This is the sermon that was left unspoken on Sunday (see Sermon Preparation in Perspective for that story).
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:1-11 ESV)
In the privacy of you own thoughts, recall your lowest time as a Christian. Where were you at with God during that time?
Did you feel accepted by God and full of rejoicing, or rejected and cast out from His presence?
At such times the peace of God referred to in Philippians 4:7 which is supposed to guard our hearts and minds has deserted us, often to be replaced by an aching, screaming void of emptiness and despair. Our faith can be horribly messed up, our prayers full of questions, perhaps dominated by phrases such as; “Why?”, “How could you have …”, “I thought you were supposed to be a God of love…”, & etc. We wonder if what we have believed has been a farce, if we really have been a monumental fool. We can get angry at God. And all this confusion causes us to wonder if we could possibly be saved when such thoughts rage through our heart.
I am convinced that what I have described is part of the ‘normal’ Christian experience. Not normal in that we experience such doubts and despair every day, but normal in the sense that at some time all believers seem to go through such an experience. Different people plunge to different depths and for varying periods of time, but doubts and confusion are all part of living in faith in Jesus Christ. This, in fact, is what faith encompasses — faith is not escapism or a refusal to face the facts, faith squarely acknowledges the difficulties and trusts what Jesus says:
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)
And Romans 5:6-10 talks about the ultimate in weakness — being weak, ungodly sinners at war with God.
Consider for a moment the weak state of a mere human who cannot even control their own heartbeat or ability to keep breathing — such a fragile being rebels against God’s decrees every hour, putting himself at enmity, declaring war upon, the all-powerful Creator of the entire universe! God not only can snuff out my life in an instant, He can also cast me into a hell of torment for eternity! Any human at enmity with God is in the ultimate state of vulnerability and weakness (Matthew 10:28).
Only one thing can get us out of that state of weakness — faith: trusting Jesus Christ to hold good to his promise of justifying sinners. Mercifully, Paul takes care to assure us that regardless of how low we may be, faith in Jesus Christ is sufficient to obtain peace with God.
Romans chapter 5 opens with a ‘therefore’. Whenever we encounter a ‘therefore’ in the Bible it is effectively saying that whatever went before the therefore is the foundation of what you are now reading. Paul is kind to us, he summarizes what he has said in chapters 1 to 4: ‘since we have been justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Because of this, we rejoice. But I think it is worth reminding ourselves of what is contained in that ‘therefore’.
Because there is a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Because all have sinned and are in need of justification. Because God is just. Because God justifies all people by the same faith. Because the promise of God’s blessing depends on faith and rests on grace, and because faith is based upon trusting God’s ability without refusing to face the facts or degenerating into escapism;
And because of this peace we have hope. Because of the hope we have, we rejoice. We can even rejoice in suffering — why? Because suffering actually increases our hope:
Suffering produces endurance.
Endurance produces character.
Character produces hope.
Hope does not produce shame.
Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Because while we were weak, Christ died for the ungodly. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. His dying for us has justified us.
Which sums up what that first ‘therefore’ of Romans 5:1 is all about. Since we are now justified, we will certainly be saved by Christ from the wrath of God.
When we were enemies, the death of Jesus reconciled us to God (the hard thing).
Now we are God’s children, and Jesus is alive, so we can have even more confidence that God will save us from wrath (the ‘easy’ thing).
And so, even beyond being saved from wrath, we rejoice in God through Jesus.
But do we rejoice? In honesty I have to say that sometimes I do. If I think about the hope we have in God then I do rejoice, but a bit of suffering soon knocks that out of me.
Yet I stand by what I said earlier about all Christians having to battle through low periods, and I think this is the sort of thing Paul is getting at when he says:
…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4).
It is hope which produces Paul’s rejoicing, what suffering does over time is to give experiential grounds for that hope. So there is a hope of anticipation and a hope of experience — both are hope in God, both are grounded in faith in Jesus Christ. Going into and enduring through suffering, hope looks forward and trusts desperately that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39).
While enduring suffering, and after it subsides some, hope says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10) and says that the suffering was worth it, “that I may know [Christ] and the power of his resurrection.” (Philippians 3:10). When I say that ‘suffering is worth it’ I don’t do so lightly, what it is worth is of such value that the cost is extremely high.
What suffering and despair do for us in the end is to test and prove that our faith is not escapism and that it does face the facts of our situation, and still trusts God! Inexplicably, despite lots of surface reasons not to, faith survives and gives us assurance that we do indeed have peace with God because faith is all God requires to justify us. When our faith has been tested and proven, hope rises and rejoicing really does happen.
So, faith is good — essential in fact. Faith that has been tested is even better, not because it makes you ‘more saved’ (it doesn’t) but because then you know it really is faith. It is tested by trials and suffering, so when they come, don’t run away. If you do run away you might end up proving something else; that a comfy life is what you really believe in rather than Jesus Christ.