The month of January is named for the ancient mythical character named Janus, a figure drawn with two faces – one face looking back into the past, and the other looking forward into the future. I don’t know about you, but that is often how I feel during January: one eye looking backwards at the year of 2015 as it has come to an end, and one eye looking ahead, wondering and praying about what 2016 will bring. As you ponder and pray about God’s work in your life in the year ahead, and evidences of His grace from the close of 2015, do you tremble?
I know I do. The close of a year brings with it memories that leave me nearly speechless. There were uncounted blessings in 2015, each of which were undeserved gifts of grace. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above from the Father of Lights, in Whom there is no shadow of change or turning” (James 1:17). Have you awakened to the sheer number of blessings of 2015? But I also tremble at the undeserved mercies that built up over a year of needing His forgiving love. Each year that passes marks 365 days of falling deeper into the debt of grace, having been desperate for the cleansing blood of Jesus. Without His majestic mercy, none of us could get through one day, let alone an entire year! “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
It helps us to look backwards into a year spent and look forward into the year ahead if we think about the Christian blessings of faith and hope. These twin virtues from God help us deal with the past (faith) as well as the future (hope). And God’s Word often puts them together, like in I Thessalonians 1:3, “your work of faith… and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” or even closer in I Peter 1:21, “your faith and hope are in God.”
We talk a lot about biblical faith, but what is the difference between faith and hope? And how does faith inform our past, and hope inform our future?
William Ames (d. 1633) was an amazing Reformed Christian, pastor, and theologian. He withstood persecution, exile, and more simply for his faith in Jesus Christ. His book The Marrow of Theology was translated into many languages and used to teach new Christians and pastors. He helps us see what the Bible means when God speaks of hope. “Hope is a virtue which leads us to expect things God has promised (Rom. 8:25).”* So are faith and hope similar? They are, in this way: “Like faith, hope in God looks to the grace of God and Christ as the only sources of good to be bestowed (1 Pet. 1:13, Col. 1:27). [God] always promises the greatest good which shall not come about without his help, but by virtue of his promise they will not only probably but surely come to pass.”
But what is the difference between faith and hope? Ames explains for us, “Since faith apprehends the promise and hope expects what is promised, the difference between faith and hope is the difference between what is present and what is to come.” In other words, faith looks back to God’s promises in Christ Jesus and believes. It sees the empty tomb in the rear view mirror. And hope looks forward, expectant that God will continue to bless in the future, just as He has in the past. Hope sees the glorious coming and triumph of Christ down the road ahead!
Romans 5:2 sums this up brilliantly for us, “By Jesus, we also have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Friend, if you’re faith is in Jesus Christ, then right now you are standing by God’s grace through faith. Your faith has given you divine access and power! So you can look at all the circumstances in your life up to this point and know that God has been faithful, you can trust Him, and your faith in Christ has carried you! But when you look to the future, that is where hope takes over. No matter what next year brings, no matter what circumstances may come, hope that God will honor and keep all His promises will bring you through. And did you see what our attitude is because of hope? “We rejoice in hope…” Christian, I hope you are rejoicing in what God might do! This is exactly what Ames teaches as well: “The natural fruit of hope is joy and delight in God (Heb. 3:6, 1 Pet. 1:3, 6).”
So believer, look to the Lord with faith and hope. See all of God’s faithfulness to you in your past, and believe His promises! And then turn to look to the future, and in hope expect that all of God’s promises will be true for you. What promises? To never leave or forsake you! To bless your going out and your coming in! To meet you in your weakness! To take you as His people, and to be your God! When we hope in these promises, there is nothing 2016 can throw at us that could ever compare.
Praying with you to rest in faith and look in hope,
*Ames, William The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997) II.VI (Amazon)