Romans 5 vs 3 - 5
3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Just three months ago Dame Vera Lynn died aged 103. She was described by the BBC as “one of the country's most potent symbols of resilience and hope.” A reference to her wartime performances as she encouraged the military and civilian population with her songs of hope, among them “We’ll meet again” and “There’ll be Blue Birds over”; songs which focused on better and brighter days ahead when hostilities ended, right triumphed and life returned to normal. If you’re a certain age you’ll be humming those for the rest of the day!
In a sense Paul does much the same in the verses above. Confronting the fact that Christians like others suffer in this world and sometimes more due to their faith, he points these believers in Rome ahead to the final triumph even though now they may be suffering. Even that suffering though is not wasted in the providence of God as it produces perseverance and character; character which maintains a hope in Christ’s victory and the realisation of everything promised by God the Father.
At that point those suffering could well ask – how do we know this hope is secure? That question is never an easy one to answer, particularly when it comes from those enduring pain or injustice or loss. The answer though comes in verse 5. This hope of which Paul writes does not put us to shame, we will not be left red faced and ashamed on the final day for having believed in vain. The reality then of our justification before God will be clearly visible and Paul goes on to explain why in verses 6-11 yet even now we are not empty handed. God has given us the first instalment if we can put it like that, a foretaste of what is to come in two ways. First God has poured his love into our hearts and then has caused his Holy Spirit to dwell in us. The same Spirit who works faith, who strengthens us in temptation and trial and who enables our discipleship.
All we have known is life in a fallen and often troubled world and many times trouble engulfs us personally. It comes as we encounter the difficulty of daily discipleship and discover following Jesus means ridicule and worse at times. This though is not normal life, it’s certainly not life as God intended nor is the world good as God declared it at creation. We live now in a hiatus between the perfection of creation and the perfection of the new creation. The evidence that life as God intended will resume is experienced by Christians who know God’s love in the depths of their being, and whose wills are strengthened by God’s Spirit within.
Romans 5 vs 2b
"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Through Jesus Christ our circumstances have changed and now we stand in his grace. It is a present and a continuing situation. Grace that provides a foundation not only of a present reality justification, peace and access to grace but for a future hope.
I mentioned a few days ago that a number of years ago the old family home was extended but that extension was part of a larger scheme that included renovation of the old part of the house that goes back to the 1700’s. It was a simple worker’s cottage. When we first talked about doing the work our initial step was to employ an architect who, once he had spoken to us, took our thoughts and ideas and worked them into a plan which brought to us the real hope of gaining a modern usable family home albeit retaining a lot of the character of the old cottage.
When Paul writes to the Romans of our standing in grace he goes on to write about boasting or rejoicing in a future hope which is the glory of God. In that he moves the focus on from the present to the future; from what we are now to what we will, in God’s grace, become. The hope is not only being in the presence of God in eternity and seeing our Lord face to face as it were, but points to our restoration as true image bearers of God. We will again become perfectly human. It is the complete renovation of the whole person so that we are restored to what we should have been and regain in full all the blessings that once were humanity’s. Since we have known only life in a fallen world we really haven’t a clue what that will be like but the bible in much the same way as the architect who redesigned our old family home gives us a picture and holds out the hope of what that will mean. We find pictures of that in Revelation and in other parts of the New Testament but the words that really inspire me, make me rejoice in this hope of which Paul writes come from John “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1st John 3:2)
On that day the promises of scripture will become a reality to us, but the hope we have now is much more than hope for the best, the mere longing for something that is uncertain. No, the promises are sure, the hope is a certainty that transforms our present circumstances and that’s where we are going next with Paul.
Romans 5 vs 2
“Through him we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
One children’s movie our girls loved when they were children, and which our grandchildren now also watch is “The Land Before Time”. In those now far off days almost thirty years ago I remember recording it from the TV on the old video recorder so they could watch it later, to my recollection it was just before the Christmas holidays. Anyway, enough of that back to the point! The story briefly is that some dinosaur children get separated from their families during a period of seismic upheaval and are left by themselves to find their way to the Great Valley, a place of plenty and beauty. The story follows their adventures the ups and downs of the journey but just when all seems lost and they find themselves in a barren place about to give up the leader of the little group in a very emotional scene is led to a mountain pass and as the light of dawn rolls in the tranquil scene of the Great Valley is revealed before him. When things seemed at their darkest and most hopeless, the pass leads them to the place where they are reunited with their families and enjoy security and plenty. Right, you can stop crying now!
This is not as irrelevant as it may seem, bear with me. Over the last few days we have been thinking about some foundations upon which our faith is built. We have discovered that by faith God justifies us, declares us innocent, through Jesus we have peace with God and both these things bring us security in every circumstance. That’s all in the first verse of Romans 5 but then in verse 2 we discover that not only have things that were wrong been set right, but through Jesus the whole landscape of life changes.
There is a grace that everyone enjoys, common grace from God by which our bodily needs are met and the earth is productive, by which we share love and our bodies take their next breath even as we sleep. Everything ultimately is of grace. God needs nothing from us but supplies all that we need. Everything we enjoy is a gift of grace. This grace however is particular and here the grace in which we now stand refers back to the change in status in our relationship with God which in turn opens to us all his blessings in Christ, blessings that are both spiritual and physical. As one writer Douglas Moo puts it “he (Paul) can picture the new status of the believer as one in which grace is characteristic and dominant. ....the notion goes beyond justification to all that is conveyed to us by God in Christ.” I suppose that sense is contained in the hymn “Great is Thy faithfulness” and especially in the words, “Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth; Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine with 10,000 beside.” You get the sense now I hope, this change of status and the peace that follows opens to us all the riches and blessing of God but all of these are through Jesus the mediator. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Romans 5 vs 1.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)
I imagine that you like me are tired of hearing about Covid 19, confused by the constant change of policy, and troubled by the perpetual uncertainty. We can plan for nothing, everything in contingent and liable to change in a matter of days if not hours. In this, as with everything else in life, if we depend on circumstances for our peace and security, let alone our happiness we are going to be at sea emotionally, and in this health crisis a growing number are.
Paul knew nothing of the Coronavirus but he knew much about changing circumstances in life. You only have to read 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 to discover the extent of the mishaps, troubles and injustices he encountered as he travelled around the Mediterranean in service of the gospel. His contentment however did not depend on favourable circumstances but on the strength provided by Christ who makes peace with God on our account. Since our peace with God was won by Jesus and involves our justification we need not fear and when troubles come. Despite what malicious lies the enemy of Christ might whisper in the midst of our troubled circumstances, it is not because God is displeased, has abandoned us or is just plain fickle in his affection. Whatever the storms we run into through the course of life, this peace we enjoy with God through Jesus is the second foundation upon which we build a life of faith.
If you don’t know the story behind the hymn “When peace life a river “, you should Google it when you have the time. The words arise from the depths of tragedy, out of sorrow upon sorrow but the peace of which the hymn speaks is the peace of a soul grounded on Christ. In a materialistic age we mistakenly associate contentment with pleasure and possessions but these can be stripped away in an instant, when we should think of it in connection with a soul at peace with God. That peace depends on Jesus Christ not on circumstances.
Peace and hope
5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The importance of foundations to a building is well known, or should be. When we extended our family home the foundations were inspected by a Building Control Officer from the local Council before a block could be laid. We recognise the foundation a loving family or a good education provides to children and I would contend that there are foundations as far as our faith is concerned which allow us to develop and mature, and know security as those who trust in Jesus. Romans 5 bring to our attention some foundations on which our faith rests and the first of these involves a change of status.
The term social distancing is one that was unknown to most of us 12 months ago yet today it is familiar and after the weekend is very much in the news today. After human being fell into sin our relationship with God changed fundamentally. We became offenders and enemies of God having transgressed his law. An act of rebellion! As a result a gulf was fixed between us, a boundary set which we could not cross. Here though in 5:1 Paul introduces a change of standing saying that we have been justified by faith. What does that mean? It means that when we came to faith in Jesus Christ something happened to us, a big change took place. Having once been offenders we were declared just, upright or innocent not just of one offence, but of all offences against God. This is not of our doing, nor do we somehow prove our innocence by our faith. It is something that happens to us from the outside, a status which God confers. Practically the fact that God confers it means that we can’t lose it when we fall to temptation and sin, or when we turn from the way in which God would lead us. Yes we may suffer the consequences of our disobedience through the outworking of our stupidity or weakness but we do not have to be saved all over again. We have become members of God’s family; he has adopted us, we are his. So when we read that every sin was laid on him it includes sins past, those of the present and all in the future.
Hebrews 10 vs 25.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
I have become a “fair weather fisherman” gone are the days when I would stand on the shore or at the side of a lake in all weathers. No more hard core for me, it’s supposed to be enjoyment not endurance. Many years ago when the kids were small we had a family holiday to Donegal and not having had the opportunity to fish I decided one evening that I would head for the coast not too far away and I took the youngsters with me. The sea however, was fairly rough yet despite my unease I put the tackle into the water. As it swept immediately on to the rocks I realised that if I fell in the kids would be helpless in such a remote spot and there would be no way out for me. One cast that was enough; we packed up and went home to safety. Even now when I think of that night a shiver goes down my spine.
I have the sense, perhaps without foundation, that the author as he writes suddenly realises that the challenges to faithfully living as disciples in an unbelieving world will increase not diminish and in a sense Christians need to “buckle up”. In that context the final “Let us... in this little section of Hebrews which deals with perseverance is yet another call to encourage one another as we meet together. It emphasises the importance of fellowship in the true sense, not talking about the weather or about sport with tea in hand after a service, but praying for one another, sharing insights into scripture and giving sanctified good advice to one another.
The importance of this should be evident in the way the author returns to the matter of encouragement. The times for these believers were difficult, the reasons to abandon their discipleship perhaps many but the last phrase “and all the more as you see the Day approaching” is much more than a throw away remark. It is at one and the same time a warning and a spur on to hang in there. A warning first that things will not get better for the church or for believers as the return of Jesus approaches but the choices will be more critical and the pressures from a disapproving world will increase. Some argue that we see that developing already, even in Britain. The thing though that ought to encourage the believer to persevere and not give up and not to abandon fellowship is the promise that Jesus will return in glory bringing his Kingdom in fullness. At the same time it is important to heed the reminder of one commentator that the return of Jesus will bring both salvation and judgement. “Even so Lord, quickly come!”
Hebrews 10 vs 25.
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Although we are in some sense still in the grip of the pandemic and things seem unfortunately to be on the slide towards a resurgence of the virus it is interesting to hear of people’s experience of “lockdown”. Some were bored by the monotony and some, most, filled the day with endless cups of coffee and tea and the associated biscuits for which we are now paying the cost and bearing the weight, literally! Others, the few perhaps, as I heard this morning took a more positive approach and used the time to take exercise and control their diet. As a result one person I heard of lost a stone in weight.
Transferred to the context of church that difference in approach to lockdown was and is evident; some missed the end of services and the opportunity to meet together and some of those still shielding still do. Others never missed it, and that is my concern, if I can share honestly with you; my worry that as life eventually and hopefully soon returns to what approximates to normal, some people who joined the regular meetings of the church will never find their way back into fellowship. Some may end up forever sermon surfers hearing even learning from the internet ministry of this or that big name preacher, but never in fellowship or growing spiritually or serving through the local church, the body of Christ.
Clearly this is not something that is a 21st century experience but stretches right back to the New Testament era. The reason for the absence of those the writer had in mind is not clear whether persecution or disillusionment but there is some evidence, according to commentators, that in similar situations in Rome economic factors were uppermost.
Why is the author concerned? Why is it a worry today? The danger is not that the church will peter out as people peel away. Jesus said that he would build his church and he will. The world doesn’t end at Dundonald or Donaghadee, the border or Bundoran and while in the west the church may be in decline if measured only in numbers, across the world Christ’s kingdom is growing. No, the concern must be for the individual, for those whose faith was once vibrant and living which now through neglect or the cares of the world is burning low and in danger of burning out. At that point the exhortation of the writer of this letter comes into its own. Let us not give up meeting together.
Clearly if this is recorded in God’s word there is value and instruction in it, God the Holy Spirit knows the point and the benefit of Christians meeting regularly in fellowship and worship. Yes, perhaps we need to think critically about our approach to church and our attitude to one another bearing in mind the previous verse but there’s no getting away from it the church is for our good and God’s glory.
Hebrews 10 vs 24
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds,
In coming into a relationship with Jesus as Saviour we also come into a relationship with others in the body of Christ, the church. That’s why it is common and beneficial today to think of the church as a family. But like any family there are stresses and strains and complicated relationships to deal with. That said, at the end of the day we are still a family and the things that bind us in Christ ought to be stronger and deeper than the matters that mark the difference between us. A brother or sister is still all of that even when we disagree.
Here the author of the letter completes what is sometimes called the triad of faith; faith, hope and now love and it is love that must regulate and shape our relationships with one another. There are two words in this third “Let us...” statement that perhaps we can think about for a minute or two the first is “consider”. Too often we are a bit careless in our responsibility towards others and we leave them very much to their own devices as they seek to grow in faith and find their way to live a life worthy of Jesus. The author here calls us to give careful thought to how we can encourage one another on in love and good works. That means thinking first about the other person and the body of Christ as a whole. Part of that must be helping others to rise to their potential and their responsibilities in Christ; to exercise their gifts and the ministries which God has given them specifically.
The second word is a strong word, here it’s translated spur but it also has the sense of incite or provoke. We are used to thinking of these words negatively and we have still ringing in our ears the advice of our mums not to respond to provocation. I don’t know if that means we should be blunt with people but certainly we should be honest and passionate as we try to encourage others even if it means we hold one another to account. That might be painful at times but concern for one another should be the rule as we seek to drive forward love and good deeds in the family of the church. Perhaps there is a lesson in popular music and here’s a test, what year did the Hollies release this song.... “So on we go, his welfare is my concern, no burden is he to bear, we'll get there. But I know he would not encumber me he ain't heavy - he's my brother.” If that can happen in the world at large, if that concern can motivate and shape our attitudes without Christ how much more should those attitudes and that approach be developed in the family of God? The year (drum roll) was 1970. Hands up those who remember it in the charts first time round.
If it was ever claimed by the builders or the White Star Line that the ship was unsinkable that certainly seems to have been the view in the public perception and so in the popular movies we find passengers portrayed as sceptical when told to don their lifesavers and abandon ship. Well, if ever there was an example of misplaced faith...!
Having encouraged his readers to draw near to God in confidence on the basis of what Jesus has done the author continues in the second of his exhortations, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Let’s take hope first. When I was learning to take a compass bearing in the BB I was told to select a feature on the landscape that wasn’t going to move, the summit of a hill, the junction of a road or track rather than the tractor sitting in a field and work from that. That seems simple and sensible but so often in life we throw that to the wind and take our bearings from things that are constantly changing like public opinion, or the latest thinking, even from what is fashionable. How people think today has changed for how they thought a century ago, or how they will think in 50 years time.
Our hope, as those who believe in Jesus Christ, is not grounded on opinions or fashion but on the historical facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and on the promises of God. These do not and cannot change so that regardless of how we may feel on a given day or what others may say about the relevance of the church in society these truths are unchanging. Our hope doesn’t depend on whether we’re having a good day or whether as the church we’re affirmed by society or ignored. It is rooted in Jesus, in what the author has already said in verse 19-22 and in the whole of his letter. If Jesus is the same yesterday, and today and forever then hope which takes it’s bearings from him will be sure. God’s faithfulness is proved in this and in so much of the scripture and by our own experience.
In the light of that he says hold unswervingly to this hope. The word translated unswervingly is apparently common enough in Greek of the time but only occurs here in the New Testament so at least we can say that it was a word carefully and deliberately chosen by the author to drive home the point that we should not veer one inch from this hope for in the landscape of our lives he is the one unchanging feature. Think about that for a moment, despite that fact of our feelings and how we think things are going for us, up toady and down tomorrow, on fire for the Lord this week, burnt out next, he is not going to change or move. So, ignore feelings hold unswervingly to the hope you have in Jesus and set your course today in relation to him.
When darkness seems to veil His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. Edward Mote 1797-1874.
Well, from today those of us living in the Belfast City Council area have got to resume some form of social distancing even within our families. This is not lockdown as we knew it but in no way can it be seen as anything other than a step backwards. As we considered Genesis 3 in church yesterday we discovered how the greatest and most damaging effect of the fall was the alienation from God it brought to human kind. Genesis described this as being cast out of the garden. James however, writing in his letter (4:4) describes this state of friendship with the world order as enmity with God. In other words in that unrepentant condition we are God’s enemies.
The letter to the Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who for one reason or another are in danger of giving up, either entirely or by returning to a religion that proved barren in the past. So, having established the superiority of Jesus and the power of his gospel he writes the following in summary and to encourage people to rouse themselves to fresh faith....
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
There is enough in 19-23 for at least one sermon but this is not the occasion. The author sums up the change brought by Jesus; there is a way to God, a way to know peace with God through the blood of Jesus. Once separated from him by the curse of sin, Jesus, having settled the debt on our behalf has himself become the way to reconciliation with God.
That said it is verse 22 that sets our course this week as the first of five encouragements to actions by which this community can demonstrate and affirm its faith in Christ. All start with the words “let us”. In this case “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance....” . The way is open to engage with God fully in every aspect of life; in worship and prayer, to build on and deepen in their relationship with God the Father. There no need for pretence before God, to present themselves as anything other than they are. Their hearts and conscience have been made clean by Christ, a truth that cannot change and that permits an honest engagement with the Lord. That truth applies not only to the recipients of this letter in their day, but to all in every age who’s hearts have been made clean by Jesus Christ. Draw near to God with sincere hearts.