Romans – Digging Deep: The Path of Joy

The Path Of Joy

Romans 5:1-11


He wasn’t a pastor or preacher. He wasn’t a missionary or Bible scholar. He was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His prowess in the court room brought him financial prosperity. A few months prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871 he had invested fairly heavily in real estate along Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline, and his properties were completely wiped out in the fire. So, looking for a rest, Horatio Spafford scheduled a European vacation for himself, his wife, and their four daughters. Unexpected business delayed his departure, but he sent his wife and daughters ahead to Europe as scheduled on a ship, expecting to follow them as soon as he could. A few days later the ship carrying his family was accidentally struck by a British ship and sank in 12 minutes. Days later when the survivors finally made it ashore in Britain, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband with these words, “Saved alone.” He left by ship to join his grief-stricken wife, and stood on the deck of the ship as it sailed by the area where his four daughters had drowned and penned these words as an outlet for his own grief:


“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows role, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”


Humanly speaking, it’s hard to imagine someone penning those words after losing so much: his vast real estate holdings in the fire, and much more significantly, his four precious daughters. Was he suppressing his grief? Was he denying the troubles facing him, the pressures of life, the pain? Was he heartless, not really caring about his daughters? No. Remember his pain-filled words: When sorrows like sea billows roll. He was being crushed by the sorrow in his heart as the waves he was watching had crushed the ship carrying what he considered to be the most precious of cargos.


But his life of discipleship, his life with Christ had led him to the point where he understood that grace is not a one-time event – a decision made to depend on Christ and the forgiveness that comes through faith in Christ – but a state of being that exists in the hearts of those whose lives are marked by the grace and forgiveness of Christ. The apostle Paul uses the phrase “the grace in which we stand.”


Throughout scripture we are reminded that although we are still residents of this world, with all of its sin, and all of its pain, and all of its brokenness, and the challenges we face, we are in fact citizens of another kingdom, the Kingdom of God. But the focus of Scripture isn’t just on that kingdom’s being in another place, the focus of Scripture is on it’s being a state of being in our current place, a state of being that will be consummated – fully realized, with Christ in eternity. And while that state of being – the grace in which we stand – is not always in every moment filled with happiness, it is a state of true and unrelenting joy. Let’s look together at Romans 5:1-11.


Lots of people assume that once we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, we’re on our own after that. Others assume that if we do our religious duties, go to church, attend Sunday school, do our best to be good people, we’ll hopefully get enough credit with God for him to say “you were good enough.” But the biblical view of grace is much broader than that. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are viewed together as the single most important event in human history. Christ is the hub around which everything else rotates, and living in the state of Grace has implications for our past, our future, and our present.


And Paul invites us, first and foremost, to CELEBRATE our peace with God. He begins by putting his hand on our heads and directing our gaze backward, to the past, to remember what God in Christ has done for us. Now, to be justified by faith is to be declared “in the right,” not guilty, because Christ took upon himself our just punishment for sin. And it is faith, which I define as our trust in God’s faithfulness, that brings us to the point of being justified, of receiving God’s forgiveness because our sin is punished in Christ.


Bob Sheffield tells a moving story of what it means to receive God’s forgiveness. Before he became a Christian, he played professional hockey in Canada. He was tough, loved to fight, and found himself in jail one night after a barroom brawl. Later in life, Bob and his wife became Christians, and they accepted a temporary ministry position in the United States. Bob had to apply for landed immigrant status, which would allow him and his wife to continue in ministry in the United States. But because he had a criminal record, his request was denied. They decided to apply in Canada for what is called the “Queen’s Pardon.” Following thorough investigation, the pardon was granted. Bob Sheffield received the following notice in the mail: Whereas we have since been implored on behalf of the said Robert Jones Sheffield to extend a pardon to him in respect to the convictions against him, and whereas the solicitor general here submitted a report to us, now know ye therefore, having taken these things into consideration, that we are willing to extend the royal clemency on him, the said Robert J. Sheffield. We have pardoned, remitted, and released him of every penalty to which he was liable in pursuance thereof.


On any document from that time forward on which Bob was asked if he had a criminal record, he could honestly answer no. The pardon meant he was released from any possible punishment for the crimes, and the record of the crimes themselves was completely erased. That is the kind of pardon we have in Jesus Christ. When asked, the answer is, “no record, pardoned because of the blood of Christ.”


And the result of our justification is peace with God. We want peace in our lives don’t we? Who here thinks they could use a little more peace in their life right now? We long for peace, don’t we. We are the most addicted, medicated, and in-debt adult cohort in the world and in American history because of our quest for peace. We long for peace –  peace in our hearts and minds, peace in our homes, peace in our families, peace in our schedules, peace between nations. That isn’t the kind of peace Paul is talking about here. That’s the peace OF God, and it’s a byproduct of God’s work in our lives.


But Paul isn’t talking about the peace OF God. He’s talking about peace WITH God. Look at V. 6. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. At the moment when we were at our worst, at our lowest, at just the right time, Christ died for us. Then look at the example he uses. It’s rare for someone to be willing to die for anyone, but it does happen. Someone might be willing to die for a good person, someone they are close to. But would anyone really die for Hitler, for a child molester, for a sex trafficker? This picture of love, of someone laying down their life not for a good person, but a really bad person, is the kind of picture that Paul reserves ONLY for God’s love toward us. He never describes our love toward God in terms that even remotely approach this. Only God is capable of Agape love, truly unconditional love. Now look at Vv. 10-11. Christ died for us when we were enemies with God, and in the process bridged the gap between God and us, restored the relationship, and therefore we have received reconciliation with God.


The path to joy begins with CHERISHING our peace with God. The second step on the path to joy is to CONTEMPLATE our future with God. Look at V. 2. Rejoice in hope of the glory of God. There are two really important words in that sentence. The first is glory. What exactly IS the glory of God? Sometimes the Bible uses that phrase to describe the incredible, indescribable, overwhelming presence of God. The magnificent nature of who God is. But that isn’t what Paul is getting at here. Here, the glory of God is pointing to what the indescribable, overwhelming, magnificent presence of God WILL DO. That in the end, good will triumph over evil, true justice will triumph over injustice, sin will be destroyed, and every evil, shortcoming, mistake will be made right. Here, the glory of God is what God will do.


The other important word is hope. What is hope? Today, we use the word hope to mean “wishful thinking.” You know, I HOPE we get a ticket to the concert. I HOPE there are some cookies left when I get out into the lobby after service. I HOPE I get a _____ for Christmas.           Hope in the Bible does not have that idea of wishful thinking that the modern day English word has. When Paul used the word, it meant “a sure expectation.”


Several years ago, “The Hunger Games” movies started coming out. Movies based on the books written for teens. Aubrey was a big fan and I read and enjoyed the books myself. So when the first movie came out, it premiered in Traverse City on a Thursday night at midnight, so technically Friday. And that first showing sold out fast. Remember, the movie started at midnight. And it was a couple of hours long. It was a room full of groups of middle school girls with a handful of dads, whoever drew the short stick in the each group of friends I guess. When we got to the movie theater, the line to get in was long, and there was another line of people HOPING there would be a few tickets left. But Aubrey and I already had our tickets. I had purchased them on-line days before, AND I actually went to the theater and had them print my tickets out just to make sure nothing went wrong. We went to see the movie with tickets already in hand. It didn’t matter whether there would be room for everyone waiting outside. We were guaranteed seats in the theater. That’s the difference between hope as we view it today – as wishful thinking – and hope in biblical perspective – a sure expectation. We KNEW we were getting in.


So to hope in the glory of God is to know that God is bringing human history to his desired conclusion. That good WILL in the end triumph over evil. That true justice WILL triumph over injustice. That sin WILL be destroyed and every evil, shortcoming, and mistake will be made right.


We move toward joy by cherishing God’s grace in our past, and contemplating God’s grace in our future, but what about today? Look at Vv. 3-5. “Rejoice in our sufferings.” Huh? The word translated sufferings actually means “pressure.” Paul isn’t just talking about the big, dramatic things, the tragedies we face, although they’re certainly included. He’s including the pressures of daily life. The pressure of deadlines, the pressure of the economy, the pressure of workplace politics, of peoples’ expectations of us, the pressures of relationships, kids messing up, the pressures of aging bodies and aging minds.


Remember, Paul isn’t telling us we have to be happy in all of these circumstances. But we CAN cherish them as opportunities to “stand in grace,” and so we can experience joy even in the midst of trial and temptation and trouble and challenge, great or small. How? Because pressure, experienced under the grace of God, leads to patient endurance. Paul isn’t saying we should go looking for pressure, or that we shouldn’t seek to relieve it. But sometimes, no matter what we do, we can’t. The word here literally means to “remain under.” When we cannot avoid or resolve the pressure, we can, because of the grace of God, choose to remain under it with calm and dignity. And that “remaining under” pressure produces tested character. The image Paul uses here is of an athlete or a soldier who has proven their mettle and endurance in combat or in competition. And patient endurance leads to hope. A hope that KNOWS God isn’t done. A hope that KNOWS God is in control. Not a sentiment that hopes (as we define hope) that God is in control. A hope that knows, and looks forward to, all that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do, whether we see the results, the end, in our lifetime or not. And that hope leads us to joy. Not happiness that depends on happenings in our lives. But joy, the quiet confidence that God is in control, regardless of what happens in our short time in this earth.


Do we have any Monty Python fans here today? Well, in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as King Arthur and his knights seek the Holy Grail, they come to a bridge that spans an abyss of eternal peril. A bridge keeper allows people to cross this bridge only if they can answer three questions. Get one wrong, and you’re tossed into the pit.


Lancelot is the first tested. The keeper asks him, “What is your name?” Lancelot answers.


“What is your quest?”


Lancelot answers, “To seek the Holy Grail.”


“What is your favorite color?”




“Right,” says the bridge keeper, “off you go.” Lancelot crosses the bridge, amazed this was so easy.


The second knight similarly states his name and quest. But the third question is now, “What is the capital of Assyria?”


“I don’t know that.”


The knight is hurled, screaming, into the abyss.


The third knight, Sir Galahad, is nervous as he’s asked his name and quest, but he answers correctly.


“What is your favorite color?”


Sir Galahad panics. “Blue – no, yellow – Aaaaahhhh,” he screams as he is hurled into the pit.


Finally, the king steps up. “What is your name?”


“Arthur, King of the Britains.”


“What is your quest?”


“To seek the Holy Grail.”


“What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”


“What do you mean,” asks Arthur, “an African or European swallow?”


“What? I don’t know that,” answers the bridge keeper, who immediately is launched into the abyss. Arthur and his followers thereafter cross the bridge unhindered.


Many people’s idea of the gospel is that someday we’ll get to the bridge to paradise and be asked, “Why should you be allowed to cross?” As long as we answer correctly, we make it across. Answer wrongly, and we’re cast into the abyss. The gospel is redefined to be the announcement of the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven.


Jesus never said, “Now I’m going to tell you what you need to say to get into heaven when you die.” Jesus’ good news is we no longer have to live in the guilt, failure, and impotence of our own strength. The transforming presence and power of God is available through Christ right here, right now.[i] And THAT is reason for joy. Let us pray.

[i] John Ortberg, “True (and False) Transformation,” Leadership (Summer 2002), pp.101-102