Monday, March 26, 2012

Standing In the Fields of God's Grace

Yesterday morning at Redeemer I spoke out of Romans 5:1-5. These are beautiful, deep verses. As I was preparing for this message, and in the midst of it, I realized how much I need to hear these truths. Paul writes:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The points are:
  1. Everyone who trusts and places their faith in Christ is "justified." Rectified. That is, made right with God. From this it follows that...
  2. Followers of Jesus have peace with God. We are brought into relationship with God. We have here the Jewish idea of shalom. Shalom is a robust, physical concept. The image is of two hands meeting in a handshake, of two persons who were once enemies coming together in an embrace. While we were once God's enemies (Romans 5:10), and sin caused us to fall short of the glory of God, now the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross has reconciled us to God. We are brought into the presence of God, not as a result of our performance or lack thereof, but as a result of the grace of God. Keep this in your heart and mind. God loves you. Period.
  3. By placing our faith in Christ we have gained access into the fields of God's grace. New Testament scholar Ben Witherington puts it this way: “Grace here seems to be seen as a sort of sphere which the believer enters and stands within. The image may be of a weak person who is able to stand up and withstand whatever life brings through the divine power and love of God.” (BW, Romans, 134) If you are a Jesus-follower, you stand in those gracious fields now.
  4. So, as a Jesus-follower, you have been made right with God, brought into shalom with your Maker, and stand in His fields of grace. N.T. Wright says: This is the beginning of something so big, so massive, so unimaginably beautiful and powerful, that we almost burst as we think of it. When we stand there in God’s own presence, not trembling but deeply grateful, and begin to inhale his goodness, his wisdom, his power and his joy, we sense that we are being invited to go all the way, to become the true reflections-of-God, the true image-bearers, that we were made to be.” (NTW, Romans) This is what we were created for; viz., to host the presence of God. (See, e.g., C.S. Lewis's beautiful "The Weight of Glory.")
  5. But there is more than this. "When we are reconciled to the God who is our Father, we discover that he wants not simply to enjoy this one-to-one relationship, but to enlist us in his service in working for his kingdom. And that will bring all kinds of pressures and problems which will require us to hang on in faith and hope even when we don’t sense his presence, even when it doesn’t ‘feel’ as though there’s anything happening." (NTW, Ib.) In other words, we suffer, for the cause of God's Kingdom and the Gospel. For me it's important to note here that the suffering of a Jesus-follower, as they are engaged in the Mission, is not for nothing, as an atheist's suffering ultimately is. The purpose of life is not to avoid suffering and achieve happiness, as, e.g., much of our culture and the Dalai Lama says it is. We go through suffering, through the "valley of the shadow of death." In our suffering we have real hope, and we boast of it.
  6. What we boast in affects how we suffer. Some boast in their own wisdom, strength, and riches. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) In the middle of suffering these personal accomplishments have their limitations. Ultimately, in death, they all fail. But for those who trust Christ, have been made right with God, are in shalom with their Maker, and stand in the fields of His grace, suffering looks and is different. When my son David died at birth, and his twin Joshua was fighting for his life, Linda and I looked at each other and said, "How could anyone go through this without Christ?" In that difficult time we not only stayed with Jesus, but it strengthened our resolve to do so. Because at such times one's personal trophies mean nothing. As for me, I have learned to glory ("boast") in the hope of the glory of God.
  7. In suffering, with Christ, endurance is formed. Character is developed. The Greek word Paul uses for character is dokimos. This word is used to describe the fiery purification of precious metals. God redeems our suffering and uses it to burn away all that is peripheral in life to establish His moral and spiritual being and glory within us. As this happens, "I finally find where I belong, to be with You, to be with You."
  8. Because of this we have hope. Eschatological hope.Which means: future hope. As I remember, the first biblical verse that stood out to me when I turned to Jesus at age 21 was Romans 8:18 - "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth being compared to the glory that will be revealed to us." Today, 41 years later, these words come back to me, and mean much more than ever. I am not ashamed to say that I have placed every one of my eggs into this basket of hope. (Cadbury eggs not included, which I place into my mouth.)
  9. One existential reason for the hope I have is this: God's Spirit has poured out His love for me, into my heart. My verification for this is my first-person subjective experience. The words "pour out" are used, in other contexts, to describe a rainstorm's deluge of water. God's love does not come as a meagre trickle, but as an Outpouring. I have exprienced this, and did so yesterday. The language of God's love is pure, experiential language. It is one thing, and not a bad thing, to intellectually acknowledge that "Yes, I know God loves me." But "love" is not essentially an intellectual thing, though it includes that. God's love, real love, is a visceral-experiential-encounter thing. The reality of God's love, poured into every Jesus-follower, is undeniable. A Love-Outpouring is something that is felt.
Yesterday morning God told me, before the service, "This is the Outpouring." It has begun. A new, fresh, rain-deluge of the love of God, flooding the fields of God's grace, in which we stand with the One who made all things right between us and our Creator.