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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
 www.londoncanrc.org
 
Title:Justified by Faith, Saved for Life
Text:Romans 5:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-08-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 138:1,2                                                                                          

Ps 119:11,12

Reading – Genesis 15:1-6; Romans 4:1-5:11

Ps 85:1,2,3,4

Sermon – Romans 5:1-5

Hy 35:1,2,4

Hy 64:1,2
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


            Beloved in Christ, what would you do if you were the apostle Paul? Say you’re somewhere in Asia Minor, busy every day spreading the gospel: preaching, debating, and baptizing. It’s beautiful work, but the problem is, you’ve been doing this for twenty years and you’ve left behind a long trail of dozens of churches. Some in Greece, others in Macedonia, and Palestine, and who-knows-where-else. And all these new congregations need care and support. Some have struggles over leadership, others are dealing with false teaching, or are getting sucked back into worldliness. Other churches are doing OK, but need to be built up in the faith.

            What would you do, if you were Paul? You could drop in and visit, of course. Transportation’s pretty good around the Mediterranean, but it all takes time. And the winter months are a bad time for sailing—a couple shipwrecks have taught you as much! It’s also hard to travel if you’re stuck in jail, like Paul was, sometimes for years at a time.

            So how would help pastor all these churches? How could you keep bringing Christ’s Word to his people, flung far and wide? Well, if you were Paul, and it was the 1st century (not the 21st), you’d sit down and write a letter. That’s what Paul did, writing to address the local situation of the churches: whether heresy in Ephesus, immorality in Corinth, or persecution elsewhere. From his hand we have 13 letters, and he probably wrote a few more.

            Today we look at his letter to the church of Rome. And though we just said Paul typically wrote to churches that he’d established by his preaching, Rome wasn’t one of them. He’d been to a lot of places, but not here. From the letter it’s obvious Paul still knows a thing or two about this congregation: in chapter 16, he greets a whole bunch of them by name. He also understands that it’s a diverse group: made up of Jews and Gentiles, some weak in the faith, some strong. The thing was, Paul planned to go to Rome soon—and he wanted to give the church a preview of what he calls “his” gospel. So he writes this letter, carefully explaining the main points of the faith; it’s almost like a catechism, “the things they need to know.”

            Because his letter is so “theological,” it can be challenging to read. Yet in Romans we get to hear a wonderful, tightly-logical, yet passionate presentation of the gospel. Focusing on 5:1-5, I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

            We are justified by faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

1)     our steadfast peace in Christ

2)     our surprising glory in tribulation

3)     our sure hope in God’s love

 
1)     our steadfast peace in Christ: Our text begins with a “therefore,” which everyone knows should make us look backward. And when we look into the chapters previous, we see Paul building his case for Christ. To do so, he first had to expose the problem—“hit the rock bottom” of sin. The diagnosis of mankind is well-known, found in 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Whether you’re a Jew who’s hypocritically broken the precepts of Moses, or you’re a Gentile who’s ignored the voice of your God-given conscience, it makes no difference: the law convicts all. We’ve all tried to topple God from his rightful place, and to take the throne ourselves. Why, we still do that! And that means trouble. Everyone deserves only condemnation as the wages for sin.

But Paul’s got good news. In chapter 3 he started talking about a righteousness in Jesus Christ. In him, Paul said in 3:24, we can be “justified freely by his grace.” That word “justified” is one of the keys that unlocks the whole letter. It’s in our text too, “Therefore, having been justified by faith…” (5:1).

It’s a word that lets us look at things from the LORD’s perspective. As the Maker of all things, God is supreme Judge. And from his vantage point, the only thing He sees is our transgression. He sees our pride. He sees our false worship. He sees our greed and lust and anger. He sees our ingratitude and laziness and discontentment. He sees our unkindness and jealousy and gossip. Together, it cries out for punishment. Just like when there’s a heinous crime today, people say, “Give us justice!” And we’ll get it, all right. Unless we can be justified before God—unless all those damning sins can be removed.

And this is exactly what God has done! In his abounding grace, God looks at us and makes that declaration, “Sinner, now you’re right with me. You might’ve been a thief and a murder and an unbeliever, but now there’s nothing about you that offends my holiness or incurs my wrath. My child, I forgive you, so it’s like you’d never sinned.” And God just has to say it once, and it’s enough.

            But the only way God could do this, is if someone could take our place in the judgment. We needed a stand-in. That person, we read in 5:1, is “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul says more about him in verse 6, “When we were still without strength… Christ died for the ungodly.” You wouldn’t think He’d be willing—why should someone die for their enemies? But He was willing. So God humbled him, and He made sure his Son was crucified: a death with a curse. In this way, Jesus made it possible for God our Judge to show us great mercy, “the complete forgiveness of all our sins.” This is the gospel, the power of God to salvation! (Rom 1:17).

Only to share in the life that Christ is giving, we need to be connected to him, united by faith. It’s much more than saying, “I believe there’s a God.” Anyone can say that. But faith is also a matter of personal confidence, when we say, “I know about you, and I trust in you, O God. I depend on your grace, LORD, with all my heart. It’s all I have.”

It’s true, faith sometimes seems like an abstract thing. Who can say for certain that he believes? But Paul in chapter 4 pointed to Abraham, so we can see faith in action. Remember that a good number in the Roman church were Jews, who would’ve held the patriarch in high esteem for his constant obedience to God. But Paul wanted them to understand that Abraham had a right standing with the LORD for one reason, one reason alone: his faith.

Paul reminds them of Genesis 15, “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (4:3). For when God gave to Abraham his promises, he could’ve laughed, or he could’ve shrugged and walked away. But he believed. For Abraham, that came before anything else, before circumcision and before sacrifice. What came first was faith! And because of it, Abraham was considered righteous: Almighty God accepted this lowly sinner into fellowship. He hadn’t done a thing to earn it.

The Roman Jews had to remember that: salvation’s never by keeping the law. The Gentiles had to understand that, too. As Paul writes, “[Abraham] is the father of us all” (4:16). He’s the father of all who give up trying to save themselves, or help themselves, who simply and resolutely trust that God will do it.

Think how Abraham had to trust in God. There were days he had to wonder: “How could God possibly fulfill his Word, even to two wrinkled old, senior citizens like us? How can God keep that promise of a son, let alone of a land and people?” Sometimes we start thinking along the same lines: “How could God possibly turn this around? Or will the Lord really forgive me? Or can He actually make this hardship for my good?” We can be so stuck in our trouble, we’re sure that for the first time in history, God’s about to be proven wrong. But God keeps his word. He lets us rest in him. He’s worthy of our trust.

So now Paul talks about what comes next. It’s this, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 1). Today when two nations agree to walk away from the battlefield, licking their wounds, we call that peace and hope it lasts. But the “peace” Paul means is far deeper. It’s the “shalom” of the Old Testament, it’s that change from outright animosity on account of sin to loving friendship in every way. Someone once said that God is “either the worst enemy or He is the best friend”—because either we cower under his holy wrath, or we stand within his loving embrace. Through Christ we are reconciled, and we have peace.

            You know that people can spend their whole life looking to find “peace” within themselves. We might say we’re at peace too, when we’re finally feeling calm and serene and we don’t see any trouble on the horizon. But true peace is more. It’s having your sins forgiven, God’s favour restored. When you have that, you have the one thing you really need! In fact, it’s the only way peace is possible. We’ll never find peace apart from coming to terms with God our Creator and Judge.

But then when we’re justified by faith, we may freely have access to this God. We can walk with him. We can make requests of him. We can lay our lives before him. Just compare it those with “access to the President” or prime minister—those people allowed to be in his inner circle and speak to him freely. To know someone so powerful is a great privilege. But this is so much better. Through Christ, says Paul, “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v 2). God’s brought us back to himself.

And in his grace, we “stand.” That word “stand” is chosen on purpose. Because if that tree’s still standing in your backyard after a storm blows through, you know it’s strong. It’s rooted, not going anywhere. So for our position before God: it’s no longer precarious or uncertain, it’s permanent and secure. We stand in grace! God’s grace doesn’t just bring us into his family, it keeps us there. Even when—as Paul says in chapter 7—we still commit the sins that we hate to do, and when we fail to practice the good we want to do. Even then, we stand in grace. No, if you have peace with God through Christ, then you can be calm and serene! You can face every uncertainty, and all your guilt, and all tribulation, with an abiding calmness—because we know: things are right between God and us!

2)     our surprising glory in tribulation: Someone might misunderstand Paul. Does all this talk of peace mean that after being justified by faith, suddenly all is well again with the world and our life? That we’re home free? If you’re at all aware of what’s going on, you can’t deny that there are things like cancer and depression, temptation and spiritual warfare, persecution and broken marriages and rebellious children. Tribulation abounds, and it comes upon faithful Christians too! And Paul knew that; later he speaks of how creation is subject to decay: there’s tribulation, distress, famine, perils and the sword. As an apostle, Paul himself went through the very worst of times.

So the question is always what we do with these troubles. How do we justified sinners make sense of the hardships that still confront us? Paul’s answer, in short, is this: “I know that Christians will continue to suffer. I know that creation is groaning, and we are groaning. I hear it every day. But our present difficulties don’t contradict for one second the wonderful blessing of being forgiven in Christ. In fact, God can use these things to confirm us in our salvation. He can use them to strengthen us in our faith in him.”

This is the surprise we uncover in verse 3, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations.” Literally, we boast in these things! Paul uses a word for “tribulation” that means something like manual pressure, like the intense squeezing of olives to force out the oil. That’s exactly what sickness and bereavement and hostility and discouragement can feel like, can’t it? A constant pressure, a constricting of life, a heaviness that doesn’t go away. It’s like we’re not able to breathe as deeply, not feeling so free as we once did. We’re being squeezed.

            Yet in this we glory, because this kind of suffering isn’t without value. God has justified us in Christ—that can’t be changed—but God’s not done with us yet. Now He wants to shape and renew us. So Paul speaks about entering the school of sanctified suffering, a school with a whole curriculum to be learned.

It begins like this, “Tribulation produces perseverance” (v 3). Going through trial can extend our ability to be patient, it can fortify our resolve in the Spirit. Compare it to weight training: applying resistance to a muscle can be uncomfortable, even painful, but in the end it makes that muscle stronger and you can use it longer. Or compare it to anything you need to work at, like practicing piano. Doing your scales and repeating your songs isn’t enjoyable, but through it you learn how to play with more precision and passion. It’s a virtuous cycle: the very endurance we need for hardship gets produced by hardship!

And how does it? When in our trouble, our anxiety, our misery, we learn to depend on God even more. Because a time of hardship has a way of clarifying things for us, so sharply. In times like these, God desires that we ask, “What’s really important in my life? What do I really look to for my confidence? How will I get through this?” You might say God’s squeezing us—squeezing us empty us of things like our pride, or our trust in other people, or our security in stuff. He keeps the pressure on, ‘till we learn that in ourselves, we have nothing and we can’t be confident in ourselves.

And ironically, it’s when we’re empty that we’re most ready to persevere. Because it’s not just our inner strength, our own ability to keep calm and carry on. Perseverance is coming through affliction and distress, carried by the arms of God—reliant on him who’s become our Father in Christ. We’re patient, because we’ve learned that his timing is always best.

            Which is why “perseverance [produces] character” (v 4). Sometimes we say a house or a car has a lot of “character,” some kind of intangible quality that makes it likable or unique. Well, when the Bible talks about character, it means the quality of someone who’s been put to the test—tested and also approved! The Greek word here often describes metals that have been put through the fire to determine their purity. The imperfections are burned off, the elements are refined: there’s a new glow because it’s been refined.

            That’s how it so often is for testing: it improves us. Because even as we’re going through it, we’re learning to pray more earnestly. We’re growing in our knowledge of the Word. We’re gaining an appreciation for Christian fellowship, for the bond of faith. Why, you can often recognize a believer who’s gone through suffering, and come out by God’s strength. Like a refined metal, there’s a “glow” about them: there’s a maturity, an air of victory. Peter writes about this in his first letter, “For a little while… you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Christ” (1:6-7).

That last phrase reminds us what it’s all for. For this “character [produces] hope” (v 4). We’ll say more about hope in a moment; for now, we see how God can use tribulation to direct our gaze away from this life. For all of its blessings, we learn that this life’s only temporary. God has taught us that there has to be something more—a better hope. We learn to look past this life, toward what’s yet to come.

“Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That pattern helps us understand how Paul can put it so boldly: in suffering we boast. It’s not that we take a perverse delight in going through hard times. Nor do we forget that the sufferings we face are still evil things—disease and loss and death and rejection weren’t part of God’s original creation. God has promised to destroy these things one day, and wipe away every tear they’ve ever caused. We don’t look forward to tribulation, nor seek it out. But if there’s so much benefit to suffering, the believer should get real: the suffering will come!

We might wish it were not so. We may even think that unlike so many others, we can mature in the faith just fine without a bit of suffering or pain. But that’s simply not how it works. The New Testament assumes the presence of trouble. Jesus promised it, and Paul affirmed it, and God knows we need it. For we know we’re too easily settled down in this world. We know we’re prone to lose our fervor for God and his work, and our tendency is always to set up idols somewhere else. So God sends tribulation.

In Hebrews it says that like a father, God disciplines his children. And He does it, exactly because He loves us in Christ. Just like when kids are disciplined by Mom and Dad, smacked on the bottom or sent to their room, it doesn’t seem pleasant at the time—not at all, right kids? But it’s for a purpose, to train and correct. So even surrounded by trouble, we know that it’s by loving design. We’ve become God’s possession in Christ, we live by faith, and now He wants us to develop in the faith and bring us yet closer to him. As Paul says in chapter 8, God wants to “conform us to the image of his Son” (v 29).

If today you’re experiencing tribulations then, know that God has a good and gracious purpose in these: to draw you closer to himself, and bring glory to his Name. And if you’re not experiencing hardship today, then know that they’re sure to come. Because God loves you.

Whatever the case, know also that the curriculum of suffering isn’t learned automatically. You can suffer an awful lot, and not be any better at the end of it. “Not better, only bitter,” as they say. No, suffering calls us to a right response. What do you do with your tribulations? Where do you go with your sorrows? If you’re burdened by cares, are you still trying to carry on by yourself, with your own strength? Are you still trying to cope with trials in worldly ways? Or are we enduring these things in a humble, childlike spirit? Are we seeking the Father? Are we holding onto our hope?

 
3)     our sure hope in God’s love: There’s such a great difference between a worldly hope, and a godly hope. When people speak of hope today, it’s little more than a passing wish, with an element of real uncertainty, “I really hope things get better soon.” You hope that it does, but you have no idea if it will. Christian hope is very different, because it’s fastened securely to God.

            Paul speaks of this in verse 2: “[We] rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” See again how he puts it. We don’t just hope for heaven. We don’t just hope for salvation. We hope for the glory of God—that is to say, we hope for nothing less than to be in his awesome presence. To grasp what a miracle this is, we need only think of where we were before. In chapter 3, Paul said we’d fallen short of God’s glory, and our only expectation was death. But when we’re justified in Christ, we don’t fall short of God’s glory anymore, we enter into it! We have access. Remember, that’s what God is doing when He saves us: He’s bringing us back to himself. When we live by faith, we’ve come onto a path that leads directly into glory.

And how can we be so sure, that it’s not just wishful thinking? There can be a lot of disappointed hopes in this world, failed expectations. Maybe there’s been things in your own life that have proved unreliable, and left you with empty hands. But Paul ends in verse 5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Christian hope does not disappoint, because contrary to anything we deserved, God has set his sovereign love upon us. And God doesn’t mete out his love for us in tiny measure: says Paul, “He pours it out into our hearts!” Through the Holy Spirit, God works in us a firm confidence, so we know beyond any question of a doubt that He’s going to bring us to glory. We know He’ll be near us. We know He’ll bless us. We even know, as Paul says in 8:28, that “all things will work together for good for those who love God.”

We’re sure of it. That’s how strong and deep and true the gospel is, that nothing can separate us from his love in Christ. Not life or death, not things present nor things to come, not height nor depth, nor any other created thing.

Right now, it might be hard. Right now, we might be groaning, or we might just feel that the Christian life isn’t always as good as advertised. But Paul says in chapter 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed” (v 18). “The glory that shall be revealed” means we do have hope—an unseen hope, a true hope, a firm hope.

So we close with Paul’s prayer for these Romans in chapter 15, Christians he’d never met but those whom he loved and longed for. There the apostle prays for them, and for us, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13). Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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