The Most Sought After Things in the World
January 1, 1993
A number of years ago a major American magazine published the results of a most fascinating survey. The editors had asked 16 prominent Americans what they did in order to find peace of mind in the midst of our stressful world. The responses were quite revealing.
Noted author James Michener reported that he found peace of mind by walking his two dogs along deserted country roads, old streams and fields that had not been plowed for half a century. Barry Goldwater, for many years the senior senator from Arizona, said that he found peace of mind in his hobbies—boating, photography and flying. He especially found peace of mind by taking reflective walks in the Grand Canyon. Walter Cronkite, the former CBS anchorman, said he preferred solitude, usually by “going to sea in a small boat.” The late Sammy Davis, Jr., listed looking for the best in others as a way to find peace of mind. And Bill Moyers, the celebrated producer of so many PBS documentaries, finds peace of mind by attending family reunions, preferably those held in out-of-the-way places. (cf. James Montgomery Boice, Romans, II, pp. 503-510)
When you consider these responses, two observations come to mind:
All the responses are essentially subjective and dependent on outward circumstances. They reflect a desire for an ideal world, a quiet place to think, a place to be alone, with people you can trust. Who among us cannot identify with those longings? In this hustle-bustle world where we live in a continual pressure cooker, we all would like to find that “old stream” or that “little boat” or those forgotten towns where we can stroll down the street unnoticed.
The responses show that there is a universal desire for peace of mind. While these well-known and highly-successful people differ in how they achieve it, no one doubts for a moment that “peace of mind” is a worthy goal. Interestingly, none of the answers relates peace of mind to worldly goals like money, fame, success or power. When great people seek peace of mind, they don’t turn to the world. In a real sense, they turn away from it.
Money, Sex and Power
That leads me to ask a penetrating question. What are the most sought after things in life? An unthinking answer might list the things just mentioned. But money—though it truly is sought after—rarely brings satisfaction. Ask a man with money if his money makes him happy; the answer invariably will be no. He may enjoy the pursuit of money—the long, hard climb to the top, the building of a company from the ground up, the years spent moving from one position to another—that, in a strange way, he may enjoy. But if a rich man is honest, the money itself does not satisfy. If it did, why does he always want more?
The same is true for power—”the ultimate aphrodisiac.” But elect a man sheriff this year and next time he’ll want to be a judge. Elect him judge and soon he wants to go to Springfield. Send him to the legislature and before long he wants to go to Washington. Is he satisfied? No. At night he dreams of the White House.
But what about sex? Will that satisfy? Ask the broken victims of this generation about sex—lonely women, frustrated men, aimlessly coupling and uncoupling, searching through the night for what? For another thrill? No. Now they seek something lasting, something permanent, a bonding, a meeting, an opening of the heart, the hoped-for Mr. Right, the woman of their dreams—not for sex, no, not at all—but this time for something that will last beyond tomorrow. No one knows the truth better than this generation. We have unlimited sexual freedom, but we don’t have peace of mind. Or anything like it.
What are we left with? If money, sex and power won’t satisfy, what will? I think the answer must be that the satisfaction we seek—the peace of mind we crave, the sense of fulfillment we so desperately want—is quite simply not found in this world. Nothing in this world satisfies the hunger within; the answer must come from outside the world. What we seek comes from the unseen realm of the spirit. Satisfaction comes from God—and from nowhere else.
That’s what Augustine was trying to say 1500 years ago when he wrote his famous prayer: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal said the same thing when he commented that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside each man. We may try to fill that vacuum with the things of this world—money, sex and power—but the result is spiritual indigestion. Our tummies are full but our hearts are empty. Where can we go to find the things we want more than anything else in the world? We can go to God, for in Him we find what we seek.
Back to Romans
With that as background, we turn now to the book of Romans. Or perhaps I should say we return to Romans. Last year we spent four months on a journey through Romans 1-4, a series called “God’s Good News.” I told you then that I hoped to return to Romans and preach through chapters 5-8, and then later through chapters 9-11, and still later through chapters 12-16. Thus over a period of years we would work our way through every portion of this epistle.
But why spend so much time on one book of the Bible, when there are 65 other books? The answer is not hard to find: Romans is arguably the greatest book in all the Bible. If a person could have complete knowledge of only one book, they could do much worse than to focus on Romans. By common consent we can make three superlative statements about Romans. In it we find:
The clearest diagnosis of the sinful condition of mankind.
The greatest statement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The most profound description of the Christian life.
If there is such a thing as a “Christian manifesto,” this is it. Paul has packed so much good theology into 16 short chapters, that having spent 65-70 sermons over a four-year period on Romans, we will still have only scratched the surface. While it is true that everything in the Bible is written for our profit, no other book of the Bible contains so much truth put in such a compact form.
But there is a second reason. Romans is a book for today. A few days ago we spent an evening with some dear friends. At one point the husband made this comment about the late Francis Schaeffer: “In the 70s, Dr. Schaef-fer said that as American society turned away from the concept of absolute moral values, the result would inevitably be rampant abortion, euthanasia, infanticide and increasing homosexuality. What he said sounded extreme then, but it has come true.” He’s right. I can remember when Francis Schaeffer came to Dallas in 1977 showing his film series “How Should We Then Live?” Marlene and I went to every session at Moody Audito-rium on the SMU campus. As a budding student of theology, I thought Schaeffer was fascinating but a little bit “out there” on some of his dire predictions. But from the perspective of 16 years, I see clearly that he was right on target. If anything, his predictions now seem conservative!
Romans 1 Coming True in 1993
What was Francis Schaeffer saying in the 70s? Essentially he argued that as Western society turned away from God, we would also jettison any notion of absolute values. The result would be a society ruled by the tyranny of public opinion—”the majority plus one.”Either that—or the rise of some form of authoritarian rule. He also predicted the “Age of Personal Peace and Affluence” in which the paramount values would be peace and prosperity.
Is that not precisely where we are in 1993? That’s really what the recent national elections were all about. Now we are being told that in order to win again, the Republican Party must give up its opposition to abortion. A group called the Republican Majority Coalition wants to push all “issues of conscience” off the political agenda and focus on things like the deficit, the economy, jobs and health care.
Francis Schaeffer was right. But before he spoke, another man wrote of a day when men would suppress the truth of God and turn to every form of immorality. He wrote of a society so reprobate that God permits it to descend to the very depths of depravity. When you consider the things coming out of the White House these days, it seems as if Romans 1 is coming true before our very eyes.
The Key Word
Against that bleak picture, we discover the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul’s entire description of the gospel may be summed up in one word: Justification. The word means “to declare righteous.” It comes from the courtroom and pictures that moment when a verdict of “Not Guilty” is declared by the judge. Justification is that act whereby God declares a sinner righteous, i.e., not guilty, the moment he places his faith in Jesus Christ. Romans 4:5 tells us that it does not depend on good works of any kind, but only on simple faith in Jesus. More than that, justification means that God declares a sinner righteous, while he is still a sinner, on the simple and single condition of faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you remember what Romans 3:21-26 tells us about justification? It is …
Apart from the law
For sinners only
Provided by the death of Christ
A demonstration of God’s justice
Robert Mounce (Themes From Romans, pp 43-44) offers this excellent summary of justification:
To be justified means to be acquitted, to gain a right standing. Justification frees the guilty man from paying the just penalty of his sin. It declares that he is totally exonerated. All charges are dropped.
This acquittal is absolutely free because it is based on the unmerited favor (grace) of God. God decided to set man free, arranged a plan by which He could justify the guilty and still remain a moral being, and then carried it out.
It’s a free offer. The only option we have is to accept it or reject it.
Think about that. Justification means that God has done everything necessary for you to go to heaven. His Son has paid the price for your sin. Nothing you can do can add in the least bit to your salvation. Thank God, you don’t have to be good to go to heaven. All you have to do is believe.
That’s what justification is all about. The moment you trust Jesus Christ, God says, “All charges are dropped. I declare this man ’not guilty.’ Let him go free.”
Universal and Permanent
That brings us to Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith.” These words mark a major turning point in the book. Prior to this, Paul has described the hopeless condition of the human race (1:18-3:20) and God’s divine solution in Jesus Christ (3:21-31). He then illustrated what justification by faith means by using the example of Abraham (4:1-25). Now he turns a corner in his thinking. Beginning with Romans 5:1, everything he will say is based on two key assumptions:
That justification by faith is the universal experience of all believers. In Paul’s mind, there is no such thing as an “unjustified” Christian. If you are not justified by faith, you aren’t a Christian at all. God has no “Plan B” for those who refuse to put their faith in Jesus Christ. The only way that you will ever be right with God is to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Nothing else can gain you a right standing with God. So when Paul says “since we have been justified by faith,” he is referring to the fact that justification is absolutely necessary, and without it salvation is impossible.
That justification by faith is the permanent possession of every believer. This is no doubt the major theme of Romans 5:1-11. Having finished his discussion of Abraham’s experience, his Jewish readers would no doubt ask, “But will this ’new’ method last, Paul? If we follow your teaching, how can we be sure that it will take us to heaven? Is it safe for all the problems of life? What happens when trouble and persecution come? Are we still justified? Will God change his mind and ’unjustify’ us? Even if faith saves us at the beginning, will it still save us at the end?” To all these questions, Paul answers a resounding Yes! When God saves, he saves forever. When God justifies, he justifies forever. When God declares a person righteous, he never comes back and says, “Oops! I changed my mind.”
In many commentaries Romans 5:1-11 is often called something like “The Fruits of Justification” or “The Benefits of Belief” or “The Blessings of the Justified.” All those things are true. But Paul’s deeper purpose is to demonstrate that those “fruits” last forever. The “benefits” and “blessings” are the permanent possession of believers in Christ.
Let us turn, then, to consider Romans 5:1-5. These verses reveal 5 permanent possessions that come to the believer as a result of justification by faith.
Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have …
I. Peace With God
“Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “peace” means to be in a state of well-being and prosperity because warfare has come to an end. Some of you may remember V-E Day or V-J Day at the end of World War II. All of us can remember the national celebration at the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Peace means that the fighting is over, the killing has stopped and the soldiers have put down their guns. It means that little children can now play in the streets without fear and mothers don’t have to stay up late at night worrying whether they will ever see their sons again.
But more than that, peace means the restoration of a broken relationship. It’s more than just the end of fighting and bickering. It’s what happens when two people who haven’t been speaking once again become friends. It’s what happens when a couple on the verge of divorce work out their problems, recommit themselves to each other, and fall in love all over again. It’s what happens when blacks and whites who have viewed each other with dark suspicion begin to trust each other. Peace means that a relationship once filled with enmity now is filled with joy. Peace is a positive change in a relationship between two people who once were enemies!
In the beginning man lived in peace with God. But sin entered the relationship, man turned to his own devices, and the relationship was broken. Now every person who enters this world comes in as an enemy of God. That’s what sin does. It destroys every relationship in heaven and on earth.
Peace “With” and “Of” God
But now, Paul says, through Jesus Christ and as a result of our justification we have peace with God. Please do not confuse this with the peace “of God.” That’s something else entirely. The peace “of God” is that sense of moment-by-moment happiness which we may have as we trust our Heavenly Father in the midst of the prob-lems of life. But peace “with God” comes as a result of our accepting the work of Christ on the cross for our salvation. It means that God is no longer angry with us. The war is over! Heaven is satisfied. We are no longer enemies of God, but through Christ, we have become his friends.
Perhaps the following will make the distinction clear:
Peace “with God” Peace “of God”
Romans 5:1 Philippians 4:6-7
Need of the sinner Need of the saint
Takes us to heaven Brings heaven to us
At the moment of salvation Moment-by-moment
Both are vitally important, but peace “with God” comes before the peace “of God.” You must have the former before you can experience the latter.
Note the present tense—”we have peace with God.” Not only is this peace the permanent possession of the believer, it is also our present possession. We have peace with God right now.
Can you say, “I have peace with God?” If you are a Christian, you can indeed say that with confidence.
Notice also that peace with God comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” All God’s blessings come through Jesus. He is the great Peacemaker. He is the mediator between God and man. He is the “day’s-man” who puts one hand on us and one hand on God—and brings us together.
My Friend Dennis
I’ve never forgotten a police officer I met in my first church in California. Dennis had been a cop’s cop. He was tough with a capital T. He was also mean and somewhat sadistic. He once told me that he and his partner used to ride around looking for punks so they could throw them in dumpsters and ride away laughing. Before he was a cop he had served in Vietnam and seen some strange things. I think that’s what made him live “on the edge.”
Dennis lived right across the street from our church and his children occasionally came to Sunday School—and he and Carol would sometimes show up for a worship service. Over the months we struck up a friendship—mostly because he told the most incredible stories I had ever heard in my life. He was what you would call a “seeker.” For a long time, he just plied me with one question after another about the Bible and Jesus Christ, not hostile or negative but sincerely looking for the truth.
One day we went to eat at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place where they made the best tacos in town. He said, “Let me tell you what happened to me.” And he proceeded to tell me that after thinking about it for a long time, he had recently given his heart to Jesus Christ. I’ll never forget his words. “I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.”
That’s what it means to have “peace with God.” The weight of sin lifted off your shoulders. The guilt is gone because your sins have been forgiven.
“Have You Made Your Peace With God?”
Sometimes people talk about “making peace with God.” The Bible never uses that expression because it is utterly impossible to “make peace with God.” Man can’t do that. You can’t “make peace” with the Almighty. It has to start with him. Louis Talbot tells about a dying Christian who was visited by a friend who asked him, “Have you made your peace with God?” “No, I haven’t.” “What? Oh, you must make peace with God.” “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.” “But you must. Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to die without making peace with God?” To which the Christian replied, “How can I make peace with God? My Lord made peace with me 2000 years ago when he died on the cross, and I accepted it. I have had peace ever since.” That man understood the meaning of Romans 5:1.
The Bible says that Jesus “made peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:20) If Jesus “made peace” when he died on the cross, then all that is left to us is to accept by faith the peace he has already made. We don’t “make peace” with God; he “made peace” with us when Jesus died at Calvary.
Peace with God is the first great permanent possession that comes to the believer as a result of justification. Verse 2 introduces us to the second great blessing.
Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have …
II. Access to God
“Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” The word “access” means “to enter the presence of a king.” It speaks of the right to enter the inner chambers and speak with the king face to face. “Access” is a privilege given only to the king’s family and close friends. Paul is saying that through Jesus Christ we may now enter the very presence of God.
This was revolutionary—especially for his Jewish readers. They were accustomed to a system that kept a respectful distance between God and man. For instance, Gentiles were restricted to the outer courts of the Temple. If a Gentile went beyond that court, he could be put to death. Then there was the “Court of the Women” that restricted female worshipers. Finally, there was the “Holy Place” where only the priests could minister and behind it the “Holy of Holies,” separated by a thick curtain. Entrance into the “Holy of Holies” was restricted to the High Priest—and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement. The message was clear: “Keep your distance!”
Chelsea and Me
But we can understand this concept of limited access in modern terms. Suppose that tomorrow morning I fly to Washington and present myself at the White House and ask to see the President. When the guards ask who I am, suppose I say, “Just tell the President that Ray Pritchard is here to see him.” What will happen? Back will come the message, “I’m sorry. We don’t know who you are. You can’t see the President today.” And they won’t let me in.
Why? Because I’m not a friend or a family member. I have no access. But suppose the President’s daughter needs some lunch money. She just walks in and says, “Dad, I need some money for lunch.” And he flips her a twenty-dollar bill. No one thinks a thing about it. She has access to the inner chambers of the White House.
Paul says that we have that kind of access to God. How? “Through Him”—that is, through Jesus Christ. Everything God has for us comes through Jesus Christ! Jesus himself said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) But when we come through Jesus Christ, we are admitted into the very presence of God himself. Not the outer courts, not the angelic guardhouse, not into some drab waiting room, but we are admitted into the throne room of heaven.
Three Great Implications
Here are three great implications of that truth:
Our standing before God is based entirely on grace. “… this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:2) Both sides of that statement are true. We stand in grace—not groveling before God, not beggars in the heavenly courtroom, not as convicted criminals or defeated soldiers, not as interlopers or intruders. But we stand in God’s presence as those who have a right to be there. We stand in grace—not on the basis of our works, not claiming any merit save the merit of Jesus Christ. Grace gives us a foothold in heaven. One day that “foothold” will become the title deed to a mansion. Grace gives us hope that one day the gates of heaven will swing open for us. As one writer put it, when you stand on grace, you’re standing not on slippery ground but on a solid rock! No ground is as solid as the grace of God.
We have the right to enter God’s presence at any time. This truth was driven home to me a few years ago when we were having an all-night prayer meeting at the church I pastored in Texas. My boys were with us for the first few hours, and while I was up speaking to the group, Joshua walked up—while I was speaking—and began talking to me. I was so absorbed in what I was saying that I didn’t realize what happened next. Mark Friday told us later that Joshua walked up while I was speaking, I stopped, turned to him, listened, answered his question, and turned back to the group and continued what I was saying. Not only did I not think anything of it, I didn’t even remember it had happened. How could that happen? As my son, Joshua has the right of “access” to his father any time of day or night. He doesn’t need permission, he doesn’t need an appointment and he doesn’t have to call ahead. He’s my son. He can talk to me any time he wants.
So it is with the children of God. We have the right to speak to God any time we want. We don’t have to worry about being turned away, and we don’t have to worry about whether God will be too busy to listen to us. He’s our Father! We’re his children! He loves to hear from us.
We may therefore pray with confidence knowing God delights to hear from us. Hebrews 4:16 speaks of “coming boldly to the throne of grace.” The word “boldly” literally means “freedom of speech.” God invites us to say whatever is on our mind. Not only do we have access, but we also have freedom of speech. Think about that. What a privilege is ours through the Lord Jesus Christ.
John Newton said it this way:
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring.
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
Tad Lincoln and the Veteran
In his sermon on this passage, Donald Grey Barnhouse tells of a wounded Confederate soldier who was released from prison because his injuries prevented him from rejoining the war. Upon his release the man went to the White House, intending to ask President Lincoln for the release of his brother—also held in a Union jail—who was the sole support of their aging mother. But the guards at the gate wouldn’t let him in. One day young Tad Lincoln saw the crippled soldier weeping as he sat on a bench near the entrance to the White House. When he heard the man’s story, Tad Lincoln took him by the hand, walked past the sentry, and led him into the White House to meet his father.
The same thing has happened to you and me. For many years we were crippled by sin and mourning our help-less estate. Then one day the Lord Jesus came down from heaven, died for us and rose from the dead. He did it in order that he might take us by the hand, and lead us past the angelic guards into the very presence of God. Jesus Christ is our access to heaven. Without him we have no hope. With him by our side, we now are admitted into the throne room of heaven. (God’s River, p. 39)
That’s the second great permanent benefit of justification by faith. We find the third benefit in the same verse.
Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have …
III. Hope of Glory
“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” The word “hope” in this verse can be misleading because in common parlance the word hope means something like “maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t”—i.e., “I hope the Cowboys win the Super Bowl.” But the biblical concept of hope is much different. It means “a confident expectation that something will happen because God has said it will happen.” The third benefit of justification, then, is the confident expectation of the “hope of glory.” J.B. Phillips translates this as the “happy certainty” of the glory of God.
What is glory? It is that of which we all fall short (Romans 3:23). It’s what Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. It’s the shining radiance of God’s presence. It’s what we shall be like when we see Jesus face to face (I John 3:1-13). It’s what we were meant to be, it’s what we aren’t any more, it’s what we want more than any-thing else in the world. “Glory” is also another word for paradise or heaven. In short, the “hope of glory” is the confident expectation that one day God will fulfill all his promises to us.
Billy Graham’s Testimony
Said another way, the “hope of glory” is the assurance that when you die, you are going to heaven. That’s simple enough, isn’t it? You either have that hope or you don’t. But can anyone be sure of heaven? That’s the point that Larry King raised with Billy Graham in his interview on Inauguration Day. When Mr. King asked Dr. Graham how he felt about growing old, Billy replied that he felt great about it. Why? “Because I’m not afraid of dying. In fact, I’m looking forward to death because I know where I’m going.” This thought obviously baffled Larry King. “Really?” “Absolutely. I know I’m going to heaven because I’ve put my trust in Jesus Christ.”
My friend Jack Wyrtzen puts it this way: “I’m as sure of heaven as if I’d already been there 10,000 years.” Can you say that? Do you know for certain—beyond any doubt—that if you died tonight, that you would go to heaven? Do you have the “happy certainty” that heaven is your eventual destination?
You can have that certainty by trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s the third permanent benefit of justification: the hope of glory.
Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have …
IV. Joy in Suffering
Lest anyone think that the Christian life is only “pie in the sky by and by,” Paul hastens on to discuss the sufferings of this life. The bright lights of the distant future cannot cancel the dark realities of the present. “What difference does knowing Christ make when my life is falling apart?”
Good question. Does faith in Jesus Christ make a difference when …
Your marriage is on the rocks?
The cancer has come back?
Your children are in trouble?
The company lays you off?
Your parents get a divorce?
Your daughter decides to have an abortion?
When life tumbles in, what then? Does Jesus make a difference when the going is tough? Listen to Paul’s answer: “We rejoice in our sufferings.” What? Paul, have you lost your mind? Rejoice in sufferings? That’s absurd. No one rejoices in their problems. But that’s exactly what Paul says.
Two Little Words
But there’s more. “For we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.” The most important words are “we know.”
There are so many things we don’t know. We don’t know why cancer hits one person and not another. We don’t know why the brakes failed. We don’t know why the money didn’t come in. We don’t know why our child struggles and another excels. We don’t know why the tornado touched down in this town but not in that one. So many things we don’t know—in fact there is far more we don’t know.
But this we do know—”All things work together for good.” That’s Romans 8:28. But how do they work together for good? One part of the answer is Romans 5:3-4. The sufferings of life work together for good because they promote our spiritual growth. That’s a radical thought. For most of us, trials are merely some-thing to be endured. We grit our teeth, we grin and bear it—if we grin at all. Paul says no—we rejoice in the hard times because we know that God is working in the hard times to produce something beautiful in us.
These verses describe four stages of spiritual growth through suffering:
The word means “to press down.” Suffering is that which presses down upon us. It happens to all of us. No one is exempt from difficulty. No one gets a free pass. The message is simple: Suffering is the believer’s servant, not his master. Not only do trials not overthrow the blessings of God, they themselves lead into the blessings of God.
The King James Version brings this out when it says that tribulation “worketh” patience. What a great thought. The hard times of life are sent by God in order to produce something good in us.
Please write it down: God is not in the business of making it easy for you to go to heaven! Life for the believer is not meant to be easy or pleasant. Salvation is free, but the road to heaven is mostly uphill. In the future we will become; until then we must overcome.
Please note. We don’t rejoice in the fact of our suffering. That would be odd and pathological. Suffering by definition is distasteful. We rejoice in what we gain by our suffering. And what we gain in the end far out-weighs the pain we go through. God accomplishes certain things in suffering that he could not accomplish in us any other way! That’s the ground of our rejoicing.
The first thing that we can learn in suffering is perseverance. The Greek word is hupomone. It literally means “to bear up under” something. It is “the ability to remain in a difficult situation without giving in or giving up.” It is the fortitude that not only survives trouble but is made stronger by it. “Here is a fact that should help you fight a bit longer. The things that don’t kill you outright, just make you stronger.”
You could also translate this word by “endurance” or “patience.” It’s the quality that keeps a marathon runner going after he “hits the wall.” It’s the quality of “stick-to-it-ness” that keeps a Thomas Edison working after he’s tried a thousand ways to make a light bulb.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the young man who asked the preacher to pray that he would develop more patience. So the pastor bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, please send this young man more trials. He’s had it too easy, Lord. Send him some hard times.” When the young man protested that he had asked for patience not hard times, the pastor showed him the Scripture that says, “tribulation produces patience.”
The word is dokime. It means “proven character.” The word was sometimes used of silver ore that had been passed through the fire so that all the dross was removed. The pure silver that was left was said to be dokime—i.e., it was the “real thing.” In a similar sense, we sometimes speak of a person having a “sterling” character. We mean he is a man of the highest moral values.
Suffering, Paul says, produces perseverance and perseverance eventually produces “proven character.” How? First you endure the hard times without complaining. Later you develop godly perspective as you realize that God has a purpose even in the darkest moments of life.
This is the experience of the inexperienced sailor going through his first storm at sea. The storm terrifies him because he doesn’t know if the ship will survive. As the days pass and the storms come and go, the sailor gains confidence that no matter how bad the wind and waves, the strength of the ship is greater than the worst of the waves. He has faith in his ship because the sea has failed to sink it.
Job 23:10 speaks to this point: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Only an experienced believer can say that. You don’t learn that truth in Sunday School; you learn it in the School of Suffering.
That’s why the testimony of older believers is so important. When a man reaches the end of his life and looks back, he can say with conviction, “Jesus led me all the way.” His words have meaning because he has known heartache, disappointment, and the “agony of defeat.” But he also knows that God has never forsaken him—not even in the worst moments of life.
Ray Stedman said it this way: God is in the process of making veterans. He delights to take raw, untested rookies and put them in the crucible. When they come out, they aren’t raw or untested and they aren’t rookies anymore. They’re veterans, men and women of “proven character.”
Write it down, my friend. Suffering lies along the path to spiritual maturity. All the saints of God have discovered this truth.
Ask Abraham and he will point to Mount Moriah.
Ask Jacob and he will point to the stone pillow.
Ask Joseph and he will point to a prison in Egypt.
Ask Moses and he will point to the backside of the desert.
Ask Daniel and he will point to a lion’s den.
Ask Peter and he will point to his denials.
Ask John and he will point to Patmos.
God’s blessings are poured out in bitter cups. (cf. Kent Hughes, Romans, pp. 108-109)
The final result is “hope.” Once suffering has done its work, we have first perseverance, then tested character, and finally hope—the confident expectation that we will not be disappointed. As we discover in the darkness that God is there to sustain us, that gives us hope to keep on going.
What starts with suffering ends with hope.
Suffering actually strengthens our hope when we respond in a godly fashion.
“The tears of time may become glistening pearls in the eternal crown.”
The wonderful thing is this: As God completes his work in us, we see ourselves becoming kinder, gentler, more compassionate, less irritable, wiser, and more trustworthy. We look back and say, “He’s doing it! God is keeping his promises!” Yes he is, and it wouldn’t have happened without the trials of life. The price is high, but the end result is that we become better people—refined, purified, tested, and yes, strengthened by the things we have suffered.
Best of all, we discover that our sufferings have an eternal reward: “Hope does not disappoint.” Not in this life or in the life to come. Nothing is wasted in a believer’s life. Our worst trials are down payments on something wonderful to come.
He’s Shaping Us
Billy Graham tells the story of a friend who went through an incredible series of setbacks. In the process he lost his job, his fortune, his family and his future. The only thing he had left was his faith in God. One day as the man was walking through the streets of a major city, he stopped to watch some workmen who were repairing the spire of a great cathedral. His attention was fixed on a stone mason who was chipping away at a triangular piece of stone. At length he asked the man what he was doing. The worker motioned upward to the spire and said, “Look all the way to the top.” When the man did, he saw a tiny triangular space near the peak of the spire. The worker said, “I’m shaping this down here so it will fit up there.”
Tears filled the man’s eyes as he realized, “That’s what God is doing in my life. He’s shaping me down here so I will fit in up there.” Indeed, the painful experiences of life are part of God’s shaping program for you and me. He’s shaping us for heaven while we’re living on earth. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans, II, p. 531)
Hope is the final link in the chain that begins with our suffering. We rejoice in suffering because we know that through our pain God is working out his purposes and developing perseverance, character and hope within us. That’s the fourth great permanent benefit of justification. The fifth and final benefit is mentioned in verse 5.
Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have …
V. Assurance of God’s Love
“And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The final benefit is God’s love poured out in our hearts. The word is in the perfect tense, which means that we could translate it “has been poured out like a river and is continually being poured out moment-by-moment.” Those who know Jesus have the continual experience of the love of God being poured into their hearts.
So many people make so many dumb choices because they are looking for love in all the wrong places. They hope to find it in one-night stands, in a cheap motel room, in the “perfect” guy or the “perfect” gal. We break up and make up, kiss and tell, couple and uncouple—all because we feel unloved and unlovely. We enter rela-tionships we know will be bad for us—all because we desperately want to know true love. We think, “Perhaps this time will be different.”
Is there anyplace we can go to find true love, unconditional love, love that sees us as we really are and accepts us anyway?
Love Like An Ocean
There is one place we can go to find love. We can go to God through Jesus Christ. For when we turn to Jesus Christ, we discover
Peace like a river
Joy like a fountain
Love like an ocean.
The very moment you say “yes” to Jesus, the Holy Spirit enters your heart and begins to pour out the love of God. He “turns on the spigot” and out flows the love of God—not in dribbles or drops, but in a mighty rushing torrent.
Feeling unlovely? Used? Rejected? Cheated? Feeling as if you don’t ever quite measure up? Do you ever wonder if you will ever truly be loved by anyone?
Welcome to the human race. We all feel that way occasionally. But I am delighted to say that there is Someone who will never disappoint you. His love is like a river, like a fountain, like an ocean. And it is available to you right now. If you have a “love deficit” in your life, perhaps it’s because you’ve been looking in all the wrong places. If you are ready to make a change, Jesus Christ is ready to come into your life—and through him you will experience God’s unconditional love.
You won’t be disappointed. I can promise you that. You’ll never regret your decision to say “yes” to Jesus Christ. Once you experience the love of God pouring into your soul, you’ll never feel the same again.
You don’t have to take my word for it. You’ve tried everything else. Now it’s time to give Jesus a chance to remake your life from the inside out.
One final word. I began this message by talking about how different people find peace of mind. I’ve deliberately left one answer to the end. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said these words: “I find peace of mind through a committed relationship with Jesus Christ and through faith in God… . Jesus alone can give you peace. That I’ve found to be a fact.”
So have countless others. Our text starts with peace, moves to joy and ends with love. All are found in the same place—the Lord Jesus Christ. He made peace with God, he brings joy in the midst of sorrow and he opens the floodgates of God’s love.
If you want peace, turn to Jesus.
If you want joy, turn to Jesus.
If you want love, turn to Jesus.
The most sought after things in life are found in him. Your greatest need is to know Jesus. I commend him to you and urge you to put your faith in him.