This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 18, 2017.
In Romans 1 and 2, Paul emphasizes the universality of human sin, claiming that both Jews and Gentiles fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3 and 4 show God’s response to humanity’s desperate condition. Because of Christ’s righteousness, we are now justified by God’s grace. Romans 4, however, is not the happily ever after ending of this letter. In chapters 5 to 8, Paul addresses the “now what?” of faith. What are we to do while we wait to stand before the throne of God, permitted access by the grace of Christ? We ask this because while our justification is indeed very good news, in this world, Christ has redeemed sin and suffering still remain. Romans 5:1-8 begins a section of the epistle that speaks into how we live faithfully in the present while putting our hope in the future.
Already the justified have peace with God and access to his grace because of Jesus Christ. Already, through faith in Christ, we are reconciled in our relationship with God. Already we are redeemed. Therefore, whatever comes our way is powerless to shake who we are and to whom we belong. With that comes the gift of peace today. And yet, we wait for the day we will share in the glory of God. We hope for a future day when we will see him, know him, and reflect his glory and goodness unhindered and undeterred. While we walk in a world still plagued by sin and suffering, we have peace that today we have access to God’s grace. And we have hope that one day we will be delivered from all sin, suffering, and shame, while we reflect his glory forever. Both this present peace and future hope give us what we need to put one foot in front of the other on the journey of faith.
Paul, then, throws in another component of the present reality of the justified; suffering. Those who come to the Father through the Savior can expect to walk a path of suffering like he walked. Suffering is a universal human experience, but how the justified respond in the midst of the struggle is certainly unique. Paul says we can rejoice in our hardships, here and now, because we hold on to a bigger picture of what is happening in our lives and world. When humans suffer, their trials are often all-consuming. They can see nothing but the darkness. They can feel nothing but the pain. Those who have peace with God, however, trust that in their suffering more is going on than meets the eye. Endurance is being learned. A depth of character is developing. And hope is rising. This echoes the promise Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” When we suffer, the pain we feel is only a part of the full picture of what is happening. While our bodies hurt and our hearts break, our souls are growing up in endurance, character, hope, and love. For that, we have reason to boast.
Finally, Paul emphasizes God’s love by reminding us all that Christ died for us when we could do nothing for him. While we were still sinners- unrighteous and evil- Christ gave everything to make a way for us to experience the grace of God. On our best day, we still fall short of deserving God’s love. And on our worst day, Christ still chose to see us, choose us, and die for us, so that we might live. Our justification is solely a gift of grace. By faith, we accept this gift and live at peace with God- not based on what we have done for him, but only on what God has done for us.
There are several ways the preacher could go with this text. A sermon on the present realities and future hope with an overarching theme of embracing the good news of both the here and now and the not yet would be appropriate. Too often eternal life is seen as the only place peace, hope, and love really dwell. Many pastors spend a lot of time reminding the congregation how broken and messy this world is. Paul would argue the justified have reason to live in these three (peace, hope, and love) not just one day, but right now, even in a world that knows some mess and pain. While we accept these now, whether in a season of feast or famine, of calm or suffering, the one thing we do look forward to is sharing in the glory of God one day.
The preacher may instead want to focus on the faithful path through suffering. This will be an opportunity to invite the congregation to take a few steps back from the heaviest circumstances in their lives and to spend a moment reflecting on the cross. While the crowds only saw a picture of pain, finality, and shame that day, our God was working out a whole other story behind the scenes. The congregation might be challenged to reflect on past sufferings and recognize how their strength, character, and hope grew because of them. While being careful not to downplay anyone’s immediate pain, the preacher has the opportunity to help those who are suffering believe again that our God loves to make something good out of something dreadful- something beautiful out of something ugly- something that resonates life out of something that reeks of death.
Perhaps the preacher chooses to zoom in on verses 6 to 8. These three verses comprise the miracle of the Gospel in a nutshell. When is the last time you preached to the lost in the room, inviting them to hear about a Savior who died for us long before we chose to live for him? Is it time to preach a sermon on the gift of salvation, with a heartfelt invitation for any who have never chosen Jesus to accept this gift before they do another thing? Is it time to spend the morning marveling in God’s grace once again? There are few passages that will immerse us in the simple beauty of the Gospel better than this one.
Pastor of Belfair Community Church
Tags: justification, present sufferings, future hope, salvation, grace