But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
This verse is the classic proof text for Christian apologetics as it calls all Christians to be prepared to make a defense, an απολογια, for our faith and to do so with gentleness and respect. However, I want to focus on the word “hope.” What is this “hope” for which we are to make a defense? If you’ve listened to any Christian sermons on “hope,” I’m sure you’ve all heard that the Christian concept of hope is different than the world’s concept of hope. Hope (Gk. ελπις) in the NT refers to a “confident expectation.” In other words, the thing hoped for has a confident expectation of being fulfilled. Worldly hope is more akin to wishing for something to take place, but not having any real confidence that it will actually take place (e.g., “I hope I win the lottery”).
So what is the Christian’s hope? Among the many places in the NT that talk about our hope, one such passage is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we await for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25)
Our hope, as Paul puts it, is the content of our salvation (“in this hope we are saved”), and the content of our hope is found one verse earlier: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). In this context, our hope is eschatological in that it awaits our future bodily resurrection, which itself is a fruit of our union with Christ.
Another great passage that describes our hope is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Here our hope is defined as “Christ is us.” Christ indwelling within the believer is our “confident expectation” of future glory.
One final passage that talks about the Christian’s hope — albeit by way of contrast — is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which reads: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Here Paul is saying that those who are not in Christ have no hope in this world when they die. It is at this point I want to begin my discussion of the reason for our hope.
The Christian’s hope is a future event. It is tied to the fact that through faith, we are united to Christ in his life and in his death. It is the expectation of life eternal in the new heavens and the new earth in redeemed bodies in fellowship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is not a hope shared by all, unfortunately. Worldly hope is not a confident expectation, but an unsubstantiated wish of better things to come.
Death, as many say, is the great equalizer. All people will eventually die; that is a given. Yet despite that fact, many people live their lives with a sense of purpose; that their lives aren’t inherently meaningless — a chasing after the wind — and that what they do matters in the grand scheme of things. Yet, if you’re not a Christian, what grounds this hope? Ultimately, nothing. Life for the unbeliever is ultimately an exercise in vain wish fulfillment. Maybe there’s a life after death and maybe not. More than likely, we’re all just eventual ‘worm food.’ For the one who rejects God and rejects salvation in Christ, all that is left for you is futile exercise of trying to make meaning in the meaningless of life in this universe.
Consider this quote from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century:
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built. (Bertrand Russell)
If Russell is correct, then we might as well echo the words of the Apostle Paul when he says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'” (1 Corinthians 15:32). The only ‘rational’ response to Russell’s worldview of hopelessness is a life of pure hedonism ending with a shotgun in the mouth. To sweat and toil to make a ‘better world’ and to bring ‘meaning’ to life is the most futile of exercises if Russel is correct.
And if you think to find hope in the religions of the world (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) think again. All of the world’s religions ultimately reduce to ethics, and if you’re banking on having done enough good in this life to earn the afterlife, you really don’t know yourself that well. None of us pass our own moral standards much less the moral standards of the world religions (e.g., Ten Commandments, Golden Rule, etc.). Again, quoting from the Apostle Paul, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
The only true hope in this world — one that replaces wish fulfillment with confident expectation — is found in Christ. It is found in recognizing our sin before a holy God, repenting of that sin and embracing his provision for salvation in Christ alone through faith.
Just as they say “believing in something doesn’t make it true,” so we can say that “disbelieving in something doesn’t make it untrue.” Rejecting God and rejecting his salvation in Christ doesn’t make Christianity untrue. If the bible is to be believed, then after we all die, we will face the final judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Death is not the end, but only those who die in Christ have hope for a better life to come.
Soli Deo Gloria!