Grace Among Us
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 5:3–4
It’s definitely exciting to be together again. It has been 11 weeks since we last got to sing together and fellowship together. I’m so excited to preach to a live audience today. Of course, we’re a long way from normal, but today, we want to rejoice in what God has given us, not bemoan what we don’t have.
Because this is such a big day, I want to take a break from Job and consider a text that has been on my mind a lot the last 11 weeks. I preached through it 3 years ago, but it perfectly sums up what I have seen God doing among us (read vv. 1–5 [focus on vv. 3–4]).
Verse 1 begins by reaffirming the major conclusion of Romans 1–4. We are justified by faith alone. In other words, we can be declared righteous before God, not because we are righteous but because the righteousness of Christ that he provided on the cross is applied to us by faith. It’s the greatest gift ever given. As a result, Paul follows by rejoicing in 5 blessings that flow from justification for all who are in Christ.
First, “We have peace with God.” Instead of living under God’s wrath, we live under an umbrella of grace, which brings peace between a holy God and sinners like us. Second, “We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” We have continual access to grace—grace to forgive our sins and grace for every need. We stand in grace.
Third, “(We) rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” It’s important to recognize that Paul is not describing the glory that God possesses, because that glory is a present reality. But Paul is thinking of a future hope, “(We) rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” In light of the hope that vv. 3–4 describe, Paul clearly is thinking of the glory that we will receive when we are glorified, when we are perfectly conformed to the image of Christ.
Someday, we are going to put off sin and imperfection; instead, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Therefore, because of the finality of our justification we “rejoice” or more literally, we “boast” in this hope, because we know we will be glorified.
But then Paul follows with a 4th benefit that seems counter-intuitive. He uses the same verb he just used in v. 3, but for something that couldn’t seem to be any more different from future glory. Paul says that because of justification, “We also glory (i.e., “rejoice,” “exalt,” “boast”) in tribulations.” You might think he means, “We rejoice in spite of tribulations,” but when you read on, it’s clear that this is not what Paul means. Rather, he clearly means “We rejoice because of tribulations.” That’s not natural. I can’t say that I’ve spent a lot of time rejoicing in quarantine. How is that possible? The answer, which I’d like to unpack this morning is this. Our ability to thrive (not just survive) in the midst of trials displays gospel grace and provides assurance that we will make it to glory. I want to reflect today in how I’ve seen this grace at work among us the last 11 weeks so that we will rejoice in what God has proven. To begin with, I’d like to reflect on the challenge we have faced.
I. Our Tribulation
Now, it is true that others have faced far more difficult trials. Paul endured far more suffering than we have faced. Today, Christians in China live under a far heavier, more hostile government than we have.
But there’s no question that we have endured a uniquely challenging time. Specifically, God designed the Christian life to be lived in community. Christians need the church. But we have had the central grace of the church, assembling for worship, taken away for 10 Sundays.
For 10 weeks, we haven’t had the joy hearing a congregation of Spirit-filled brothers and sisters “Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” And while we have done our best to care for each other’s souls, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and emails can’t replicate the value of face to face fellowship for watching each other’s souls and stirring one another “to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).
Without these disciplines of grace, there’s no question that isolation has left us a little more spiritually vulnerable and introduced new temptations. God has tested or faith or joy, and our commitment to him.
And I can’t imagine a much more potent storm that Satan could create to threaten the unity and health of the local church than this pandemic. The weekly assembly is the center of local church life.
Added to that, this pandemic has brought with it loads of opportunities for disunity. Just think about the sharply differing opinions within our church that we have even now. We have people who believe that this virus is no worse than the flu and others who see it as very serious. We have sharply differing opinions in our church about what the government should and shouldn’t be doing.
We have sharply differing opinions about how the church should respond. Some of you think that we should have never changed a thing and others think we still shouldn’t be meeting. You add in the passion that is often attached to these opinions, and you have a powder keg of division.
It was obvious pretty quickly that this pandemic was going to reveal hearts and test churches. And sadly, many churches have endured a lot of ugly. Heidi was talking with a pastor’s wife out of state last weekend who told her that they’ve seen some people splinter away to other churches, because of disagreements with what the church was doing.
So difficult times often shine a spotlight on our sin, but Paul argues that in those who are truly justified, tribulations shine a bright light on God’s grace preserving grace. That’s what I’ve seen above anything else at Life Point. So, today I want you to exult today in how God has manifested his grace in you, and I want us to exult in how he has manifested it in our church. First…
II. Rejoice in how God has grown perseverance (v. 3b).
Returning to our text, notice that Paul goes on to explain how Christians rejoice in tribulation through a 3-step process. The first step is, “Knowing that tribulation produces perseverance.” This is significant, because Satan’s purpose in temptation is to crush us under a load we cannot bear.
Sometimes, he gets really close, but Satan cannot crush those who are in Christ. In Romans 8:35–36, Paul lists several heavy weights that should destroy any man’s faith, but he declares in v. 37, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Is that because we are so strong? Absolutely not. It’s because, as Paul says in v. 39, “(Nothing) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Christ is the one who sustains us. Our endurance is a testimony to his mighty grace at work in us.
And our text says that he doesn’t just keep us, he actually grows us through trials. He produces “perseverance.” The Greek term is hupomona. It comes from the verb meno, which means “to remain, abide” and the prefix hupo, which means “under.” So, perseverance literally means the ability to remain under a massive load and not be crushed. Therefore, Paul is saying that tribulations don’t crush us; instead, by the grace of God, they build strength and endurance.
Therefore, I want you to think about what you have remained under these past few weeks. How have you felt like there is an extra weight on your back? Maybe you’ve faced extra challenges at work, maybe you’ve lost a lot of income, maybe you’ve fought against loneliness and despair. Maybe all of this has tested your marriage, your family, and your patience with friends. It’s been tough, and it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t realize 11 weeks ago what was ahead.
Then think about what God has done. How has all of this pushed you into the Word and caused you to see biblical truths and characteristics of God in a way that you never saw them before. Think about the times that you have cried out to God in desperate prayer. Think about how God has shown you the sinfulness of your own heart in ways that you never saw it before and about how you’ve confessed sins that you never realized where in your heart.
It hasn’t always been fun, but I am thankful for how God has shown me some really ugly realities about myself and some beautiful glories about himself, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Someday, we are going to stand before the Lord and give thanks for what God did during this time.
You might say, “I haven’t really thrived. I’ve struggled, and I’m holding on by a thread.” But don’t miss the fact that by the grace of God you held on. God kept you through some dark days.
And whether it has been a rich time or a terrible struggle, the grace of God has built endurance. Verse 3 says that this is what God does through hard times. Whether it was a small step or a big step, everyone in Christ is a step closer to glory than we were 11 weeks ago. Praise the Lord!
And God has done the same in our church. It’s been a joy to see people in our church hungry to serve one another and hungry to stay connected. Even in the midst of a very uncertain economy, our giving has remained incredibly strong. And even through many passionate differences, we have let the gospel love continue to dominate our fellowship. Praise the Lord! God has built endurance, and we will be stronger than we have ever been.
III. Rejoice in what we have learned about God’s grace and our commitment to him (v. 4a).
Notice again, the progression in the text. “Tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance (produces) character.” The Greek word Paul uses is dokima. It primarily speaks of something that has been tested or tried. It has been put through the fire or under tremendous pressure, and it passed the test. Therefore, it has a proven character.
Think of a soldier who hasn’t just been through simulations but has been in the hottest battle. He has faced the worst pressure and overcome. Therefore, everyone knows who he is and what he can take.
And Paul’s point is that the more we overcome trials, the stronger we get. We develop proven character. And I especially want to emphasize that it’s not just us that are proven, God’s grace is also proven. We get to see that God’s grace really is powerful and faithful. It really can carry me through whatever temptations and trials Satan has for us. And with every victory, you grow more confident that you will win the next time.
For example, we all face trials, and when you are faced with a family crisis or cancer, it can lool pretty intimidating. You wonder how will I ever get through this? But a mature believer can look back at his life, and remember how God has sustained him through past trials. And because God has sustained him in the past, he knows that God will be sufficient for whatever is ahead.
I think that today is a great time to reflect on how we have experienced the grace of God over the past 11 weeks, because we could miss it if we aren’t careful. Think about how your faith has endured. Think about how you have continued to love people and be patient with them. Think about how you have grown in Christ. Think about the fact that being away from church didn’t kill your desire for worship but only increased it. For others, think about how you almost lost hope. You were hanging on by a thread, but the thread never broke. You are here today!
And then remember that all of those things are grace at work in you. God did that. And he produced proven character in you.
And this is a great gift, because we don’t know what God has for us in the future. We don’t know what trials are ahead, what persecution is ahead, or what temptations are ahead. But we know that the grace of God will be sufficient. We will make it. And folks, that’s a reason to rejoice/boast today. We have seen the grace of God, and we have seen that it is enough. Third…
IV. Rejoice in our assurance of glory (v. 4b).
Verse 4 ends by saying, “(Proven) character (produces) hope.” Remember that we said earlier that hope in both vv. 2, 4 is hope of glorification. So, what Paul is saying here in v. 4 is that the end result of proven character is increased hope or confidence that I will be glorified.
Hopefully, you are seeing the logic. When a believer faces a trial and overcomes, it shows that God’s grace is alive in him, sustaining and strengthening him, because there is no other explanation for how instead of being crushed by the trial we became stronger. Tribulations strip away our self-confidence and magnify the mighty work of God’s grace.
How does that give hope? Well, the fact is that we don’t really know what trials and temptations are ahead of us. You don’t know when a health crisis may strike your family or when Satan will assault your faith. And we may fear that something will come along that we cannot hand, and it will derail our faith and cause us to turn from Christ.
So how can I live with confidence that I will make it? Fundamentally, I should lean on the promises of Scripture that no one can pluck us out of God’s hand and that he has an inheritance reserved for us in heaven.
But our text adds another source of assurance, which is God’s sustain grace in the past. The fact that God carried me through once, assures me that he will do it again and again until I reach glory. I know I will be glorified, because my faith is not in myself but in Christ!
That’s so comforting, because there’s not much hope in this world. We are in the midst of all sorts of health and economic uncertainty. Our country is growing more evil by the day. And the video out of Minneapolis this week of man begging for his life while a police officer chokes him is heartbreaking as is the violence that has followed. So, if you are hoping for a glory in this life that will satisfy your heart, just look around for a minute. It’s not happening.
But I know based on the evidence of God’s grace in my life that someday all my sin and weakness will be replaced with the glory of Christ, and I will enjoy the Savior for all eternity. Praise God!
And I’m also incredibly thankful today that I am more confident than ever that Life Point is the church of the redeemed, because God’s grace has been powerfully evident among us in the love and unity that we have enjoyed. I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22–23. I’m so thankful for how we have seen the love of God and the unity of the Trinity shine through the last 11 weeks.
In conclusion, it would be very easy to look back on the last 11 weeks and be bitter about what we’ve lost, how the government should have done this, or how hard it was. But I hope that instead, we will look back today and, in the years, to come with thankfulness for how we have seen the grace of God at work in our own hearts and the hearts of those around us.
In light of what God has done, let’s take heart about what is to come in the future. Of course, the story of this virus is far from complete. We don’t know what the months ahead hold for our health, our economy, our freedoms, and our church. But we know that just as God’s grace has been sufficient the last 11 weeks, it will be sufficient for whatever is to come. We’ll get through it. And we won’t just get through it, we will come out on the other side conformed just a little more to the divine nature. And that glory will be worth far more than whatever we lose temporarily in this world.
Therefore, rather than spending our days straining to get out from under the burdens of tribulation, let’s learn to rejoice in them, because “tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.”