Romans: Standing in the Fire

Welcome to Journey Church.  This morning we are continuing our brief study on the book of Romans.  Romans was actually a letter written by one of the leaders in the early church named Paul.  After encountering Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, Paul actually becomes a follower of Jesus.  And he became a church planter.

Wherever he went he started churches, and so when troubles arose inside of a church Paul would often write letters to them and instruct them – hey – here’s how to handle this situation and that situation…  and eventually these letters were collected, copied and disbursed to nearby churches.  Eventually these letters, along with a number of other letters written by people like John and Peter and James, were collected and they became what we call the New Testament.

Paul wrote this letter to the church that met in Rome in about 58ad.  And it’s a church that has sprung up without much theological training.  Paul didn’t start this church, it sprung up from people who had heard about Jesus as they traveled – and so it was a young and theologically immature church.  They had much to learn.

Which is why Paul’s letter to the Romans is so long and complex.  He is jamming into this letter the issues that he would normally preach about for weeks on weeks.

So he begins his letter by address who Jesus is.  That Jesus is God in the flesh.  Practically the first thing he writes – “I am called to be a messenger of the good news of Jesus, who was both fully God and fully man.”

Why did God become a human being?  Well, as we learned in week 2 – humanity was in deep trouble.  It didn’t matter if you were a heathen, or a hedonist or a hypocrite or a Hebrew – all of humanity’s collective goose is cooked – we all have sinned and, unless God intervened – stood condemned for our rebellion.  That’s Romans 1,2, and first part of 3.

Then, naturally, Paul answers the question, how then is one made right with God?  Last week we learned that the good news is that we can be rescued – we are saved – by grace through faith in Jesus.  This one sentence is the heart of the heart of Christianity.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.

And we took a closer look at the components of salvation, we looked under the hood, so to speak and we learned about this word that Paul uses quite a bit when he speaks of the process of being made right with God – that will come up again quite a few more times- he uses the word about a dozen times in the book of Romans alone –  The word is Justification.  And we used this illustration:

——Cleansed——- ———–Clothed———–

This doctrine – of justification by grace through faith in Jesus, makes Christianity stand out as different from every other religion on the face of the earth.  Every other religion wants to inform you about what you need to do in order to put plus marks in your circle.  What you need to do to present to God a record good enough to be accepted.

Christianity gives you the perfect record – Jesus hands it over to you freely.  It’s all yours.  Jesus paid the price on the cross.  He ate the penalty for us.  He paid the debt.  He clothes us with his own rightness and goodness.

The essence of sin is us substituting ourselves for God.  The essence of salvation is – God substituting himself for us.  There is a divine swapping of places.  We took what belonged to him when we decided to do things our way.  God took what belonged to us when he went to the cross.  He went there willingly in order to provide for us a cleansing and a clothing and a restored relationship with God.  Salvation – by grace, through faith in Jesus.

So now we come to today’s section of Romans 5, and the question Paul answers next is, “So What?”  One may ask.  You skeptics out there.  So what?  Well Paul anticipates your question and so here in Chapter 5 he begins to explain what this all means to people like you and me. Today, in this kind of world.  What difference does it make?

Let’s read the entire section that we will study today and then we can come back to study certain pieces of if.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

Therefore:  An old adage of understanding the bible is that whenever you se the word therefore, you want to ask yourself what it’s there for.  So this is Paul’s way of saying – I said all that to say this.  Since we are saved by grace through faith.  Since we have moved from negative to positive standing with God…  since it’s all gloriously true…  it leads practically to three things…

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…

  • We have peace with God. (v.1)
  • We have Hope. (v.2)
  • We have joy. (v.3)

Peace!  Now this word has two meanings right?  Objectively, we have peace.  There is an end to hostilities!  There are two great spiritual battles that followers of Jesus wage.  The first battle is the battle over who is God of my life.  Who will rule my tiny little kingdom – or queendom?  Who will rule it?

When we by grace, through faith, think highly enough of Jesus – we will rush to relinquish our title.  Frankly, when we realize the tremendous offer that is ours – to be embraced into the kingdom of light and love by a God humble enough and loving enough to die for us – once the lights turn on for us spiritually, we will rush to surrender our lives.  We will gladly surrender.  Even renounce our former government of self.   We joyfully surrender to this kind of King.

At that point, what Paul is teaching us – is that the war is over – peace ensues between us and God.  (He will soon teach us, in just a couple of chapters from now – about the second battle we wage – which is the life long battle against the old part of us who has been banished from the throne – the bible calls it the flesh – that wants to usurp God’s reign in us and put self back in charge.  That’s chapter 7 – but for now Paul addresses the first war – which is over.  Objective peace with God through faith in Jesus.

Even better news is that this peace with God is not only objective – it’s subjective.  We feel it.  We feel peace – even in this kind of world.

It’s touching to see how Jesus desires for us to feel peace.  Did you know that it is God desire to turn us into people who experience peace – that quiet confidence that even when life is not peaceful – I need not fear.  Because I am confident that God knows what he is doing.

Jesus says in John 14 – don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Why does he say it?  He knows how easily a heart can be shaken.  And it is his desire to bring a kind of peace that endures – and sometimes it means we need to remind our souls of the tremendous price God was willing to pay to cleanse me and clothe me in Jesus’ righteousness.

This is why I think it’s good practice, from time to time, to go somewhere and sit quietly for ten minutes or so – to stare at the trees and think of just how much God loves you.

Think about the God of the Universe, who loves you so deeply as to be willing to swap places with you – and relish the fact that THAT God is with you.  You are safe and secure in his hands – no matter the circumstances of life you are feeling.

Are you struggling with the subjective part of feeling peace in your heart?  Here is a suggestion.  I’d suggest that you read through the first 11 verses of Romans 5 – and you personalize it by changing the pronouns.  From we to me.  Personalize it as much as possible.

So it would sound something like this – verse 6 – When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  Change it to  – When I was utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for me.   God showed his great love for me by sending Christ to die for me while I was still a rebel.

Go through these 11 verse in Romans 5 – once or twice a day and let them tenderize your soul.  Soften us up to be able to relish in the grace of God.

Secondly.  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…

  • We have peace with God. (v.1)
  • We have Hope. (v.2)

Secondly –  And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

What does it mean to Hope?  Well there are a few ways to use the word.  Ordinarily when we use the word hope, we express uncertainty rather than certainty.  At half time yesterday we were saying, “I hope that the Huskers get their act together and pull this game out!”

The outcome is uncertain.  All of these things express uncertainty.

But the Bible expresses Hope almost exactly opposite.  Biblical hope is a confident expectation that God has something good planned in our future.  Biblical hope not only desires for some good outcome, it is quite sure of the outcome itself.

When the Bible tells us to hope in God, its not telling us to cross our fingers.  Hope for the best.    We rejoice in the Hope of the glory of God.  That word Glory – how do we define it?  Glory means to carry weight.  It’s the weightiness – the significance the heaviness of God.

We hope in God because we are confident in God’s competence and his character.

We are confident in his character.  If He was willing to die for us, how much more will he be willing to care for us, today and tomorrow.

We have confidence in his competence.   He is more than an expert in guilt removal.  He is brilliant in every area of life and completely current and knowledgeable in every area of my life.  There is nothing God is unable to help me with.

He knows what he is doing!  He knows how to run our lives.

Oh can he help me understand how to set up my Iphone 10x?  Yes, he can because he already has the Iphone 10,000 – it’s collecting dust in a plastic box in his garage because it’s so out of date.

The point being – there is nothing God doesn’t have complete mastery over.  God knows life.  And how to best live it.  And he is for us.  And that makes us confident.

Can I just stop here for a minute and let me ask – how are you doing in terms of confidence in the character and competence of God?  On a scale of 1-10 what number would you give yourself that you are confident in God’s character and competence in your life?  7.  That means that I trust him with the easy things but there are a few things in my life I’d like to hold onto for myself, thank you very much.

But I think that if we were to objectively analyze that philosophy, it feels specious to me.  It’s suspect.  Why are we willing to trust God with our eternal life if we are unable to trust him in our right now life?

Like, for instance – and let me ask – are you giving your money away?  See – that’s a very easy way to figure out if you truly have confidence in the competence of God.  After all, he says that he will provide for all your needs.  And Jesus warns us of the dangers of money.  So – if not, why not?

And I know that you might want to dismiss or deflect my question by wondering if perhaps I have ulterior motives by asking.  And I’d simply say what I always say – and that is – if you question my motives then don’t give to Journey.  But find a worthy charity that cares for orphans somewhere in the world.

But we do see, don’t we, the disconnect between saying- that I have complete confidence in Jesus in every area of my life.  His words carry weight!  They matter!  And then it comes to the dollars in our bank and we say, – Tell those orphans to get a job.

I don’t have enough money!  One might say, okay, then don’t give much.  Give something to remind your soul who is in charge of things.  Oh I’m generous with my time!  Thank you, but that’s not the same thing.

Knowing we’ve been justified by God – cleansed and clothed in his righteousness, leads to peace and it leads to confidence.  I know that He will take care of me.

Now -let’s keep reading, because there’s one more way that Paul says that our confidence in the character and competence of God will show up in a very unique way.

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

The third result of being justified with God is joy.  And specifically- the ability to have joy in the midst of suffering.

Things to note.  Briefly.  first of all – note that Paul is not saying we rejoice because we are suffering.  We aren’t masochists who enjoy pain.  Oh goody – I’m suffering.

However, neither are we stoics.  Stoics are people who say, Don’t let the pain get to you.  Or pretend the pain doesn’t exist.

My kids and I play a game during the winter, it’s called “I’m not cold.”  And on really really cold winter days, we will be driving and I’ll open all the windows and say, “It’s a beautiful day out!  I’m not cold, are you cold?” And then Becca or tim or Josh – “Im not cold at all.  It’s quite pleasant out.”  Meanwhile it’s 2 degrees and we’re driving at 50 miles an hour.  The game ends when one of us caves and we say “I’m not cold, I’m fweezing.”

Fun game, but a terrible way to live life.  But some people mistakenly believe that being a Christian means you adopt this idea of pretending your suffering doesn’t exist.  I’m not hurting, are you hurting?  I’m not in pain, are you?  I’m not suffering – but listen – all that does is numb you to life.  It deadens you.  And it’s not Christianity.

The dangerous part of being a stoic is that it kills off the part of you that actually cares.  I know because I’ve lived most of my life as a stoic.  I’ve lived most of my life under the banner – it’s all good.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s no big deal.  Don’t let it get to you.  God’s working on me quite a bit about that lately, thankfully.

Because God wants me to be able to experience joy, not numbness, to the reality of suffering in this life.

See, when we become a believer, part of the transformed life is a sensitivity to the pain of others.  We become in some ways more attuned to suffering.

Author Timothy Keller says that one of the ways he knows men in particular have been made right with God is that they cry easily.  That challenged me – I was a guy who never cried, I thought it was weak.

But consider Jesus.  God in the flesh.  The perfect man in perfect union with God the father.  And yet he is moved with emotion – weeping at times.  Once as he stood outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus – even though he was about to raise him from the dead – he wept – seeing how death has wrought such heartache in his friends.   Another time as he came to Jerusalem he is moved to tears knowing the hardness of hearts of the people in the city.

There’s a sense in which Christians have a capacity for sadness that others might not understand.  We don’t have to repress the sadness.  We don’t have to try to avoid it.

God gives us a heart of flesh – a heart that feels the brokenness of our world, but also a heart so centered on the character and competency of God that we have peace and hope and even joy as we walk through those seasons of suffering.

Why?  Because we know that somehow God is producing something – he is not wasting our pain.  And even in the midst of it, we can trust Him.

Why?  Because he is a God who entered our pain.  He is himself a God who understands suffering.

You want to talk about what makes Christianity different than any other religion.  No other religion in the world would dare to say that God suffered.  A suffering God?  What kind of God is that?   Indeed.

It’s the kind of God who walks into the fire with us.  For us.

The Old Testament (Daniel 3)- story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – three young men who refused to bow down to an idol the king had made of himself – and so he tells his people to throw these three men into the fire – and he turns up the heat – yet – the story goes on – that the King from his perch was able to look into the fire and he declared…  I threw three men in the fire – and yet – I see four.

We know who the fourth one is, right?  The God who declares in Isaiah 43

I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

What good is you religion if it doesn’t get you through the fire?  What good is your religion if it barely gets you through the fire – charred and scarred?

Are you walking through a fire today?  Have confidence in the character and competency of a God who walked through the fire in order to save us by grace through faith in Jesus.

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