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TEXT: Romans 5:1-5
SUBJECT: Romans #8: Four Blessings of Faith
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of Paul's Letter to the Church in Rome. Scholars have long debated what Romans is about. Older Protestants say it is about the Righteousness of God, and in particular, how a sinner obtains it. More recent thinkers say it's about the relationship of Jews and Gentiles under the New Covenant. Still others say it's about both of these things and other things too, from using your gifts in the church to paying your taxes to the government.
Are all these things in the Letter? Sure they are, but they're not what it's about: Romans is about the Gospel-the announcement of what God has done in Christ to save us-and the world-from our sin and misery.
Who needs the Gospel? We all do because, whether we're Jewish or Gentile, pious church-going people or thoroughly secular, we have sinned against God and are exposed to His justice. The wages of sin is death-for everybody!
But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 'Gifts' are not earned; they're given, and like other given things, they're to be taken. The Bible word for 'taking the gift of God' is faith.
This is how God Himself is conferred to us, and all His blessings as well-by faith, by believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. We've heard this so many times, it does not surprise us, but it was quite a shock for the first people to hear it. They were Jews, of course, whose teachers had always taught them that the Life of God comes through the Law of Moses. Not by keeping it perfectly-nobody did that or thought he did-but by being loyal to it. This is how one lives in the Presence of God without shame or fear. By possessing and praising and-more or less-keeping the Law.
Paul himself was brought up to believe this; in fact, he taught it, lived by it, and would have died for it. But then something happened to him. Jesus appeared to him on the Road to Damascus, and from Him Paul learned what he should have gotten from the Law itself-
The just shall live by faith.
Speaking of which, Paul says faith in Christ brings the blessings of God to us. What blessings? I suppose all of them, but Paul hasn't got time to name every one, so he settles for four. This is what my sermon is about: the four blessings of faith.
Before I get to them, I ought to say a couple of preliminary things.
First of all, when Paul speaks of 'faith', he means faith in Christ, delivered for our offenses and raised again for our justification. If you watch religious TV, you'll hear preachers touting 'faith' up one side and down the other. What you don't hear so often is the object of faith-faith in what or whom? If you pinned them down, I suspect they would say, 'faith in God' or 'faith in Christ'. But why do you have to 'pin them down'? Why isn't the object of faith central to their preaching? Why is there any doubt that's what they mean?Well, we know why, and this leads me to my second thing: When Paul speaks of 'the blessings of faith' he means distinctly Christian things, spiritual things-and not money or health or good jobs or straight teeth or perfect marriages or wonderful kids or peace of mind! These, too, are the gifts of God, and we ought to be thankful for them, but let's not think for a moment that Jesus died for us so that we'd never lose a job or get bad news from the doctor! At the Resurrection, we will be saved from these things, but, for now, we are saved in them, and even through them.
WHO HAS THE BLESSINGS
The blessings of this chapter are needed by everyone, and for everyone, but not everyone has them. Who has them? Everyone who is-
Justified by faith.
Let's remember what this means: To be 'justified' means to be 'declared righteous'. This is something every Jew hoped for. They all believed in the Day of Judgment, and when it came at the end of history, they hoped God would review their lives and rule in their favor.
Paul says, what his brethren are waiting for has already come! In Christ, God has passed judgment on the world, found it guilty, and punished His Son in our place. Then He raised Him from the dead, thus justifying Jesus, and everyone who belongs to Him through faith.
This means the blessings of Heaven-of the world on the other side of Judgment Day-have come to us on this side of it. Not in full, of course, but they have truly come, and can no more be lost now than they can be then!
Every Christian has been justified by faith-the old man who has faithfully walked with the Lord for decades, the girl who has just now believed, and everyone in-between. Justification is not a blessing reserved for some of God's people, it's a common possession. We all have it because we all belong to Christ, and the Day of Judgment will no more condemn us than it will condemn Jesus!
FIRST BLESSING: PEACE WITH GOD
The first blessing Paul names is-
Peace with God.
Note carefully: He does not say, 'peace of mind', for that is a subjective thing, affected by personality, weather and diet and exercise and sickness and noise and losing the satellite connection during the World Series!
Peace with God, on the other hand, is a fixed thing! If it were based on our performance, it would be as unstable as we are. But has Paul taught us nothing? Hasn't he said repeatedly that we are justified by faith in Christ, and that the saving acts of Christ are irreversible? Can Jesus be un-incarnated? Can He be un-crucified? Un-resurrected? Un-ascended? If His saving acts cannot be undone, our peace with God is secure.
This means: God is not against us. In a certain way, He's not against anyone. The prophet said He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefers the wicked to turn and be saved; Peter adds He is not willing for any to perish, but wants all to come to repentance. This is His loving stance toward the whole world.
But His good and loving heart demands something from us. If we will not be drawn by His love or moved by His justice, He will pass judgment against us-and has to-because He is the Judge, and-
Shall not the Judge of all
the earth do right?
The Judgment has been passed, and being in Christ, means, the judgment is in our favor. We have peace with God. Some scholars think this is an imperative-Have peace with God. There is truth in this, of course, we ought to enjoy the peace God has given us, but it's not what Paul is saying here. Here he speaks of the concrete blessings of faith, the first of which is also the most wonderful-peace with God, reconciliation with Heaven.
This is what we were made for. Adam and Eve were not placed in a hostile world with God watching them as a warden watches his prisoners. They were put in a world at peace with itself and them and God. But then they threw it all away; the relationship was ruptured; they were driven from the Garden, and the God who used to walk with them every evening became more remote and less accessible.
They were unhappy, of course, but mostly God was! They and their children did nothing to heal the wound, but God did. In Christ, He bore the penalty of our sin and reconciled us to Himself.
We have peace with God-not the possibility of peace if we never do anything wrong-but real and lasting peace. And all for Jesus' sake.
SECOND BLESSING: ACCESS TO GRACE
The second blessing Paul names is-
Access by faith into the grace by which we stand.
We have access to grace, but what is grace? We sometimes think of it as if it is a thing extraneous to God Himself, as if it's a gift of His, like money or a credit card, to use when we need it. But grace is not a 'thing' separate from God, it is God's state of mind toward us. Grace is 'God for us'
This means, whenever we need help we can ask the Lord for it and get just what we need. What we need is not always what we ask for, but since God is wiser and better than we are, we can be sure our real needs will always be met by a Father in Heaven who loves us always.
Jesus once told a story about human fathers. Some human fathers are cruel and hateful men, but most are more-or-less decent people. If a decent father is asked for a dinner roll, is he going to pass him a rock? Or, if he wants scrambled eggs for breakfast, will he scramble him up some scorpions? Or if he's looking forward to fish for lunch, will the dad serve him a snake? Most fathers wouldn't do this-and they don't have to be saints to not do it! Okay fathers know how to give good gifts to their children.
How much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him?
When justified by faith, we are children of God and like the children of good men, we have access to our Father. This is one of the things Paul is alluding to here.
But there's more. Access to God.in which we stand smacks of the Temple, and in particular, the Holy of Holies. The Temple was marked by its walls-the Gentiles could go thus far, but no farther; Jews could go in farther, but not much; the Levites farther still, and then the priests, and finally, the High Priest.
Only the High Priest could enter the Holiest Place, but not even he could stand there. If he came in slowly, he left in a hurry. To stand before God is dangerous, and no man was fool enough to hang around in there. Consequently, Israel's access to God-though real-was a brief and hurried thing.
But now that His justice is satisfied and we are in union with Christ, we can do what Aaron and his sons could not do: Stand in the Presence of God to receive all the favor His loving heart has for us.
THIRD BLESSING: HOPE
The third blessing Paul names is-
The hope of the glory of God.
The 'glory of God' is a future blessing, but we can rejoice in it even now. The way a boy can rejoice in a pile of Christmas presents on December 20th (especially if he knows what they are, and they're just the things he wanted).
What is the Glory of God?
Who knows? Not even Paul has much of an answer, for-
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.
But a partial answer can be pieced together, and this is the best I could do. In light of I Corinthians 15:54, the glory of God includes immortality and incorruptibility. This means we hope for the Resurrection of the body at which time we will no longer be subject to death or decay. No more disease, no more weakness, no more forgetfulness, no more obesity, no more bad skin, whatever it is we don't like about our bodies now will then be things of the past!
Colossians 3:10-11 makes me think God's glory also includes holiness, knowledge and authority, the things Adam and Eve had to a much higher degree than we do, but one day we'll have what they had, and a whole lot more!
This takes us to one of the weirdest verses in the Bible, I Corinthians 6:3-
Do you not know that we shall judge angels?
Leaving everything else aside, what strikes me about this verse is the dignity of judges. What kind of creature is qualified to pass judgment on angels? No you and me the way we are, but-Paul says-one day we will have the dignity to do just that.
This hope is not wishful thinking! It is sure, and one day, it will be ours! That's why-even now-when our bodies are far from glorified and our souls are still a tangled up mess of godliness and sin that we can-
Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
FOURTH BLESSING: GLORY IN TRIBULATION
If possessing the glory of God sounds like science fiction, the next blessing seems like bad science fiction, so implausible nobody would believe it-
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character; and character hope.
Believers in Christ are given the insight and the ability to rejoice even when their world is falling to pieces. Why? Not because problems don't hurt us as much as they hurt other people-they do-but because we've been given the vision to see what the problems are for, and that is, Christ-like character.
Some problems can be fixed; others have to be lived with, 'endured' is the word I'm looking for. Mixed with grace, enduring them produces character-humility, toughness, compassion-and this leads back to hope-
Hope of the glory of God.
This hope will not be disappointed, and we know it won't be, because-already-
The love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.
This is the first time the Holy Spirit has been mentioned in Romans-and it won't be the last! As we wend out way through this wonderful Letter, we'll see it is He who takes the life of God and Christ and applies it to us and makes us what God has willed us to be and what Christ was after when He died for us.
Still, to glory in tribulations is no easy thing-and Paul doesn't say it is. But he says it is doable, and it will be done because we are justified by faith. How does one effect the other? Here's a story.
Several years ago, a middle-aged man was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. His two daughters loved him equally, I'm sure, but they reacted to the bad news very differently. One was scared of him dying, and because she was, she withdrew from him in the last months of his life. The other saw the months ahead-not as her father's death, but of his life. She sat with him every day and cared for him, laughed with him and cried. And then he died.
At the funeral, the daughter who pulled away from her dad went all to pieces. Her sister sat quietly, tearing up for her loss, but also feeling thankful the Lord had given her such a fine father.
Both girls were sad, but their sorrow was of a different quality. One girl's sorrow was innocent, the other's guilty!
Moral to the story: We can rejoice in all the hardships of life because, justified by faith, we are not guilty!
God help us to know this, to believe it, to feel it, and to live and die by it. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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