Sunday, January 21, 2018

Peace and Hope, Gifts of Grace

This morning we start a new section of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. Having explained the Gospel that he preaches, Paul now begins to take up some implications and applications of that Gospel. Listen to what he wrote.

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. Romans 5.1-2

We have been justified, declared acceptable to God. Our sin has been dealt with. And how has this come about? This is ours only by grace. When we were offered this gracious gift, we received it in the only way that it can be received, by faith alone. It is only as a person abandons any notion of being able to do anything to gain this gift but rather stops his trying and simply believes what God has said - that’s when the gift becomes his. And God’s message is not complicated. ‘There’s sin in your life. If you continue to live that way you will die. Jesus has come to rescue you from that death and to lead you into life. He promises to do this if you will repent of your sin and entrust yourself to Him.’

Now, there are consequences for those who believe God, really good consequences. Paul mentions two in what I read you. Here’s the first.

…we have peace with God…

Peace with God. This is a great gift of the Gospel. And I want you to grow in your enjoyment of it. So, I’m going to spend a little time unpacking what it means.

Let me, once again, remind you of the difference between real peace and a mere truce.  In a truce everyone has stopped shooting at each other. But they all still eye each other with suspicion, ready to pick up their weapons once again. It’s just that, for the moment, there isn’t any conflict, no shouting. A truce is defined negatively, no conflict.

But peace is different. It’s more than just no conflict. It’s something very positive. It’s a warm-hearted welcome with open arms, and not a weapon in sight.

However, to understand the definition of peace is one thing. To feel what that definition is about is quite another. And I want you to feel it.

So, consider your situation before any justification, before any acceptance by God. What did God think of you then? Here are some bits of Scripture that will shed some light on that question.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. Psalm 5.4-6

Did you pick up on the progression? First, God’s attitude was stated in the negative: not delight, not dwell with, not stand before. But then the psalmist ratchets things up quite a bit. We hear much stronger words describing God’s attitude: hate, destroy, abhor. These are the words that describe God’s attitude to those who rebel against Him.

Then, there’s this from another Psalm.

But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction… Psalm 55.23

And what might this pit of destruction be?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ Matthew 25.41

And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night… Revelation 14.11

Understand that this pit of destruction isn’t just some place where God dumps His enemies so that He can forget about them. No, it is the place where He vents His just wrath against them forever.

There is no peace when it comes to these enemies. And once they are placed in that pit there isn’t even the hope of a truce.

And that should be our fate, consigned to this pit of destruction forever. But it isn’t. Why?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

For reasons that I think will forever be a mystery, God has decided to rescue us from that pit. Because of Jesus, we are no longer at war with God and He with us. We have peace. Not just a truce but peace.

What you need now is a picture of this peace. How about this?

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’  Luke 15:20-24

The once rebellious but now repentant son was hoping for a truce, simply to be a hired hand in his father’s home. He’s thinking that a truce would be wonderful. But what happens? A truce isn’t good enough for the father. Not by a long shot. He runs to his son, embraces him, overwhelms him with kisses. But even that isn’t enough. This calls for celebration. And they party. The father calls for peace. It’s a warm-hearted welcome with open arms, not a weapon in sight.

That is a faint picture of the peace with God that you have been blessed with. Because you have been justified, you have been enthusiastically received into the Father’s love to enjoy that love forever. His rejoicing over you will mean that, as far as He is concerned, every day will be a day of celebration. Settle for a truce? Are you kidding? Jesus came so you can enjoy something so much more beautiful. Peace with God.

Let’s move on. Paul refers to another consequence of our being justified: hope. Again, let me remind you of the definition. Hope is waiting for God to keep a promise. And what promise might Paul have in mind here? Well, he’s quite clear.

… we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Let’s take this apart.

Glory. What’s that? Someone’s glory is what makes him stand out as a person. It’s what makes him look so good. Remember here my translation of those church words ‘to glorify God’. We are to make God look as good as He really is, to reveal what makes Him stand out.

Moses once asked God to show him His glory. His request was granted. And this is what happened.

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

And Moses responded in the only way that makes sense.

Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. Exodus 34.6-8

What do we have here? What is God’s glory? What we have is a description of God’s character, His mercy and grace, His love and faithfulness, His justice. This is God’s glory. This is what makes Him who He is. This is what makes Him stand out as God.

A person’s glory is those good qualities that make him the person that he is. That applies to God. He has His glory. That also applies to you. You have your glory, your good qualities, things that make you stand out. And that’s what Paul is writing about. The day will come when your glory will be revealed and enjoyed.

But how did I get that from what Paul has written,

… we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

At first glance, this looks like Paul is talking about the glory that belongs to God. But the grammar of the phrase can also mean other things. Consider this phrase that is similar in its grammar, the love of God. What does that mean? It all depends. It could mean the love that belongs to God and which He gives to us. This is love from God. Or it could mean the love that belongs to us and which we give to God, love to God. So, which one is it? You need to consider the context to make that decision. The same applies to what Paul wrote here about the glory of God. 

So, based on the context, this is what Paul is teaching. Because of our being justified through Jesus we are waiting, in hope, for the day when we will be blessed with glory from God. We are waiting for the day when we will be able to live according to what makes us who we are.

That will make more sense when you remember a big problem that we all face. Sin has twisted us up, and it has done a very good job of it. There are some aspects of who we are, some really good qualities, that have been stunted. We have other good qualities that we are just too afraid to express. There are even fine aspects of who we really are that we are completely unaware of, buried because of the effects of sin. However, the day will come when all the evils of sin will be gone, and its effects healed. Then, by God’s blessing, our glory will shine. Then, we will live according to all those good qualities that really make us who we are.

I realize that I have the reputation of being something of a stoic. No emotions. But that’s not true. There are times when I’m writing a sermon that I find myself weeping over the truths that I am privileged to write about. They deeply move me. There are some songs, like some by Andrew Peterson, that also do that to me. But I can’t let you see any of that. After all, what might you think of me? That’s part of why I’m so content sitting alone in a corner with a cup of coffee and a book. Quiet, solitary and to all appearances, unemotional. Sin has done a good job stifling my willingness to express my emotions.

But in the age to come, it’s going to be so very different. God will act, and I will be freed from all of that. I’m going to be the guy in the middle of the room, still with a cup of coffee, talking to everyone, asking questions, laughing out loud and freely shedding tears as I hear about how God beautifully worked in someone’s life. And I’ll tell you what. I rejoice in the hope of that happening. I rejoice in how God will make it possible for me to live like the real me. And that will be my glory.

And He’s going to do that for you, too. And why will this happen? It’s because we’ve been justified through faith in Jesus.

So, peace and hope. These are gifts of grace that have been granted to us. However, possessing something and experiencing it can be two separate things.

Some of you have a hard time believing that God’s gift of peace with Him is a constant in your life. How can there be peace when you’ve done something stupid - again? In those moments, the best that you’re hoping for is a truce. That would be great. But the fact of the matter is that God’s attitude toward you is always peace. Always.

Think about it. He has justified you, declared you righteous in His eyes, not because you did something right. It was in the midst of your sin that He did that. But isn’t that what grace is about? To be sure, when you sin, you need to deal with it - repentance and faith. But God’s attitude of peace toward you doesn’t change based on what you do. So, even, or maybe especially, when you’ve done something stupid, you need to remember the picture of that father running to his boy, hugging him and shouting to start the party. That’s the peace of God for you.

And then, there’s hope, the hope of glory from God. To enjoy this, you need to know what the awaited promise is. So, beneath all the layers that have built up over the years, who is the real you? What are some of your good qualities that make you who you are, qualities that, for one reason or another, are stunted or hidden away? What is your glory? As you get to know yourself better, try to imagine what it would be like to actually live that way. That’s God’s promise. You’re going to be blessed with that - except that it will be better than what you can imagine.

So, here are two implications of the Gospel, two gifts of grace, peace and hope. They are yours already, enjoy them to the full.