Do you know anyone who has lost hope? About anything? Or maybe about everything? What comes to mind as you think about that person (or those people)? If that person is you, hold on for now. Over these next several moments, let me try to help you understand why hope is possible.
Do you have hope? Why? What is the difference between those who have hope and those who do not?
No one’s life is the same as another person’s life. However, most everyone experiences similar patterns in life. Of course, some exceptions exist, but most children learn to crawl, walk, and eat on their own. As they grow, their skills continue to develop, but they also learn to express their fears and joys. They learn to partner with others, with some of those others becoming friends. And, again, for most their skills continue to develop as the finish school, start a job, and eventually retire, etc., but other aspects are true as well. Those fears that were expressed years earlier begin to consume some people. The joys are lost. The friends they had move, die, and are gone.
Again, most everyone, everywhere can relate to this progression of life if they are old enough to understand and appreciate the ideas. But some people do well with this progression and others do not. Of course, as a Christian, I see God’s hand at the center of any reason progressing well, and specifically having hope as we go through life. However, I don’t think hope is limited to Christians only, at least, not in short-term (or even medium-term) situations.
But today, I want to focus on hope over the long-term by reviewing one primary verse from Scripture. As we look at the long-term, I also want us to consider why people respond differently, and what we might do for those who do respond differently (particularly, those who have lost hope).
Our focal verse today is going to be Titus 3.7. Last month, on Hub Sunday, we looked at the last four verses of Titus 2, which reveals that our blessed hope is the return (i.e., appearing) of Jesus Christ. In Titus 2.11, Paul wrote that God’s grace appeared. In Titus 2.13, he wrote that we are waiting for the re-appearance of Jesus. And then, in Titus 3.4, Paul returns to the first appearance of Jesus before settling on our hope for the future. Why did Paul write about the past, then the present, then return to the past, before mentioning the future? Let me read Titus 3.4-7, and then I will try to answer that question. Read Titus 3.4-7.
Hope from the Past
So, again, why did Paul write about the past, then the present, the return to the past, before mentioning the future? I believe the answer is because of this: Hope is always about the future, but it is usually based upon the past.
What do I mean?
We don’t need hope for what has already happened. We can hope that something turns out better, but we cannot change the past. Thus, we cannot hope that some different happened in the past. It has already happened; it cannot be changed.
Verse 4 talks about the first coming of Jesus. When that happened, the goodness of God and the loving kindness of God appeared through Jesus, in the flesh. That happened – past tense. As Titus 2.11 reminds us, when that happened – in the past – it revealed the grace of God to all of mankind. And when that happened, the offer of salvation was made.
Notice Titus 3.5. It reads, “He saved us” – past tense. Now that salvation is a choice that we make, but what was necessary for that salvation was complete (and still is). It was past tense in Paul’s day and thus it is certainly past tense in ours. That offer of salvation was made on the cross, and through our belief we are saved – past tense.
Hope in the Present
And because of what has happened in the past, we can have hope in the present. That hope may be about something that is imminent, or it could be about something well into the future. But any hope that we have is always in the present.
Think of it this way, to have something is in the present. If I say, I have a cookie, that means a cookie is in my possession. If I said, I had a cookie, I don’t have it anymore. If I say, I will have a cookie when they are out of the oven, I don’t have it. I have an expectation of a cookie, but having that cookie is still ahead of me. I don’t have it, but I might in the future. So, to have a cookie (or to have anything) means it is in the present.
The same is true for hope. Someone might say, “I hope” or even better, “I have hope.” That statement reflects the present. They still have it, so it is not something they used to have, nor is it something they do not have yet. Now, whatever hope they have may have been something they have hoped for a long time, or will have for a long time, but they have it in the present.
Again, Titus 2.13 speaks of waiting for that blessed hope. And Titus 3.7 reads that we might become heirs to the hope of eternal life. That is, Paul has hope in eternal life. He has not fully experienced all that God had for him as he wrote those words. So, Paul’s hope in that moment was in the present. It was not something he had abandoned, and it was not yet something he had attained. His hope was from the past (he was justified, i.e., saved), but it was active in the present. And that leads us to the third point, because his hope was for the future.
Hope for the Future
Of course, this is logical right? We do not have to hope for what has already happened. We can hope that it happens again, but what has happened is in the past. And hope is about something that we desire in the future. That is, we do not possess the outcome of our hope. We have hope in the present, but that hope is about what might (or will) happen in the future.
For Paul, that hope was about experiencing the fullness of eternal life. I say fullness because I believe Scripture teaches us that once we are justified, we have eternal life. It goes back to the idea of have. What did Jesus say in John 3.16? Those who have faith (believe) will not perish, but HAVE eternal life. He did not say will have; He said have – as in it is already something that is possessed. But in this case, we just have not experienced the fullness of what that means. And that is what Paul is saying here. We are heirs, but we have not yet received our inheritance.
In Ephesians 1.14, Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it. Thus, our inheritance awaits, but we can have assurance, from the Holy Spirit, that it is not only real, but that we will receive it. And returning to Titus 3.7, what Paul wants to receive is the fullness of eternal life. Let me read this verse one more. Read Titus 3.7.
So, we have a hope based upon (from) the past. We have hope in the present, and that hope is for the future. Hope, when understood this way, is true in any circumstance. Of course, it is biblical because I have just shown it to be evident in these verses from Titus 2 and 3. But the same premise exists apart from the Bible (as with the example of the cookie) and that leads us back to our questions from earlier.
As I mentioned earlier, most everyone, everywhere has a similar progression of the main aspects of life. But people respond differently and do so for different reasons. And part of those reasons is because of where they place their hope. And by using the word they, I mean we, but for those that hold the Bible as their guide, hopefully we correct ourselves when our hope is out of alignment with the truth of Scripture.
Let me talk about hope by relating the idea of a change of identity by generalizing a few groups of people. Please understand, the groupings are general. I realize that any generalization limits the characteristics of the individuals in a group. However, generalizations can be helpful to summarize if we don’t use them to make judgments, especially rash or harsh ones. I use these generalizations to discuss the idea I presented earlier – that people respond differently to the various events in life. So, let’s look at a few types of people and specifically how a change in identity can impact our hope.
Identity Change, But Not by Choice (Widows and Orphans) – I am taking this group directly from the Bible. One challenge for this group is that they had a part of their identity changed, but not by their choice. The death of a spouse moves someone from being designated as part of a couple, to being single. The wife becomes a widow. The husband a widower. This change is real. It cannot be undone. But the promises of the past cannot find their future in the same way, and thus, for some, hope is lost.
Identity Change, Because It Was Stolen (Abuse and Rape Cases) – This group had their identity stolen. The reason it was stolen could be for many reasons, but various types of abuse (sexual (including rape), emotional, physical, etc.) are all possibilities. Again, having hope in the present about the future is hard because of whatever has transpired in the past. The past may not have been the person’s fault, but issues like trust, safety, and protection are understood very differently, and that will affect a person’s hope for tomorrow.
Identity Change, By Choice (e.g., LGBTQ+) – This group chose an identity that is against what has been (and is) considered normal. Let’s focus on the T. Again, I am generalizing, but that T does stand for transgender, and I have to wonder how many of this group have chosen to be another gender because they believe they will have more hope. Their past was not what they might have wanted, or at least, they see a path for a better future if they change their gender. That is, even if these words are not used, they hope that by changing their identity, their life will be better (however, they may define better). The problem, of course, is that no matter how many replacement hormones one may take, the chromosomes do not change. Therefore, like any other idea that is separate from Jesus, hope apart from Him, will eventually lead to disappointment.
And that leads us to the final kind of hope. It is still a hope that relates to a change in identity, but it is one that can have a dramatic impact for the long-term.
Identity Change, Receiving Another’s Identity (Becoming A Follower of Christ) – Like the other groupings, this identity change cannot change the past, but it can change the meaning of it. The hope that is found with this change is not stolen or given to us without choice, but it is also not a choice we make independently. It is offered to us – by God, through Jesus.
This is the message of Titus 3.4-7. What Jesus did in the past on the cross has given us the opportunity in the present to consider being with Him in the future for all of eternity. Again, Paul used the word heirs (in context here as heirs of hope).
Let’s break down the idea of an heir for just a moment. Of course, when most people consider the word heir, they may think of someone who inherits a great fortune from a parent or relative. That is true; and, significantly, the promise we are seeking to inherit from God is greater than any earthly fortune. But let’s get practical for a moment.
Let’s say that you invest $100,000. By the time you die, that investment is worth $1,000,000. If you had removed your investment, you would have had to pay taxes on the difference of those amounts ($900,000). Regardless of your tax rate, that would be a significant amount of money.
But once you die, your heir now receives that $1,000,000 and has a new tax basis. That is, if that person sold the investment for $1,000,000, s/he would not owe a dime of taxes (as the tax law is currently written).
Thus, we might say that it is easier for the heir to generate future wealth (or have hope to do so) because of what has happened in the past. Furthermore, it would be even easier for the next generation to do the same if that investment grew to be $10,000,000. That is, for every generation, it would be easier to know what to do to have hope to avoid paying taxes even as the amount grew larger and larger.
So, how does that apply to us? We have reasons for hope based upon the past as well.
- Will the world overcome the challenges of this pandemic? We did with the Spanish Flu 100 years ago, so, it is likely we will this time as well.
- Did the world think that World War 2 would be the end? Probably not, because the World War 1 (the war to end all wars) ended, and people survived and the world moved on – until the next war.
- Did the disciples lose hope when Jesus died? Absolutely! But the resurrection followed, which meant that death did not have to be the end any longer. And when they understood this, they went out and changed the world!
My point is that we learn from the past as we move to the future and that can bring us hope. We are heirs of the faith of those who have gone before us. That great cloud of witnesses that is mentioned in Hebrews 12 has shown us how to live by faith, how to walk the path, how to know the Way, and how to stay faithful to the end. Of course, we must make the choice to follow Jesus, but we can have hope that we are heirs of eternal life because we have seen God keep His promises to others (and ourselves) throughout history.
The reality is that you may have that hope. I do have that hope. But many others do not. So, before we draw our final breath, our purpose now is to live lives worthy of our calling as followers of Christ, worthy of being remembered for our faith in Christ, impacting others for the cause of Christ, helping those who are seeking hope where it will never be found, or where it will only be temporary. We must be people who not only have hope, but people who spread hope – and to do that we must remember that our hope ultimately comes from Jesus.