In this issue I will review, in part, what we covered in Part 5, and elaborate further on the pragmatic implications of understanding what the Bible teaches on eternal hope.
It seems to me that most people believe in something after death. All religions have this belief in common. Only a minority believes that when a person dies he ceases to exist. The Hebrews who lived as slaves in Egypt were exposed to a belief in an afterlife – as attested by the pyramids. With or without a promise of eternal life to the individual in the Old Testament, I think the average Hebrew believed in an afterlife, even though it may have consisted in nothing more than an eternity in Sheol. A belief in an afterlife however is very different from an eternal hope.
Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hope defines the object of our faith; we express faith in the direction of our hope. In the Greek, faith and believe are the same word; faith is the noun and believe is the verb. Faith/believe is commitment without knowing. Therefore we can define faith as “risk taking.” When we say that we have faith in the airline getting us to our destination, or we have faith in the surgeon’s ability to perform a successful operation, we are saying that we take a risk in flying or having surgery.
Thus, hope defines the object of our faith. We say we hope the operation will be successful, or we hope we will arrive safely at our destination. We define hope in terms of what we perceive to be gain. We never say that we hope the operation will be a failure, or we hope we lose our money invested in the stock market; we always say the opposite. In summary, we take our risks in the direction of what we consider to be gain.
Biblical faith is always active, never passive. James talks about a passive faith: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Faith without taking the risk of obedience is “dead faith.” James says, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” We demonstrate our hope in the promises of God by being His obedient servants; the risk of faith is found in obedience.
We can have a strong conviction in an afterlife without being the obedient servants of God. Thus, we can say that we hope in eternal life, but because we take no risks in the direction of that hope, we cannot, in a biblical sense, say that we hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises. The existence of hope always requires risks. James says such people have a “dead faith:” “faith without works is dead.”
Obedience and Agreement
We can easily deceive ourselves on this issue: We can confuse obedience with agreement. Many appear to obey God in the sense that they agree with His expectations; they are moral people. You cannot say that you submit to God unless you have confronted the issue of finding yourself not wanting to do His will, voted against yourself, and did it anyway. For example, the only recorded instance of Jesus meeting God’s will and not wanting to do it is the agony through which He went in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” We learn obedience when we, like Jesus, know God’s will and don’t want to pay the price of doing it, but because of our eternal hope, nevertheless obey Him.
Many in the body of Christ live lives of selective obedience, that is, they “obey” when they agree. If they don’t wish to obey, they call the biblical command “cultural,” or they say, “I know God prohibits divorce, but He wants me to be happy, and besides, He will forgive me.” Such people may believe in life after death, and even say they have an eternal hope, but James says that their faith is dead.
Hebrews 11 gives an account of Old Testament saints who had an active faith, taking risks in the direction of their hope: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” So also, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego demonstrated an eternal hope when they chose the fiery furnace: “If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, He will deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and out of thy hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
So we see then, that many of God’s people in the Old Testament had an eternal hope, demonstrated by the risks they took in choosing death rather than disobedience – in spite of the Old Testament Scripture never recording the promise of an eternal hope given by God to an individual. Conversely, many today claim the promises of an eternal hope offered in the New Testament, while refusing to take the risks inherent in a life of obedience. Such people deceive themselves. They think they have an eternal hope when in reality they have nothing more than a belief in an afterlife.
Fear and Love
Often people argue that fear and love are mutually exclusive, when in reality, they are mutually inclusive. Fear is not the enemy of love; fear is the enemy of security. My love identifies my hope, and hope and fear are the head and tail of the same coin. If you love your house, then you will fear losing it when threatened by a fire. If you love your wife, you will fear losing her if you discover that she has cancer. When I am in the city with my grandson, and he gets away from me and into harm’s way, and I say “stop,” I want him to fear my word. If he merely respects it, taking it under advisement, the traffic will kill him.
God is like a warm fire on a cold night. You want to draw as close as you can, but you cannot get too close without getting hurt. You may wish to argue that you respect the fire, but I suggest that if you act presumptuously, you will end in regret.
Fear and Eternal Hope
The Apostle Paul teaches, “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” No one can be certain that they will receive the object of their hope. For this reason, they logically fear that they may not obtain what they hope for, as certainly as they fear when what they love is threatened.
Because we have an eternal hope and not merely a belief in an afterlife, what are the consequences of not taking risks (faith) in the direction of that hope? If there is no eternal accountability for temporal behavior, the risks evaporate. We are left with no difference between the person who believes in an afterlife and the person who has an eternal hope.
Scripture gives repeated warnings lest we deceive ourselves in this regard. Note how John Calvin articulates eternal accountability: “What we give to our brethren in the exercise of charity is a deposit with the Lord, who, as a faithful depositary, will ultimately restore it with abundant interest. Are our duties, then, of such value with God that they are as a kind of treasure placed in his hand? Who can hesitate to say so when Scripture so often and so plainly attests it? But if any one would leap from the mere kindness of God to the merit of works (i.e., a works righteousness), his error will receive no support from these passages. For all you can properly infer from them is the inclination on the part of God to treat us with indulgence. For, in order to animate us in well-doing, he allows no act of obedience, however unworthy of his eye, to pass unrewarded.”
Charles Hodge says, in essence, the same thing: “Although Protestants deny the merit of good works, and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous, that the remission of sins, adoption into the family of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted to the believer, as well as admission into heaven, solely on the ground of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ; they nevertheless teach that God does reward his people for their works. Having graciously promised for Christ’s sake to overlook the imperfection of their best services, they have the assurance founded on that promise that he who gives a disciple even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness of the believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little enjoy less. What a man sows that shall he also reap. As the rewards of heaven are given on the ground of merits of Christ, and as He has a right to do what He will with his own, there would be no injustice were the thief saved on the cross as highly exalted as the Apostle Paul. But the general drift of Scripture is in favor of the doctrine that a man shall reap what he sows; that God will reward every one according to, although not on account of his works.” Hodge seems to suggest that the formula for rewards is: “faithfulness to opportunity,” as indicated by the thief on the cross.
All people everywhere, regardless of their religion, race, or culture, view authority the same way. If they perceive that the cost of obedience is greater than disobedience, they will disobey, and vice versa. This is a universal axiom, true for all time.
If a believer convinces himself, regardless of Scriptural evidence, that he does not face eternal accountability for temporal behavior, then for him the Ten Commandments become the ten suggestions. In denying eternal accountability, he also denies that he has an eternal hope, practices a dead faith, and merely believes in an afterlife.
Yours for the glory of God,
 James 2:19,KJV
 James 2:24, KJV
 James 2:17, KJV
 Hebrews 5:8, KJV
 Hebrews 11:32-40, KJV
 Daniel 3:17-18, JPS
 Romans 8:24-25, KJV
 Cf., e.g., 1Corinthinas 3:10-15, 2Corinthians 5:10, and Colossians 3:23-25
 My parenthesis
 Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Book 3, Chapter 18, Section 6
 Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1952, Vol. III, pages 244-245