Hopeless Without God’s Promise

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—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 2:11-12).

The “covenants of promise” are the words of a God who cannot lie.[1] They are his gracious commitments to his people. They are the good He swears to do for them. They are blood-drenched promises, ultimately costing him everything. O. Palmer Robertson provides an insightful definition of a covenant.

“A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered. When God enters into a covenantal relationship with men, he sovereignly institutes a life-and-death bond. A covenant is a bond in blood, or a bond of life and death, sovereignly administered.” [2]

God makes promises. I will forgive you.[3] I will rescue you from judgment.[4] I will hear your prayer.[5] I will give you eternal life.[6] I will provide you daily bread.[7] I will not punish you.[8] I will be gracious to you.[9] I will be your God.[10] You will be my people.[11] I will be with you.[12] I will never leave you.[13] I will not forsake you.[14]

He swears to his own harm that these promises are sure and will never be abnegated. He takes a cross and vacates a tomb to ensure the efficacy of every word. Without God’s promise of salvation, there is no salvation. Without God’s promise of forgiveness there is no forgiveness. To be without God’s covenant is to be without a relationship with him and without all his promises. This is hopelessness.

When God speaks, it is true. When God promises, it is certain. Hope is directly tied to our relationship with His word. If his promises are not for us, despair is inevitable. If his promises are for us, hope is guaranteed.[15]

[1] Andrew T. Lincoln, Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians (Word Books: Dallas, 1990), 137. “The only other place in the NT where the plural form of ‘the covenants’ is found is Romans 9:4 where Paul states, ‘to them belong…the covenants…and the promises.’ The writer probably has in mind a series of covenants with Abraham (Genesis 15:7-21, 17:1-21), with Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5), with Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15), with Israel (Exodus 24:1-8), and with David (2 Samuel 7).” I would add the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34. Walter Kaiser argues that repeated Old Testament formulas “epitomize the content of the promise…the gospel itself is the heart of the promise: ‘in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.’ Another is the tripartite formula, ‘I will be your God, you shall be my special possession and I will dwell in the midst of you.’” Walter Kaiser Jr, “The Old Promise and the New Covenant: Jeremiah 31:31-34,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 15 (1972), 12. In other words, all the covenants serve to emphasize the certainty God’s presence with us, possession of us and faithfulness to us. They all drive us toward the gospel and the hope which is found in that good news.

[2] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (P&R: Phillipsburg, 1987), 4.

[3] Psalm 51:7-9, 103:12, Isaiah 1:18,1 John 1:9, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, Ephesians 4:32

[4] John 3:18, Romans 8:1-2, 31-34, Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 1 John 4:18

[5] Psalm 91:14-16, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Matthew 7:7-11, 21:22, John 14:13-14, 1 John 5:14

[6] Psalm 16:11, 21:4-6, Daniel 12:3, Matthew 25:46, John 3:16, 6:51, 8:51, 11:25-26, 17:3

[7] Job 38: 39-41, Psalm 34:10, 50:10, 81:10, Matthew 6:11, Philippians 4:19, Hebrews 13:5

[8] Psalm 32:1-2, 103:6-14, Lamentations 3:22-24, Romans 8:1-2, 31-34, Ephesians 2:1-10

[9] Exodus 34:6-7, Romans 5:1-2, 12-21, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Ephesians 2:4-9, Hebrews 4:16

[10] Genesis 17:8, Exodus 29:45, Leviticus 26:45, Ezekiel 14:11, Zechariah 8:8, Hebrews 8:10

[11] Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12, Ezekiel 37:23, 27, Jeremiah 7:23, 31:1, 33, Revelation 21:3

[12] Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Matthew 28:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9

[13] Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, Joshua 1:5, Isaiah 41:10, John 14:6, Hebrews 13:5, Revelation 21:3

[14] 1 Kings 8:57, 1 Chronicles 28:20, Psalm 37:28, 94:14, Isaiah 41:17, 42:16, Hebrews 13:5

[15] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 62. Moltmann provides the following definition of promise and the unique dynamic a promise creates.  “A promise is a declaration which announces the coming of a reality that does not yet exist. Thus, promise sets man’s heart on a future history in which the fulfilling of the promise is to be expected. If it is a case of a divine promise, then that indicates that the expected future does not have to develop within the framework of the possibilities inherent in the present, but arises from that which is possible to the God of the promise.”


No Church, No Hope

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—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 2:11-12).

Hope is remembered, worshipped and obeyed in community. Our connection to hope is sustained and deepened through the people of God. Further, the community of faith is entrusted with proclaiming the message of hope to the world. To be “alienated” from God’s people is to exist without hope.

Christ is the Master Builder of the people of God.[1] He forms the foundation and builds it brick by brick.[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer observes that our connection to Christ determines our connection to one another. Hope himself binds us.

“What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.”[3]

We are gathered together through Hope and for hope. Bonhoeffer argues that the community of faith should be engaged in three key disciplines: 1) preaching the good news of hope to each other; 2) preaching the good news of hope to the world; 3) preaching the good news of hope to ourselves.[4]

God works hope into our souls through the people of God. He sustains hope through others. He reminds us of the hope to which we belong through a fellow believer. The church is the light of the world, a city set on a hill, a fellowship of hope.

The church exists to wage war on hopelessness. It is through the proclamation of the church that we are pulled from despair and transferred to the kingdom of hope. It is our task to bring this hope-giving word to the world around us. The church is a bastion of hope, without it we are lost.

[1] Matthew 16:18

[2] 1 Peter 2:4-6

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (Harper One: San Francisco, 2009), 21.

[4] Ibid, 32. “Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous, even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness … [So] ‘they watch for this Word wherever they can. Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again … The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. Their own hearts are uncertain; those of their brothers and sisters are sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation’” (emphasis mine).


The Endurance of Imperfect Disciples

A good buddy of mine @ http://www.crossworksblog.wordpress.com wrote this great post. Check it out!


If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we deny him, he also will deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself

The apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy, cites this saying (2 Tim 2:11-13), possibly confessed corporately with a new convert at his or her baptism, as one of the reasons for his endurance of present suffering (2 Tim 2:8).  In the immediate context and context of the letter as a whole, it serves as an encouragement to Timothy to also endure his own sufferings on account of the gospel and Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:8; 2:3; 3:10-16).

I intend to reflect more on this confession in further posts.  Today, I want to share a previous meditation on imperfect discipleship as witnessed in the life of the…

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Without Christ = Without Hope

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—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 2:11-12).

Hope is a person. His name is Jesus. If you have Him, you have hope. If you don’t have Him, you don’t have hope. It is devastatingly simple. Hope is not found in people. It is not found in ourselves. It cannot be attained through possessions, position or status. It does not come from self-effort. Hope will forever evade us if Christ does not break into our hopelessness.

Being “separated” from Jesus describes the rift of the fall. It is our condition before God. We have willfully disconnected from our life source. The chasm between us is of our making. I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I am hopeless. This is me without Christ. This is you without Christ.

I have sinned. I have rebelled. I have transgressed. I have disobeyed. I have been foolish. I am guilty and I have hope! This is me with Christ. This can be you with Christ if it is not already. Hopelessness is our current state and without Christ will become our permanent state.

Extended hopelessness is hell.[1] Push our status without Christ past death and into eternity and you have hell. Hell is a certain, fixed reality for all who reject Jesus Christ. It is to be eternally “separated” from Him. Hell is an existence with no hope, ever.[2] Tomorrow never gets better there. [3] Darkness never lifts there. Things don’t ever improve there.

There is no plot, no story, no character development, no joy, no purpose. The slightest ray of hope will never shine on that dark, lonely place. It is pure, unmixed, unchanging despair. Even the hope of hope is banished from that cursed place.

To be without Christ is deadly. There is a reason that Jesus speaks so often about this terrifying reality.[4] Hope has come and is calling us out of hopelessness. He is wrenching us away from eternal despair.[5] Hope is on a rescue mission.

[1] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7. “It can be said that living without hope is like no longer living. Hell is hopelessness, and it is not for nothing that at the entrance to Dante’s hell there stand the words: ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’” (emphasis mine).

[2] Suffering in hell is described in the New Testament as “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting fire” (Matthew18:8), “the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:45), “the worm that never dies” (Mark 9:46), “flaming fire” (2 Thessalonians 1:8), “everlasting chains” (Jude 6), “eternal fire” (Jude 7), “the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 13), “the smoke of torment ascending up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11, 19:3), “the lake of fire and brimstone” in which the devil, the beast, and the false prophet “shall be tormented day and night, forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

[3] This stands in stark contrast with the reality of heaven. Heaven is characterized by fresh joy-filled tomorrows. Sam Storms, “Joys Eternal Increase: Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven,” Desiring God 2003 National Conference (www.desiringgod.org). “Heaven is not simply about the reality or experience of joy, but its eternal increase. The blessedness of the beauty of heaven is progressive, incremental, and incessantly expansive.” He grounds his discussion in Ephesians 2:7, “God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” The progression of eternity will be the continual unveiling of God’s great kindness toward us found in Jesus Christ. We will forever unpack his saving mercy to us. He further explains. “We will constantly be more amazed with God, more in love with God, and thus ever more relishing his presence and our relationship with him. Our experience of God will never reach it consummation. We will never finally arrive, as if upon reaching a peak we discover there is nothing beyond. Our experience of God will never become stale. It will deepen and develop, intensify and amplify, unfold and increase, broaden and balloon. Our relishing and rejoicing in God will sharpen and spread and extend and progress and mature and flower and blossom and widen and stretch and swell and snowball and inflate and lengthen and augment and advance and proliferate and accumulate and accelerate and multiply and heighten and reach a crescendo that will even then be only the beginning of an eternity of new and fresh insights into the majesty of who God is!” Hell is heaven’s opposite. If heaven is the eternal incline into greater joy and happiness, hell is the eternal decline into greater despair and darkness. The utter absence of hope and its possibility is a dreadful dimension of eternal punishment. Three times Jesus uses the language of “outer darkness” to describe hell (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). He is capturing the pure unmixed despair of a place void of light and hope. Peter uses the language of “pits of darkness” and “black darkness” to convey this reality (2 Peter 2:4, 17, see also 1 Samuel 2:9 and Isaiah 8:22).

[4] W.G.T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 12. “The strongest support of the doctrine of endless punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man.” D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5-10 (Baker Books, 1991). “Jesus himself speaks twice as often of hell as of heaven.” Leon Morris, “The Dreadful Harvest.” Christianity Today (May 27, 1991). “Jesus spoke more often about hell than he did about heaven. We cannot get around this fact.”

[5] It is his work of gathering a lost people to himself that the gates of hell cannot withstand (Matthew 16:18). Hell will not prevail against God’s saving activity. Once rescued from gates of hell, we are called to join his mission. Charles Spurgeon captured this well. “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and un-prayed for.”


Heirs of Hopelessness: Our Human Predicament (2)

Scripture puts words to our experiences. It explains the story where we find ourselves. Why does hopelessness feel so common to us? Why does it seem so familiar? It has long been our companion. It has never been a stranger. Hopelessness is our inheritance. We are born into it. It is the norm, not the exception. It is our story.

The first sun rise lit up a world that knew only hope. Eden was the place that literally defined paradise. Abundance surrounded humanity’s parents. A perfect place to live. A unique partner to enjoy. A meaningful job to do. And above all, a gracious God to worship and enjoy. [14]

As this study will show, to know the Triune God is to know hope. Adam and Eve knew hope. They walked with Him. They also lived with the reality that their perfect situation could remain forever. We live on the other side of that reality.

Hope was among the tragic losses of the fall. One forbidden act ruptured the world and dislodged our connection to the Triune God. It ripped us from paradise and left us homeless. Our parents were driven into the land of despair, the only place you and I have ever known.

Theologians have argued that hopelessness was not only the result of the fall, but its cause. “Despondency and despair are sin — indeed they are the origin of all sins. ‘It is not so much sin that plunges us into disaster, as rather despair’, said Chrysostom.’”

Hopelessness is the birth right of sinners. It is the land to which we belong. It is the air we breathe. It is the status of our souls. It is the condition of our futures. Rebellion has plunged the world into a dark night. The Bible paints a bleak picture of life without hope.[15]

“Therefore, remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called ‘the circumcision,’ which is made in the flesh by hands—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.”[16]

This is a clear biblical description of hopelessness.[17] Paul reminds the Gentile Christians at Ephesus of their origins. He is calling them to remember where they come from. As he does, he confirms our suspicions of the fall narrative.[18] Hopelessness is indeed our lot, unless Hope himself intervenes.

Paul defines hopelessness as the absence of four critical things: God’s Son, God’s people, God’s promises, and God himself.

[14] Genesis 2:1-25

[15] Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of hope: On the ground and implications of a Christian Eschatology. (SCM Press: London, 1967), 7.

[16] Ephesians 2:11-12

[17] Paul uses the phrase “having no hope” (ἐλπίδα μὴ ἔχοντες) in the passage. The closest parallel in the New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which speaks of those who grieve “with no hope” (οἱ λοιποὶ οἱ μὴ ἔχοντες ἐλπίδα). These are rare occurrences in the New Testament. Both of these texts point to the centrality of the person and work of Jesus for hope.

[18] The context is focused on the Gentile’s helpless estate in contrast to the covenant people of God. The grace of God given to the Israelites highlights Gentile hopelessness. Paul is very clear that the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been demolished and that all the benefits of the covenant people of God belong to the Gentiles in Christ (Ephesians 2:13-22). I am looking at this text from a broader perspective. Hope was not a given for Israel. They were just as hopeless as the Gentiles. God broke into the world with hope and he chose to work that hope in the people of Israel and through them to the nations. Hopelessness was the inheritance of both Jew and Gentile after the fall. This fact is what pushes me to argue for a definition of hopelessness from this text, although it is directly speaking to Gentiles. Prior to Abraham the Israelites were in the exact same situation as the Gentiles. They were separated from Christ and without God. They were not God’s people and did not know the benefits of his covenant.


Heirs of Hopelessness: Our Human Predicament (1)

Hopelessness is all around us. We see it in our families. We see it in our friends. We see it in ourselves. Researchers have explored the far-reaching impact of hopelessness on human well-being. Hopelessness is a force, a devastating power to be respected.

Drill down into many of our problems and you will find hopelessness. Many studies have done the drilling and have established hopelessness as the driving force in depression,[1] suicidal ideation and suicide,[2] distorted thinking,[3] poor physical health and illness,[4] poor self-confidence,[5] anxiety and dysphoria,[6] poor mental health,[7] gender stress and social class level,[8] low income and lack of success,[9] a poor problem solving skills and lack of productivity,[10] criminality,[11] negative social behavior,[12] and substance abuse.[13]

A brief sampling of the literature on hopelessness speaks to the power of this intangible reality. Many symptoms can be traced back to this root. It is the engine that drives painful experiences and destructive behaviors. The reach of hopelessness is breath taking when you consider its ability to touch every area of our lives.

This unwelcome guest and bitter companion is no stranger to us. Hopelessness is a force to be reckoned with. The research is right. We begin here because the research is pulling on a significant biblical thread. A thread in the storyline of this world. The story of you and me. Hopelessness is deeply imbedded into our experience, into our story.

[1] Richard T. Liu, Evan M. Kleiman, Bridget A. Nestor, Shayna M. Cheek, “The Hopelessness Theory of Depression: A Quarter Century in Review.”  Clinical Psychology in Science and Practice (Vol 22:4, December 2015).

[2] Lyn Y. Abrahamson, Lauren B. Alloy, Michael E. Hogan, etc, “The Hopelessness Theory of Suicidality.” Suicide Science: Expanding Boundaries (Kluwer Academic Publishing, Boston 2000). E. David Klonsky & Alexis M. May, “The Three Step Theory (3ST): A New Theory Rooted in the ‘Ideation-to-Action’ Framework.” International Journal of Cognitive Therapy (Vol 8:2, 2015). Regina Miranda, Aliona Tsypes, Michelle Gallagher, etc, “Rumination and Hopelessness as Mediators of the Relation Between Perceived Emotion Dysregulation and Suicidal Ideation.” Cogn Ther Res (New York, 2013).

[3] Firdevs Savi Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness: Role of Self-Esteem as Mediator.” Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice (Educational Consultancy and Research Center, 2014), 11.

[4] Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness,” 11.

[5] Katherine Kandaris, “The Moderating Effect of Hope on the Relationship Between Emotional Approach Coping and Flourishing in College Students.” College of Education (DePaul University, 2013), 23.

[6] Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness,” 11.

[7] Peter Halama & Maria Dedova, “Meaning in Life and Hope as Predictors of Positive Mental Health: Do they explain residual variance not predicted by personality traits?” Studia Psychologica (Vol 49:3, 2007), 193.

[8] Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness,” 12.

[9] C.R. Snyder, Hal S. Shorey, Jennifer Cheavens, etc, _Hope and Academic Success in College.” Journal of Educational Psychology (Vol 94:4, 2002). Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness,” 11.

[10] Cakar, “The Effect of Automatic Thoughts on Hopelessness,” 11.

[11] Michelle A. Tomishima, “Hopelessness as a predictor of juvenile delinquency in at-risk youth.” Master’s Theses SJSU ScholarWorks (San Jose State University, 1995).

[12] Tomishima, “Hopelessness as a predictor of juvenile delinquency in at-risk youth,” 5.

[13] Tomishima, “Hopelessness as a predictor of juvenile delinquency in at-risk youth,” 3.

Building a Theology of Hope

Hope is a mighty force. To affirm this, you need only know its absence. Scripture puts it on par with faith and submits it only to love.[1] The importance of faith is uncontested. Scripture is plain. It is absolutely necessary in the Christian journey.  It is the mechanism that connects us to God and his saving action.[2] It is a gift.[3] It is Christian muscle.[4] Without it, pleasing God is impossible.[5]

Could the same be said of hope? Do we place it on the same plane as faith? Does it have a central place in our theology and practice? When considering the triad of faith, hope and love, which is the most underdeveloped and applied in your life?

This is no academic exercise. I recently preached a Sunday sermon on hope, forgot it by Wednesday and was hopeless by Friday. I know the absence of hope and I know it well. I am well versed in the despair that marks life without Jesus Christ. I also know the hopelessness that assaults the Christian. I am confident of one thing, I need hope. I need it desperately. The following posts flows out of need, mine and yours.

What better way to foster hope than to explore what God says about it. I desire to be well acquainted with hope through reading, studying and writing on the theme. To you my reader, it is my prayer that in reading and meditating on the gift of hope you will know its power and joy in your life.

Hope must be set against its appropriate backdrop: hopelessness. In the following post we will explore hope’s opposite. As we explore this theme together, I pray that God would bring this hope-filled benediction to life: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”[6]

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[2] Romans 3:8, 4:3-5, 5:1, Galatians 2:16

[3] Ephesians 2:8-9

[4] James 2:14-25, 2 Thessalonians 1:11

[5] Hebrews 11:6, Romans 10:15-17

[6] Romans 15:13