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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/
 
Title:The Gospel that Changes Everything
Text:Romans 5:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-08-11
 

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, recently there was an excellent new book that arrived at our household. The book is written for Christian teens, and it’s called This Changes Everything. It’s about how the gospel of salvation transforms all of life—including the lives of teenagers—about how Christ gives a new purpose to every part of our existence and shapes it all for himself.

This Changes Everything—which is really how the Bible too, speaks of the immense impact that Christ can have and must have: “Put on the new man.” Scripture says. “Be transformed.” And, “You are a new creation.”

Today we’re going to look at a text which illustrates how life-changing the gospel really is. We are justified by faith in Christ—that’s where our text begins—but this simple reality has a world of implications. It means that we have peace with God. It means that we can rejoice in tribulations and hardships. It means our character is being transformed, and that also beyond this life we have a glorious hope: the hope of the glory of God.

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul works out some of the amazing effects of being saved through Christ. Now, in this letter, Paul is giving the Romans a preview of the gospel. He hadn’t yet visited the congregation in Rome, but he planned to do so in the near future. So before he gets there, he writes this letter in order to explain the main points of this life-changing message. 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” (5:1) which everyone knows should make us look backward. And when we look into the previous chapters, we see Paul carefully building his case for Christ.

To do so, he first had to expose the heart of the human predicament, drilling all the way down to sin and its harsh power. This ugly truth is well-known, found in 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You might be a Jew who has hypocritically broken the precepts of Moses, or you might be a Gentile who’s ignored the voice of your God-given conscience—either way, it makes no difference: God’s law convicts all. We’ve all tried to overthrow God from his rightful place, and to take charge ourselves. And that means trouble. Everyone deserves only condemnation as the wages for sin.

But Paul has good news. In chapter 3 he also started talking about a righteousness that is available through 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, He sees all our transgressions. He sees our quiet pride and our spirit of greed, our hidden lust and smoldering anger, our ingratitude and laziness. And together, it all cries out for punishment. God the Judge says that our sin must be dealt with, and severely.

And that’s not because God is some intolerant or impatient deity. Everyone—even sinful people—know that justice must be done. Think of when there’s a terrible crime committed today and reported in the media; people will say, “We want justice!” We all know it’s only right that offenses be punished. And we will be punished, bearing a just and terrible weight, unless we can be justified before God and all those damning sins can be removed.

This is what God has done. In abounding grace, God makes this declaration, “Dear sinner, now you are right with me. You might’ve been a thief and a murderer and an unbeliever, but now there’s nothing about you that offends my holiness or invites my wrath. My child, I forgive you, so it’s like you’ve never sinned. You’re perfect to me.” And God just has to say it once, and it’s enough.

But the only way that God can do this is by someone taking our place in the judgment. 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.” He died for his enemies, for the very ones who hated him. Now, that’s the last thing we would feel like doing for people who treated us poorly, but Christ was willing.

And so God humbled him, and had him crucified, cursed and forsaken. In this costly way, Jesus made it possible for our Judge to grant us complete forgiveness. This is the gospel, the power of God for the salvation of all who believe! (Rom 1:17).

And there’s only one way to share in this power: we need to be connected to Christ, joined to him by faith. Such faith is more than just the bare knowledge of facts and verses, but it’s a matter of personal confidence, when we say, “O God, I know about you, and I trust in you. Father, with all my heart I depend on your grace in Christ. It’s all I have—it’s all I need.” Believing sinners are justified in the sight of God.

We need faith, yet our struggle is that faith can seem so abstract. What does faith really look like? Who can actually say for certain that he believes? This is why Paul in chapter 4 points to Abraham, so that we can see faith in action.

Now, quite a few people in the Roman church were Jews. To them, Abraham was a great hero and example because of his obedience to God. Think of how he always listened to God, how he was even willing to offer up his only son Isaac. But Paul wants the Jews to know that Abraham was accepted by 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). When God gave to Abraham his promises—a rich and prosperous land, countless descendants, and world-wide blessing—he could’ve laughed, he could’ve said it was an insult to his intelligence. But Abraham believed: he accepted God’s Word.

For Abraham, that came before anything else. Before circumcision and before sacrifice and obedience, there was faith! And because of it, God considered Abraham righteous. The Almighty God accepted him into loving fellowship. And he hadn’t done a thing to earn it.

The Roman Jews had to remember that salvation is 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, trying to help themselves, he’s the father of all who simply and resolutely trust that God will do it.

Think again of how Abraham had to trust in God. There were probably days when he had to wonder: “How can God possibly fulfill his Word? How can God ever keep the promise of a son, let alone a land and a people?”

Maybe we’ve had similar thoughts: “How can God possibly make this bad situation better? Or how can the Lord ever forgive me? Or can He actually make this hardship work for my good?” We can be so stuck in our trouble, so down and discouraged, that we’re sure that for the first time in history, God is about to be proven wrong and his Word is going to fail. But God keeps his Word. He is faithful, so that we can rest in him.

So now Paul talks about what comes after faith. It’s this, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 1). Today when two nations agree to stop fighting, we call that peace and we hope it lasts. And there’s not a person alive who doesn’t look for peace. Just like everyone wants a place called home, a place where you’re truly accepted and where things are well. But true peace is more than being calm and comfortable. It’s having your sins forgiven, and enjoying God’s lovingkindness forever.

 It’s the change from deep hostility on account of sin to loving fellowship for Christ’s sake. Someone once said that God is “either the worst enemy or He is the best friend”—because either we tremble beneath God’s holy wrath, or we stand within his loving embrace. Through Christ we have peace with God.

Beloved, when you have this kind of peace, it changes everything. For by faith in Christ, we can live in loving communion with God. We can speak with him, and listen to him, and lay our lives before him. Through Christ, says Paul, “we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v 2). We have access—even access to God himself, where we can be completely at home with him!

And in his grace, we “stand.” That word “stand” is chosen on purpose. Say you’ve got a  tree in your backyard, and a mighty windstorm blows through, the kind that takes off shingles and brings down powerlines. If the tree is still standing afterward, you know that it’s strong and not going anywhere. In like manner, our position before God is not precarious or uncertain, it’s permanent and secure. We stand in his grace!

God’s grace doesn’t just bring us into his family, it keeps us there. For our entire life, we can stand in his grace, calm and serene and content. We can face every uncertainty, and all our guilt, and all tribulation, with an abiding peace.

 

2) our surprising glory in tribulation: Maybe someone misunderstands Paul’s words. Does all this talk of peace mean that when we believe, everything is well with the world and with our life? Does believing in Christ mean that we’re protected from trouble?          

Of course not. In our lives there is illness and death, temptation and spiritual warfare and persecution. There are still broken marriages and rebellious children and financial stress. Tribulation abounds, and it also visits faithful Christians. Paul knew that, of course; later in Romans he speaks about how all creation is subject to decay: there’s distress, famine, perils, and the sword.

So the question is always what we do with our troubles. How do we make sense of the ongoing hardships? 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 these groans every day. But our present difficulties don’t diminish for one second the blessing of being forgiven in Christ. Nothing is strong enough to overcome the power of God’s love! In fact, God can use these things to confirm us in our salvation, to solidify our faith in him.” The gospel changes even this—even our suffering!

This is the surprise in verse 3, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations.” The Spirit says literally that we boast in these things! We count it all joy when we suffer afflictions and trials. In verse 3 the Greek word for “tribulation” means something like manual pressure. It’s like if you put a fresh orange in your hand and you squeeze it tightly, until the juice starts flowing. That’s exactly what sickness and bereavement and anxiety can feel like. There can be a pressure, a constricting of our life, a heaviness that doesn’t go away.

Yet we can learn to glory in this, because God has said that this kind of suffering has a great value. God has justified us in Christ—that reality cannot be changed—but God’s not done with us, for He wants to shape and renew us. So the Spirit speaks about entering the school of sanctified suffering. It’s a school with a whole curriculum to be learned.

It begins like this, “Tribulation produces perseverance” (v 3). Going through a trial can slowly extend our ability to be patient, and it can fortify our commitment. Compare it to weight training: if you apply resistance to a muscle, it can be uncomfortable, even painful, but in the end it makes that muscle stronger and you can use it longer.

And how does it? When we’re in financial trouble, or we have anxiety about our kids, or going through a period of miserable health, God is giving us an opportunity to depend on him even more. Hardship has a way of clarifying things for us, reducing things down to what is most important. In times like these, we’re meant to ask, “What’s really essential in my life? What do I really look to for my confidence? How am I going to get through this?”

You might say that God is squeezing us—squeezing us empty of things like our pride, our trust in other people, our security in stuff. God might even keep the pressure on until we learn that in ourselves, we have nothing, until we realize that we are empty. As we go through affliction and distress, by his grace we become more reliant on him who is our Father in Christ. In him we persevere!

Which is why the Spirit says that “perseverance [produces] character” (v 4). Sometimes we say a house or a car has a lot of “character,” when there’s an intangible quality that makes it likable or unique. But when the Bible talks about character, it means the quality of something that has been put to the test. The Greek word describes metals that are put through intense fire. The imperfections are burned off, the elements are refined, and there’s a new glow because it has been refined.

Listen to what Peter writes about this in his first letter, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:6-7).

That is God’s intent for our testing, that it would improve our faith. Because even as we’re going through it, we might be learning to pray more earnestly. We’re growing in our knowledge of the Word. We’re gaining appreciation for Christian fellowship, for the bond of faith. In fact, you can sometimes recognize a believer who has gone through deep suffering. There’s a steady “glow” about them: there’s a maturity, a peacefulness no matter what happens.

And this kind of “character [produces] hope” (v 4). We’ll say more about hope in a moment; for now, we see how God can use tribulation to shift our gaze away from this life. For all of life’s blessings, for all of its good things and wonderful people, hardship teaches that this life is only temporary. God teaches us that there’s something more—a better hope.

“Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That’s a lot of good out of suffering. This helps us understand how Paul can put it so boldly: in suffering we boast. There’s so much sanctifying benefit to suffering, so much spiritual growth that happens through it, that believers should get real: of course, God will make sure that suffering comes! We need it.

We still wish that it wasn’t so. We may think that unlike so many other people, we can mature in the faith without suffering or pain. But that’s simply not how it works. So the Bible always assumes the presence of trouble in the lives of believers, even says that our life is incomplete without it.

As Paul says in Romans 8, God wants to “conform us to the image of his Son” (v 29). Beloved, if you are experiencing tribulations today, take heart, and know that God has a good and gracious purpose: He wants to draw you closer to himself, to keep changing you to the image of Christ. And if you’re not experiencing much hardship today, then know that they’re sure to come. They will come, because God loves you.

Whatever the case, we should know 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. So we should think about it: what do we do with our tribulations? Where do you go with your sorrows? Beloved, if you’re burdened by many cares, are you still trying to carry on by yourself? Are you still trying to cope with trials in worldly ways, escaping them through distraction, drowning them out with pleasure, getting angry, shutting down help from other people? Or are we enduring these things in a humble, childlike spirit? Seek the Father in your tribulation, and hold onto hope.

 

3) our sure hope in God’s love: There’s a great difference between worldly hope and godly hope. When people speak of hope today, it’s mostly a passing wish, with an element of uncertainty, “I really hope that 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 how he puts it. We don’t just hope for heaven and a happier place. “We hope for the glory of God”—we hope for nothing less than this: to be in his presence.

To grasp what a miracle this is, 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 his glory! We have access. For God is bringing us back to himself. When we live by faith, we’re on a path that leads directly to glory.

How can we be so sure? How do we know that it’s not just wishful thinking? In this world, there’s a lot of disappointed hopes and failed expectations. Maybe there are things in your own life that have proved sadly unreliable. 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.”

Hope in Christ does not disappoint, because contrary to anything we deserved, God has set his sovereign love upon us. And God doesn’t share his love in tiny measure: says Paul, “He pours it out into our hearts!” God gives a firm confidence so we know beyond any 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, it 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.

Today we might be sitting quietly in church but groaning on the inside. Today we might be wondering why the Christian life isn’t nearly as good as we once thought. But listen to what the Spirit 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). “Present trials” and “future glory”—they’re not even worth comparing. For we do have hope—we have an unseen hope, a true hope, a firm hope, a hope that will not disappoint. For it is ours in Christ!  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 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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