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What is the definition of hope?

definition of hope

There are two kinds of hope—worldly or temporal hope and the hope of believers. In a general sense, hope is a mental focus or feeling of anticipation regarding a future outcome, either of something we want to happen or wish to be true or don’t want to happen or be true. Secular hope is a subjective expectation; it may be solidly based or misguided, as it does not consider God’s will. We hope for things we want (I hope I get the job; I hope she’ll marry me). We hope for good outcomes (I hope my child returns home safely; I hope I don’t get sick). But worldly hope is not a virtue, as it usually contains some degree of uncertainty, doubt, and personal bias and can often be misdirected and selfishly motivated (Proverbs 10:28; 1 Timothy 6:17).

The biblical definition of hope is “the sure and confident expectation of receiving what God has promised us in the future.” The believer’s hope is not a faint or obscure wish but “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). In Scripture, hope is a virtuous quality because it contains no doubt, always trusting in God’s faithfulness and presence no matter the circumstances, whether good or bad (Psalm 71:5).

The apostle Paul includes hope among the three indispensable Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love is the greatest because God values it most (1 Corinthians 13:13) and because it is eternal (1 Corinthians 13:8). Neither faith nor hope will be needed in heaven; we won’t have to trust an unseen God or anticipate His appearance because we will see Him and be with Him in the perfection of His presence forever.

Hope and faith are closely tied because both operate based on trusting God and living according to what is unseen. The author of Hebrews explains that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). Regarding hope, Paul reasons, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (Romans 8:24). Like faith, hope is built on our unwavering confidence in God’s goodness and power to do what He says He will do because of His unfailing love for us (Psalm 33:18; 146:5). Such confidence declares about our Savior, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3). Biblical hope, like faith, takes custody here and now of God’s good promises yet to come.

Christians use hope in both senses. A pastor may say, “I hope today’s sermon blesses you.” The apostle Paul writes, “I hope to see you” (Romans 15:24) and “I hope to come to you soon” (1 Timothy 3:14) in his letters to fellow believers. But the believer’s hope is so much more than wishful thinking. The apostle Peter explains that God “has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). We have the “hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2). We don’t merely wish we’ll go to heaven when we die; the Bible says we can know it with all certainty: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

Paul’s hope was so secure in his eternal future that he was willing to suffer and die for it: “I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6; see also Acts 26:6). Paul said that without faith and hope in God’s promise of resurrection life, Christians “are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

The biblical definition of hope includes not only the act of confident expectation but also the object of it—“Christ Jesus our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). The psalmist writes, “For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth” (Psalm 71:5). Jesus Christ is the “hope of Israel” (Jeremiah 14:8; Acts 28:20) and of all nations and peoples (Isaiah 42:4; Matthew 12:21; Romans 15:12–13; 1 Timothy 4:10).

Having only temporal hope in people and things of this life is, in reality, to live in a state of hopelessness, “without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12). By contrast, the believer’s hope cannot be frustrated or hindered by anything in this life. We know what we have safely “stored up for [us] in heaven” (Colossians 1:5), where our treasures are kept secure (Matthew 6:19–20).

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This page last updated: July 13, 2023