In the brief reflection on my sabbatical that I gave at our prayer meeting last month, I mentioned that over the last year I’d been struggling for joy. There were lots of reasons for that. In God’s kindness many of them have been addressed over the summer months. But I’d been struggling to take pleasure even in the so many good things that God has given me. And so it was perhaps providentially profitable that I should have to return to that theme when my morning quiet time turned out to be Romans 5!
In the opening verses of that passage, the Apostle Paul states that Christians rejoice. He says it twice. He says it once in (2) where the hope of sharing in God’s glory is the reason for our delight. And he says it again in (3) where Christians are supposed to celebrate even when things aren’t going our way. I’ve always been somewhat sceptical about that verse. I don’t doubt that it’s true. But it always seems so much truer in concept than in practice. That kind of joy is just so elusive. And it sounds trite to anyone actually thrust into the midst of the real and awful struggles of life. I’m sure I should rejoice. But most of the time I don’t feel like it. And so I whinge. And I moan. And I suspect I’m not alone.
But Paul locates the reason for our joy in the glorious doctrine of justification by faith. Don’t quit now. Keep reading. What follows isn’t a dense theological lecture masquerading as a ‘brief’ encouraging blog post. At least, it’s not meant to be.
He argues that there are three unalterable blessings that flow out from Jesus’ work of justifying sinners like us by grace through faith. If we really get these three things so that they become our cherished convictions, then I’ll be able to rejoice, whatever the circumstances. Because they will never change. They’ll never become untrue. They’ll remain irreversibly and permanently in place.
Through justification by faith we have the blessing of peace with God (1). He’s no longer angry with us. Once, we were the rightful objects of His wrath. His personal settled hostility was aimed in our direction. But not any longer. God’s wrath has been averted through the death of His Son in our place. We’re not in the cross hairs any more. We’re not under threat any longer. There is no conflict between us and our creator. Instead there’s been an outbreak of peace. We have been reconciled. And it’s wonderful.
Through justification by faith we have the blessing of a relationship of grace (2). We have entered into a relationship that doesn’t work on the basis of performance. It’s not like so many of our human relationships. God doesn’t like us more when we behave like His Son. And He doesn’t like us less when we don’t. He has initiated a relationship with us, the strength of which isn’t dependent on whether I can avoid being a complete plonker. And that’s just brilliant. Because I can’t trust myself not to mess it up. But I don’t have to. I just have to trust Him.
Through justification by faith we have the hope of glory (3). We have something incredible to anticipate. We all love looking forward to things. Every week, I eagerly look forward to Friday night. I stop working for a day. I eat and catch up with my family. And I often watch a game of rugby with the boys, snuggled up on the sofa. I really look forward to Friday nights. But as a Christian I have something so much better to look forward to. One day I will participate in the full glory of heaven. There’s nothing more exciting to anticipate than the prospect of actually being in glory in God’s presence; enjoying Him, His people and His goodness forever.