The Difference between Faith and Hope by Martin Luther
All the passages below are taken from the:
Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535)
by Martin Luther
Translated by Theodore Graebner
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949)
Ch. 5, pp. 194-216
VERSE 6. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
Paul concludes the whole matter with the above statement. “You want to be justified by the Law, by circumcision, and by works. We cannot see it. To be justified by such means would make Christ of no value to us. We would be obliged to perform the whole law. We rather through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness.” The Apostle is not satisfied to say “justified by faith.” He adds hope to faith.
Holy Writ speaks of hope in two ways: as the object of the emotion, and hope as the emotion itself. In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Colossians we have an instance of its first use: “For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven,” i.e., the thing hoped for. In the sense of emotion we quote the passage from the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: “For we are saved by hope.” As Paul uses the term “hope” here in writing to the Galatians, we may take it in either of its two meanings. We may understand Paul to say, “We wait in spirit, through faith, for the righteousness that we hope for, which in due time will be revealed to us.”
Or we may understand Paul to say: “We wait in Spirit, by faith for righteousness with great hope and desire.” True, we are righteous, but our righteousness is not yet revealed; as long as we live here sin stays with us, not to forget the law in our members striving against the law of our mind. When sin rages in our body and we through the Spirit wrestle against it, then we have cause for hope. We are not yet perfectly righteous. Perfect righteousness is still to be attained. Hence we hope for it.
This is sweet comfort for us. And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”
The question occurs to us, What difference is there between faith and hope? We find it difficult to see any difference. Faith and hope are so closely linked that they cannot be separated. Still there is a difference between them.
First, hope and faith differ in regard to their sources. Faith originates in the understanding, while hope rises in the will.
Secondly, they differ in regard to their functions. Faith says what is to be done. Faith teaches, describes, directs. Hope exhorts the mind to be strong and courageous.
Thirdly, they differ in regard to their objectives. Faith concentrates on the truth. Hope looks to the goodness of God.
Fourthly, they differ in sequence. Faith is the beginning of life before tribulation. (Hebrews 11) Hope comes later and is born of tribulation. (Romans 5)
Fifthly, they differ in regard to their effects. Faith is a judge. It judges errors. Hope is a soldier. It fights against tribulations, the Cross, despondency, despair, and waits for better things to come in the midst of evil.
Without hope faith cannot endure. On the other hand, hope without faith is blind rashness and arrogance because it lacks knowledge. Before anything else a Christian must have the insight of faith, so that the intellect may know its directions in the day of trouble and the heart may hope for better things. By faith we begin, by hope we continue.
This passage contains excellent doctrine and much comfort. It declares that we are justified not by works, sacrifices, or ceremonies, but by Christ alone. The world may judge certain things to be ever so good; without Christ they are all wrong. Circumcision and the law and good works are carnal. “We,” says Paul, “are above such things. We possess Christ by faith and in the midst of our afflictions we hopefully wait for the consummation of our righteousness.”
You may say, “The trouble is I don’t feel as if I am righteous.” You must not feel, but believe. Unless you believe that you are righteous, you do Christ a great wrong, for He has cleansed you by the washing of regeneration, He died for you so that through Him you may obtain righteousness and everlasting life.
VERSE 6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.
Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides. He declares on the one hand, “In Christ Jesus circumcision availeth nothing,” i.e., works avail nothing, but faith alone, and that without any merit whatever, avails before God. On the other hand, the Apostle declares that without fruits faith serves no purpose. To think, “If faith justifies without works, let us work nothing,” is to despise the grace of God. Idle faith is not justifying faith. In this terse manner Paul presents the whole life of a Christian. Inwardly it consists in faith towards God, outwardly in love towards our fellow-men.