Question: "What does it mean that hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5)?"
Answer: In Romans 5 Paul explains some of the marvelous benefits of being justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight, but what does it mean when He says that “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5)?
The full verse is “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5, NKJV). In the context, Paul explains that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1); because of that, we stand in His grace and we rejoice, looking forward to the unveiling of His glory (Romans 5:2). As we look forward in hope and anticipation, we can even rejoice in our tribulations (Romans 5:3a). We don’t take joy in the tribulations themselves; rather, we rejoice in what they accomplish in our lives. Paul lays out the progression of results from the difficulties we encounter: “Knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance” (Romans 5:3b, NASB). Encountering hardship strengthens us and can enable us to withstand even more.
Another word for perseverance is longsuffering—when we encounter tribulations, it can help us “suffer long” and endure. Perseverance brings about proven character (Romans 5:4a). The quality of our character is tested in trials, and when we have endured, our character is no longer hypothetical; it is proven. Proven character brings about hope (Romans 5:4b). When we have endured, and our character has been tested and shown to be faithful, that helps us to have a strong hope—not simply a wish for something, but an anticipation of what will certainly come.
Finally, Paul adds that “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5) or “hope does not put us to shame” (ESV). That kind of hope is certain because it relies upon God’s power, His promises, and His sacrifice (Romans 5:6–11) and not our own merits. That kind of hope is certain because of what He has accomplished, not because of any work on our part. Because Christ died for us (Romans 5:8), we have been justified, and we will be delivered from the future wrath of God (Romans 5:9). We were not saved based on our own righteousness; rather, we were reconciled (given peace with God) even while we were enemies of God, and so we will be saved by His life (Romans 5:10).
While each of us will encounter difficulties—even tribulations or trials—Paul helps us recognize that those circumstances are part of God’s recipe for our growth. “Hope does not disappoint.” James offers a similar exhortation: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4, NASB). Trials and difficulties are designed to produce in believers an eternal benefit. It is for this reason—“hope does not disappoint”—that we can and should rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
Sometimes it helps to have an example of how “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5), and Paul provides such an example for us in Philippians 4 as he explains that he has learned how to be content in any circumstances (Philippians 4:11). He can deal with humble means or prosperity, being filled or being hungry, having much or suffering need (Philippians 4:12). Whether in good or bad circumstances, Paul had learned to persevere because he recognized that he “can do all things through Him who strengthens” (Philippians 4:13, ESV). The same one who strengthened Paul to have that kind of contentment and courage strengthens us, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and that ultimate good is that we will be more Christlike. Because it is His power at work, we know that His kind of “hope does not disappoint.”