This last week there was the news report about the possibility of Mike Ditka, the former football player and former coach of the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, running for the Senate of the United States in the State of Illinois.
Admittedly, the idea of “Senator Ditka” brought a smile to my face. It would have been great to have someone in the Senate who said what he meant and meant what he said. Coach Ditka took time to consider all the ramifications of such a decision. He had to consider the cost of a campaign, the various commercial ventures he would have to forfeit, the very real possibility that he might be inclined to punch an obstinate Senator, and the basic question, “Do I really want to be a Senator?” In the end, Mike Ditka said he wasn’t interested.
It is appropriate when we are facing life-altering decisions, to evaluate those decisions carefully. It is likewise appropriate for people to ask, why should I put my trust in Jesus Christ? It is the most important decision in life.
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul continues his definition of the Christian Faith by listing some of the benefits of being declared, “Not guilty!” by God. Paul seems to anticipate the human tendency to ask, “What’s in it for me?” This morning we will look at four of those benefits.
PEACE WITH GOD
Paul begins chapter five with the word “therefore”. This means he is drawing a conclusion. He has been talking about justification by God’s grace through faith. Paul has urged us to trust God’s power to remove our sin and to raise us to new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells us that trusting Jesus in this way will bring us peace with God.
In many ways the other three benefits of justification are really just an amplification of this idea of having peace with God. The Bible tells us that before we are justified we are at war with God. We rebel against His rule, we resist His ways, and we want the universe to revolve around us. On the other side of battle, God hates sin and must punish those who commit that sin with His fierce wrath.
Justification through Christ puts an end to the hostilities. God’s wrath is satisfied in the death of the perfect Son of God. His resurrection shows that the sacrifice was acceptable to the Lord. When we turn to Jesus we no longer fight God . . . we turn to Him.
Please notice that this peace with God is not given to everyone. It is only the person who is “justified by faith” that can have true “peace with God”. Those who are trying to find this peace on their own will ultimately fail. They can mediate and learn to live with less churning. They can protest war. They can work in the Peace Corp. They can take drugs that will lessen their anxiety . . . but they will not obtain peace with God apart from the work of Christ.
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.(v 2)
From the time Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, men and women have been denied the intimate access with God that Adam and Eve had. This was pictured most clearly by the design of the temple. The heavy curtain that stood between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. The people were not granted access to God. That curtain effectively said, “Keep Out!” When Jesus died and satisfied the wrath of God, that curtain was torn from top to bottom (as if torn by God Himself). It was a symbolic act that showed that access had been granted.
Paul tells us we have gained access to grace. The word for access has a formality to it that indicates that this is more of an “introduction”.
The picture is that of Jesus bringing us into the presence of the Father. Because of the Son, we are accepted where we probably would not have been accepted before. It’s like a person coming to your door and asking to spend the night. Let’s face it you would (and perhaps should) resist taking a stranger into your home. You would need to check them out, perhaps even with the police. It’s possible that this could be someone dangerous or evil.
How much different it is if your child comes home from college, the military, or from their home somewhere else, with a friend. You might ask them questions, but not before you let them in your home. You would welcome them freely. Tell me, what made the difference between the two strangers? It was the fact that the one accompanied your child! When we accompany Jesus we are granted access to the Father.
The word that Paul uses for “stand” is in the perfect tense. This indicates that this standing is not sporadic, but continuous, not precarious, but secure. We have been granted the continuing access that comes from being a Son. We are invited to enter His presence at any time; no appointment necessary.
JOY IN HOPE OF THE GLORY OF GOD
The third thing Paul tells us is that because of our justification through faith, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (v. 3) When we trust Jesus for our salvation we are able to look past this world in our anticipation for the next. We get excited when we think about meeting Jesus face to face.
Remember when you were a child and how you used to anticipate Christmas? It may have been months away but you dreamt about what you might find under the tree. When the Christmas catalog came out each year (in June) you spent hours looking at the wonderful treasures that lay ahead of you. This is the kind of anticipation and joy the believer should have about Heaven.
Unfortunately, sometimes we lose sight of this hope. Have you ever planned to go on a special vacation only to spend all your time focusing on the travel arrangements? For many years, we have gone to Chicago at Christmas. For many of those years I spent the couple of weeks before Christmas worrying about the possibility of snow. When we arrived in Chicago I watched the news every night in case a blizzard might be on the horizon so we could hurry up and beat it home. The result? I didn’t enjoy the holiday much.
Let’s draw another picture. Suppose you took the family to Disneyworld or some other magical place. Let’s say your son spends the first hour looking at his feet. Finally, you stop him and say, “Why are you spending so much time looking at your feet?” His reply is, “I don’t want to trip and fall because I don’t want to have to leave Disneyworld.” What would you say to that child? I’d say, “Hey, forget about tripping! If you fall you can get back up! Don’t miss this! Look around and see how great this place is. This place is great!”
Many people live their Christian life this way. They are so busy examining their life to make sure they are “doing enough” or aren’t making any mistakes that they miss out on the relationship they could be enjoying with the Lord. They are so afraid of “messing up” that they forget that they are loved by the Lord.
Max Lucado captures the idea with a Biblical list the hope of glory that should excite us,
- You are beyond condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
- You are delivered from the law (Rom. 7:6).
- You are near God (Eph. 2:13).
- You are delivered from the power of evil (Col. 1:13).
- You are a member of his kingdom (Col. 1:13).
- You are justified (Rom. 5:1).
- You are perfect (Heb. 10:14).
- You have access to God at any moment (Eph. 2:18).
- You are a part of his priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5).
- You will never be abandoned (Heb. 13:5).
- You have an imperishable inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4).
- You are a partner with Christ in life (Col. 3:4) and privilege (Eph. 2:6), suffering (2 Tim. 2:12), and service (1 Cor. 1:9).
You are a:
- member of his body (1 Cor. 12:13),
- branch in the vine (John 15:5),
- stone in the building (Eph 2:19–22),
- bride for the groom (Eph. 5:25–27),
- priest in the new generation (1 Pet. 2:9), and a
- dwelling place of the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).
Let you mind wrap around some of these things and see if it doesn’t make your anticipation of Heaven a little bit greater.
JOY IN THE TRIBULATIONS OF LIFE
Because of this new perspective, we have a whole different attitude toward the trials of life. Paul says we can rejoice even in our tribulation.
we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (vv. 3-5)
The word for suffering carries the picture of a press squeezing the fluid from olives or grapes. These are the real trials of life. It is when we are persecuted for our faith or face tragic times. Though these things are often painful (we aren’t happy about them), as children of God we can rejoice in them because we believe God has a purpose in allowing them in our lives.
Through Christ we have come to trust God. We know He is in control (He is God); we know that He loves us; and we know that He never makes a mistake. Consequently, in the hard times we rejoice because we know God is doing something that is for His glory and our good. We have the confidence that when we get to Heaven and understand, we will see God’s purpose and thank Him even for the hard times.
The word perseverance, testing, or patience means “to endure”. In fact it means the ability to remain under tremendous weight and pressure without succumbing. Suffering is the press of life and circumstances and perseverance is the strength to withstand that pressure.
Think of the process of forging steel. It gains it’s great strength by going through the heat of the furnace and a fierce hammering. Any metal object, such as a tool, is heated and then “forged” it is hammered into a mold, or is formed by a great press, or pressed between two rollers. These “trials”, pressures, and tribulations are designed to make the steel stronger. A tool cannot be called, “drop forged” unless it endures the pressure that is put upon it. In like manner, a Christian cannot be called mature until they are “forged” by the tribulations of life.
From perseverance you get character. A better translation is “proven character”. The Greek word actually means “proof”. It was the word used to test the purity of metals. The difficult times of life, the fires of affliction, separate those who have genuine faith and those who merely profess faith. When we faithfully persevere in the pressing times of life we prove that our faith is genuine. Our faith has integrity.
As we conclude let me share with you part of the story of John and Charles Wesley.
JOHN AND Charles Wesley were born in 1703 and 1707 respectively, the fifteenth and eighteenth children of Samuel and Susanna Wesley.
In 1735 the Wesleys sailed to America to become missionaries in the colony of Georgia. During the long journey the ship was buffeted by a violent storm, and John was left cowering in fear of death. He was amazed at the peace of the Moravian Christians aboard the same ship and was shaken, realizing that they had something he didn’t have.
After a short unsuccessful time in America, the brothers returned to England, where they came under the influence of Peter Boehler, another Moravian. Boehler’s teachings on justification by faith, not works, were convincing. The Wesleys began eagerly reading Martin Luther’s writings on Galatians and Romans, coming to the realization that their theology had been resting on works, not faith. This doctrine was now clear in their minds, but they did not yet have it in their hearts.
On May 20, 1738, the brothers and some friends stayed up all night praying for Charles, who was quite ill. They also were praying that God would open their hearts so they could truly believe and have assurance of salvation. The next day Charles believed and gave his life to Christ for the first time. “I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ.”
For three days John wrestled with what happened to his brother. He wanted to believe but couldn’t and became very depressed. Then on May 24, 1738, he wrote in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” [One Year Book of Christian History, Tyndale, May 20]
John Wesley witnessed the peace of the Moravians. John and Charles were missionaries but they were also a mission field. They were working in the church but they lacked a relationship with Christ that brought them peace with God and confidence in the difficult times. They found that peace only when they stopped trying to save themselves and instead rested in the work of Christ on their behalf.
Is it possible today that are here in this service of worship but you lack that peace, intimacy and confidence of God in your daily living? Are you like the Wesley’s: sincere but still insisting that you can “do it by yourself?” Are you still trying to be good enough, pure enough, kind enough, faithful enough to earn Heaven? If so, you will not find the peace and joy you are looking for until you stop trying to save yourself and instead trust Jesus to save you.
Perhaps you are a believer. You have trusted Christ. Is it possible that today your focus is misplaced? Are you so focused on the details of the journey that you are missing out on the benefits? Do you understand what a great gift God has extended to us? We need to open our eyes and enjoy the wonder of being His children. As a child of God we should take advantage of the access that has been extended to us. We should be people who often have a smile on our face and a faraway look in our eyes as we daydream about the incredible wonder of Heaven.
In the present we can face the difficult times with a new attitude. When we begin to churn we need to ask ourselves, “Do I trust Him, or don’t I?” When the press of life comes on us and we feel that hard hammer of circumstances beat upon us, we can picture a huge orange sign over our life that says, “Construction Zone”. It is in those very times when we can know His strength and prove our faith most effectively.
These benefits of justification by faith are not elite experiences for only a select few. They are God’s blessings to all who believe. God’s promise is simple: those who hope in Christ will not be disappointed.