through the assurances of the bible and through glimpses that God gives us of his glory and of heaven and the resurrected life.

So, we find the Christian hope in Jesus, and we can rest in the knowledge that the Christian hope is an assured hope. But remember that God’s glory in which our hope is founded is seen not just in God’s nature, but also in what he does. Through the Holy Spirit, God works in the life of those who have had the veil lifted. In sanctified and changed lives, …

III. The Christian Hope is seen in transformation

In 2 Corinthians 3, verse 18, Paul indicates that, ‘all of us, with unveiled faces, … are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.’ We understand this to mean that those who have the Christian hope are progressively transformed, step by step, into Jesus’ likeness.

Of course, we do not change to become like Jesus in a physical way, but rather a transformation to become more like Jesus’ spiritually and in character. Paul writes in v.18 that this transformation, ‘comes from the Lord, the Spirit’. And as we experience for ourselves transformation, or as we see this transformation in others, we receive further assurance of our hope in Christ.

The Holy Spirit transforms us in two ways. Firstly, there is transformation seen in the gradual development over time in the believing and faithful Christian of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul listed in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

And secondly, we are also transformed through receiving an enlightened understanding of God and his word – a new spiritual comprehension. If we were to have read on a little further in the 2 Corinthians passage, we would have read that, ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ’ gives us spiritual comprehension (2 Cor 4:4). And Psalm 119:130 says, ‘The unfolding of God’s words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.’ So, as we read and study the gospel of Jesus Christ in our bibles the veil is lifted, and we are able to discover the Christian hope that enables us to share in the glory of God. In this we see the importance of reading our bibles and attending church to hear the word.

Conclusion

On this day, as we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ, we can be encouraged in the knowledge of the Christian hope - the expectation that God is a faithful God who will fulfil his covenants of promise. This is the promise of forgiveness of sins, the return of Jesus, our resurrection from the dead, and that we will share in the glory of God.

We find this hope in Jesus and we are told that it is an assured hope that is revealed in God’s glory and in the transformed Christian - transformed in character and in an enlightened understanding of the gospel provided through the Holy Spirit.

And so, in our Christian lives we are encouraged to be confident in the new covenant of salvation through Jesus’ shed blood. This confidence, in turn, gives us a boldness in how we live-out our Christian lives and in how we witness for Jesus Christ and his gospel.

Today, as we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ, let us embrace Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 3:12, ‘Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness’.

Amen.


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