Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 5th part of this study, we consider, is there hope for my future? This is the 5th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.
Key Thought: You grow in joy, peace, and hope by developing a confident expectation that the the future will turn out well for you.
Hope and Hope
What do you think the future will be like for you and for the world? If you really knew that the future was going to be great for you, wouldn’t you have greater joy, peace, and hope?
When we talk about the virtue of hope, we are talking about the future. Hope is a confident expectation that things will turn out well. Do you tend to view things that way?
We can view hope in two different ways. On the one hand, it is an emotion that enables us to feel that there will be good things in the future. On the other hand, it is a virtue or excellent character trait that we develop that enables us to see that the future is filled with good things.
What Paul does in this passage is to teach us to re-think the future to develop the virtue of hope so that we will feel more hope about the future.
The Glorious Future
Paul believed the future was bright for those who were connected to Jesus. He described this future in various ways.
First, he uses the word “glory” to describe our future. The future will be glorious. There is a “glory that will be revealed in us” that will far outweigh all our suffering in this life (Rom. 8:18). Speaking of the creation, he says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Like the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, in the future we will experience a liberation from all the bondage and decay we experience now. He calls this work in us “glorification,” making us glorious.
Second, he says the future will make us more like Christ. This means that we will be like Jesus in that our character will be like His. We will be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). We will also experience a bodily resurrection like his that will be a “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).
We should note that these good things are not simply in the next life. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Every event we will experience in the future is for our ultimate good. And what is the good thing that God will give us in the future? To make us the people we are supposed to be! God will turn us into joyful, loving, hopeful, and confident people. Everything that happens, even suffering, will contribute to the glory that will be revealed (Rom. 5:3–5).
That means that there is literally nothing that can oppose us or harm us in any ultimate way, even though it may be painful in the moment. Everything that occurs will enable us to experience more glory in the future. That’s why Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35, 37). We are more than conquerors because we can use everything that happens for our ultimate good and to become more like the glorious image of Jesus. That’s not only our obligation, it’s what God is doing, even when we are not aware of it, even when we don’t do it well (Rom. 8:28).
But What About Suffering?
The greatest objection to having hope for the future is that our future can be filled with suffering. It’s easy to look to the future and see all the bad outcomes that can occur. Or, we may look to the past, see the suffering we experienced there, and doubt that the future could be any different. We may not believe that the future can be good because the past has been so bad. This leaves us without hope.
One answer is that the future is so good that it will give us a satisfactory answer for all our sufferings. Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The glorious light of eternity will overcome the darkness of current suffering.
However, one way we could hear this is: “Everything is bad now. Then, it will be good. So, I can’t wait until things are good.” In other words, there could be no connection between the glory to be revealed and the sufferings we experience now. It’s just that we won’t worry as much about the bad things when things get much better. That could be the meaning, but I don’t think it is. This would be a comfort, but it misses the fact that there is a connection between suffering now and glory in the future, just as there was in Jesus Christ.
To understand this, get a clear idea of what the glory that will be revealed in us is. It is this: we will be perfectly wise, good, loving, pure, and just people. That is the treasure that is greater than anything that happens to us because it enables us to be the people we are meant to be no matter what happens.
That’s the meaning behind this beautiful statement that is very familiar to many Christians, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The good that God is working in us is not riches or health or fame. It is a character that can rely on God in the presence or absence of any of those things. That is the good that God is doing in us, making us like Jesus.
How does this work out? God throws us into tests to challenge us to trust Him more and hope in Him more. That’s what Paul says in Romans 5:3–5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That’s an amazing statement, “we also glory in our sufferings.” But think about it. If suffering gets us to the best place we could be, then doesn’t it make some sense to glory in those sufferings? Maybe we couldn’t get there any other way.
The philosopher Seneca, a pagan contemporary of the Apostle Paul, wrote in his essay on providence,
It is no different with God, let me assure you: he does not pamper a good man like a favourite slave; he puts him to the test, hardens him, and makes him ready for his service. . . . It is a father’s heart that God shows to good men; he loves them in a manly ways, and says, ‘Let them know the pain of toil, of suffering, of loss, so that they may acquire true strength’” (Dialogues and Essays, 4).
Seneca saw that suffering was an opportunity to help us become the best we could become. If Seneca could see this without the sure hope and promises that flow from the resurrection of Christ, why can’t we?
But we not only have better motivation than Seneca. We have greater help. We have the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:11). We do not always know what to do, think, or pray, but the Spirit will help us. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom. 8:26). At the end of the letter, Paul declares His purpose and prays that they would be filled with all joy and peace as they trust in the Lord so that they might abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13). In becoming people of hope, we have the greatest possible help imaginable.
A few months ago, I was contemplating what might happen if everything I was doing in the church completely failed. I started to worry about it. I started thinking of this as the end of any good that I would accomplish in this world.
But then it occurred to me, what if I have to start over? Is that really so bad? How much will I learn? What good things will God have for me and teach me? What opportunities might be available if the ones I currently have are no longer an option? God will still want to use me, and He will give me the opportunity to do something better that will cause me to grow. In fact, the whole process will help me grow. That is not bad. It’s good. I can trust God if He brings me to that. In fact, I can have a firm expectation that He will do me good. That is the virtue of hope. That confidence of a glorious future enables me to have much greater joy, peace, and hope.
Outline for Constructing your Own Lesson
- What is the meaning of the emotion of hope and the virtue of hope?
- What does the Apostle Paul say about what our future will be like?
- What is the relationship between our glorious future and the present?
- How does Paul answer the argument that we should not have hope because there is so much suffering?
- What is our greatest aid in developing hope?
Questions for Reflection and Application?
- How are you doing at having hope for your future?
- How have your sufferings informed your view of the future?
- How can you become a person of greater hope? What would be helpful to you?