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Buckets of grace - Romans 5:1-11

This is a sermon by James Belham from the Riverside Church service on 28th October 2018.

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Let me quote the Beatles: “All you need is love.”

“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet” said Plato.

“An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart,” said Olaf, quoting a troll.

 

All through human history we have known deep inside us the importance of love, and in particular we know how crucial it is for our wellbeing that we are loved. But what is love? What is true love? And where do we even start to look to even find love?

 

Our passage in Romans this morning about hope and joy is underpinned by the love of God. I don’t mean our love towards God – that is not solid enough to be a foundation for anything. The foundation for our hope and joy is the love that God has set on us in Christ Jesus.

 

The opening chapters of Romans are about righteousness. We are all by nature trapped in our sin against God and deserving of his eternal wrath; we don’t naturally have righteousness and we could never obtain it for ourselves. But righteousness is offered to us as a gift by faith in Christ Jesus. Throughout the history of God’s people, it’s always been like this: the only way to be righteousness is to receive righteousness as a gift in response to faith.

 

Chapter 4 ends with a statement of the gospel: (4v25) “(Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Our sin, which in the past made God hostile to us, has been taken away by the death of Christ Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection was God’s announcement that Jesus is righteous. But it is also God’s announcement that we are righteous too because, from the moment we put our faith in him, our lives became bound up together with Jesus’ life. So Jesus’ resurrection is for our righteousness, our justification.

 

An illustration of this in financial terms would run something like this: we were hopelessly trapped in huge debt. The death of Jesus paid all those debts. And through the resurrection of Jesus we have been given access to his bank account containing limitless wealth.

 

But the offer is not money. Better than that, it is righteousness. We must wait until chapter 6 to see how the transaction works, but Jesus was delivered over to death to remove our sins and he was raised to life so that, alive with him, we could share his righteousness.

 

Our passage today begins with a ‘therefore’. So the Holy Spirit through Paul now starts to spell out what the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is going to mean for us.

 

4:25 “He was delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand.” We have peace with God. Apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is hostile towards us; his righteousness means that his wrath is aimed towards us because of our sin. But now, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, God’s attitude towards us has completely changed; now there is peace. We are justified. That means God the Judge finds no cause for condemnation in us. Instead, because of Christ Jesus, we meet his wholehearted approval.

 

And then through Jesus Christ we are introduced into a place of divine favour. We have access into the grace in which we now stand. You and I, we can’t just get the train down to London, wander along the Mall and enter the presence of royalty. We wouldn’t be allowed. Somebody would stop us. But suppose a member of the royal family had invited you in, and they had obtained permission to introduce you to the Queen. Well it hasn’t happened to me yet, but I expect that then you would be welcomed in. None of us could just wander by ourselves into the presence or approval of God. But Christ Jesus has introduced us. Because he has given us righteousness, we now stand in a place of favour with God; we are met with his approval and his grace.

 

That is all present. We have peace with God, and we have been introduced into the place of favour from God.

 

And so we rejoice at what the certain future holds for us. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We rejoice that we shall share in the glory of God. That ‘rejoice’ word has got an edge of boasting to it as well. Of course we don’t brag about ourselves. If you’ve paid any attention at all to the last three or four sermons you know that there is nothing good about you or me to boast about. But we boast about what has been done for us. We are so full of joy that we delight and boast about our peace with God and his favour to us.

 

It’s time for a reality check. Do we really rejoice and boast about being welcome before God? Or are you apologetic for your faith? At work do you apologise for being certain that you know the real God and you are on his side? Do the people around you even know that you are a Christian? The more we really understood just how much Jesus’ gift of righteousness has achieved for us, the more we will be absolutely full of it. Not full of ourselves but full of Jesus Christ and full of our confident expectation of how glorious our future is because of him. How is that boasting, that rejoicing going to show in you and I this week?  

 

But we don’t just rejoice and boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God, but we rejoice and boast in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character and character produces more hope.

 

See the grammar here. This is not what we might do, this is what we do. Now that our sins are wiped away, now that we stand before God justified, now that we are the objects of his blessing and favour, we rejoice and boast, even in our sufferings.

 

Pleasure is nice – of course it is. We like it. God gives it to us to make us long for ultimate pleasure in Heaven, but because we are warped we often settle for enjoying pleasure in the here and now.

 

Pain is much more effective in making us long for something better. For God’s people, pain makes us long for ultimate relief in Heaven where there is no pain. When we have the hope of sharing in the glory of God before us, then we can see that suffering and pain are permitted for us by God who loves us and uses pain for our good.

 

So my response to pleasure should not just be ‘Great. I want as much of this as I can have in the here and now as my number one priority’. It should be, ‘Great. This is given me by God who desires that I share eternal pleasure and satisfaction with him in Heaven.’

 

My response to suffering should not be ‘Ouch. This hurts. I want to escape the pain and never ever suffer like this again in this life’. It should be ‘Yes, this hurts. But as I long for the pain to stop I’m longing for Heaven. And I thank God that he is refining my hope by allowing me to experience pain now.’ Any hardship on this earth which we refuse to see as being given by God for our good and refuse to allow it to intensify our longing Heaven is hardship wasted. You may know about this: the American pastor John Piper has written a great book called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” God permits us suffering with the intention that it is good for us.

 

This is so practical. Are you bereaved? In your grief, hold onto your hope that you will share eternal life with all God’s people in Heaven. Do you have ill-health, maybe long-term ill health? It’s ok to be genuine about your disappointment with your lot in this life. But let your disappointment with this life reinforce your hope for the life to come. Maybe your family has not been to you what family should be. That can be a huge life-long suffering. But don’t let that make you bitter towards God; God who loves you has allowed and planned this make you long for the time when you take your place in Heaven among a new family, God’s family of people who then will be made perfect.

 

Paul is only writing about his own experience in verses 3 and 4. We can read the book of Acts it seems that nearly everywhere Paul went he was hated or imprisoned or flogged and, on several occasions, almost killed, all because he preached the risen Christ Jesus. And yet through all that Paul had unwavering perseverance, strength of character and certain hope for being with his Lord in Heaven. Are we meant to think that Paul was exceptionally tough to endure it all? No. He was very content for people to think him weak in order to showcase the strength of God working through him and fuelling his hope.

 

We rejoice because of our hope. And we rejoice in every suffering we endure because sufferings form in us even more hope.

 

And our hope will not disappoint us. How do we know? Verse 5. We know that in the future we shall certainly share the glory of God because we know that in the present God has set his love on us and filled our hearts with that love. Our hope cannot disappoint us because God has already expressed his enormous love for us. So huge he won’t withdraw it ever.

 

If you buy a £4 bottle of wine, you probably don’t wait for a special occasion before you drink it. And if you try it and it is not very nice, you will dispose of it down the sink with a clear conscience. If you buy a £50 bottle of wine (I can’t imagine what might possess you to do that, but I know some people do) if you buy that £50 bottle, you save it for a very special occasion, and even if it is disgusting you will force yourself to drink the stuff and you will try to like it because it because it was so expensive.

 

Don’t press every detail of that illustration, but the point is this: because God has already invested such valuable love us, we have complete assurance that our hope for the future is not in vain. God will never dispose of us.

 

But how do we know that God loves us that much in the present? There are two proofs. Verses 6-8 have a proof to convince your mind. We will look at that in a moment. Verse 5 speaks of a proof for your heart. God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us. As believers in the Lord Jesus, God has given us the Holy Spirit to live inside us. And one of the things the Spirit will do is to take the knowledge of God’s love down from our heads and apply it so that we feel it and experience it in our hearts.

 

The next few verses talk of the costly sacrifice that Jesus made for undeserving people like us. If you hear about that sacrifice and it fills you with gratitude and joy on the inside as you start to realise how much the Almighty God loves you, that is the Holy Spirit in you, taking the truth of the love of God to you and making it your experience. In fact, unless we have the Holy Spirit in us, we will be indifferent to the love God has demonstrated for us. By ourselves we haven’t got the taste buds to detect God’s vast love to us. But the Holy Spirit living in us makes us know and feel it: we are loved.

Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.

 

Here are four different ways that we can measure love.

 

  • You can measure it by how much it costs. You can love someone by sending them the occasional text message. You can love someone by investing many hours over lots of years in your friendship with them.

 

  • You can measure love by how well deserved it is. It is one kind of love to enter a burning building to try to rescue your own children. It is another kind of love to do that for a person who has significantly harmed your family and never expressed any remorse.

 

  • You can measure love by the benefit it achieves. You could attempt to show love to your 14-year-old son by purchasing him a car. You could instead make time to spend with him to help him to negotiate difficult teenage years, and only help him buy a car when he is able to drive it safely.

 

  • You can measure love by how freely it is given. In the crèche here I expect there are children sharing toys and adults in the room making them do it. But how many children willingly share their toys and take genuine delight in someone else enjoying them?

 

Let this speak to your mind, and then pray that the Holy Spirit make you feel it in your heart. God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us, and the effect of that is to reconcile us to God. God has set upon you and I the costliest, most undeserved, most effective and most freely given love that could possibly be. God could not love you more. He could not love you better. By giving Jesus for us God has proved that his love could not be greater for us than it already is. Don’t think for a moment that God the Father hated us but God the Son forced him to change his mind. Out of his great love, God the Father sent God the Son to reconcile us to him.

 

And then verses 9 and 10 flesh out for us the reasons that our hope cannot disappoint us. The love of God that has been fixed on us in the past and the present guarantees the future. Of course we will be saved at the last day.

The argument in these verses is a less-than-greater-than argument. The greater thing, which we already know about, guarantees the lesser thing. If a Liverpudlian will steal your car in broad daylight, surely he will also pick up and keep a £10 note that he finds in the dark. Of course he will commit the little crime, and his big brazen crimes prove it. Now if you want to speak to me afterwards you will probably find me underneath a scrum of Scousers defending the honour of their community! But that is the kind of argument Paul is using: the big thing proves the small thing.

 

When we were God’s enemies, Christ’s death brought about our reconciliation to God. Well now we are reconciled to God, and Christ is alive. Surely we will not experience the wrath of God but rather be saved from it. It is so obvious it hardly needs saying: there is no way that God would give his Son to die and reconcile us to him, only to condemn us at the last day as if we were still his enemies. There is no way that God would declare us righteous through the resurrection of his Son, only to condemn us at the last day as if we were still unrighteous.

 

Suppose your house had actually been burning down, and you had gone in and rescued your children. Would you then a week later, when they really annoyed you, kick them out and disown them? Of course not. You have already proved that your love to them is worth risking your own life for. God has already proved that he will never let us out of his love. The love of God that has been fixed on us in the past and the present guarantees the future. Of course we will be saved from the wrath of God at the judgement day.

 

What shall we do? We rejoice, we boast because we have hope; we rejoice and boast in the sufferings we have because they make more hope in us; and, verse 11, we rejoice and boast in God himself. You can get up in the morning and go about whatever you do with a spring in your step: you are reconciled by Jesus Christ to the God who rules the universe. You can rejoice in every circumstance God provides for you, comfortable or uncomfortable, because God has set his love on you. God has chosen to love you. That’s not a small thing to say. God didn’t have to love you. It meant for him an infinite cost and pain. It has for us an infinite value both now and for all eternity.

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