Followers of Christ are a people looking forward to a coming day of salvation. We commonly think of salvation as an accomplished act of God brought about by the things that happened in connection with Jesus, particularly his death and resurrection. References to these events as past and accomplished certainly reflect a New Testament way of thinking and speaking. That is, that with the coming of Jesus, world history has been re-launched, in ways that appear as weakness and folly to many (I Corinthians 1:18-25). God has done something powerful and dramatic for the purpose of rescuing the world and its peoples. The new age of restoration has been inaugurated; the resurrection—in the case of one man— has been started; and the re-creation of heaven and earth as seen in a microcosmic way in the resurrection body of Jesus and the gift of the creation-effecting Spirit of God, has started. These are mighty acts of God already accomplished and referred to in the very first Christian sermon (see Acts 2:11-36).
Nonetheless the salvation that we talk about in Jesus still in large measure lies ahead of us. The resurrected Jesus is referred to as “Christ the first fruits” when it comes to the matter of resurrection. He is the beginning of a harvest season, to be sure, but the bulk of the harvest is yet to happen (I Corinthians 15:20-23).
Hope in a Broken Age
This life, therefore, is still being lived in this present broken age and is deeply perplexing, frustrating, and full of suffering and disappointments. So we must never forget the importance of hope in biblical theology. As Christians we remain a people who are looking forward. In Romans 8, Paul refers to our hope and connects it to the as-yet-future day when the dead are raised and the curse placed upon the creation (when Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden) is lifted. These events of future salvation are elsewhere and always in the New Testament associated with the return of Jesus.
But these future events are not unconnected to the present. In the first instance, they are based upon the triumphant love of God already demonstrated in the death of Jesus. In the second place, these coming moments of God’s final triumph are also connected to our current daily longings and emotional disposition. According to Paul, we are—frustrated but hopeful—living in a condition he describes as “waiting eagerly.” In fact, this waiting is associated with both hope and “groaning.” Hope is understood as an experience of the heart which looks forward. The painful experience of “groaning” occurs because our bodies remain, in spite of the accomplishments of God through Christ, under the burden of a curse of mortality. This is the curse of death and corruption God placed upon the entire creation at the Fall (Genesis 3), and it leaves us in the position—in spite of the experience now of God’s loving and aiding presence by his Spirit—of enduring the painful sufferings of this life (“groaning”) while we await the day when sickness, crying, and pain are eliminated and the final enemy—death—is defeated (I Corinthians 15:24-26). Hope of this sort, focused on the future, demands patience and perseverance (Romans 8:18-25).
Waiting Isn’t Easy
Thus, again, life is frustrating, and waiting for things to be put right is hard. The older I get the more I realize how full of grief and sorrow life is. Not only is it terrible getting old as an individual, with all the attendant aches and pains that are the growing preludes to death, but the world is also “getting old.” Creation itself “groans and suffers the pains and woes of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Things are just not right.
And I don’t think it’s only my limited historical perspective, or just my imagination, that makes me think things are getting worse. The New Testament, it seems to me, predicts exactly this kind of worsening situation. I’m referring not only to our individual bodies, but the entire social order in which, as Paul puts it in the same context, we are constantly subjected to distress, persecution, famine, poverty, danger, and war (Romans 8:35).
Persevere with Hope and Joy
Until Christ comes again and restores heaven and earth and redeems all those who embrace him, it will ever be so. This truth offers up an important reminder—the frustrations of this life, whether referring to our individual bodies of frailty or the brokenness of our world cultures, do not have the last word. We are a people of hope, the people who with joy, even in the midst of the sufferings of this life, await the final fullness of joy, something that CS Lewis called “the business of heaven.” Our final salvation lies in the future, though it has been warranted already by the promises of God as revealed in the grace of Christ (Romans 5:8-11). It has begun already in him, but as Paul writes, “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, through perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25).
Be patient. The work of God is not yet done, and our work now is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). But our joy, the fullness of joy, will come in the morning.