The Letter to the Romans
COLLEEN MOORE TINKER
16. Of Peace, Suffering, and Hope
Paul has explained that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, through absolutely no effort on our part, just as Abraham was justified by his faith in God's promises. Now, he says, "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (v. 1) This peace means we have access to God, and it is only possible through the Lord Jesus. Paul explains the uniqueness of this peace and it achievement in verse 10 of Romans 5 when he says we have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son.
The prophets of Israel foretold this peace with God through a coming Messiah. Isaiah lists the names of the coming Son in Isaiah 6:9: Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God; the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Hundreds of years before his birth, Isaiah prophesied Jesus' role as the one who would usher in peace to the world. In Isaiah 52:1-6 Isaiah further prophesied the restoration and redemption of Jerusalem. After describing how Israel would come back to the Lord and Jerusalem would be freed from her bondage, Isaiah quotes God, "My people will know my name; they will it is I who foretold it." When the kingdom is restored, all will know that Jesus is the one who foretold the outcome and also accomplished the outcome.
Isaiah 53:5 further explains how Jesus guaranteed the final outcome of peace for his people: "He was pierced for our transgression, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him." Jesus' physical suffering and death was for us. His suffering unto death is what brought us peace with God and also what made it possible for us to have peace in our hearts from God. We are no longer aliens and enemies of God in our minds, Paul tells us in Colossians 1:21-22. We are reconciled to God-we have peace with him-through the death of the Lord Jesus.
Micah also foretold that the Messiah would be the bringer of our peace. In chapter 5:2-5 he prophesied that the coming child, who would be born in Bethlehem, would grow up to shepherd his flock in the name of the Lord God. His people would live securely, and his greatness would "reach the ends of the earth." This coming Shepherd "will be their peace." Jesus would not only bring peace, but he would also literally be the peace of his people. He would restore and establish peace between humanity and God, and he would indwell them and be the peace in their hearts that would protect them from evil and despair.
As Jesus approached the time of his death, he told his disciples that he would leave his peace with them as well as give them peace. "Not as the world gives," he said, and told them not to be afraid. (John 14:27) He promised them, however, that they would not be left destitute; he would give them peace. Paul later dissects this peace even further. In Ephesians 2:14-16 he explains that Jesus himself is our peace. He made the two groups of people-the Jews and the Gentiles-into one, and he destroyed the wall of hostility between the two. His purpose was to create "in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace." Further, in his own body-by his death and resurrection-he reconciled both components of this "new man" "to God through the cross."
In other words, Jesus accomplished what would otherwise have been impossible. He paid the penalty for sin, he destroyed its claim on humanity, and he opened a way for all who trust him to become united with the Father and to live in peace instead of in alienation with God. In addition, his death destroyed the stringent barriers between Jew and Gentile which God had set in place in the Mosaic law. Not only Jews were now able to unite with God directly, but Gentiles also had access to the Father. Jesus accomplished restoring peace between humanity and God, and he also broke down the barriers between people. No longer would ethnicity determine people's identities and boundaries, but in and through Christ, all people could be children of God and united by his Spirit. All things-all people-have been brought together under one authority: Jesus Christ.
From Enemies to People of Hope
This peace with God which Jesus initiated is especially remarkable because by nature, every human since Adam is born separated from God. Isaiah wrote to Israel that their sins had separated them from God, that he hid his face from them and did not hear them. (Isaiah 59:2) Paul reiterated this fact in Ephesians. In chapter 2:1-3 he states that all of us were dead in our sins, "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature." We were "objects of wrath." Further, people were "darkened in their understanding" and separated from life in God because of ignorance due to the hardening of their hearts. (Ephesians 4:18)
For us to have peace with God and personal access to him required a divine act which would have been unthinkable in human terms. Being completely fallen by nature, we would have been incapable of making any overtures to a sovereign God which would have altered his wrath or caused him to reconsider his condemnation of our sin. Because we are naturally completely fallen and sinful, any overture we might initiate would be tainted with sin and self-interest. Only a sovereign God could break the power of sin; we could never renounce or destroy it; it is intrinsically part of us.
This astonishing peace with God is ours because Jesus-the Son of God, the I Am who spoke to Moses in the wilderness-became human and became the curse of our sins and died our death. Paul says in Ephesians 2:17-18 that he preached peace to both Jews and Gentiles that all of us may have access to the Father by one Spirit. Paul further explained the astonishing nature of this peace in Ephesians 3:10-11. The church, he says, is God's chosen vehicle for revealing God's wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms "according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished through Christ Jesus our Lord." In other words, the mystery of the church-this group of believing Jews and Gentiles who are one in Christ through the Holy Spirit-are the surprising fact witnessing to God's purpose to make humanity one with him. Not only are we, the church, the universal witness of God's wisdom, but this reality of God's redeeming us and placing himself in us, thereby destroying the barriers between people as well as between God and man, was his plan from eternity.
God's miracle in our lives was not an afterthought conceived when Adam ruined God's perfect plan. From eternity God knew Jesus would die; he knew from eternity that the problem of sin would be worked out on this planet; he knew that he would forever conquer sin through his Son's sacrifice, and he knew that he would redeem and glorify his fallen, hopeless creatures by becoming one with them and taking their place. His sacrifice is eternal; it is not a mere memory. Our way to the Father is a "living way," (Heb. 10:20); it is Jesus himself who is alive and who lives to intercede for us with the Father.
Faith, Hope, and Love
Paul weaves the trilogy of faith, hope, and love into this passage of Romans. These three occur together throughout the New Testament, and they reveal the core of the Christ-follower's experience. In verse 1 Paul states. "We have been justified through faith." He continues this theme in verse 2 when he says, "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." Then Paul discusses the fact that our sufferings should be occasions of rejoicing because they lead to the development of character and hope. "And hope does not disappoint us," be states in verse 5, "because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
These three qualities cannot be separated in a Christ-follower's life. To the Galatians Paul wrote, "By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope." He reminds the Galatians that no physical mark such as circumcision "has any value." Physical marks of belonging have no more meaning since Jesus bears the physical marks of his suffering which purchased our belonging. "The only thing that counts," Paul tells these Gentile believers, "is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:5-6) He further comments on these three qualities when he writes to the Thessalonian church. In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 he tells the church that before God he remembers their "work produced by faith, [their] labor prompted by love, and [their] endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Later in the same letter, Paul connects faith, hope, and love to the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 he says, "We belong to the day; let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet."
Faith, Paul is showing, is the gift of grace which grants us access to salvation, to God's righteousness and justification. It is the gift which makes it possible for us to become right with God. Faith is the ability to cling to Jesus and to believe that His death was for us. It is the sheltering power from God that keeps us trusting Him when evil attacks us and life spins out of our control. Hebrews 6:10-12 reminds us that we are shielded by God's power through faith, and we suffer so our faith will be refined and proven to be genuine. Faith, therefore, is not a self-generated quality or even an inherent one; it is a gift from God. It is the breastplate that, together with love, protects our hearts as we stand firmly in the spiritual battle waging around us.
Hope is the companion of faith. When a person trusts Christ and begins to live by faith in God and his promises, hope is the result. Hope is the confidence that we have a reward in heaven. It is the certainty that we are secure in Jesus no matter what happens in our lives. Hope is the knowledge that we have a life and a future of significance instead of despair. Hope is the light of truth and reality that shines in the darkness of our evil world and gives us the energy to get up in the morning. Hope is the helmet that protects our minds with the knowledge of our security and salvation as evil tries to divert our attention and draw us into withdrawal and depression.
Love, the third component of this trilogy of gifts from God, is the source and sustaining power of faith and hope. All three are the inheritance of Christ-followers born of the Spirit into God's family. Faith and hope, however, are temporary. They are God's sustaining gifts that enable us to grow in Christ and to live lives of victory over darkness and opposition. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." Faith and hope are essential as long as we are not physically united with Jesus. We live by faith in his promises to bring us to himself and to destroy evil completely. We live by faith in his power to free us from our sins and addictions. We live in the hope of the certainty of eternity with the Lord Jesus. We live in the hope of God's promises to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11) We live in the hope generated by our spiritual new births, the certainty that reality is greater than we can see, and our destinies transcend the trauma of this world. When Jesus returns and takes us to be forever with himself, however, faith and hope will find their fulfillment. We will live by sight instead of by faith; we will "know fully, even as [we] are fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12) We will find that the places where our hearts and minds clung to faith and hope will be filled instead with the presence of eternal love.
Love is the visible mark of a Christ-follower. True love, though, does not originate in our human hearts. It is God's gift of himself to us, for God is love. (1 John 4:8) Love plants saving faith and sustaining hope in our hearts. Love assures us that eternity is not an illusion. Love speaks to our hearts and convicts us of our identity in Christ. Love frees us from our wounds and self-destructive habits and heals our relationships. Living physically in our glorified bodies in the presence of our Lord will be the fulfillment of faith and hope, and when we find ourselves face to face with Jesus, we will find ourselves in the presence of the mightiest force in the universe: sovereign love. Faith and hope are God's gifts to us to keep us living and growing in him while we wait for our ultimate redemption from this world to eternity with him.
Suffering and Perseverance
"We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God," Paul declares, but that is not our only point of rejoicing as we live in this sinful world. We are also to rejoice in our sufferings. The text does not say we are to rejoice because of our sufferings but rather in our sufferings. It is at the points of our weaknesses that God's power is made perfect. When we suffer, God can glorify himself through us in ways more profound than he could if our lives were trouble-free. The trauma of life is one form of suffering everyone experiences, but personal trauma is not the only form suffering a Christ-follower will endure. Jesus told his disciples that they would be blessed whenever people insulted them, persecuted them, or lied about them because of their commitment to Him. "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven," he promised. (Matthew 5:11-12) Jesus also told his disciples that he had chosen them out of the world. If they belonged to the world, the world would love them as its own. Because they belong to God, however, the world hates them. Not only would the world hate them, but it would persecute them. The world will treat Jesus' disciples' this way because worldly people do not know God. (John 15:18-21)
Christ-followers can expect to be misunderstood and maligned, even when they are not directly proclaiming Jesus. The integrity and commitment to truth that mark the lives of true disciples of Jesus will cause deep discomfort and conviction in the hearts of those who live for themselves. When people desire to honor Jesus and to represent him well, their refusal to participate in political machinations or shady financial deals stands in stark contrast to the ways of the world which assault them from all sides.
At these times, when we as Christ-followers are passed over, snubbed, maligned, and misrepresented, we can rejoice in the Lord because our suffering is being transformed in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit into perseverance, character, and hope. A crown of victory awaits us when we persevere and do not stop living by faith in the God who saved us and promised us eternity. Slacking in our commitment to truth and reality may relieve the pressure of our circumstances, but it will yield no eternal reward. Rather, it will compromise our witness, and we will show a skewed picture of our Savior whom we claim.
Christ's call to us is to persevere through our trials and suffering. The author of Hebrews stresses our need to stay focused and on track as we walk in the truth and reality Jesus opens before us. In chapter 10:36 he says that Christ-followers must persevere so they will receive what God has promised them after they have done His will. "We are not," he states confidently, "of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved." (verse 39) Two chapters later the author declares that God disciplines his sons and daughters, and he admonishes us to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." He continues by urging us to "run with perseverance the race set before us." We are "fix our eyes on Jesus" who scorned the shame of the cross, "endured the opposition of sinful men," and "for the joy set before him" went to the cross for us. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Following Jesus is not easy. In many ways, life becomes even more difficult and demanding when we live for him. We are often scorned, hated, avoided, maligned, misrepresented, shunned, and ignored when our central purpose is to exalt Jesus and to live with integrity for him. We are to "consider it joy," however, when we face trials of any kind. They test our faith, and that testing develops perseverance in us, and perseverance is what yields our spiritual and emotional maturity. (James 1:2-4) If we persevere under trial, ultimately we will "receive the promised crown of life." (James 1:12)
Perseverance is what allows us to finish well, not merely to begin well. It is through perseverance in the trials and suffering of life that we grow to know Jesus and experience his love sustaining us. The deep peace and true Sabbath rest in our souls expands and sustains us when we do not fight our trials but surrender them and ourselves to the Lord Jesus, allowing him to defend and protect us while we stand, armed with the breastplate of faith and the helmet of hope that is our salvation. When we do not shrink away but go boldly forward where God asks us to walk, we will certainly be challenged intensely and often suffer, but His Spirit will nurture perseverance in us, and we will grow in confidence and joy.
Hope and Love
Perseverance, Paul states in verse 4, produces character, and character produces hope. Webster's Universal College Dictionary describes character as "the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of a person." Further, character consists of the "qualities of honesty, fortitude" and similar attributes that compose integrity. When we do not shrink from the hard work of knowing the truth and living in reality as God reveals it to us, we develop a character that is trustworthy because God's power is at work in us, transforming us with his own strength and fortitude.
When we stand in the strength of Jesus and allow him to give us perseverance in the face of nearly intolerable pain and difficulty, we emerge from the crisis with a new sense of hope. This hope springs from the love of God that holds us when we belong to him. We do not, however, fully experience or appreciate hope without enduring the suffering or even the drudgery of walking through the difficult experiences God allows to touch our lives.
Hope is the treasure we find in our suffering. Its worth is the fact that it does not disappoint us, and this certainty is so because true hope can only happen in the presence of God's eternal love. In other words, while we are persevering and allowing character to form in us, God's love pours into our hearts, and we become aware that our personal trauma is not the whole story. In fact, God's love generates the hope of significance, meaning, and eternity.
Paul talked about his hope that he wouldn't be ashamed as he worked for God, but that he would always be courageous so Christ would be "exalted in [his] body."(Philippians 1:20) The author of Hebrews also linked courage and hope. In chapter 3:6 he says that we are "God's house" if we hold onto our courage and onto the hope of which we as Christ-followers boast. This hope is the promised inheritance that we have with Jesus for eternity. (Hebrews 6:18-19) Standing with courage and clinging to the certainty of our hope of eternity with the Lord Jesus is the miracle that results when God pours his love into our hearts. This hope reflects the fact that God brought us to life when we were dead in sins. (Ephesians 2:3-5) It assures us that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:38-39). This hope is based on the facts that Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins, that he lives in us, and that he makes his love complete in us (1 John 4:9-12)
Love Poured Out
The reality of God's pouring his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit impacted the world with power, life, and mystery. Before Jesus took the curse of sin upon himself and died, humanity was irreconcilably separated from God. When Christ's blood opened the new and living way to the Father, mankind was again able to be intimate with God. God did not leave achieving intimacy up to humans, however; he literally indwelled his followers at Pentecost. Every person since that day who accepts Jesus receives the Holy Spirit as a seal of God and as a guarantee that he will inherit what God has promised. (Ephesians 1:13)
When the Holy Spirit comes to us and seals us for God, we are reborn at that moment. Our dead spirits come to life, and we become alive in Christ (Titus 3:4-7) and seated at God's right hand in Jesus.
The new birth was not possible before the cross. The Holy Spirit was with people but was not in them. The miracle of being united with God through the indwelling Holy Spirit was the great mystery hidden from the patriarchs and prophets. This indwelling could happen only after sin no longer stood between humanity and God.
This miracle is what puts God's love in us, It is what gives us the hope of eternity and builds our characters and perseverance when we suffer. When God's Spirit is in us and directing us, our lives have meaning, and our suffering is redeemed.
God is calling you to trust him with the trauma and the drudgery of your life. When circumstances are unsettling or even evil, God is there with you. He asks you to let go of your impulses to try to control events or to bear in yourself the guilt for others' wrongs. Jesus has already born the guilt and suffered for the wrongs done to you; now he wants to redeem those things and make those wounded places in you in his image.
Ask God to glorify himself in you and to bring glory to himself through the circumstances you experience. Ask him to make you willing to walk through the hard times without running away from them. Ask him to be more real to you than are your fear or guilt. Ask him to heal your heart from the trauma of the past and to remove the traces of ego that have kept you hanging onto your illusion of control.
Open your heart and let God's Spirit come into the wounded places you have tried to forget but which festered under the surface. Let him make you new and give your soul rest.
Praise God for redeeming not only your spirit but also your body and your behavior. Praise Jesus for bearing your guilt and shame and pain and for shedding his blood to restore your soul. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving you a new heart and for continuing to make you into the image of Jesus.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Copyright (c) 2003 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted December 17, 2003.