Hanging in There: Why and How?
Romans Lesson #050
February 9, 2012
This is a tremendous passage dealing with some of the mechanics and stages within the spiritual life and the virtues and values that are part of our spiritual growth. The focal point is on endurance so I have titled it “Hanging in There: Why and How?” Sometimes we are tempted to not want to hang in there for one reason or another. There are many things that are enemies of our endurance and our perseverance, not the least of which are physical factors: distractions, fatigue, what we need to do, which keep us from being focused on what we need to be focused on. They are indeed also part of the test.
Romans 5:2 “Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope [confidence] of the glory of God. (3) And not only that, but we also glory [rejoice] in tribulations [adversities], [because we know] knowing that tribulation produces perseverance [endurance]; (4) and perseverance, character; and character, hope [confidence]. (5) Now hope [confidence in God] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
I have retranslated this a little bit to give you a sense of how the words really connect. The translators have taken the word rejoice in verse 2 (meaning boasting) and translated it glory in verse 3, but it is the same word.
Two ideas are present as we look at this passage that do not resonate very much in a modern American setting. Those are the words endurance and hope. What Paul says is that hope can only be developed through endurance. Therefore, hope is not based on the superficial, motivational truisms that so often characterize churches and sermons today. When that is all we get, we usually run aground on the shoals of life, and our attempted endurance is quickly shipwrecked. Our culture today is one that has generally become soft, and we do not have much that we really have to work hard at.
We are going through a time of economic recession right now, and it has been very difficult for some people. This is a time when they are going to see some character qualities develop and either pass or fail the tests they are going through. Some of us have gone through some difficult times in the past few years, and some have not. Generally speaking about our culture as a whole, we have become terribly soft. We do not have to labor as intensely as generations in the past. We have all manner of labor-saving devices and technology to access the internet and make phone calls from anywhere we are and receive them from anywhere. It is just amazing.
When you think back on how most of us grew up, which was not really that long ago all things considered, the changes that have taken place from the 1950s to the 1970s just in your kitchen are really incredible compared to the way things were 100 years before that. We have become spoiled by our culture.
We have also been spoiled in a lot of ways by a lack of rigorous discipline on the part of either parents or educational institutions. Just think about the fact that when many of us were young, going back to the 1950s or 1960s, it was not uncommon for parents to spank their kids. There are some states that have made that illegal. It was not uncommon for school teachers to give pops, coaches especially. I remember when I first taught school in the 1970s, hardly a week went by that I was not giving licks to some kid for disobedience.
One of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had was with my grandmother. She was probably in her 60s by the time I was old enough to attend her 5th grade class. She taught at Jones Elementary down at the east end of Houston, just off the Ship Channel. She was down in the barrio with all her Hispanic kids. To me she was just a little old purple-haired grandmother. She did not retire from HISD until she was 75, when I was a freshman in high school.
I would go down to visit her classroom. These kids would disobey, and she would take them behind the blackboard and take out this square paddle that the shop teacher had made that was larger than a ping pong paddle and ¾” thick with holes bored through it. She would give those big Hispanic boys paddles, and they would come out with tears running down their cheeks. She was not beating them, but the way people have been retrained to think in our culture, that would be abusive, and she would be out of a job. But she probably did a better job than anybody. For a woman to have a masters degree in education back in the 1940s was unbelievable, but she did.
I heard today (2-9-12) that another group of psychologists, the “witch doctors” of our modern culture, came out with a study saying that not only is spanking bad for children, but it will also make them aggressive and argumentative, make them respond more negatively to stress as they get older. I turned on Fox News today, and Megyn Kelly was bringing an expert on who had years of experience in the field – it turned out to be her mother. Megyn started with a clip of a number of times she had been on different shows and got into a heated argument with Bill Reilly over some topic, clearly showing her aggression and trend towards maybe being a little verbally violent. She asked her mother if her spanking her had made her that way. Her mother said, “When you acted that way, that is why we spanked you.”
Psychologists are dealing with a “what if” issue here. They do not know what those kids would have been like without having been spanked. They do not have an objective norm against which to evaluate anything. Maybe that is exactly why those kids were being spanked because they had those trends already, and their parents were trying to drive it out of them. Who knows more about this - the Bible or some 20th century psychiatrist, who has limited data?
It has produced a culture that is soft. There are areas where it is not so soft. There are areas in the military, in athletics that have to deal with the reality of competition and genuinely losing and winning in situations where it counts. But when a culture becomes soft, we lose a sense of discipline and are not teaching a firm, tough mental attitude that is able to stick to things no matter how difficult they become. We create more and more of a weak culture and an effeminate culture. When you combine that with the influences of the rise of radical feminism in the 1960s and 1970s and the limitations on certain things that you can do in terms of training boys, some people have tried to raise this issue in the last 10–15 years that we are acculturating our young boys to a feminine ideal. This is the “metrosexual” and not the strong, virile male type who is a good leader.
If you doubt that, we have a classic cultural example of the result of where all this goes if you go over to Eastern Europe. It is the kind of thing that took place in the former Soviet Union. They did a lot of social experimentation with marriage and parenting, and in that extreme socialist culture, it destroyed initiative in the men. One of the things I have observed for almost 20 year of going over to the former Soviet Union is that (in a generalization) a vast number of the males are drunks. They are not motivated, but the women are. The women too often got married or pregnant or both too young, and the guy turned out to be abusive and drunk, so they divorced. She is living alone with a child or two, trying to make ends meet and get an education. It is hard to find male leadership.
I am trying to say that this is more than one facet that affects this. We live in a culture today where we analyze many of our social problems and our decline and find there are numerous elements. It is systemic, and we have to address it on a number of fronts. Too often those fronts end up being just symptoms of a even deeper problem: a spiritual problem and a rejection of God.
When we have a culture that has spoiled our children both intentionally and unintentionally over the last 50 years, it wipes out this sense of self-reliance in our children. Unwittingly, we create in them an attitude of entitlement and dependence. A study came out indicating that government dependence in the two years of our current administration (2012) has increased 23% according to the introductory statement of the article I read.
“American dependence on government has soared to an all-time high under the Obama administration, growing 23 percent in just two years, according to a new study by the Heritage Foundation. The conservative research group’s 2012 Index of Dependence on Government revealed that 67 million Americans are now banking on some federal program including programs related to healthcare, housing, welfare, education subsidies, and other government programs that were ‘traditionally provided to needy people by local organizations and families.’ ”
As Medicare and Medicaid have increased and now this new healthcare monster that is coming down the pike, it just creates a dependent attitude and mentality among people. That prevents them from being mentally tough and having this sense of “I’m going to face my problems in life; it may be difficult and hard, but I have the resources to do it.” As Christians, we know those resources are the resources provided for us spiritually in Christ.
There are several features of our culture that lead to weakness, failure and defeat. We have created a culture where everyone looks for a free, easy solution to the problems. Everything in life is quick now. We have drive-through windows. We can tap on the screen of our cell phone, and we have an answer to our question or immediate information; or we can send in a to-go order to a local restaurant. We are used to instant response and instant gratification; there is no longer that need for discipline to wait. In one of the studies I have read, this impacts the involvement of young people in church.
One of the problems that has occurred in our culture across the board is that churches, especially where people are expected to exercise a measure of discipline and come and sit in a pew and listen to a lecture for 45 minutes to an hour, cannot get younger people under the age of 30–35 to come and be involved in mid-week services. It does not matter whether they are Jewish, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist or Bible church. The discipline of approaching education in that manner has been taken away from them through various methodologies that have been used in elementary schools for the last 30–40 years, as well as the fact that they do not see that need for learning. They think differently about it and do not have the discipline to sit and learn. They want answers quickly, and the Christian life is not where you learn 15 points and become an expert on the Bible and understand God’s plan for your life and how to grow spiritually. It takes the rest of our lives. The Christian life is based on a long-term perspective and is not based on a sense of immediacy.
When we look for stress-free, easy solutions. that is automatically counter to what the Bible teaches. We have this quick-fix, convenience, comfort mentality. I remember a classmate of mine from seminary who graduated and then taught at Capital Bible Seminary for a few years in the early 1980s. He wrote an article for one of the theological journals in which he applied this whole issue to seminary education. I have seen it get even worse since then.
You have men in congregations who do not want to move across the country to go to the best seminary to get their training to be a pastor. Their first question is whether they can take those courses online. They do not want that rigorous discipline of the classroom. They cannot articulate it that way, but that has been bred out of them. If they are going to be a doctor or lawyer, they understand if they want to excel, they have to go to a good law school or medical school and may have to move away from their hometown.
I have been amazed at this shift. I have looked back to many of the men that I was in seminary with and those who were just a half a generation ahead of me, and they moved from all over the country once they realized they had the gift of pastor-teacher. They moved to Dallas, TX to get the very best education they could because they understood the principle that if you wanted to glorify God in your life, you had to do the very best. They understood this high standard. They packed up their bags and recognized that they had to trust God to provide for everything. Now you have a generation of young men who are not sure if they can trust God to provide for them and their family, so they do not move. They are spiritual wimps, and they do not know it. They do not know how to trust God and have that sense of confidence which is what this passage is talking about, that is, what is at the base of giving believers that really solid mental attitude of trust and confidence in God.
Another factor of our culture that runs counter to the spiritual principles is that we value entertainment over hard work, accomplishments and success. Just look at what has happened in this presidential primary mess in the Republican party. A couple of weeks ago, Mitt Romney had to release his tax returns. All of a sudden you hear even conservatives saying, “Look how much money he makes, and he only paid 15% taxes.” That is because most of his money is invested in various long-term investments, and 15% is the capital gains rate. He is not working like other people are working. They do not understand it and just see that difference. This jealousy comes up. They do not look at him and see that he is a tremendous success. He was able to take what he was given and multiply it and make even more money.
That is a biblical principle that we should take what we have been given and multiply it and use it in other areas. Instead, we value entertainment and handouts more than we do hard work, accomplishments and success.
The bottom line on this is we have rejected the values of our forefathers. When a generation rises that rejects its heritage and the values and beliefs of its predecessors, then that culture is doomed to absolute failure and collapse because the next generation does not have any kind of connection whatsoever to the past. Once they sever that connection to the past, then they have no anchor anymore and are cast adrift. It is easy for them to become slaves because that is what has happened in their mentality. When you lose mental toughness and lose that ability to be independent and to face the challenges, tough times, and adversities of life with confidence, hope and certainty, then you develop a dependent mentality.
As we have developed an effeminate culture and a spoiled culture, we have a developed a dependent culture. Dependency is a slave mentality, and slaves can never appreciate freedom or exploit liberty for greatness. In fact, they begin to turn against those values because it is something that is completely beyond their thinking and something they consider to be unachievable.
We have raised a generation that is missing the key ingredient which is a mentality of self-reliance and independence and mental toughness. They have lost what it means to have a positive mental attitude.
In these verses in Romans 5, we have the ABCs of the Christian life summarized. Adversity builds Christian character. A-adversity, B-builds, C-Christian character. God says there is no other way to build Christian character than to face adversity with the promises and provisions that God has given us. Anything else is a shortcut and destroys the process.
As we look at this section, we see the tremendous implication that Paul is drawing out of our justification. He says in Romans 5:2 “Through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand…” That is what we have at salvation, but then he is going on and talking about the post-salvation spiritual life. “… and rejoice in hope [confidence] of the glory of God.” Verse 3 “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations [rejoice in adversities] …” That is a strong Greek word that he is using here—KAUCHAOMAI. It has the idea of boasting. Think about what it is like when you have really accomplished something, and you want other people to know what you have done. You have surmounted a challenge in your life and made it, and you want to go tell your friends about it. Look at what I have accomplished!
We exalt but not in something that we have done but in the glory of God and His provision for it. We can rejoice in adversity. The basic Greek word here is translated tribulation in some versions, but that gets confused with The Tribulation. It is just the word THLIPSIS, which means adversity, difficulties, challenges. We all face them: medical challenges, health and financial challenges, challenges related to family members, parents, children, friends, coworkers. You cannot run away from these aspects in our lives. That is our tendency to leave it, but we have to learn to go through it.
That is the character quality that Paul mentions in verse 3. The reason we rejoice in adversities is that we know that adversity produces endurance. The basic idea of endurance is not avoiding the problem or the conflict or the difficulty; it is learning to trust God in the midst of the difficulty. You cannot get away from that, so we have to learn to trust God. This does not happen easily. We do not go home and say, “I have the promise—I have it down. Tomorrow no matter what happens, I am going to move through this and just exalt and be excited about whatever difficult things come my way.” It takes years to learn to do this because our sin nature is really bent on a pseudo self-reliance, an arrogant self-reliance that is contrary to God.
We know this foundational biblical principle that adversity produces endurance and endurance character. This is in a positive sense, a sense of approval. It is a word that is difficult to translate, and many translations do it in different ways. But it has this idea of becoming approved in your character and in who you are. It indicates spiritual maturity and growth.
And character produces confidence. There is a process. But didn’t the person who first began this have hope? We will see that he did. There is a hope that we have in the beginning of salvation. It is not a mature hope; it is a hope that is limited because we are just spiritual babies after all and are just beginning. That has to mature as we go through life and this cycle again and again.
Romans 5:5 “Now hope [confidence in God] does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” That shows the relationship of God’s love for us as a foundation for facing the challenges of life and the provisions that He has given us.
As we get into this, I am going to focus a lot on these two words—endurance and hope. A hope is something that is lost also on our culture because they do not have anything that they can put their confidence in. They do not have anything of certainty that is going to endure throughout the ages, and that is the sense of hope in the Scriptures. It is not wishful optimism, not just looking inside of oneself and ginning up a measure of confidence in something so that they can go forward, not pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. It is a certainty that is focused upon the solid rock of God’s character and the solid rock of the Scriptures.
We are going to look at the doctrine of the believer’s hope in Scripture. This will be a summary overview of Paul’s use of this term in Romans. Paul uses the term hope 13 times in 9 verses in Romans. Out of 36 times that Paul uses the word hope, 13 are in Romans—that is a little over a third. In Romans we get a real glimpse into the whole doctrine of hope that we find in the New Testament.
We think about the fruit of the Spirit, which is the result of walking by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There is no hope in there. But hope is certainly a biblical value; it is a character quality that is related to the concept of perseverance. It is a mental attitude that is developed in a believer through the application of Scripture. It is not apart from Scripture or apart from walking by the Spirit, but it is produced through Scripture as we come to understand who we are in Christ, what we have been given in Christ, and where we are headed. Our destiny is not a temporal destiny; it is an eternal destiny – the messianic kingdom.
That has to become real to us because that is what enables us to face the trials, tribulations, and adversities of today. It is this hope that is always oriented to our future destiny that gives a believer confidence to face the circumstances of today. It is through this hope that we are strengthened mentally. We become tough so that we can endure even some of the most extreme persecutions that have occurred in history from cultures and governments that have gone against Christians.
We hear these incredible stories of Christians who have endured. Today there is a lot of persecution among Christians in Iran. I have read that the percentage of conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran is among the highest of any conversion rate in any Muslim culture in all of history because of what is going on there. Ahmadinejad and the imams may be running Iran into the ground and threatening to destroy Israel, but as the people suffer more and more, they realize the bankruptcy of Islam and are turning to Jesus Christ. We need to be in prayer for those people.
One of the byproducts is that they go through persecution; they are arrested, get thrown in jail, and some cannot handle it. They revert and reject Christ and go back into Islam simply because they cannot bear what is happening to their families. They do not have the mental toughness yet from their spiritual growth to be able to face the unpleasant circumstances. And to face it with joy. That is what is distinct about Scripture and a spiritual life is that we do not grumble and complain about our circumstances because we understand who is in charge. We understand that the test is to face that with joy and not with anger, hostility and depression.
This is all wrapped up in Paul’s concept of hope. We have to learn to be mentally tough. The Holy Spirit can develop that spiritual mental toughness. When we look at what Paul says about hope here in Romans especially, we see a depiction of what is said in the rest of the New Testament.
When I was a kid growing up and was engaged in anything that might be a little bit or a lot difficult and I wanted to bail out, my mother would always say, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win. You are not going to quit.” It was really tough to argue with my mother. Some of you know that she had three kinds of polio, encephalitis, hepatitis, kidney infection, bladder infection and me two months early. They had to take her out of the iron lung because the polio had completely overtaken her diaphragm and abdominal muscles, so she could not breathe at all on her own. Just think of that, ladies, giving birth when you have no abdominal muscles and you cannot breathe and cannot push. They pulled her out of the iron lung, pulled me out, and pushed her back in. She overcame a tremendous amount just on her understanding of the Word and just that mental toughness that that generation developed coming out of the Depression. She would never, ever allow me to ever given in to any mentality of giving up.
When we look at the world system around us, there are still areas within our culture where endurance is still taught and still valued. It is an analogy within culture that Scripture uses again and again in order to teach these principles to believers. It is a familiar analogy, and Paul uses it many times. He uses analogies from athletics and from warfare and combat.
He sometimes blends them together as he does in Ephesians 6:10 ff where he talks about the fact in verse 12 that “… we do not wrestle [athletic term] against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He goes on to describe the armor that Christians are to wear in spiritual warfare.
If you are going to be a success in either field, athletics or the military, you have to develop a mental attitude of toughness. This is what is developed in boot camp when young men and women go into the military service. The ones who fail are the ones who just cannot measure up; they cannot develop that mentality of toughness and discipline. To be a success in anything in life, you have to have a sense of self-discipline and be able to persevere beyond any difficulties and hurdles.
On of the foremost writers and thinkers in the area of the military was Capt. Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, who wrote on military strategy. He was born in 1904 and died in 1970, and coming out of World War I, he embarked on his life’s work which was studying and analyzing military strategy. He made the statement and a brilliant observation “The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men.” Think about that—it is not technology, not how physically fit they are; it is the mentality that is in their commanders and is imbued into the men. Winners are shaped not just by physical talent. There are a lot of people who perhaps have greater talents than some great athletes, but the great athletes become great because they are disciplined and develop a mental attitude of toughness.
This principle is very much true for every Christian. In some of the verses we are going to go to in our study, I want you to notice how many times Paul points us to mentality, to think this way because of something you know. It always comes back to knowledge of the Word. That is not the endgame, but if you do not have the knowledge of the Word and do not understand the biblical principles, then we cannot
develop the kind of mental attitude that we need because we do not have the facts.
Another example of this is in the area of athletics. I have a couple of quotes here from a modern athlete who has, in a couple of different areas, run the race and won. He struggled against cancer and won, and he also was a record holder in the number of times he has won in his cycling races. That is Lance Armstrong. When you read what he writes about his life in athletics, he rejects God but talks a lot about confidence and a winning mentality. But for him, it is just reaching deep inside of himself and pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. He is believing in something to get him past the hurdles.
He said “Hope is the only antidote to fear.” That is a good observation and fits with what Scripture says. Hope is what enables us to overcome the obstacles of fear, of anxiety, of uncertainty and worry. He also stated that “knowledge is power, community is strength, and positive attitude is everything.” Even, as my mother also used to say, even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then. Unbelievers capture certain elements of what I call creation or establishment truth. He certainly has done that.
One of his quotes that I ran across is something we should all pay attention to, especially when we are going through difficult times. Develop a long-range, which may be years of looking at certain difficulties. “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with?” In his next book, he summarized it in a more succinct manner. “Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever.” I think that is a good point.
In the New Testament, God reveals to us that the critical element in the Christian life is our volition. Do we have the willingness to stick it out? What my mother called “stick-to-itiveness.” Do we have the discipline to focus on the Word of God, to think about it, and to be motivated by the Word? That is what the tests in life are all about. Sure we fail, but it is not devastating. Just because you fail, it does not mean you need to quit. Failure just means that you have to figure out another way to persevere. Quitting means you have another opportunity to go forward.
When we fail, we just confess it and move on. Forget what is behind and press on, as Paul says, to the high-calling of Jesus Christ. That is because we come to understand what the endgame is, and one of the words that defines that in Scripture is hope. Endurance means to hang tough and to stay focused on the eternal objectives so that we do not give up.
This word hope is found all the way through Romans. The first place it is mentioned is in Romans 4:18, which is talking about Abraham and his faith. Abraham’s faith is focused on a promise. Faith always has an object, and that object is some statement of God, some promise of God that we are grabbing hold of with our faith. Faith is knowledge—we know that to be true.
Modern man has misled us into thinking that faith is different from knowledge, but the Bible and God tell us that faith is knowledge. It is based on something that is not seen. We are relying on the testimony of someone who is reliable, someone who is an eyewitness, someone who designed and created things to be the way that they are—and that is God.
Abraham is focused on this promise of God, and that promise is something that he came to realize would not be seen or fulfilled in his physical lifetime. God would still be true to that promise even though it might not be fulfilled for millennia.
Romans 4:18 “Who [Abraham], contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be [promise from Gen. 15:5].’ ” It would be better translated as “against all hope, on the basis of hope he believed.” The first hope being the kind of hope that man has, and the second hope being his confidence in God.
In Romans 4:14, Paul started this section by saying, “For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect [legalism is contrary to faith].” Heirs of what? Heirs of this promise. When are they going to realize that inheritance? When is Abraham going to realize the inheritance? That is still off in the future, so hope has a future orientation.
In Romans 4:15-16, he goes on to say, “… because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure [there is a certainty there] to all the seed …” Here we have this word seed again, and it is a word in both Greek and Hebrew that is a collective noun. A collective noun means that it has a singular form, but it can have either a singular or plural meaning. Much like our word deer—you can see one deer or 10 deer.
Verse 16, the promise will be fulfilled to all “those who are of the faith of Abraham [all those who imitate the faith of Abraham].” He is not saying that all of them become Jews, but all of them become spiritually related to Abraham because they imitate his faith. Verse 17, “(as it is written, ‘I have made you a father of many nations’) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”
What Galatians 3:16–17 is saying is that the promises of the covenant were made to Abraham and his seed, his descendants. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is going to use that singular sense, which really is not used in any of these original passages from the Old Testament, and say there is another sense to this because it is singular. It also refers to one Seed, which is Christ. I cannot interpret the Old Testament this way, but Paul can because the Holy Spirit is inspiring him to do this.
For those of you who are familiar with Dr. Robert Thomas, who was here at the 2009 Chafer Pastors’ Conference, this is what he refers to as the inspired full sense or inspired sensus plenior of an Old Testament passage. It is when Paul, a writer of the New Testament and under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, uses an Old Testament passage and gives it a meaning that you would never get from just reading it in its original context. Because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate divine author of both the Old Testament and the New Testament passages, he has a right to assign it new meaning, but we do not. So under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul hones in on this one word. This also emphasizes why even the grammatical sense of plurals or singulars is significant in terms of God’s revelation. Inspiration extends down to that level of detail of the text.
In Romans 4:18, Paul says contrary to hope, on the basis of hope, he believed. That tells us about hope’s relationship to belief. Hope focuses on the promise that faith is grabbing hold of. Hope is related to faith. Faith is the act of belief, and hope is that confidence and is faith on steroids. It takes it to another level because you are focusing on something in the future that you have a certainty about that strengthens your faith today. Even though all the empirical data, all the experience that Abraham had mitigated against the fact that he and Sarah would ever have children, he believed God and knew that God was able to make that happen.
He believed the promise, so that Romans 4:19–20 goes on “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise [notice hope is related to promise and faith] of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” So hope focuses on a future reality, and that becomes more real to you today than whatever the experience is that you face no matter how difficult it is.
As a pastor, I see this more and more. When you get older and get into your 70s and 80s or even sometimes at an earlier age, you may face degrees of health problems. Something just happened in my family in the last week. My wife’s sister fell on a wet bridge doing her job in Austin and had multiple fractures in her right ankle, which is your driving foot. She had surgery, will have another surgery, and cannot put any weight on it. She lives alone and now suddenly is very dependent on others. We do not expect these difficulties. You or your spouse may begin to lose your memory or have some debilitating disease. What gets you through that is the confidence in God. Sometimes when I go to the hospital and visit, I am blown away by their faith and confidence in the Lord. We have to learn that. Whatever you are going through now is a training ground for what you will go through later on. Are we going to hang in there and fulfill the plan that God has for us?
The next time we run into the word hope is in Romans 8:20–24. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope.” When was the creation subjected to futility? That is talking about when Adam sinned, and the entire universe came under the judgment of sin. It did not just affect Adam and Eve and their relationship to God; it affected all of creation. It affected the serpent, the animal kingdom, all of nature. At that point, the 2nd law of thermodynamics went into effect, which states that everything moves to a state of entropy, that is disorder, technically non-usable energy. It all begins to run down. That started with Adam’s fall. All of creation was subjected to futility in hope because there is a plan. It is moving towards an endgame that comes at the end of the millennial kingdom.
Now Paul is going to say in Romans 8:24 “For we were saved in this hope [confident expectation] …” There is a promise that is given to us at salvation, the gospel, which is the promise of eternal life. We are given that hope, that confidence, and that too gives sustenance, strength, and stability to our present life.
“… but hope that is seen is not hope …” It is not based on empiricism or rationalism; it is based on the revelation of God who tells you that this is the way it is. Are you going to believe Him or not?
We look at the context of Romans 8 and are struck by another similarity. In Romans 8:18, we discover what Paul is talking about is suffering again. He is talking about adversity and going through hardship. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” He is saying that that is such a miniscule shadow when compared to the brilliance of the glory of God’s plan and future for us and is not worth focusing on and being upset about. That is why Paul says we should not grumble or complain. The only way we can reach that is when we get this perception that the most difficult things we face today are just a shadow compared with the glory of God and His plan.
He goes on to say in verse 19 “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” This will occur in the millennial kingdom when church age believers come back with the Lord Jesus Christ. Part of the curse is rolled back during the kingdom, and then in the new heaven and the new earth, there will be no curse. That is the context of verses 20–21 “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.”
Whenever anything bad happens, there is something deep within us that knows this is not how it is supposed to be. I shouldn’t have to face this – my parents died, my best friend died, my dog died. But we live in a fallen world, and we all come to grips with this every day. As believers we have information that defines what that fallen world is about, and it is not a permanent state. That is what gives us hope. We know what the endgame is, and there is a reason and a purpose for whatever we go through, even though we do not know it. That is where he is going to end up in Romans 8:28—“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” God in His sovereign plan is going to pull it all together for the good.
Romans 8:22 “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” It is not just about our little self-absorbed problem with our little difficulty; it is the whole creation—every atom, every molecule screams in agony because of the curse of sin. Verse 23 “Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” That is our hope. We are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to get through this. Verse 24 “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?”
Romans 12:12 Paul says, “Rejoicing in hope, patient [enduring in adversity] in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.” Prayer is how we express our dependence on God, and we express those groans over all the difficulty that we are facing in life. We take it before His throne of grace.
Romans 15:4 “For whatever things were written before [lives of the Old Testament believers] were written for our learning, that we through the patience [endurance, HUPOMONE] and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Where do you get hope? We have to learn the Scriptures and make it part of our souls. There is still that process today. How you grow as a believer today is not any different than how it was in the 1st or 2nd century. Technology does not change anything; it may make some of the Scripture more accessible but does not make spiritual growth easier or different.
Romans 15:5 “Now may the God of patience and comfort [God of endurance] grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus. Verse 13 “Now may the God of hope [He gives us hope, He is the source of our confidence] fill you with all joy and peace [There is the fruit of the Spirit, but it is related to the hope that God gives us which is in the promises of His Word.] in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” That is how we have it – by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are able to abound in hope. It cannot happen if you are walking in the flesh, but if you are learning, applying and focusing on the Word, you develop that mental discipline to focus on and grab the Word and let that shape your mentality. Then you can have hope and stability in any situation. God the Holy Spirit is waiting to give it to you, but your job is to take the Word and make it part of your mindset.