Sunday, February 4, 2018

Not Put to Shame

Hope is a big deal. And that’s clear when you consider its opposite. Who wants to live a hopeless life? In fact, if a sense of hopelessness gets entrenched it will lead not just to depression but to suicide. So, having a sure hope really is a big deal. But there is a certain quality about hope that can be a problem. By definition, hope has to do with something that you don’t have yet. You’re hoping for that something, waiting for it, but you don’t have it. So, what if that hope is disappointed? What if what you were hoping for doesn’t show up? That’s a serious enough problem when it’s about your hopes for a pleasant Sunday afternoon nap. It’s much more serious when it’s about your ‘hope of the glory of God’. Paul knows this, and so he addresses it. 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. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame… Romans 5:1-5
It’s Paul’s comment about hope and shame that we’re going to look at this morning.

The first thing we need to do is to take a look at shame. Paul isn’t bringing up this topic out of the blue. It’s something that other Old Testament Scriptures dealt with. So, listen to a couple of Psalms.
To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Psalm 22.5
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Psalm 25.20
In both cases, people are putting their trust in Yahweh, expecting Him to care for them. In the first Psalm that I read, the writer is reflecting on the fact that those who had done this ‘were not put to shame’. God heard their cry and came through and rescued them. What they had hoped for happened.

In the second Psalm I just read, the writer is himself crying out to God. ‘Let me not be put to shame...’ He has entrusted himself to Yahweh with the outcome not yet decided. But he is banking on God coming through for him.

But what if God doesn’t come through? What if He doesn’t rescue? The psalmist has put his hope in God. God’s failure to rescue him would be a problem. And it’s not just that whatever problem that confronted him wouldn’t be solved. The psalmist put all his eggs in one basket. He put his hope in God. What if it doesn’t turn out well?

There have been times in American history when a group of people were told that Jesus was going to return on a certain date and that they should sell everything and get up on a local mountain to meet Him. They believed this and sold everything. They were all in. How do you think they felt as they climbed down that mountain? Jesus didn’t show up and now they have to return to their friends and neighbors.

Now you can see quite clearly the problem with hope. A hope that doesn’t come through results in humiliation. It results in shame.

People know this. So, there are those who work to avoid the possibility of any shame. They do this by hedging their bets. So, there is some problem that they are facing. How do they handle it? They pray about it, telling themselves that they are placing their hope in God to solve the problem. However, they are also thinking that, if push comes to shove, they have some other resources that can deal with the problem. So, they know that, if God doesn’t come through, they will still be able to handle the problem. These people won’t be shamed. They have their options open. Shame is a possibility only for those who are all in.

Paul writes to those saints in Rome about their hope, specifically their hope of the glory of God that will be theirs in the age to come. And he tells them that this hope will be satisfied. They will not be humiliated. He wrote,
…and hope does not put us to shame…
Paul is quite sure. We Christians will not be disappointed. We can know that God will come through. We will not be shamed because of this hope.

But how does Paul know this? How can he be so sure and encourage those saints to be sure? He points to two things.

First, he tells them to look back. He wants them to consider what Jesus did on the Cross for them.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:6-8
He reminds them of God’s love that sent Jesus to the Cross. It was because of what happened there that they were saved from their sins. It was because of what happened there that they were reconciled to God.

Paul calls those saints to apply what happened in their past to what will happen in their future on the Day of Judgment.
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, [That’s about what happened in the past.] much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [This is about what will happen in the future.]
And then, to pile it on a bit, Paul wrote this.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:9-10
Paul wanted those Christians to know that, based on what Jesus had done in the past, their future was sure. He wanted them to think back to the Cross and apply what they knew about it to their hoped-for future. This way they could be sure that they would not be shamed when it came to their hope of the glory of God. Because of what they knew, they could be sure.

Now, Paul has something else to say about being sure about this. Here is the second thing he points to. And I think that this is something that we need to give close attention to. Listen.
…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5
Paul points to a fact about God’s love. So, is this about something more to know? Oh, it certainly is something to know. But it is more than that. It’s something to feel. Can we be sure that we are going to receive what we are hoping for? Is our hope of the glory of God assured? Paul offers a second reason to answer those questions with a confident, ‘Yes’. And his reason is simply this: We feel the love of God, the love that has been ‘poured into our hearts’ by the Spirit.

Paul’s first argument focuses on the mind, on things we know. We can be sure that God will love us and grant us what we hope for in the future, on that Last Day, because we know what happened at the Cross. His second argument focuses on the affections. We can be sure that God will love us in the future because we feel His love now in the present. The first is an intellectual point, something known. The second is an experiential point, something felt. It is because of these two points that we can be sure that we will receive from God what we hope for.

There is, of course, a potential problem here. Last week I mentioned that there are too many Christians who struggle because of what they do not know about the Gospel. There are too many who do not know about this connection between the Cross in the past and the Last Day in the future. And so, they struggle when it comes to hope.

Similarly, there are too many Christians who struggle because of what they do not feel. Oh, they have read this verse, and many others, that talk about the love that God has for us. They know what these verses say and profess to believe them. And they do believe them. But they don’t feel it. They don’t feel the love of God for them. It’s not something that they experience as a normal part of life. And so, they struggle when it comes to hope.

Not many see that they are in this category. But there is a test that can clarify the situation. And it’s not a complicated test. It has only one question. What do you tell yourself when life isn’t working out so well? In too many cases, it’s not things known and felt. All too often, there isn’t much known, really known, about the Gospel so that it makes a difference in that kind of situation. And the love of God is a more of a concept than an experience. And that doesn’t help when life gets hard.

How different when a Christian knows, really knows, that he is loved because he knows what the Bible teaches about God’s love for him and also because he feels that love. This won’t make life suddenly easy. But it does provide for a lively hope that rescue is coming. There will be no shame, not for this Christian. God sees and acts. Rescue will come.

All of that leaves this question. How does a Christian grow in knowing and feeling? The key, as usual, is prayer. And I say that because change in these things can only happen by the actions of the Spirit. What is needed is not greater resolve or anything like that. What is needed is the grace of God. So, when someone neglects prayer as a primary weapon, it’s just another way of believing that he can fix this himself. But placing your hope in that kind of solution will never result in good. Salvation by what you do never works out. It’s prayer, guided by the Word, that will make the difference.

This need not be complicated. Simple prayer will do, something like, ‘Father, there are so many things that I do not know about You and Your love for me. And my sense of Your love, my feeling it, is so small. So, I come to You and ask You to do whatever You think best so that that will change. Fill my mind. Convince my heart. Change me so that I will have a sure hope and thus live in a way that will make You look good.’ And what happens after such a prayer is also simple. God acts. The Spirit blesses and guides into greater maturity about these things. Just listen to Him. And if you’re afraid that you’ll miss what the Spirit is going to tell you, pray about that, too.

I really want you to grow when it comes to feeling the love of God. I want you to feel deeply that you are loved so that it makes a huge difference in how you face life. A Christian who knows he is loved, who feels it, is someone who will be fearless. That doesn’t mean reckless. But it does mean that when confronted by some evil, some problem, some something that attacks, this Christian will stand. Oh, he’ll be praying like mad, aware of his weaknesses. But he will be praying confident prayers. He will pray to the God whom he knows loves him. He knows it because he can feel it.