Eternal Hope In A Seemingly Hopeless World (Romans 5:1-11)
The last few years have been difficult. I never would’ve expected the many difficulties of the past few years to surface the way that they have. If you were to have questioned me at age 25, I don’t think I would’ve seen a lot of these things coming. And I don’t think I’m the only one.
Here is where I’m coming from with all of this. As I look at a lot of the people in my life a sense of hopelessness has pervaded their outlook. Again, it’s not something I would’ve forecasted. Within my extended family one cousin, one uncle, and my grandfather chose to take their own lives in the past four years. And alcoholism took an aunt through cirrhosis of the liver with a few with another cousin and uncle headed down the same path as we speak. As I sit and ponder it all, it is astounding. Death happens and it is always sad, but this sort of hopelessness is devastating.
Why do I begin the sermon today with such a somber tone?
I do so because I believe that I am not the only person in this room that has seen, or is seeing, the effects of hopelessness take root in their family or their loved ones. And there may be people here today that feel a sense of desperation deep in their soul.
We’ve had some conversations of late, as a family, concerning much of this. My wife and I have looked at our children and told them that not everyone leads the kind of life that we lead and not everyone has the hope that we have. And in those little talks we’ve had it end with this thought, “Praise God that He chose to save your Daddy and Mommy and help us to see that there is a much better way.”
And here is the truth of the matter. Apart from Christ I’d have no hope. It is only due to the work of Christ that I’m not lost and despairing like so many people today. And this is the point I want to drive home in the message today.
The Christian has hope amid this present darkness because of what Christ has accomplished.
We Have Hope Because We Have Been Justified (Romans 5:1-5)
Justified is a term that means, “declared righteous”. It’s similar to when a judge bangs the gavel and makes a legal declaration. To be “justified” means that God has declared you righteous and not guilty. And He does this on the basis of Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection.
We are justified, therefore we have peace with God (Romans 5:10). Because of the finished work of Christ we have peace with God. We were rebel sinners with the wrath and justice of God hanging over our heads. We had earned God’s wrath and justice. But God made a way for us to be redeemed. God sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to live a perfect life, and die on the cross as the sacrifice for sin. Three days later, He rose from the grave. We are declared righteous on the basis of this work of Jesus. We are united to Him by faith and His perfect life is credited to us. Our sins are credited to Him and He paid the punishment for them. And Jesus rose from the dead and has given to us resurrection life.
But this work does not just do something for us in the past. This grace is something that we currently stand in. We currently have access to God. We live this life in God’s grace, with Him watching over us and caring for us. We live with God the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. This means that we have access to God in prayer now and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives now. This is not merely a past or future thing, it exists for us now. We currently stand in God’s wondrous grace.
So, we have the work of Christ in the past and the grace we stand in right now, but we also have the hope of future glory (Romans 5:2). This is about the return of Christ and our eternal home. Our justification was completed in the past. We currently stand in God’s grace. And we have this future hope. This hope consists in the fact that Christ will one day return and make all things right. There will be no more sorrow, shame, tears, loss, death, because those things will be no more. This is the hope that we look forward to and discuss so often in sermons and songs.
That is a lot of hope. And it is all so dreamlike until you get to the next sentence in which we are told that our suffering brings about hope.
The work of Christ gives meaning to our suffering (Romans 5:3). We still suffer in this life, but ours gives birth to something better. All of us suffer. That is not in dispute. But God is doing something within the life of the believer that He is not doing in the unbeliever. God is producing endurance, character, and hope.
I know that I read this a few weeks ago in a sermon. But I want to revisit this powerful quote from John Bunyan in which he discusses the fact that God causes us to go through times of hardship for our good. In Romans Paul says that it produces endurance, character, and hope. Here Bunyan simply states that hardship enters our lives so that we will produce fruit.
“Hence such a time is rightly said to be a time to try us, or to find out what we are, and is there no good in this? Is it not this that rightly rectifies our judgment about ourselves, that makes us to know ourselves, that tends to cut off those superfluous sprigs of pride and self conceitedness, wherewith we are subject to be overcome? Is not such a day, the day that bends us, humbleth us, and that makes us bow before God, for our faults committed in our prosperity? And yet doth it yield no good unto us. We shall be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winters. It is said that in some countries tress will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there. The Lord bless all seasons to His people, and help them rightly behave themselves, under all the times that go over them.” –John Bunyan, from the Complete Works of John Bunyan
It is necessary that we face some hardships in our lives. Otherwise we would not grow into the people God intends us to be.
Think of it another way. You have to have some hardship enter your life in order for you to grow. If you go to the gym and work out, you do this whether you know you do it or not.
Do you know how a person gets strong? When a person lifts weights or does some sort of physical labor, they tear their muscles. I am not talking about big massive tears that require surgery. I am talking about micro tears. When you lift weight to the point of failure or enough to cause stress in the workout, then you have hopefully caused microtears to develop in your muscles. After this takes place, your body heals the muscle and repairs these microtears. Through this repair, the muscle is left bigger and stronger.
Other parts of the body function in similar ways. I was once waiting for my next seminary class when we received a note. The professor had fallen unconscious on the floor of the airport and would not make it that day. He had a heart attack and no one knew if he would live. Well, we saw him in class a few weeks later and he was doing well. The doctor told him that because he exercised, he swam 3-4 times per week, his heart had developed other pathways for blood. He had a complete blockage of an artery that would normally kill a person but because he had exercised enough to stress the heart a little, it had saved his life.
Do you know how people grow in endurance? It’s not pleasant. If you’re talking about running or swimming, they do it until it is very difficult. If you’re talking about the endurance to live the Christian life, then the answer is the same. We are pushed into areas that are very difficult and this creates in us endurance to live the Christian life faithfully.
And these hardships produce character in us. Character is produced under stress as well. It is easy to do the right thing when everything is right in the world. But it is much more difficult when times are tough. Yet, it is in those hard times that our character is developed.
I want to again use a sports analogy here. Coaches attempt to grow a player’s work ethic through stress. What is a coach doing when one player shoots a free throw that will decide whether or not the whole team must run more laps or bleachers? He is making that player perform under pressure in hopes that he becomes accustomed to that sort of pressure. The coach is working to make the player be unaffected or close to unaffected by that sort of pressure.
Why do coaches push players to do difficult things when they are exhausted? Why do two-adays exist in the middle of summer. That sort of thing produces character in the team that will cause them to excel.
Think about how your life works. Your bad day does not give you the right to be mean to those around you. Your good behavior during that bad day does grow you. And, consider this, your mistakes, as embarrassing as they may be, do help you to grow as a human being.
And all of this produces hope. Why would it produce hope?
You know that God has justified you. You now have peace with God, access to God, and hope of future glory. You know that God has a purpose in your hardships and is working all of this out for your betterment and so that you will persevere and endure, so that you will grow in the faith, and make it to the end. Without these hardships you would not be able to continue believing in Christ and persevering through the trials and tribulations.
A sidebar here might be helpful. It is not entirely accurate to say that once a person is saved they are always saved. While that is true, it misses something rather important. What Scripture teaches is that the person who is truly saved will endure to the end. And my point here is that God keeps His people to the end. They will persevere. And part of the way that God causes them to persevere is through trials and tribulations. And all of this produces hope.
We can lose sight of this. I know that I often do. But it is these truths that we must always be drug back to. These truths we must preach to ourselves constantly. And some of us need to declare these things to ourselves much more than others, but we need to have these things echoing in our minds.
How do you respond when you find out that you have a difficult illness or some other difficult situation? Some of you in this room have gone through this and will hopefully just say “amen” in agreement. How do you respond?
Well, your right standing with God gives you comfort. You know that God has given you peace with Him and you will be with Him for eternity. If this thing were to kill you, then you would be with Him forever. You currently stand in God’s grace, He is with you and caring for you in the moment. And you can go to Him in prayer. And you have this future hope that you are looking for and longing for.
And when times of suffering does come, you know that it is not purposeless. God is doing something in you in this moment. God is using it to break you down and build you up. You are receiving micro tears, or maybe some of them are major tears, and God is working in you to mold you into the man or woman that He desires for you to be. He may be working endurance and perseverance into your life. He may be working patience and lovingkindness into your life. He may be giving you an extra dose of courage and bravery for the days ahead. But the point is that when you suffer, it is for some reason. And because of that you have hope. You know where all of this is headed. You know what the end of this is.
This is not a perspective that the lost person has. What do they have when hardship falls upon them?
They don’t have assurance of God’s lovingkindness upon their life. Nor do they have any future hope. This is all that there is. And what is suffering but a blight upon their current life. It is a hopeless existence. And praise God, we have been pulled out of that. Praise God that we have been given eternal life through Christ and have hope.
And notice that Paul says that “hope does not put to shame”. Why does hope, specifically this hope, not put to shame? It is because God will do what it is He has promised to do. This thing that we look forward to and hope for will most assuredly come to pass.
But that is not the only reason we have hope.
We Have Hope Because We Are Assured Of God’s Love (Romans 5:5-9)
The first thing we notice here is that God assures us of His love by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The leading, guiding, and comforting of the Holy Spirit assures us that God loves us. There are times when this has been evident in my life. But there have been other times that this is hard to see.
I want to freely admit that sometimes this doesn’t seem all that helpful. Sometimes we don’t feel God’s love. Sometimes we are in a dark place and need a banner flying high up in the sky that we can always look to in order to be assured of God’s love toward us. And at that moment we should look at the cross.
God assures us of His love in Christ’s death on the cross. What does Paul say here?
“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 to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)
We were ill-deserving of God’s grace. Not only did we not deserve it, but we deserved God’s wrath instead. And God gave to us grace. And that is what we should see when we look at the cross. Humans are often seen caring for those they think deserve it, but that is not at all what God did here. God saved sinners who were in rebellion against Him. And He did so by sending His precious Son to die on a cross in our place.
No wonder the cross is so precious to us. No wonder most of us have one hanging in our homes or around our necks. No wonder there are so many of them hanging up here at church. They are reminders to us of the cross Christ died on and the love that God had for us.
God has not left us in this dark world without reminders of His lovingkindness toward us. He has given to us the Holy Spirit and the cross.
I have oftentimes been in a deep dark funk. And then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, I am reminded of God’s lovingkindness. Sometimes it comes at the strangest of times. But those are moments that I hold on to and think on. A biblical truth might come to mind that helps me to see God’s lovingkindness. I have gone through weeks of frustrating sorrow over a situation, and after a while am moved to think through a passage of Scripture or maybe a word from a church member that I needed to hear. Sometimes as I get into the Word, the Holy Spirit works to show me something in the text that I needed to see in order to understand what is happening in my life.
But there have also been times that I have had a hard time seeing much of anything. And I need something bold and objective staring me right in the face to scream at me that God loves and cares for me. And at that time, I think on the cross.
That’s what Paul says here. God’s love is revealed in an objective fashion on the cross. It doesn’t come from an inner dialogue. It’s not something that I can argue away. It is something that placarded in my face. God did not leave this rebel sinner to die apart from Him. God sent His Son as the sacrifice for sin. He stood in my place. And that is set before my eyes in a way that, even in the darkest days, I can see.
Because Of God, We Rejoice Rather Than Despair (Romans 5:9-11)
We live in a dark world, that much is plain. But because of God, we rejoice rather than despair. Think about it. Since God has been so kind to do everything that we’ve listed here today: He justified us, saved us from wrath, brought us to Himself even though we were enemies, paid for our sins through the death of His Son, we rejoice in Him. We rejoice in God through whom we’ve been given salvation.
It is by the work of God that the believer is given reason for hope and rejoicing. I did not do any of these things. I have hope because of what He did for me.
If my reason for hope in this life rested in me, my lineage, the place of my birth, or anything else that depended on me or my situation, then I would have little hope at all. But that is not the case. My reason for hope lies outside of myself. My reason for hope is that God, who stands outside of this world and time itself, entered creation and accomplished all of this on my behalf.
My reason for hope is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a world filled with darkness. And at times that can be overwhelming. But the Christian has reason for hope, and it is not found within their self. It is found in the Lord and the salvation that He accomplished for us.
Let us rejoice in this glorious salvation. And let that be your hope in a dark world.
R. Dwain Minor
 You can find the quote here, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Works_of_John_Bunyan_Complete/9wNzEAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22will+bear+no+fruit+because+there+is+no+winter+there%22&pg=PT3624&printsec=frontcover