“We Rejoice in Hope” (Romans 5:1-8)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2011

“We Rejoice in Hope” (Romans 5:1-8)

How has your life changed, now that you have been justified? What is different about your life, now that you have been declared righteous? What are the effects, the results, the new situation in your life, because of justification? This is what St. Paul addresses in our text for today, the opening verses of Romans chapter 5. “We Rejoice in Hope,” Paul says. That’s one of the blessed effects of justification, but there’s a whole lot more here as well.

“One Thing Leads to Another,” you might call this passage, for in it Paul moves from the great fact of justification to one great effect after another. “Therefore,” Paul begins, “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.”

One thing leads to another. The word “therefore” is our tip-off. Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the New Testament, you should ask yourself, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” Answer: It’s there to make a connection between what precedes and what follows. In this case, what precedes is the doctrine of justification in chapters 3 and 4. What follows is Paul’s description of the life of the justified, the results of justification, starting here in chapter 5 and running really through the end of chapter 8. The “therefore” makes the link.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.” Here Paul is linking back to his section on justification that went from the middle of chapter 3 to the end of chapter 4. “Justification by faith” is what that section was all about. You and I, though guilty under the Law, have been declared not guilty, righteous, on account of Christ. The Law convicts us, condemns us, as sinners deserving of death. But Christ, the righteous one, steps forward and takes our death penalty for us. Thus justice is served and preserved, and God is indeed being a just judge when he acquits us, declares us not guilty, when he justifies us for the sake of Christ. This justification is based on what Christ has done, not on our works at all. We are justified by faith in Christ, trusting in his works, not our own. That, then, is justification, God’s great act of declaring us sinners righteous because of what Christ did for us on the cross.

So what difference does this make in our lives? What are the effects, the new reality? This is what Paul gets at now. Paul wants us to know what we Christians have now as a result of justification, all the blessings that are ours, so that we can live in this new reality. He writes: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Peace has broken out! Peace between God and us! The war is over, peace has been declared. No more conflict, no more wrath or hostility. God is at peace with us now through our Lord Jesus Christ. But biblically, peace is even more than the absence of war. More than the absence of a negative, it is the presence of a positive. “Peace” is the Greek word “eirene,” it’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” “Shalom,” wholeness, health, rest, well-being–all these are wrapped up in the biblical concept of “peace.”

That is where we are now with God, because we have been justified. Things are good. God’s face is smiling on you. As Aaron told the Israelites, and as you’ll hear later when that same Benediction is placed on you: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

So peace with God is the first benefit listed because of justification. And don’t overlook the key phrase, “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” All of these good things come to us through Christ. He is our mediator, our go-between. He is the reason for our justification, he is our righteousness, he is our peace. All good things come to us only “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” His person and work–his person as the Son of God come in the flesh, his work of dying for our sins and rising from the dead–Jesus Christ is the one who makes it all happen.

“Through him,” Paul goes on, “we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” One thing leads to another: Justification, then peace, now grace. “Access into this grace in which we now stand.” Having been justified, we now have open access into the presence of God, into his throne room. And there we are surrounded by grace. We stand in it, grace all around us. Grace, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” God is disposed to be kind and gracious toward us, to give us his gifts, freely for the sake of Christ. This means we can come before our Father with all our needs, and he will hear us, and give us what is best for us in that situation. “Let us then,” as Hebrews says, “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The chain of blessings continues: Through Christ we have access into this grace in which we stand, and “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Justification, peace, grace, now joy and hope. One thing leads to another. “We rejoice in hope.” We have something to look forward to, and that gives us joy. We have something to look forward to, again, because of justification. Christ has opened up our future for us. Death and damnation were the roadblock in front of us, but Jesus has broken through that obstacle by his righteousness and his resurrection. Eternal life, glorified bodies, a new creation, no more sin, fully knowing and loving God, being in loving community with all of God’s people–this is the glorious future we have to look forward to. This is the “hope of the glory of God,” as Paul says. And we have the hope of that glory to come in the here and now. It gives us something to hold on to, something we can be sure of. Not mere wishful thinking, but a sure and solid hope.

Having this hope gives us great joy. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We exult in it. We make our boast in it. We’re really pumped about this glorious future we have in Christ, we look forward to it, and we don’t mind telling people about it. It’s pretty excellent! It’s a pretty big deal! You know, there are some basketball teams this weekend that are doing a lot of exulting. They’re heading to the Final Four. Well, we’ve got something better than that. We’re heading to the Final Forever!

I know as I’ve gotten older–and now I’m 58, just past the average age that my mom and dad lived to–as my body feels the accumulated aches and pains acquired over the years, and when I think about approaching death, this “hope of the glory of God” calms my heart and actually puts a smile on my face. I was thinking about this just the other day, my mortality, and the hope of everlasting life honestly gave me joy. It is true what Paul says: “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

And even more so–and here is where justification has some truly surprising effects–for Paul goes on to say: “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.”

“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” OK, that I can understand. But to say, “We rejoice in our sufferings”? Well, that’s just a little bit crazy, Paul! How can you rejoice in sufferings? That’s what brings people down! That’s what we want to avoid! Although, it’s not like we’re supposed to go out looking for suffering. But when it happens–this is what Paul is saying–in the midst of sufferings, even in connection with our sufferings, we have cause for rejoicing. We can boast that our heavenly Father is still watching over us, that no ill can befall us except by permission of his fatherly hand, and we know that in and through the sufferings, God is doing something good for us and in us.

And here is where one thing leads to another: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Suffering, by definition, is bad stuff, things we don’t like to experience. But God will work something good out of it for us. It does teach us endurance, perseverance, the ability to bear up under duress. That’s a good thing, good for us and good for others who look to us for help or for an example. Endurance is a good thing, and it in turn leads to character. Endurance under suffering produces character in us–character, that tested quality of having been put through the fire and proven genuine. Your faith in Christ is the real deal when it comes through the ordeal and stands the test of time. Suffering, endurance, character. One thing leads to another. The fact that you can rejoice in this, as you’re going through it–this is a gift from God that is yours in Christ.

Suffering, endurance, character–but it doesn’t stop there: “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.” As your character acquires that tested quality, and the Holy Spirit has kept you in the Christian faith through those tribulations, your hope is strengthened. The Holy Spirit has brought you back, time and time again, to the love God has for us in sending us his Son. The Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts and renews our hope. And this hope does not put us to shame. It will not disappoint. We know that the substance of our hope is on the way, it’s a sure thing.

One thing leads to another. It starts with justification. Christ died for our sins, and God pronounces us righteous for his sake. Therefore, since we have been justified, we now have peace with God, we have access into his grace, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. We even rejoice in our suffering, knowing that it will produce in us endurance, character, and an even stronger hope. And we have the Holy Spirit, pouring God’s love into our hearts. All this, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends, these are the wonderful effects, the results, of justification. It changes our life now and forever. It’s what the “therefore” is there for.

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Published in: on March 26, 2011 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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