“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 werejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5.1-5
As a pastor, I’m often humbled by the things people go through in life. Life is hard. For some it seems even harder. While I could wish that none of us ever suffered, I am reminded of what Paul once said while on one of his missionary journeys. Seeking to strengthen and encourage some hurting disciples to continue in the faith, he tells them: “We must endure many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14.22). Romans 5 gives us assurance that what Christ began in us through faith he will continue with us and not leave us alone in our struggles. In fact, no matter what we go through he will transform us in the process.D
The Apostle Paul, in chapters 1-4 of Romans, has made the case that God’s saving promises come to us through faith. Now in chapter 5, he begins by reminding us of three blessings that accrue to every believer as a result: peace, access to grace, and hope (verses 1-2). Why do we need these three? Simply put, Jesus is intimately familiar with our suffering, and offers first-hand insight and resources to sustain us during these seasons. Because he endured the cross and bore the weight of the world’s sin, he has something to say when we hurt. First, he knows we need his peace. Biblical peace consists of two ideas: first, it means that we are no longer in conflict with God over sin. While we can suffer due to our own sinful choices, God is not seeking retribution. He doesn’t seek to inflict pain upon us as some kind of vengeance for wrong-doing. Rather, we have been declared righteous and therefore can live forgiven and out from under a cloud of guilt. When you and I live under guilt, we lack confidence to ask or expect anything from God. Yet, there is no reason to think this way for the Christian. Having peace with God means that Christ has reconciled the problem of sin through the cross. Peace has another sense as well. It means that we can rest easy, securely trusting that whatever happens, God is in control of it. Because we have peace, we also have access to another blessing Paul mentions: Grace. Grace is God’s uplifting favor toward us no matter what the circumstances. Grace is divine assistance. God moves toward us to lift us up and give us what we need to make it. Paul says we “stand” in it, which means it is always available. Paul includes a third blessing, which is hope. Hope is Paul’s primary emphasis running throughout chapters 5 through 8. When we suffer, the experience can sometimes be so overwhelming that we are left wondering if God is aware, or if he is even concerned with our situation. Because life can discourage and beat us down, we can lose our confidence in the love that God has toward us. When God is silent or doesn’t move to change our circumstances, we may feel that we have done something that would cause him to turn away from us. We need hope to continue believing through the pain. Hope makes us hang in there when we would rather not. Peace, grace, and hope can get us through impossibly difficult times when we learn their value and power. And they all come to us because of Christ’s death on the cross.
Next, Paul shows us in verses 3-4 that pain is a great teacher. He starts by making an astonishing statement – “We rejoice in our sufferings.” We can celebrate not because of the pain but because we know what the pain produces. This requires a far-reaching look at what will be on the other end (Rom. 8.28-39). While we would rather not go through the pressures and troubles, God uses pain and adversity to make us stronger. How does this work out practically? Paul reveals the process for becoming stronger in our pain: “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” First, afflictions produce endurance. The truth is, each time we go through troubles we become a little tougher. We develop a seasoned, more resilient attitude, a stronger, more enduring spirit. We can “take it” (cf. 2 Cor. 11.24-28, 2 Tim 2.8-10). Second, endurance produces character. This implies a character that is tested. After we go through many difficulties, we develop the ability to think and act in ways that honor God. We pass the test if we respond appropriately. That testing of our character produces hope. It’s important to note that Biblical hope is not simply a great desire we have for something to come true but might not. Rather, Biblical hope is the certainty that the person we believe in is faithful and true and will do what he promised.
When the lies of the enemy come in to depress or make you want to give up, remember that Jesus is with you to meet your every need by his grace. He loves you still. The troubles you are going through today are actually God’s means to bring you into a glorious future. Whenever you suffer, look for the blessings of peace, grace, and hope to meet you where you are. And then watch as God matures and strengthens you just a little bit more every time he brings you through it.