We are living in very hostile times aren’t we? There seems to be conflict wherever you look with Civil Wars in a number of African countries, the so called Islamic State ‘fighters’ killing anyone who disagrees with them, politicians at each other’s throats more than ever, Muslim families leaving this country to go and fight with ISIS and more and more refugees and migrants seeking to come into our already overcrowded country. Wherever you look there seems to be very little peace.
Peace of a kind has existed in Europe since the end of the Second World War with the creation of NATO going a long way towards maintaining that peace. The year before that six year war started, the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, went to Munich for a meeting with Herr Hitler. He returned from that infamous meeting clutching a piece of paper that guaranteed “peace in our time”. That peace wasn’t worth the paper it was written on!
The peace that so many in the world would like to see is an ending of hostility between nation states and within nation states. I’m sure that the vast majority of people would like to see an end to the mindless killing and maiming, the pillaging and the ignoring of people’s right to hold different views. Personally I feel that such peace is utterly unattainable without intervention from God Himself. Feel free to disagree with me but I remain convinced that unless we seek God’s face and place our faith in Him through His Son Jesus Christ then we will never see the peace that the vast majority of the world craves.
I am sure that peace in the world will only come when we have peace with God, which is why I want us to take a brief look at what Paul has to say on the subject in Romans 5:1-4. This passage is about peace with God. It doesn’t discuss peace with Satan, peace with the world or peace with sin. It only talks about the most important type of peace: peace with God.
In the first four chapters of Romans, Paul has been exploring the absolutely necessity for believers to be justified by faith. He has explained in great detail in that long passage from Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20 that salvation may only be obtained by our being justified by faith through the grace of God. That word “justified” is a legal term meaning that we have been found not guilty before God our Judge. As sinners we have appeared in God’s court of law and because we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ God finds us not guilty and thereby we become justified as a result of our faith. Only when that has happened can we move on to think about other issues.
The only way to resolve this state of hostility between God and ourselves is by coming to faith in Jesus. It is this faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour forms the solid foundation of everything else that follows. Without faith we cannot have true peace, we cannot stand before God and we have no hope for the future. It is faith in Jesus Christ that brings three benefits that reverse those negative situations. Before taking that vital step of faith we were regarded by God as being unrighteous and not worthy of being in His presence. Once we come to faith through the grace of God, He regards us as being righteous and worthy members of His family.
Having come to faith we receive a number of major benefits that Paul outlines briefly in 5:1-4. These are benefits that cannot be cut; they are benefits that come directly and only from God and will remain ours for all eternity.
The first of these benefits comes in 5:1 where we read that we have “peace with God”. In the preamble to that thought Paul reminds us that, “since we have been justified through faith” then we have this peace. We cannot receive the peace that we so earnestly seek without complying with that vital prerequisite. This peace is a positive thing since it means that we can now live in an harmonious state with God rather than being in a constant state of hostility. This peace isn’t just a New Testament concept since the prophet Isaiah spoke of such a thing in Isaiah 32:17 where he said, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace”. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul talks of the fruits of the Spirit as being, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Note that those first three gifts are “love, joy and peace” which form three of the great Christian virtues and relate to our overall relationship with God. The peace that Paul talks of here is the deepest kind of peace that we can only experience in our loving relationship with God. Note though that these are fruits of the Spirit and only come when we have faith and have therefore received the Holy Spirit. It is that coming to faith that is the key to receiving these benefits and fruits and they cannot be obtained in any other way.
The peace that we now have in our new relationship with God is totally different to the peace that generally follows a period of war. Let’s face it that can frequently be a short-lived and meaningless peace whereas this peace that we now have is eternal and brings God’s protection. The people to whom Paul was writing would have been familiar with that concept since they lived under the widespread and well known Pax Romana which was enforced and maintained by the brutal power of the Roman state. It offered just about as much security for the people as was possible at the time. However, peace with God didn’t need enforcing in the same way because it was backed by the power of God a far greater power than the Roman state could ever muster.
Jesus promised that when He left us He would leave us with peace, a peace that was difficult to understand. When talking to His disciples one day, Jesus said this, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27). This peace comes from our having a living personal relationship with Jesus and in turn a close, loving relationship with God our Heavenly Father. This peace that is on offer comes at a price and it is a price that has been paid by Jesus shedding His blood on the cross at Calvary. That is quite some price to pay but He paid it because He loves us and wants us to with Him for all eternity. I will say again, and it is worth repeating, that that relationship only comes about through placing our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
It is worth noting that in that verse in John 14 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Paul says something similar in his letter to the Philippians when he writes about, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” and which will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). The peace that we have with God is difficult to understand and only comes from our having been reconciled with Him. It is a peace that I believe dwells within us, a peace that stills our hearts in times of trouble, and a peace that never leaves us.
The second benefit that comes from our new relationship with God comes in the form of our having access to Him. This only comes through the grace of God and is a gift that only God can bestow upon us. There are two thoughts to this access. Firstly, before we were reconciled to Him through placing our faith in Jesus, we were not able to come before Him in any way, shape or form. We were unrighteous and unworthy to be in His company. Now, as a result of the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross of Calvary we are able to come before Him, to bring Him our prayers, to be in His presence and to call Him “Abba, Father”. That is quite some privilege. Secondly, that access is direct; we have no need for an intermediary to act on our behalf. In the Temple there was a curtain that divided the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary. Only the Priests could go behind that curtain and enter into God’s presence. When Jesus died on the cross that curtain was torn in two from top to bottom; the divide between God and His people was removed and as a result all those of faith are able to come directly into His presence.
This great gift of access comes because our faith in Christ has brought us into the state of grace in which we now live. The grace that God bestows on us and enables us to come to faith is not a one-off process it is on-going and leads to our living in a constant state of grace. Paul goes on to remind us in 5:21 and 6:14-15 that as a result of our faith in Christ we are now “under grace”.
The third benefit that we receive through our faith in Jesus Christ is “hope”. I have spoken about this a few times over recent years and I make no apologies for discussing it again. Any football fan will tell you that they hope that their team will win their next match. Anyone who buys a Lottery ticket will hope that it is a winning ticket so that they can retire on the proceeds. Ambitious career minded people hope that their efforts will bring a salary increase or a promotion. Those are all too frequently unfounded or misguided hopes that are rarely if ever realised. That is not the type of hope that Paul is talking about here in 5:2.
This hope is a joyful and confident expectation of things to come. But, what is to come? That is a simple question to answer; the hope to come is our sharing in God’s glory. We will not be left on the sidelines; we will be there, sharing God’s glory with Him. The earlier versions of the NIV use the word “rejoice” when we contemplate the prospect of sharing in God’s glory, whereas the version of the NIV that we use has the word “boast” instead. That seems rather strange to me given that in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul warns against boasting except in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:28-31). He goes further in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 10:15-17). In both instances he quotes from the prophet Jeremiah who warns us against boasting unless we are boasting in the Lord. In Jeremiah 9:23-24 the prophet quotes the words of God when he writes, “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight”. Paul is so anxious about anyone boasting about their salvation that he felt moved to say to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). That great singer/songwriter Stuart Townend summed it up beautifully in his song “How deep the Father’s love for us” when he wrote in the third verse, “I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no pow’r, no wisdom; but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection”. I think Paul would have liked that!
Rather than boasting about this hope that we have we should rejoice in the glorious future that awaits us. The time will come when we will be able to stand in God’s presence and share in His radiant glory. Now that truly is a prospect worth hoping for and waiting for.
Sadly even in our new found state of living in God’s state of grace and having His peace within us; life isn’t always a bed of roses. Placing our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t mean that we are immunised from any further troubles in life, quite the opposite. Our infernal, ever present enemy will do his utmost to disturb us and attack us.
Just as we read in 5:2 that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God”, so we read in 5:3, “we also glory in our sufferings”. Yes, that is what Paul says, we should glory in our sufferings. We know that they will come our way as the enemy tries to destroy the peaceful and graceful state in which we now live. In recent months I have had more than one person say to me during private conversations that since a particular event in their lives nothing has gone right, everything seems to have gone wrong. The enemy is at work and he doesn’t like it when we turn our backs on him and turn to face God Who loves us, gives us His special peace and protects us.
Notice though what Paul goes on to say about these sufferings: “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope” (5:4). These sufferings whilst being painful do have a purpose. When we suffer we learn to persevere with life’s struggles knowing that God is with us all the way. That perseverance then leads to building up our character, a character that grows in strength through all that happens to us. And then, character leads to hope. We cannot get away from the hope that faith in Christ brings. Remember that earlier we saw that hope is a “joyful and confident expectation of things to come”. Our sufferings bring us back full circle to that glorious hope that we have in God’s loving care.
These opening four verses in Romans 5 contain powerful words, words that should inspire and help us in our daily walk with Christ. If we already know Him as Lord and Saviour then they remind us of all that is to come and all that is already ours through that faith. If we don’t already know Him then they give us a clue as to what could be ours if only we would come to faith and accept that Jesus Christ died on the cross of Calvary to pay for our sins in order that we can receive the “peace with God” that so many already enjoy.