How Can I Keep on Hoping? The Scriptures!

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Last week we focused on the text from 1 Peter which said,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

And from that text we learned that the aim of God in regenerating sinners is to give them a living hope — by his great mercy we have been born anew unto a living hope.

What Happens When a Person Is Born Again

In other words, what happens when a person is born again is something like this. You are sitting here as a lost sinner. You feel a general uneasiness, but nothing that a little afternoon TV and a good dinner won’t fix. It’s a little bit awkward to be around people who seem to take religion so seriously and who actually show emotion for God in their singing and praying.

But then it is kind of interesting, too, and you wonder sometimes if you might ever really become religious — really serious about God, so that it changed your life and actually showed.

Then, as you sit here, you hear the message of God’s Word that all men are sinners — that we not only do things contrary to God’s will, but we love to do them. We are enslaved to disobedience; our very nature is anti-God. And for some reason this time as you listen, it rings true. You don’t need any arguments, your conscience bears witness: this is the truth — I am a sinner, and my heart is hard against God.

Then you hear the message that the wages of sin is death — that those who disobey God and reject his Son shall not see eternal life, but the wrath of God abides on them. And for the first time in your life this is not only a possible thought, but an almost certain reality. It hits you with force, and it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable.

It seems very just and right, and your sense of guilt begins to rise, and this time all the escape hatches are closed. You are being stalked by the hound of heaven and he cuts you off at every turn. He means to save you today.

Then in your growing sense of guilt and hopelessness you hear the message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; that he died to cover and cancel the worst of sins; that he actually justifies the ungodly, and purifies the unclean; that he actually forgives cheaters and prostitutes and liars and middle class agnostics.

You hear that. And for the first time in your life Jesus Christ makes sense. Pieces begin to fall into place. And then you hear the message that God is rich unto all who call upon him; that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved; that salvation from the guilt and power of sin is a free gift of grace; that every one who thirsts — no matter how long you have resisted, no matter how long you have been drunk with the godless pleasures of the world — everyone is invited to drink freely from the wells of living water and be saved.

And suddenly, probably at first unperceived, a miracle of grace happens. The Spirit of God, by the instrument of his Word, begets and quickens a new spiritual life in your heart. No thunder, no lightning, maybe even no waves of emotion, but just this: the letting go of all resistance and the humble bowing before Jesus Christ in your heart, and the meeting of your eyes and his eyes, and the drinking in of mercy.

And as you drink, there rises in your heart the hope — the confident expectation — that you are included; that the invitation is yours, the promises are yours, the forgiveness is yours, the acceptance is yours despite all your sin. You are saved. You are no longer a mere sinner; you are a saved sinner. You are no longer a child of the flesh. You are a child of God. You have been born again.

And the result is a new hope in God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has begotten us anew to a living hope!”

The Need to Be On Guard and Armed

Now just at this point we must be on our guard. A great mistake can be made here. Satan, realizing that he may have just lost one of his victims, will assault you with all his deviousness. And one of his most common devices is to sow this thought in your mind:

“That was a wonderful experience. I will never forget it. How good it is to be free from the need to struggle with guilt and fear! Now I can go about my business in peace.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But there is a lie in it. You are NOT free from struggle with guilt and fear! Your future will not be all peace and sweetness. This beautiful experience of new hope is already being threatened.

The point of my message this morning is that when you are born again, you are born for battle — a battle to maintain the full assurance of hope to the end (Hebrews 6:11), a battle that can only be fought and won with the Word of God.

Let me say it again: when we were born anew by the Spirit of God, we were born for battle — the battle of perseverance (Mark 13:13), the battle to hold fast to our confession of hope (Hebrews 10:23), the battle not to shift from the hope of the gospel (Colossians 1:23). And the only way anyone can win this battle and maintain the full assurance of hope firm to the end is by fighting hopelessness with the Word of God.

Henry Martyn’s Fight

We simply must learn this lesson. Let me illustrate before we turn to Romans 15:4. Henry Martyn was a young missionary to India and Arabia and Persia in the early 1800’s. He had left his fiancé Lydia Grenfell behind in England in 1806 and would never see her again — he died at 31.

On the boat he fought back self-pity and discouragement with the promises of God’s Word. He arrived in Calcutta in May and two months later had a devastating experience. One of the veteran missionaries preached a sermon directed against Henry Martyn and his doctrines. He called his teaching inconsistent, extravagant, and absurd. He accused him of seeking only to “gratify self-sufficiency, pride and uncharitableness.”

How could this lonely young man endure such a crushing experience, and not only endure but during the next six years have the perseverance to translate the New Testament into Hindustani, Persian, and Arabic?

We can hear the answer in his own journal:

In the multitude of my troubled thoughts I still saw that there is a strong consolation in the hope set before us. Let men do their worst, let me be torn to pieces, and my dear Lydia torn from me; or let me labour for fifty years amidst scorn, and never seeing one soul converted; still it shall not be worse for my soul in eternity, nor worse for it in time. Though the heathen rage and the English people imagine a vain thing, the Lord Jesus, who controls all events, is my friend, my master, my God, my all.

Henry Martyn fought the battle against discouragement and hopelessness with the truths of God’s Word: “Jesus is my friend, my master, my God, my all!” And that is the way we must fight every day, and never stop until the war is over and the Commander puts the wreath of victory on our heads.

Three Truths from Romans 15:4

To instruct us and encourage us in this battle, let’s look at Romans 15:4.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

Let’s focus on three truths from this verse.

  1. All the Scriptures are for our instruction.
  2. All the Scriptures are intended by God to give steadfastness and encouragement.
  3. All the Scriptures have this goal: to sustain our hope.

1. All the Scriptures are for our instruction.

I focus on this first because we are prone to short-circuit this step. All of us who have been born again are hungry to be encouraged by the Scriptures. Therefore we are often impatient with the need to be instructed by them. We would often rather have the fruit without laboring in the vineyard.

So the first lesson in this verse is that the Scriptures are for instruction. Literally: for teaching. We must be willing to learn what the Scriptures teach if we expect to be encouraged by the truth of Scripture rather than by an accidental sound of words or reflections of our own ideas and desires.

I don’t want to turn you all into academic scholars. And I don’t want to put the Bible out of reach for anyone. But it is no accident that wherever Christianity has gone, the first institution to follow the church is the medical clinic and the second is the school. Why? Because the better you can read the Bible, the more accurately you will grasp its teaching and the resources of hope you have at your disposal. And so we should give ourselves to understand this teaching.

Benjamin Warfield, the great Princeton teacher, was told one time by an unsympathetic saint of his day (in 1911): “Ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer knowledge of God than ten hours over your books.” Warfield’s response was beautiful. He said, “What! [More] than ten hours over your books, on your knees?”

Another Princeton saint, Philip Lindsay, used to make the same point by saying to his New Testament classes, “One of the best preparations for death is a thorough knowledge of the Greek grammar.”

Now the point is not that everyone should spend ten hours a day in books or that everyone should master the Greek NT. But some should! And the rest of us should be glad they do! But all of us should do our best not just to fly over the Scriptures on the way to work or the way to bed, but to understand them. We need a systematic diet of instruction, not just a few crumbs a day, if we are going to fight successfully to maintain the full assurance of hope to the end.

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” That’s the first point of Romans 15:4. But the second point in the verse stresses that the instruction is not finally for the head but for the heart.

2. All the Scriptures are intended by God to give steadfastness and encouragement.

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures . . .

When the instructions of the Scriptures are properly understood, they produce steadfastness and encouragement. Steadfastness means endurance. It’s what you have to have to keep on going in a path of obedience when you feel miserable and when you meet all kinds of opposition.

Where does endurance come from? It comes from the Scriptures. This is exceedingly practical! Noël and I wrote a personal note to one of the couples on the marriage enrichment retreat this weekend. For my part I shared a passage of Scripture that I think gives great power to endure through the tough times in marriage, even if they last for years. It was 2 Corinthians 4:16–18.

We do not lose heart . . . For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison . . . We look to the things that are unseen . . . because the things that are unseen are eternal.

Again and again the Scriptures will give you God’s perspective on things, and that biblical perspective will make a hard situation endurable. The Scriptures are given to us for our encouragement and our endurance in hard times. O how foolish we are if we neglect them. But on the other hand, consider Psalm 1:1–3,

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.

It ENDURES! Endurance comes from meditating on the Word of God.

If you want to have staying power, if you want to endure to the end in the path of costly obedience, then turn off the radio and meditate on the Scriptures.

3. All the Scriptures have this goal: to sustain our hope.

The final point of Romans 15:4 is that all the Scriptures have this goal: to sustain our hope.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

There are stories of endurance in the Scriptures. There are words of encouragement. But the way these stories and these words actually make a difference in our lives is by sustaining our hope.

It’s hope that keeps us going in tough situations. Christian endurance is not just teeth-gritting will power against all odds. We are driven and sustained by hope.

Will Steger and his crew would not have endured 56 days of freezing pain and danger and weariness if they did not believe in the North Pole. So it is with Christians. Christ commands us to cross an ice field of tribulation on the way to the crown. The strength to endure comes from the hope before us. And the hope before us comes from the Scriptures.

We are familiar with the slogan, “No pain, no gain.” That is true. But the reverse is true too. If you can’t be sure there is going to be gain, you won’t endure the pain of obedience to Christ. That is where the Word of God becomes absolutely essential; because your own feelings and all the wisdom of the world is going to tell you again and again, it isn’t worth it —

  • being a pastor isn’t worth it;
  • being a wife and mother isn’t worth it;
  • being honest at work isn’t worth it;
  • spending evenings at the mission isn’t worth it;
  • working in the nursery isn’t worth it;
  • teaching this class of boys isn’t worth it;
  • staying sober isn’t worth it.

That’s what your feelings will often say, and that is what the world will often say. But it is NOT what the Scriptures say.

The Scriptures say,

The LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always. (Deuteronomy 6:24)

And now, Israel, what does the LORD require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12–13)

I will make with them an everlasting covenant and I will not turn away from doing them good . . . I will rejoice in doing them good with all my heart and with all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:39–41)

No one has ever left house or brother or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time . . . with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29–30)

Obedience is always worth it.

The “world” endures to reach the North Pole and the Guinness Book of World Records; the Christian endures to reach the age to come, eternal life, the presence of Christ, and infinite joy forever and ever. But neither endures without hope.

No Hope, No Cope

So let’s take the motto, “No pain, no gain,” and turn it around and make our own little slogan: “No hope, no cope.”

If it is true that the battle to cope with the daily temptations to disobey and throw in the towel on your responsibilities — if that battle to cope can only be fought with the weapon of hope, then never forget the truth of Romans 15:4 — that the battle to keep on hoping can only be fought with the weapon of the Scriptures.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.