Monday, November 27, 2023


Colossians 1:3-5 is one of several passages in which Paul mentions the triad of faith, hope, and love. "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." Having written of faith, let us proceed on to hope. 

In speaking of hope in Colossians 1, Paul speaks objectively. Faith, hope, and love can all be used subjectively and objectively. We usually use them in their subjective sense - hope you exercise in something, faith you exercise in something, love you have for someone. You can also use the words in an objective sense and speak of the thing you have faith in as "the faith," the thing that you have hope in as "the hope," or the one whom you love as "my love." So in this passage, Paul speaks of the thing for which the saints hope as "the hope laid up for you in heaven." 

We can have hope for a lot of things. Sometimes the Bible uses hope in a very commonplace sort of way, as when John says, "I hope to come to you" (2 John 12). But when we speak of hope as a virtue, we are speaking of hope in God, hope in his word, hope in the things that he has promised for us, such as the glory that awaits us (Lam. 3:19-24, Titus 1:1-3). Like saving faith, Christian hope is directed toward God through Jesus Christ. And just as we have faith in God and therefore receive his word by faith, so we have hope in God and therefore have hope in his promises, the things that he has taught us to expect from him. 

Now, what is hope? How would you describe hope? As my son has put it, when you hope for something, you think it is going to happen and you want it to happen. Those are the two basic parts of hope, expectation and desire. 

The Hebrew word for hope,  יָחַל, has the sense of waiting for, with patient expectation. You are going to wait for it with the expectation of it coming to pass. The Greek word, ἐλπίς, means “the looking forward to something with some reason for confidence respecting fulfillment, hope, expectation” (BDAG). As another lexicon has it, hope is "the expectation of good" (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). If we have the expectation of something bad, we would not call that hope. Hope is an expectation of something that you want, of something that is good. 

Now in the Bible, hope is usually not a mere wishful expectation, but a confident and certain expectation of future good which we desire. The Puritan John Owen put it this way, “Where Christ evidenceth his presence with us, he gives us an infallible hope of glory; he gives us an assured pledge of it, and worketh our souls into an expectation of it. Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment.”

This confident expectation brings us joy. It proceeds from God's promise and the way it works in our hearts is that it proceeds from faith, trust, and confidence. You have hope because you have believed.

Now what would be the alternative to hope or the opposite of hope? Some alternatives to hope are a sense of impending doom and despair, either expecting bad things or not expecting good. Also, the absence of desires or goals would also be contrary to hope. A person with hope has goals and an expectation of reaching them. So a person without hope either does not have goals or has no expectation of reaching them.

Another distortion of hope would be what we would call presumption or vain hope. This would be to expect something that you do not have a good reason to expect. You may come across this in more mundane matters, where a person gets their hopes up for no good reason, only to have them dashed in time. This happens in great matters too. It is a vain hope to expect pardon apart from faith in Christ. Some people think that of course they will go to heaven. Yet, they do not have any good reason to think they are going to heaven if they do not realize that they are a sinner in need of grace and then receive that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Mere presumptions and vain hopes not grounded upon God's word are not the virtue of hope. (Nor is it a virtue when your desires are for unlawful things.)

Hope is built upon faith. Faith in God results in love and hope. Godefridus Udemans has defined Christian hope in this way: “Hope is the fruit of the Spirit whereby we look forward with patience and endurance to the fulfillment of God’s promises.” Hope is is indeed produced by the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, “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.” 

The Lord’s Prayer is a good summary of Christian hope. It both directs our desires and gives us an expectation of them, if we ask in faith as his disciples. Jesus did not teach us to pray these things in vain. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to have hope that God will be revered, his kingdom will come, and his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, in you personally and in the world. It teaches us to hope that God will provide for our earthly needs in accord with his wisdom, that he will forgive our debts (sins), and that he will deliver us from evil (world, flesh, devil). 

Believers have reason to hope for personal sanctification, hope for deliverance from the power of evil and for growth in righteousness. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Believers have reason to hope for the future of God's church. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” He was writing to the people of God as they were encountering difficulty and exile, but God would not cut off his people. He would give them a future and a hope generations later. He would continue to sustain his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.

Believers have reason to hope especially for eternal life, resurrection, and glory. After all, Paul did say, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Our hope goes far beyond our daily bread. We hope for eternal life with God after death, dwelling with Christ in heaven, being raised in incorruptible glory on the day of Christ's return, and inheriting the kingdom of glory forever in the new creation.

We wait eagerly for these future realities. In fact, the whole creation awaits this great restoration and glorification. Romans 8:23-25 describes this hope:

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. 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 wait for it with patience.

As faith can be contrasted with sight, so hope can also be contrasted with sight. You do not hope for something you already have. We might call that enjoyment, but not hope. You hope for something that has not yet arrived or is not yet in your possession. Therefore it requires patience. We so have a foretaste of this future hope, the firstfruits of the Spirit, who is "the guarantee of our inheritance" (Eph, 1:14). 

What are some results and fruits of Christian hope? 

Hope leads to joy. Paul connects rejoicing with hope at least twice in Romans. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Our expectation is a joyful expectation. We rejoice in the hope of participating in this glory of God that is set before us. 

Hope leads to courage and steadfastness. You can have courage in the face of difficulty and threats - the short-term expectation of harm or suffering - because you have hope of good in the end. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul speaks of "your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." As a person works and labors out of faith and love, so he is steadfast because of his hope. You are able to stand fast through suffering and difficulty, waiting eagerly for what is to come, for glory, for eternal life, for God's care for his people and his faithfulness to his promises.

Hope also leads to diligence and work. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of the hope of the resurrection and it ends with an exhortation that follows from this hope: "Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

There are many fruits and benefits from the hope we have, the hope that is rooted in faith and God's Word. This hope is strengthened as we call these things to mind. "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope" (Lam. 3:21). We should train ourselves to meditate upon these things and to exercise our hope, more and more. When you meet with challenges or see the wicked prosper, remember the exhortation of Scripture, "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off" (Prov. 23:17–18).  

Tuesday, November 21, 2023


One triad that Paul liked to use is that of faith, hope, and love (1 Cor. 13:13, Col. 1:3-5, 1 Thess. 1:2-3, 5:8). Paul varied the order of the last two, depending on his emphasis, but faith is consistently listed first. And so, in this series on virtue, we will begin with these three - faith, hope, and love - beginning with faith.

In these passages, you see that it talks about the object of faith. Faith in what? What do we put our faith in? Jesus. That is what Paul says in Colossians, "faith in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:4). He also talks about the fruit of faith, their "work of faith" (1 Thess. 1:2-3). Faith was demonstrated by their work, just like love also produces labor and hope produces steadfastness.

One note before we go further: the word for faith, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, when it is used as a verb, is usually translated "believe." So if I say "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," that is the same as saying "have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." They might be two different words in English, but in the Bible, it is usually the same Greek or Hebrew root that is being used.

So what is faith? Specifically, what is saving faith? The Bible will use faith in some different ways. There is some faith that is deficient in one way or another, but still can be called faith. But the faith that we ought to be practicing, saving faith, what is that? How would you describe it?

Our shorter catechism describes saving faith in this way, "Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel." 

One way that faith has been described is that includes knowledge, assent, and trust. And the idea of trust is this idea of receiving and resting. The knowledge and assent are important to get to that point, but you do not want to stop with them. 

For example, are you sitting in a chair right now? Do you trust that chair to hold you? Do you have faith in that chair? Yes, you have faith. This is not saving faith, faith in God, but it is faith, because otherwise you would be scared. You would doubt. You would not sit there. But first of all, you know that the chair is supposed to hold you. You also agree that the chair will hold you. And then you also trust in that chair and therefore sit in it, right? You receive and rest upon it. You rest your whole body upon it, thinking that it is going to hold you up. That is an example of what we mean by faith. In this case, the object of your faith is the chair. But you are not trusting in the chair for salvation, right? What are you trusting in the chair for? You are trusting the chair to hold you up so you don't fall on the ground. With Jesus, we are trusting in him for salvation, for life, for all that is offered in the gospel. And so our faith in him is a much more important faith.

Here is another analogy. Let us say you are in the ocean. Can you picture yourself in the ocean? Except you are literally in the ocean. You are going to sink. But someone threw a life preserver out to you and it is floating there in front of you. Well, you know that it is there in front of you and that it is supposed to hold you up. And you agree that this life preserver will hold you up. Then you trust in it by receiving and resting upon that life preserver, taking a hold of it so that you might be saved. Well, that is a little closer to what it is like to trust in Christ, right? Because there you are trusting in that life preserver to save you from drowning.

With Jesus, we learn about him in the gospel. We also then assent to the gospel. Yes, Jesus is the Savior. He is the Son of God. But do the demons recognize that? Do the demons assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God? They do. They even called him that. They addressed him, "O Son of God" (Matt. 8:29). But do the demons receive and rest upon Jesus Christ for their salvation? No, no. So James says even the demons believe that God is one - and shudder (James 2:19)! The demons believe in that they have knowledge and they give assent to it, but they don't receive and rest upon God. They do not trust in him. So their faith is deficient and it is not saving faith. It is a faulty faith. It is not a living or saving faith. Therefore, it also does not produce works. Why would the demons do good works out of that faith? Instead, the fruit of that faith is shuddering and fear and the attempt to escape. That is not the fruit of our faith. The fruit of a faith that receives and rests upon Christ is very different.

How did Abraham demonstrate his faith in God? Do you remember a big test that Abraham was given, whether he would believe God or not? God told him to sacrifice his son. Not only was that a horrible thing to think about, but his son was also the promised son. So it was difficult to see how God would bring to pass his promises through the sacrifice of this son. But Abraham believed God and therefore he obeyed God because he received him as his God and rested upon him and his promise of salvation through Christ.

Now, how is faith is unique compared to all the other virtues? We say that we are saved by faith. Do we say we are saved by love? Do we say we are saved by our righteousness? Do we say we are saved by our wisdom? No! Do we say we were saved by faith? Yes! How does faith save? What is special about faith? The saving act of faith is that of receiving Jesus (John 1:11-12, Phil. 3:8-9). It is the act of receiving and resting upon Jesus for salvation, as he presents himself in the gospel. He presents himself in the gospel as Lord and Savior, as the Christ (prophet, priest, and king), and we receive him as such. Where is salvation to be found? In God and in the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived and died and rose again for us. And so it is by receiving this gift, by receiving Jesus, that we are saved.

Sometimes the Bible speaks of saving faith as faith in God, who delivered Jesus for our trespasses and raised him from the dead (Rom. 4:24-25). Our faith is in God and his gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Again, it is this receiving and resting that is the saving act of faith.

So faith does not save as a virtue. It does not save as a good work. It is a good work and a virtue, but that is not how it saves. It is not that God is really impressed with your faith and says, "Oh, I better make an exception for this person. His faith is really impressive." That is not how faith saves. God pardons us and accepts us as righteous in his sight on the basis of Christ's righteousness. Faith saves as an instrument by which we receive Christ and his righteousness. Romans 3:24-25 speaks of this, that we "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." Faith is unique compared to hope and love and righteousness and wisdom and all of these things because it is receptive, because it is a way you receive a gift. So the basis of your justification is Christ's righteousness, but faith is how you receive it. 

This is how we can say we are justified by faith alone, by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28), because faith is the only thing that receives Christ. And all of salvation is found in Christ. Justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification - we receive and rest upon him for all these things. 

It should also be said that we receive Christ in such a way that we also give ourselves to him. How does a bride receive her husband? She receives this man as her husband at the same time as she gives herself to him as his bride. In a similar way, we receive Jesus as our savior, as our prophet, priest, and king. At the same time, we are also giving ourselves to him as his people, as his disciples. So we receive and rest upon him, but that faith also includes the idea of giving ourselves to him, as we own him as our Lord and our teacher.

Now, where does faith come from? Where does saving faith come from? It comes from God. We do not boast about our faith because it is a gift that God gives. As Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). 

And what does God use to produce faith in us? Is there an outward, ordinary way in which God produces faith in us? Yes. In Romans 10, we find that Paul is speaking of faith - "For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." Then beginning in verse 14, he says, 
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
So faith comes as a gift of God, and it is produced through the word of Christ. Christ himself is preaching to us, through the preaching of the Word. He has delivered to us the Word of God, which we find in Scripture. 

Now, Scripture even speaks of infants having a kind of faith. Psalm 22:9-10 says to God, "you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God." The Reformers would speak of this faith like a seed, a seed of faith. This seed is sown in regeneration by the Holy Spirit, but it sprouts and is exercised more and more in response to God's Word as the child grows in his understanding. So even if the seed is there, children still ought to come to the Word of God that this faith might sprout and grow and take firm hold of what is offered there. 

Now, what is the opposite of faith? Doubt, fear, and hesitation. Faith and doubt are contrary to one another. Could someone believe and yet also have doubt? Yes, it is possible for a person to have faith and doubt, but these things would struggle against each other. While saving faith is equal in its saving efficacy because of its object, it is different in degrees, weak or strong, small or great. Some have great faith (Matt. 8:10), while some have little (Matt. 6:30). We should pray that God would increase our faith (Luke 17:5) and we should use rightly the means of grace for the building up of our faith. Faith grows by the blessing of God as we support and exercise our faith in him. 

I want to conclude with Hebrews 11. In Hebrews 11:1, faith is described as confidence regarding things we hope for, conviction regarding things unseen. Faith can be contrasted with sight. It is referring to future things and invisible things. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Believe in the invisible God and in what he promises.  

We also learn in Hebrews 11 that a person who has faith in God will have faith in God's word. If we regard him as trustworthy, he will also regard his word as trustworthy. If we believe in God, we are going to receive his word, his whole word, whatever he says. We will also act upon it in a believing manner. 

By faith, a Christian obeys God's commands (Heb. 11:8), trembles at his threatenings (Heb. 11:7), and embraces his promises for this life and that which is to come (Heb. 11:13). By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place. By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. He could not see it yet, but he trusted God and so built the ark. He heeded the warning. By faith the patriarchs, not having received the things promised, yet saw them and greeted them - embraced them - from afar. So if God gives us a promise, by faith we embrace it. If God gives us a command, by faith we observe it. If God gives us a warning, by faith we heed it.

And so as Luther says, "what a living, creative, active, powerful thing is faith!" Faith works. Faith produces good works. As Paul says, faith works through love (Gal. 5:6). It is also foundational for our hope. Without faith, you are not going to have hope. Without faith, you are not going to have love, not the type of love that is good. Not only does faith justify as an instrument by which we receive Christ, but it also sanctifies in a totally different way. It sanctifies, not only as a reception of Christ, who is our sanctification, but also as a power within us by which we live. We now live by our faith in Jesus Christ, acting by faith upon his word.

So let us believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, embracing Christ for our salvation. And let us use his word, sacraments, and prayer to build up our faith, that our faith might be strengthened. And may our faith strengthen the rest of the virtues that we are going to discuss in this series.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023


I have recently begun a new lesson series at church on growing in virtue, looking in each lesson at a particular virtue mentioned in Scripture. I plan to adapt this series for the blog, beginning today with this introduction on virtue.

The Greek word for virtue, ἀρετή, is used in 2 Peter 1:3-5. It is translated as virtue in verse five and as excellence in verse three. Peter wrote of God's excellence - God's virtue - as well as the excellence or virtue which we ought to add to our faith. Virtue is listed as its own thing, but all of the qualities mentioned in that passage can be described as virtues. The word refers to virtue, excellence, or praiseworthy qualities.

In earlier Greek, the word was used with the sense of valor, manliness, and strength. This word is used in Homer, in which the heroes do deeds of virtue in battle that win fame. But early on ἀρετή began to refer more broadly to other praiseworthy qualities and excellence in general, to the right use and strength of all your faculties.

The word and concept already had a long history by the time the Bible used the word. Aristotle discussed it as being a habitual disposition by which the affections and faculties are exercised properly, without deficiency or excess. He wrote, “the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well” (Nicomachean Ethics). He wrote that we think of the virtue of the eye as the excellence by which it is a good eye and sees well, or the virtue of a horse as that by which it is a good horse and it does its work as a horse well, or the virtue of a man by which he is a good man and does good.

So virtue does not refer only to occasional acts of righteousness, but qualities and habits that express themselves in good deeds. You are not only to do individual good deeds, but to become good, to develop good habits. 

C.S. Lewis just talked about virtues in this way. He says, “There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man. Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on” (Mere Christianity). A good tennis player has those habits and strength and skills by which he's going to be a good tennis player consistently. Even so, we ought to train ourselves for godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). We want to be sanctified by God's grace so that these become dependable traits and qualities that are ours and increasing, like Peter says (2 Peter 1:8). 

The opposite of virtue would be corruption, a word that Peter also uses (2 Peter 1:4). Man's nature has been corrupted by sin, by sinful desires and passions, the corruption of the world. Virtue is moral excellence, while sinful desires distort and defile. Your whole nature needs to be redirected, trained, and habituated in the ways of God by his grace (2 Peter 1:4, Titus 2:11-12). In Christ, we are not only saved from the guilt, but also from the power of sin. 

Now, Peter mentions that virtue is something which you ought to make every effort to add. We are exhorted to add these qualities and to practice them. These virtues are both gifts of God and qualities which we ought to do and practice and grow.

Another place where the word virtue or excellence is used, ἀρετή, is in Philippians 4:8-9. 
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence [ἀρετὴ], if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
Paul uses a number of terms to describe these virtues. They are things that are praiseworthy or excellent or lovely or honorable. And not only that, but I think he is speaking of the same things when he speaks of those things which they had learned and received and heard and seen in Paul. How are we to grow in these virtues? "Think about these things." Use your mind. That is one reason I am writing about virtues, so that you can keep these things in your mind and understand them. Also, observe examples of virtue. Consider God and his excellence and observe those who have walked in his ways, like Paul. And then "practice these things." Having thought upon them them and seen them in others, put them to practice and exercise yourself in virtue.