At the end of a conference I attended in 2006, the sponsoring church hosted a free evangelistic banquet. Scores of visitors came for the free banquet, which ended with a short evangelistic message. I was struck by the prayer the pastor gave as his evangelistic close. He said, “I don’t understand it all. But as best I understand, I am putting my trust in Jesus Christ as my only hope of heaven.”i I was bothered when I heard that. I thought it was far from clear.
Recently while looking through our early newsletter articles, I ran across one that used the expression my only hope of heaven several times. The author spoke of the need to have “…a total reliance upon Jesus Christ as one’s only hope of heaven.” He spoke of a man who was not walking with the Lord, yet who said, “He is my only hope of eternal life.” I was the editor of that article, and I found nothing wrong with that back then.
What changed in the years between that article and the time I heard the same expression in 2006?
The change was that I came to realize that the words my only hope of heaven refer to something far different than faith. That expression does not mean, “Jesus is my guarantee that I will be in heaven when I die.” It means, “I’m not sure where I’ll go when I die. But I am relying on Jesus as my only chance to get me to heaven.”ii
The expression my only hope of heaven is not found anywhere in the entire Bible. Nor is the expression my only hope of eternal life found anywhere in Scripture.
The English word hope refers to something that is uncertain. I hope I get an A on the final. I hope the Democrats keep control of the House and Senate. (Or, I hope that the Republicans gain control of the House and Senate.) I hope that I get a raise next year. I hope the Cowboys win on Sunday. None of those are expressions of certainty. They are expressions of desired outcome.
We do not have a hope-so faith. We have a know-so faith (1 John 5:13). We do not trust in Jesus as our only hope of heaven. We believe in Him as our Guarantor of everlasting life that can never be lost.
I hope we all abandon confusing language when it comes to talking about what one must do to have everlasting life.
i That is my recollection of what was said. While I do not have a recording, I’m convinced this accurately reflects what he said.
ii It is possible, I suppose, that someone could speak of Christ as his only hope of heaven and yet still affirm that he is sure of his eternal destiny. Someone might say something like this: I know that I am saved once and for all by faith in Christ, apart from works. He is my only hope of heaven in the sense that He guarantees my eternal home with Him and no one else can or does. However, I think when most people use this expression without further explanation, they are indicating that they are uncertain of their eternal destiny and that they strongly desire that Jesus will get them to glory.