Hope and faith are related, but they are not the same. According to Hebrews 11:1 in the New King James Version (HKJV), “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hope is sometimes disappointed because what is hoped for does not always come to pass. With hope there are no guarantees, but without hope, there is no true faith. At some point if a person has faith, they will have to roll the dice, take the plunge, and gamble against the odds that God will be true to His Word. Even God has hope that His creation will someday be set free from futility (Romans 8:20), and like our hope in God, there are not necessarily any guarantees. God pinned a lot of hope on the children He redeemed by the blood of His only begotten Son, hoping that they would be worthy of that sacrifice. In Romans 8, the Apostle writes:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, 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. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.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. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Romans 8:19-25; [New American Standard Bible (NASB)]
Why did the Apostle Paul write in the 22nd verse of Romans 8 “until now?” The language is odd because for nearly 2000 years the Christian Church has so far failed to live up what was hoped for. The glory of the New Testament Church described in the books of Acts faded away after a few generations, and other than a few revivals every now and again, much of church history is a disgrace. Modern Christian leaders are a litany of immorality, greed, and ambition. They look for their name in lights and act like rock stars, preying on the weak, and exploiting their followers with promises that they have no capacity to fulfill. Those who cling to movements, leaders, and doctrines are imprisoned by a hope that will never be fulfilled. Whether you fancy yourself on the forefront of things Godly like those in the Living Word Fellowship, or whether you count rosary beads and eat the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, you have no spiritual leg up over anyone else. To enter the Kingdom of God it is a near certainty that every believer will be required to look beyond the trappings of their religion.
In Romans 8, Paul characterized himself and the other followers of Christ as having “the first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23). He was using a metaphor to describe that first Christian Church as the beginning of something. Christians look back to that first Christian Church as an historical event in their heritage, and some try to incorporate its organizational pattern into their own in a vain effort to rekindle some of the power described in the New Testament. It will never work, because organization was never the key to the church’s power in the first place. The key to the first Christian Church’s power was the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the author of an organization, it is the seed of an organism. What you believe by way of doctrine or belong to by way of organization will never result in the power of the New Testament Church. The spring from which the promises of God flow is not the group to whom you belong; it is what you become through the Holy Spirit.
That first Christian church has given way to about 40,000 Christian denominations. There are so many that they can hardly be counted. All of them share certain similarities in basic beliefs yet are subtly distinct in their specific interpretations of the scriptures and in their rituals. Each of them practices a form of religion handed down by their spiritual fathers and founders, many now dead. They all celebrate a hallowed past, rehearsing over and over what was said and what was done in the hope that some of the glory that once was will be again. But the glory of the New Testament Church will never be rekindled by rehearsing the sayings of dead men. Whatever your spiritual fathers believed, it is meaningless and without power unless Christ is alive in you.
Many contemporary Christian movements mistake the gospel with talking about the great things that Jesus did. Talking about what Jesus did is not the gospel. The evangelists of the New Testament like Phillip and Stephen did not create the stir they did by talking about what Jesus did. They turned the world upside down by demonstrating that Jesus was alive. All of the anecdotes about miracles in the Bible, how Jesus died for sins, and was raised from the dead are all meaningless unless He is alive today. Living believers demonstrating (not talking about) a living Christ is the gospel. Those first believers touched Jesus with their hands, saw Him with their eyes, and heard Him with their ears, just as the apostle describes:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life — and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us — what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
I John 1:1-3 (NASB)
The believers that followed after Jesus had died saw Him, touched Him, and heard Him through the first apostles and through the other believers. For the gospel to have any meaning at all, it must be alive in you. Christ [living] in you is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). In fact, you can talk all you want about how great your leaders are, about how they are a manifestation of Christ in the flesh, but it is all worthless boasting if you are not a manifestation of Christ in your flesh.
The gospel isn’t good news at all if it is about some guy who did a bunch of wonderful things, whether that guy was Jesus or some other Christian leader. Every Christian movement, every denomination and every sect has someone they admire, someone they romanticize, and someone who they tell stories about. All of those wonderful stories, all of that grand past is worthless if Christ isn’t alive in you and alive in the other believers who make up whatever organization you associate with. If the best you can muster are stories about what Jesus did, stories about what the fathers of your movement did (or are doing), then you may as well close the lid on that casket now instead of hoping that somehow the smell of [spiritual] death will go unnoticed.
Every person who has ever had an experience with God usually wants to relive that experience over and over again. They often think that those experiences are the best things that will ever happen. The disciples who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, who saw the miracles and who traveled with him from place-to-place were completely shattered after He died. After all, they expected Him to usher in the Kingdom of God. What happened instead was unexpected. Jesus died, and it seemed to them, everything He said died with Him. Some of those disciples went back to the things they did before they met Jesus. Anyone who has ever been part of a move of God and watched it decline, or worked with a spiritual father who passed away (or who fell into disgrace) likely feels the same way. Those people feel betrayed, and wonder if God has abandoned them, or perhaps has forgotten His promises. Be assured that He has not betrayed you, abandoned you, or forgotten His promises.
The promise of God is so much greater than anything that has come before, and He writes about it through the prophet Jeremiah,
“It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the LORD, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again.”
Jeremiah 3:16 (NASB)
Most Christians have someone or something they look to that to them is like what the ark of the covenant of the Lord was to the Jews. Carried from place to place by the Jews until Solomon built a permanent home for it in the first temple, the ark was to the Jews the presence of the Lord – as long as the ark was with them, they knew God was with them. The ark of the covenant of the Lord was constructed [at Moses request] out of Acacia wood. It was a little over three feet long and around two feet wide and overlaid inside and out with gold. Inside the ark, Moses placed the tablets of stone on which he God had written the covenant, a golden jar of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. Until Samuel the prophet, only the Levitical priests were allowed to go near or carry the ark, but even they could not touch it, so it was carried on their backs using two poles of wood overlaid in gold. Anyone who touched the ark – died, as David (2 Samuel 6:6-10, I Chronicles 13:9-13) and others discovered to their peril. In Beth-shemesh fifty thousand people died because some men of that town had looked inside the ark (1 Samuel 6:19).
Yet, for all of its power, the ark of the covenant of the Lord was a type and a shadow of something better to come. Like the Law of Moses, the ark foreshadowed Christ.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Colossians 1:24-27 (NASB)
The hope of glory is Christ in you – not in arks and other religious artifacts, not in buildings and other grand Christian edifices, not in the leaders you respect and admire (dead or otherwise), not in the written pages of the scriptures, not in religious doctrines. The hope of glory is not acting like Christ, not knowing a lot about Christ, not worshipping Christ. The hope of glory is Christ in you. What God was saying through the prophet Jeremiah is that the time would come when arks and all of those things you have come to depend upon as assurances that God is with you would no longer be necessary. Perhaps you knew an apostle, or experienced miracles, or participated in an outpouring. Like the ark of the covenant of the Lord, those things are gone and they are not coming back. And you should thank God that they are not, “because God had provided something better [for us]” (Hebrews 11:40).
For the disciples of Jesus who walked with Him during His earthly ministry and who hung in there; for those who were there in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, something better happened than even being with Jesus when He was alive and with them. What happened is described in Acts chapter two:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)
That event launched the Christian movement, but the founding of the New Testament Church and everything that followed even to this day was more than the product of a powerful experience. The New Testament Church was a side-effect of something that had happened within those believers. I write “side-effect” because starting and organizing churches was not part of the disciple’s plan. The disciples had no plan. God had a plan. For centuries, before the events described in Acts chapter two, the Jews were practicing the rituals of Pentecost never knowing that what they were doing was a type and a shadow of the Holy Spirit filling the believer.
Those men and women who were with Jesus before He died, and the others who participated with them later, did not found churches and evangelize the world by talking about a Jesus who was dead and who did a bunch of wonderful things. The New Testament Church described in the Book of Acts (and the other books of the New Testament) was not a description of a church that was rehearsing past events over and over – like so many contemporary churches try to do. Those believers were the witnesses of a Jesus who was raised from the dead and they were the product of a Christ who was alive – not a Christ who was a historical figure. What those believers had become was the driver of everything else that happened in and around those believers and their churches. Churches sprung up wherever those believers went because Christ was alive in them.
But God has provided something better for us than even what is described in the New Testament. For all of its power, the New Testament Church and all of the glory associated with it faded away. Within just a few generations, the power of that first church became nothing more than a legend. The apostles, those who walked with Jesus, for all that they were able to accomplish were still frail, weak, and subject to their own base nature. Peter who raised the dead fell into hypocrisy with the party of the circumcision (Galatians 2:12). The church at Corinth, abounded in gifts of the spirit, was subject to division, arrogance and immorality. The promise of God is that there would be a glory that would not fade away.
Glory and the Lord Himself are inseparable in the scriptures. Glory is an attribute of the almighty. When Moses saw the glory of the Lord, it was quite a show (Exodus 33:17-33), and afterwards his face glowed to such an extent that it frightened the children of Israel (Exodus 34:30). That glory is something every Christian is to participate in, and unlike what happened to Moses, it will not fade away.
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (NASB)
What happened to Moses was fading and external like the Law he delivered penned by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). Even though the Law of Moses was delivered with glory, that Law was never able to change the nature of man. The Law of Moses reads “thou shalt not kill,” but men and women have been killing every since. The Law tells us not to steal, commit adultery, and to honor our parents. But who has not stolen, cheated or done the opposite of what our parents asked? Men have been unable to keep a single commandment. On the other hand, what Christ promised in the Holy Spirit is a transformation of character. Christ promises an end to the war between what we know we should do and what we actually do.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)
What Christian does not understand the battle that Paul was writing about in the book of Romans? Christians fight all of their lives, with varying degrees of success, against the impulses of their human nature. But the promise of God is unfading glory through a change of nature. Christ in you, the hope of glory means that the sinless nature of Jesus Himself will be resident in the believers flesh. Just as Jesus was subject to temptation, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15), that is what the followers of Christ are to be. Jesus perfection was not the result of disciplined adherence to a moral code that restrained His impulses. Jesus could not sin because sin was not in His nature. The followers of Christ shall also have a nature that cannot sin.
The New Testament Church and those believers described in the Book of Acts were the “first-fruits,” but you are the harvest. All of creation has been groaning until now, waiting for you to be revealed as the son of God. Religious people will have a hard time accepting that statement. Even the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Jesus day were offended by the implications, and so Jesus called Himself the “son of man.” Regardless, for Jesus’ death to have any meaning at all this must happen – you must be adopted as a Son of God and your body must be redeemed. The goal of your salvation is not simply the forgiveness of sin. You were saved in hope. You are to be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and by one offering He has forever perfected you who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Christ sacrificed Himself to put away sin, and He will appear again without reference to sin (Hebrews 9: 26-28).
These statements by the writer of Hebrews does not indicate perfection as some future event, it indicates perfection as a present truth. There needs to be greater faith in the believer to lay hold of that promise because most are still looking to Christ as a savior. So many go from place-to-place, from Christian personality to Christian personality, looking for something or someone to save them from illness, from sin, and from the circumstances of life, not realizing that everything they need to be a child of God is already within them. If the average believer would only sit down at the table that God has prepared for them and feast at the bounty of His promises, the Christian church would cease to be plagued with “big-name” Christian leaders who one after another self-destruct and disgrace themselves and their followers. When the average believer puts on the nature of Christ, the church as we have known it, like the ark of the covenant of the Lord will made obsolete.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord:
I will put My laws into their minds,
And I will write them on their hearts.
And I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.
And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them.
For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Hebrews 8: 10-12 (NASB)
When Christ appears again it will be without reference to sin (Hebrews 9:28), but I wonder if like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day if Christians will be taken by surprise even though all of the Old Testament wrote of His coming? People look for rapture or some other kind of external event to deliver them from their captivity just as the Jews thought Christ was coming to set them free from the Romans. It never happened quite that way and Jesus told the seventy to say to the cities they visited that “the Kingdom of God has come near you” (Luke 10:9). The Romans were irrelevant just as life’s circumstances are irrelevant. Will you, the believer, recognize that Christ is coming in you? No doubt He will come on a white horse just as Revelations 19:11 describes, but that is not what creation longs for: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).” Christ in you is the hope of Glory.