Peace & Hope
Date: 12 Jun 2016
Text: Romans 5:1-5
I had intended this morning to continue to look at Nehemiah by discussing his generosity. However, during Communion last week, it’s frequently during Communion, I had a word from the Lord that I should move on to look at some of the amazing things that Paul has to say in Romans 5 & 6. And so this morning I want to take a quick look at Romans 4 to set the scene and then begin a slightly more detailed look at the opening verses of Romans 5.
In Romans 4 Paul spends the whole chapter of this great letter explaining Abraham’s relationship with God. Abraham was a good man and always did what God asked him to do. However, just like the rest of us, Abraham was counted by God as a sinner; even he was not in a right position before God. Because of Adam’s actions in the Garden of Eden, we are all, from birth, regarded by God as sinners. As sinners we will all face God on that day of judgement no matter what we do, and at that time we will have to account for all that we did in our lives. Whether we like it or not, or think it is fair or not, unrepentant sinners will be condemned. We can however avoid being condemned by seeking God’s forgiveness, coming to faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ and being counted righteous in His eyes. That word righteous means that we have moved into a position of right living and right standing with God; consequently He no longer regards us as His enemies. Make no mistake, when the day of judgement comes we will all face God’s justice. If we have come to faith in Him through His Son Jesus Christ then we will be counted as just; God will regard us as having been justified; that is, we now have a standing that is acceptable to Him. Justification is the powerful act of God effecting a change in the relationship between us and Him, and having been justified we move into a new, right and faithful relationship with Him. We cannot change our initial relationship with Him; it is all down to God through Jesus Christ.
Abraham of course didn’t know Jesus as the Lord had yet to be born even though we know that He was there at the very beginning and, during Abraham’s life, was with His Father in heaven. That meant that Abraham couldn’t come to faith in Him and therefore be justified as a result of that faith. He could have worked hard and claimed righteousness in that way, although that would have enabled him to boast that he had earned his way into God’s good books; something that is total anathema to God. If we could earn our way into heaven then where would that leave God? The only way that we can enter heaven is through coming to faith and being counted as righteous in God’s eyes. That righteousness cannot be earned! If we work for someone we expect to be paid for our labour; the payment becomes an obligation on the employer. Thus, when we earn our money by hard work we may even boast about how much we have received. On that basis, Abraham could have worked hard for God and thereby earned his righteousness, something which would have allowed him to boast about his achievements. However, Genesis 15:6 tells us that “Abram [the original name for Abraham] believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Simply by believing God and trusting Him Abraham was counted as righteous in God’s eyes.
These gifts of forgiveness and subsequent righteousness come through faith alone and are given by the grace of God. Grace is another of those words that many people use without perhaps fully understanding what it means. In days gone by grace was regarded as an unmerited and unearned favour done out of the spontaneous generosity of the heart without the expectation of anything being done in return. Generally speaking grace was only extended towards a friend; it is not something that you would expect to do for an enemy. However, when we get to New Testament times, the definition of grace changes somewhat. In the New Testament grace moves forward to become the almighty favour that God did for us at Calvary; God did what He did for those who hated Him! Paul explains this further in Romans 3:24 and Ephesians 1:6 among others, by explaining that grace is a wholly generous act of God that is freely given to us in and through Jesus Christ. Not only that but we know from Romans 4:16 that it is given to both Jews and Gentiles equally and without distinction.
For us to be regarded as righteous in God’s eyes the price our sin has to be paid. We know from Romans 6:23 that, “the wages of sin is death”, meaning that the price to be paid is the shedding of the blood of a sacrifice. Jesus became that sacrifice for us and as we read in the final verse of Romans 4, “He [that is Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (4:25).
Abraham was righteous in God’s eyes through the grace of God. Now, having told us about Abraham, Paul moves on in Romans 5 to discuss our position before God. For those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, Paul reminds us that “we have been justified through faith” (5:1). We too have come into a right relationship with God and although we will still have to face Him on the day of judgement, we have already been found not guilty and been forgiven for our sins. All of that came about through the death of Jesus on the cross of Calvary where He shed His blood as the sacrifice needed to pay the price for those sins.
Notice though that 5:1 starts with the word, “Therefore”, and towards the end of 5:1 and the whole of 5:2 we see where that word leads us. Paul is saying that because we have been justified by faith we now have three specific things that we didn’t have before nor could ever receive without being justified by the death of Jesus.
Firstly, we have “peace with God” (5:1). What a wonderful thought! Previously, that is before we came to faith in Jesus Christ, we were sinners and God’s enemies. We were in a constantly hostile situation with Him and nothing that we could do would ever change that. Now, because Jesus paid the price and we have come to faith in Him, we have this amazing peace with God; we are no longer at loggerheads with Him and are happily accepted into His glorious family. Great though this is, we mustn’t confuse this peace with the peace that Paul refers to in Philippians 4:7 which is the “peace of God which transcends all understanding”. That peace is an inner peace that comes into our hearts and never leaves us; it comes purely as a result of God’s grace. The peace that Paul is talking about in 5:1 however signals the end of the enmity between ourselves and God and is a complete reversal of that hostile situation.
Secondly, we have now “gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:2). Prior to all this we had no access whatsoever to God or any of His gifts. As sinners we were not worthy to stand before Him except on that inglorious day of judgement. Now, as a result of our faith in Jesus we do have access, absolutely full and unhindered access both to God and His grace. When the Temple was built there was a great curtain that hung from ceiling to floor and separated the place of the holy of holies from the rest of the people; only the Priests were allowed to go into that place. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, Matthew tells us that, “... when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn into two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:50-51). We know from John 19:30 that Jesus had cried out, “It is finished”. As He died Jesus’ work was done, He had removed in one fell swoop the barrier that existed between God and His people; a barrier that was symbolised by that curtain that was now rent asunder. The access that Paul is referring to means that we are now able to stand face to face with God without the need for any intermediary. We receive daily gifts from Him, the constant and continued presence of the Holy Spirit and the strength to face whatever the world throws at us each day. I’ve no doubt that if you sit quietly and meditate on that thought you will recall all that God has done for you only because Jesus provided that access for us.
Thirdly, Paul tells us that “we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2). Previously in Romans 4 Paul had been suggesting that boasting was not good; now in 5:2 he is telling us that we are able to boast. This boasting though is different. We are not boasting about our achievements but about what God has done for us and will do for us now that we are part of His family. Because we have come to faith in Jesus Christ we have a lot to look forward to. The NLT puts this phrase slightly differently when it says, “we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory”. Isn’t that the truth? We now have peace with God and access to Him with all that that access brings, plus the ability to look forward to the joys to come as we share in His amazing glory. Praise the Lord, what a future to look forward to!
We can indeed look forward with hope and rejoicing in our hearts at what is to come; we need have no fears whatsoever about our future, it is safe in the hands of Jesus. That however, doesn’t tell the full story. The future is more than good, it is great but not without difficulties along the way. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that now we have come to faith in Jesus then every day will be filled with wine and roses; in fact, the Apostle Peter makes it clear in 1 Peter 3 that Christians will suffer for their faith. We see that suffering every day as we look around us here in the UK and around the world. Here in the UK we do have things relatively easy although people are still losing their jobs and being pilloried for demonstrating and sharing their faith in Jesus Christ. However, in other parts of the world Christians are murdered, tortured, deprived of any form of human rights, imprisoned at the drop of a hat or are stripped of their citizenship thereby making them stateless. God knows that all that is happening and yet here in 5:3 Paul tells us that “we also glory in our sufferings”. Do you glory in your sufferings or are they a heavy burden? I’m not altogether sure that I glory in my sufferings. We should though be able to glory in those sufferings because our hope and our future is in “the glory of God”.
Notice though that there are, perhaps amazingly, benefits that arise from our sufferings. Paul states that “suffering produces perseverance” (5:3b). Hopefully we do persevere. When we get knocked down we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. Many years ago when our children were very little we bought them a toy called Weebles. Their slogan was that Weebles wobble but don’t fall down! That is what Christian life is like; we may wobble from time to time but we don’t fall down, we persevere. We can do that because we have Jesus with us and the grace of God to sustain us. Paul goes on, “perseverance [produces] character” (5:4a). As we persevere we grow in personal and spiritual strength; we develop character and become stronger every day. I suspect that we also learn to rely more on the strength that only Jesus can provide to get us through those difficult times. But wait, there is even more; “character [produces] hope” (5:4b). This hope is not a simple hope that we might win the lottery or be promoted at work or move to a mansion in Barbados. Rather it is an assurance and a confidence of what is to come as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ. The NLT puts these two verses, 5:3-4, rather well when it says, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation”.
Finally, the hope, or confidence and assurance, that we have through our faith in Jesus brings no shame. We have nothing to be ashamed of, coming to faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest thing that we can do; what is there to be ashamed of? We have no need for shame “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us” (5:5). As soon as we come to faith in Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit. This gift doesn’t come later or need any extra action on our part; its receipt is immediate. As we receive the Holy Spirit our hearts are filled with love; love for Jesus, love for His world, love for His family and love for the lost. As I see it, this love is very closely associated with the peace of God that I referred to earlier and which Paul talks of in Philippians 4:7. It fills our hearts and removes all thoughts of sin, hatred, anxiety and all the other things that clog up our hearts and our thinking.
All of these things that I have talked about briefly are ours because we have been “justified through faith”. We cannot earn any of them; we do not deserve any of them; we cannot buy any of them. All of these things that Paul has talked of, “peace with God”, “access by faith” and “hope of the glory of God” are ours through the grace of God alone and nothing else. All we need to do is to come to faith in God’s Son Jesus Christ and all of this will be ours; free, gratis and for nothing! If you haven’t already done so, ask Jesus into your life and place your faith in Him. Then you will receive all this and God’s love will be poured into your heart.