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Sunday, June 16, 2013

God's Love in Christ (Romans 5.1-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - June 16, 2013

:: Some Music Used
Prelude: Video* on Romans 5:1-11
Hymn: "Sing Praise to the Father" (TO GOD BE THE GLORY)
Song of Praise: "All I Have is Christ" (J. Kauflin)
The Word in Music: "O Calvary's Lamb" (arr. Fettke)

Offering of Music: jazz piano (Rick Bean)

Song of Sending: "Arise" (Twit)
Postlude: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" (Cherwien)

For the sermon, scroll past the video...

"God's Love in Christ"
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Text: Romans 5:1-11

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Today at the end of the service we will commission our high school mission team. And early tomorrow morning they will leave for Jamaica for their work with Son Servants. I have been on a number of these trips myself, and would like to use some of the dynamics of going on one of them to help introduce our passage today. 

The youth pastor has to begin planning the mission trip far in advance – sometimes as early as October or November for a trip the following summer.  Reservations need to be made, destination chosen, and dates planned.  Then the word is spread.  We call parents and talk to kids; we mail out letters and flyers and start to “talk it up.”  But finally, every youth minister’s favorite moment comes – the final money is due.  We try every trick in the book to extend and give grace, but when it comes down to it, there is a final deadline, and you are either in or out, depending on whether you have been paid for or not.  In general, no one gets to go for free; each place must be paid for.

Well, eventually, the happy day comes.  You leave for the trip.  Even if you’ve never been, you’ve probably heard all the stories about how life-changing they are.  You don’t come back the same.  It’s nearly impossible to go and not be impacted in some way.  It’s that “mission trip experience” – which is to say, it’s a “God-experience.”  And it’s awesome.

But what does that $350 or $500 or $1000 purchase?  Do you actually buy the God-experience??  Not at all.  Your payment simply assures you of getting to go where the action is… where God is at work, where lives are being changed.  You are “introduced to the grace of God” in a campground or an infirmary or a children’s day care or a medical clinic.  In fact, it’s once you arrive that the real challenge begins.  There are early mornings, mandatory quiet times, strange but usually yummy food, menial labor, hard labor, serving and loving others, and challenging, stretching situations.  And somewhere in that week or ten days of all that stuff, each person chooses to shy away and shut down from it or embrace it as the means of God’s working in their lives.  For those who really experience God in that time, they reach a point of celebrating what they have endured.  You come away realizing that God has given you strength, and perseverance, and patience, and grace.  And it’s amazing!  You realize how much God loves you and you just want to shout with joy.

Today’s passage makes the claim that this experience and process is not the unique experience of youth group mission trips, spiritual retreats, or some other “special event.”  Rather, what the youth experience, what I’ve experienced, what some of you may have experienced is the pattern for life and peace with God. 

Let’s look at the passage from Romans…

Introduced with Peace

The passage we are looking at today really starts with the last verse of Romans 4.  There, the Apostle Paul is finishing one idea and makes the statement that Jesus was delivered over (to death) because of our transgressions and was raised (to life) for our justification.  It is because of Christ’s death and resurrection, mentioned there, that Paul goes on to begin our passage with these words:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 1)
That’s our core idea for today… because of what Jesus Christ has done, we have peace with God.  There are a number of ways to understand what sin is and what it means for human life in relationship to God and each other, but one of the biblical and compelling ways of describing sin and its consequences is that we are at war with God.  Though God created us in His image, to be pure and holy, the first sin was an act of disobedience and rebellion that we repeat again and again.  Our situation is far more dire than to say only that “things aren’t right with God” – indeed, we are God’s enemies because of the selfishness, disobedience and rebellion that we seem to be born with.  What we desperately need, then, is peace – peace with God, who is our Father and our Creator.

That need for peace becomes eternally urgent and significant when we realize that in the Bible (and in this passage) God talks about a final reckoning and accounting where His justice will be fully implemented. 

This thing that Jesus Christ has accomplished does not only result in our having peace with God.  There is more!  There are three immediate conclusions that Paul makes:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (vv. 1-2)
Did you hear all three?  We have peace with God; we have obtained an introduction into God’s grace; and we exult (celebrate) in hope of God’s glory.  It’s that phrase about an “introduction into God’s grace” that made me think of the mission trips.  Certainly, the Bible proclaims that if we have trusted in Jesus Christ, then we are saved.  We get to go to Heaven! 

But, secondly, God has also given us a lifetime in which to be shaped and molded into the likeness of Christ.  Joy and peace in this life are no more assured by our salvation than an amazing mission trip experience is assured by getting the money in on time to the youth director.

It is true that we cannot grow in faith and into the likeness of Christ without salvation and the initial faith that results in Jesus’ death and resurrection being applied to our lives.  That is the grand “payment” by which our justification is accomplished.  That is what grants us peace or rightness with God.  All that is necessary is to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is who he said he is and did what he said he would do.  And God’s promise is that you will be saved.

If you have trusted in Christ, you are saved!  And you are on the journey to be with God.  As Paul writes, you have now been “introduced” by faith into the grace in which we stand.  You have begun the journey of understanding what kind of God would send His Son to die for you… what kind of God would forgive the worst you have and open His arms like a loving Father calling a beloved child to His embrace… what kind of God would not only rescue you, but call you forth to live and bless others.  That’s the journey… it’s the mission trip of a lifetime and it is what God has set before each of us who trust Him.

Thirdly, there is that hope of God’s glory.  That’s what we long for… finally being with God and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Our hope is that we will one day stand before God, perfectly healed and whole, without sorrow or suffering, with joy in the knowledge that God has named us as His own and called us home.

Our hope is that which scripture promises: that He who began a good work in us in our salvation will be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus… that is, the day of God’s justice and judgment.

And how can we “exult” or celebrate in the hope that God not only saves us, but continues to work on us, shaping us and molding us towards the perfection of Christ’s image??  Where does that hope come from?  Paul goes on to explain…

Living Joyfully with Hope

Paul writes that we exult or celebrate in hope because God can even use the tribulations (hardships) of this life to carry on this molding process.  Out of the worst things that we face, God brings about hope.  Listen again to the process as Paul describes it:

We even exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance, and knowing that perseverance brings about proven character; and knowing that proven character brings about hope; and knowing that hope does not disappoint. (vv. 3-5a)
What a difficult and unlikely process, that our sorrows and hardships might end up in a hope that does not disappoint!  Again, it reminds me of those mission trips.  What a very difficult and unlikely process that asking teenagers to eat simple food, abandon iPods, television and video games, clean toilets and do manual labor, and spend hours of the day in disciplined quiet time and worship would result in a passionate joy and hope in Christ.  And yet, God works in the most amazing places and ways.

Paul explains why, even if he doesn’t explain the mechanics of it:

[It’s] because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (v. 5)
Our salvation has been purchased and paid for by Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection.  Through Christ we have been introduced to God’s grace, which describes the amazing process of fitting and preparing us for life forever with God.  And it’s the life forever with God that is our hope.  And God has not left us alone to find our way to Him; out of His great love, He has poured His Holy Spirit into our lives and hearts as our Guide, our Motivator, our Encourager, and our Companion.

A Bit of Spiritual Logic

Is it hard to believe that God would do so much for you?  Paul suggests that it is… and frankly, it is that hard-to-believe love of God that makes His grace amazing.  Paul gives us an analogy of sorts: you might give up your life for a good man, right?  Or perhaps we might say we would for a child or a good friend.  But we’d never give our lives for a scoundrel.  Yet that is exactly what God did:

While we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. (v. 6)
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (v. 8)
In that unthinkable situation, God was demonstrating His love toward us.

But that is not Paul’s point… if you are a Christian you’ve already absorbed that truth to some degree.  You realize you were helpless and a sinner, and have trusted in the One who died for you.

Paul’s point follows… if you can understand God loving you that much, then by extension you might be able to get this next point:

Much more then… we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Christ. (v. 9)
Paul’s idea in this passage is not just about the point of salvation; it’s about the journey that we are on.  His point here is that if God loved you enough to save you, then He loves you enough to get you through the journey!!
For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (v. 10)
We often talk about this around Easter.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus answered the deadly sentence pronounced on us for our sin, disobedience, and rebellion.  But it is the resurrection of Easter that assures us of God’s ongoing interest and compassion in “raising us up” to new life in Christ.  Salvation is not only saving us, but also raising us for life and bringing us home!  We are saved from death, for life, and into hope!

This passage in Romans moves from “peace” in verse 1 to “reconciliation” at the end.  That’s what peace with someone moves on to.  Peace includes forgiveness, restoration, healing, and reconciliation.  The relationship moves onward and upward.  And God’s promised Holy Spirit equips us to face all that life throws at us and still come up breathing and hoping for God’s embrace.

The Journey We Are On

After pointing out that God will hardly save us to abandon us, but rather saves us to heal us, grow us, bless us, and lead us (that’s the reconciliation!), Paul concludes this passage with these words:

Not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (v. 11)
This passage challenges us much like I might challenge a group of teenagers (or adults) about to embark on a mission trip.

Realize what we have!  We have peace with God because we have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation.  We who once were enemies to God have been declared friends.  You have been introduced to the amazing and enormous grace of God, who loves you more than you can imagine.

Realize what we look forward to!  We look forward to life with God forever – an eternal time of joyful worship and fellowship with our Creator and Father.  There will be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more suffering.  We will be completely and perfectly who and what God made us to be.

Realize the journey that we are on between peace and hope.  Our lives will resemble a mission trip in many ways… we will face work, disappointment, sickness, sorrow, stress, weariness, opportunities for worship, service, and success.  Through all of it, God has poured His Spirit into us that we might develop the perseverance of faith, the character of Christ, and the hope of eternity. Be thankful for the peace you have; live with dependence on God’s Spirit and the courage found in God’s Word and promises; and cling to hope!  Amen.

Final Slide for Sermon on Romans 5:1-11

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