Dan Popp
Hope above hope
Romans: The most important book ever written
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By Dan Popp
December 30, 2010

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.... [Romans 5:1-4 ESV, RSV, NASB]

Thanks for joining us again — or for the first time — for the Romans Book Club.

Since we've just celebrated Christmas, I'll interject my opinion that our over-emphasis on Christ's birth may give us a dangerously distorted picture of His mission. People hear the angelic announcement, "Peace on earth," and don't stay in the pew long enough to hear that the babe-in-the-manger grew up to say, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matt. 10:34 ESV) The full picture of peace includes a bloody battle at the cross, a final victory upon Christ's return, and struggle in between. When the Prince of Peace pierced the night with a baby-cry from Bethlehem, it was a declaration of war.

As Romans 5 implies, peace with God often creates conflict with men, which leads to sufferings, which can produce hope.

Well, that's unusual. What is hope doing there at the end of this chain of events? Don't we need hope to sustain us through an ordeal? When we re-read the passage we see that there are two kinds of hope: Our hope of sharing the glory of God, keeping us focused on the permanent reward rather than the temporary pain; and an even greater hope that comes as the result of this process of refinement.

...and hope does not put us to shame. [ESV] ...and hope does not disappoint. [NASB] Nor does this hope delude us. [Knox]

A lot of people get confused because they don't know that the word hope in the New Testament usually doesn't stand for the blind optimism that the world calls "hope." It's not a wish; it's a guarantee. This hope is so solid and weighty it's like an anchor, Hebrews 6:19 says. How can we have such a sure hope? It's supernatural.

...because God's love has flooded our inmost heart through the Holy Spirit he has given us. [NEB]

Notice in passing that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are all active in our reclamation.

Now, other-worldly though it may be, Christian hope is based on evidence. Observe the logical argument for hope:

While we were yet in weakness — powerless to help ourselves — at the fitting time Christ died for (in behalf of) the ungodly. [Amp]

Once more our good-doing, law-keeping and almsgiving are dismissed with contempt.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. [NIV 2010]

Paul is not retracting what he said two chapters ago, that there is none righteous, no, not one. He's using righteous and good in the ordinary sense of a person with outstanding character — when "graded on the curve." There is only one truly righteous Man, and many have died and are dying for Him.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [NASB]

The verb tenses here again yield insights. God demonstrates His love now, through a past act: Christ died. The proof is ongoing. "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us." (1 John 3:16 NASB)

Much more, then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. [KJV]

J.B. Phillips renders it:

Moreover, if he did that for us while we were sinners, now that we are men justified by the shedding of his blood, what reason have we to fear the wrath of God? If, while we were his enemies, Christ reconciled us to God by dying for us, surely now that we are reconciled we may be perfectly certain of our salvation through his living in us.

Please note that those outside of Christ are not "children of God" — not yet, anyway — they are enemies of God. As C.S. Lewis said of his own conversion, "I seemed to hear God saying, 'Put down your gun and we'll talk.'"

Paul's line of reasoning (which we'll see again in Romans 8) is that God has already done the hardest thing, given the most precious gift; how can we doubt either His ability or His intentions? God's acceptance of the believer is absolutely certain.

But you may notice that our safety is treated as a future event — we shall be saved. In the New Testament, Jesus and His apostles conceive salvation as:

  • A past experience — "For in hope we have been saved," "By grace you have been saved," "God, who has saved us" (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5, 2 Tim. 1:9);

  • An ongoing process — "To us who are being saved," "Among those who are being saved" (1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 2:15);

  • A prospective occurrence — "That his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved" (1 Cor. 5:5, Matt. 24:13).

Christians should understand that our divine acquittal is not the whole of salvation; it's just the beginning. Yet without justification there can be no sanctification, and no glorification. And please bear in mind that all these phases of our rescue come by grace, through faith. As we learned at the very beginning of Romans, this entire matter is by faith from first to last (1:17 NIV).

Let's look at one more verse before we close.

But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [RSV] ...we are filled with joyful trust in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have already gained our reconciliation. [Jerus]

We're back again to boasting, exulting, rejoicing. It seems that ultimately we can either boast in God, or boast against God.

So far in our journey through Romans we've spoken a lot about rightness, and only now Paul brings in the idea of reconciliation. That's not by accident. A lot of people think they should be reconciled to God without justice or repentance. God should "be the bigger person" and simply "forgive" them out of His "love." But winking at wickedness is not forgiveness. Condoning depravity is not love. Such a god would be a monster of unimaginable horror, allowing the entire universe to be filled with evil.

Without the cross to satisfy justice there could be no rightness for man, and therefore no reconciliation to a holy God. Maybe this helps us to see how big is the gift of righteousness, and how great is God's grace that offers it.

Next time at the Romans Book Club: Adam — man, monkey or metaphor? And how can the answer affect your relationship with God?

© Dan Popp

 

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