Character –> Hope?

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. [Romans 5:3-5 NIV]

Help me connect the dots…

I see how suffering produces perseverance

I see how perseverance produces character

I see how hope does not disappoint us because of God love poured into our hearts

But how does character lead to hope?  I’ve been puzzling this for a bit now.  The best thing I can come up with is that because you trust in the Lord enough in your sufferings to persevere and see that you can lean on him while you’re developing this character in your difficult times, that he really is trustworthy enough to hope in?

Oh learned sages…what say you?

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14 Comments

Filed under Apologetics

14 responses to “Character –> Hope?

  1. Sorry, the learned sages are out at Starbucks, discussing fair trade. I’ve been sent in their place, but I seem to have lost my notes. (I seemed to have grabbed, instead, instructions for assembling a desk. In Spanish.)

    So I’m going to wing it.

    Character has two components. One part means that we have a positive moral approach to life. The other aspect of “character” is that it persists even when under fire. As someone once said, character is what you are when you think no-one is watching.

    But character doesn’t produce hope: godliness produces hope. Godliness also protects and encourages character.

    Consider someone who starts out with good moral beliefs. What is his or her theology? If she believes that ultimately we die, and that’s it, then why should she be good when no-one is looking, really? I mean, who’s there to judge? Why not just steal, if you’re sure you can get away with it? Why give your life for another? Where’s the reward there? A good feeling? Ooops: wait, you’re dead!

    She may start out with apparently good character, when things are good, but when persecution comes, it may crumble if it doesn’t have some kind of strong foundation.

    Godliness leads us to the good values which are essential to character. Suffering — trials, basicly — are the times when we get to see what we’re made of. We’re tested to see if we stand or fail. If we stand, we now have more invested in those values. If we fall, when the heat’s off, we can re-evaluate, and learn why that was wrong, and steel ourselves for the next time around. And sometimes the heat can also help clarify the substantive from the fluff.

    So that’s how it works: Character = good values + consistency. God leads us to good values, and suffering and trials lock them in, help us learn their importance, and learn to stand by them.

    (Tangentially: Suffering also helps the world see who Christians are, and what their real values are. I’m reminded of the recent story of the Afghani Christian who was sentenced to death for converting from Islam. Many in Afghanistan were reportedly moved to check out Christianity, based on the man’s behavior. They wanted to know what could possibly be so good that a man would willingly be killed for it.)

    The “hope” part doesn’t come from the character. It comes from the godliness. But the process of suffering which can stengthen our character also strengthens and clarifies our hope.

    So I hear Paul as saying that Christian character, if truly locked in, includes theological constructs which do indeed give us hope in the same trials. Why don’t we steal when no-one’s looking? Perhaps because we truly believe God will judge. But when we say God will judge, we also mean God will reward. It’s not just all “stick”: there’s a lot of “carrot” in there too.

    + + +

    A man living his life may have many hopes: He hopes for a nice wife or good kids. He hopes for a big-screen TV. He hopes he will make more money, or be promoted or thought well of at work. But imagine he was suddenly thrown in into a high-security prison, with a life sentence and no possibility of reprieve. Then what would his hope be? The TV? The promotion? Death?

    So suffering doesn’t give us hope in general. It doesn’t increase the feeling that humanity is good, or that we’re sure to get accolades from our peers, or increase the likelyhood we’ll get an all-expenses paid trip to New Zealand. But it does descrease our love of this world, and likewise, increase our hope in one true thing: God.

    + + +

    A friend of mine, who is married to a construction contractor, a talented man who works with his hands all day, said something interesting: She noted that Christians who do manual labor, like her husband, seemed to look forward more to going to heaven than those with desk jobs. “I can’t wait for this life to be over and go home” is apparently more common sentiment among them.

    Indeed, I noticed Christian slaves in the south used to have that as a common theme in their worship. So perhaps even construction contractors “suffer” more in their jobs than us computer jockies. And perhaps, thus, they have more hope in heaven.

  2. Anna

    I asked the same question before. Someone explained to me that the building of a godly character is God’s continuous work in me. A godly character is a monument of the faithfulness of God, who works in me to will and to act according to His good purpose. So when I mature in my faith, and look at my character, instead of taking pride in how good I am, I take pride in God’s faithfulness. This confidence in his faithfulness gives me the hope that He will continue to work in me through all the hard times yet to come. This hope doesn’t fail because it’s built on who God is, not on who I am.

  3. Thanks, guys! I’m teaching this passage tonight at Church and was helped by reading this conversation. :)

  4. Donna Ward

    I’m preaching on this passage Sunday and I was helped by it too! Thanks!

  5. Your method of describing all in this article is genuinely pleasant, all be able to easily know it, Thanks a lot.

  6. RL

    And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
    Note 11 at Ro 5:4: The Greek word used for “experience” here is “DOKIME,” and it means “approved character; the quality of being approved as a result of test and trials” (“Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament” by Fritz Rienecker). Sanday and Headlam also defined this word in this verse as “the temper of the veteran as opposed to that of the raw recruit.” Therefore, this verse is speaking of the character that is produced as a result of having fought battles and won.

    Note 12 at Ro 5:4: Hope by itself will never give people victory. Many people have hoped for things and yet have never realized those hopes because they never moved into faith. Faith is the victory that causes people to overcome the world (1Jo 5:4), yet faith won’t work without hope.

    Just as a thermostat activates the power unit on an air conditioner, so hope is what activates our faith. Faith only produces what we hope for (Heb 11:1). Therefore, hope is the first step toward faith.

    The word “hope” means “a desire accompanied by confident expectation” (American Heritage Dictionary), so desiring the things of God with some expectation of obtaining them is the first step in walking in faith. Once this hope is present, then faith begins to bring the desired thing into manifestation. If a delay is encountered, patience completes the work (see note 10 at Ro 5:3).

    In context, Paul was saying that our experience “worketh” (see note 9 at Ro 5:3) hope. However, he also said in this same epistle (Ro 15:4) that hope comes through the Scriptures. Therefore, it is to be understood that the character that is developed through tribulations just adds to the hope that we have already received through God’s Word.

  7. Great posts! RL, your reply really helped me understand this verse. Thank you!

  8. lm119

    Very insightful, thanks! :)

  9. Aragond

    Tim did well with just the desk assembly instruction sheet in Spanish. I am fascinated by his friend’s observation about blue collar christian sentiment. I would add to the list of blue collar workers and southern slaves, IT Consultants. I know I for one have come to hate the world more “passionately”. I would ask around, but finding anyone professing faith in the world-place in my country seems an impossible ask. I would also ask why some must suffer in this way and others not. I would, but I won’t.

  10. I had the same question and came to this blog seeking some perspectives. Thanks to all your comments, this is what I’ve come up with and it makes so much sense!
    Christians who are truly suffering won’t value this life as much as the next life in heaven. But the only way they’ll grasp the full magnitude of what heaven will be like, and what earthly actions they’ll be held accountable for once they arrive, will be to develop their Christian character. What if all they longed for was heaven, got there, and Jesus said, “Sorry, I can’t say, ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ because you only served yourself your whole life!’ Trials make us call out to God. Then he reveals himself to us and becomes so real to us. That realness makes us desire him even more – to study his Word more and to live his Word more. And when we really start living out our faith, that’s when our character grows, and so does our hope in future glory.

  11. Donna

    I think dependence on God is the key. When we surrender to God and invite the Holy Spirit to work inside of us then our sufferings have formative purpose. With the strength of the Spirit we are able to persevere in relating to others righteously when our circumstances would pressure us to do otherwise (like being honest when it would be more self-serving not to be). As we continue to rely on the Spirit to work within us, our character is formed. We develop a track record of responding righteously. Character produces hope because God promised to present us before the throne of God without blemish. God will do that if we put our trust in Him and invite Him to work in us. The Holy Spirit is our hope because the Holy Spirit is our guarantee. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness . . .” goes the hymn. It is because of the work of Christ that the Holy Spirit can live inside of us giving our suffering purpose, giving us strength to persevere in righteousness, forming our character, and being the source of our hope. Dependence on God is the key.

  12. courtcourt

    I think someone said it already. Character determines what sort of things we hope for. If God’s process has produced God’s character in you you, then you will hope for things that God will be happy to fulfill so you won’t be disappointed. That’s my best guess. :)

  13. Wow! So thankful for this question that was asked in 2006 and all the answers that have come since then :) After reading all the great thoughts, I’ve settled on the idea that character produces hope because character comes from having endured trials through the grace and power of Christ, which allows our confident expectation in his continued faithfulness and goodness (or our hope… according to RL’s definition) to grow more and more. I’ve been thinking about this all day trying to figure out what it means for me, as I’ve been struggling to have hope without fear of disappointment. For me, this new insight is a reminder that the Lord is good, and I can trust him and hope in him confidently and expectantly. Whew!

  14. Donna

    I have been reading Job lately. In the middle of great agony, Job still sought God to converse with and question God about his predicament. Job learned that he was right and his friends were wrong. Sometimes we do suffer for no reason at all. God brought Job to a place where he could see from God’s universal perspective if only for a moment and that allowed him to rise above his dust and ashes. Yet, even when Job looked for God and couldn’t seem to find him, he proclaimed, “I know my redeemer lives!” Job had hope. And I do believe he showed himself in the end to love God for nothing.

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