"Benefits of Believing: Peace, Joy, and Love"
Baptism/Membership June 24, 2007 Romans 5:1-11
Meaningless Malaise: Lost in a Loop
Believing is important, but that's not all that matters. It depends on WHAT OR WHOM you believe IN. Everybody believes something; everyone develops convictions about ultimate reality, what's 'really real'. Some adopt formal belief patterns like Christianity or other religions, while others cobble up individual belief sets. People need a sense of values in order to make choices and function in life. The test of a belief system is not just whether it helps you manage your life now, but on into eternity - whether it proves true in the long run.
But problems develop even in this life when we reject what God has tried to show us and make it up for ourselves. Those who dislike the Bible's absolutes may find themselves floating aimlessly in a sea of relativism. British journalist Steve Turner wrote this sarcastic poem about the modern mind; it's called, "Creed."
We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there's something in
horoscopes, UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same--
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.
"Chance" - a post-script
If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.
How well that captures the meaninglessness of relativism! Be very careful what you believe - ideas have consequences. Without absolutes - if we ignore what God would show us about the big picture - things get crazy, life becomes absurd.
Last Sunday my family gave me a father's day present of a night away at a cabin. This cabin backed on Naftel's Creek Conservation Area, which has several kilometres of hiking trails. After a supper of cheesey sausages grilled over a flame, I felt like exploring the area. I figured I'd be OK if I headed out onto the trail system clockwise and kept taking the fork to the left, perimeter-like.
I became concerned after 40 minutes or so - it was after 8 pm and the sun would be setting soon. I was on the blue trail and had seen no markers pointing to the orange and yellow trail I'd started out on. I became even more concerned when I panted up a hill, went a few metres to check out a clearing - and saw the same arrangement of nearby farms I'd seen 20 minutes earlier! I was going in a circle! I backtracked to the previous fork and took a different turn. This led me to the parking lot, but there were no maps on the bulletin board or in the little boxes on its side where one might expect helpful info - just some spent coffee cups. However as I turned to head back to the trails, there was a signboard on a small post which had an overview showing the streams and various trails in colour. At last I could understand where I was and how to get back to the cabin! Maybe I wouldn't be marooned out in the bush with the deer and the ravens overnight after all.
Getting home was so much easier after seeing the map. I could actually relax and start to enjoy myself again. I breathed easier knowing the big picture. I got back to the cabin about an hour after leaving - double the time I'd intended to spend, and quite a bit more weary. The next day I visited the trails again, and saw that one part was not signed as indicated on the map; perhaps somebody had messed with the signs. Without that pointer back to the main trail, I had been stuck on an endless loop, going around in circles.
That frustration, anxiety, and fruitless wandering is what life's like without God showing us the Big Picture - as He's done in Jesus, the Way/Truth/Life. Jesus is the One who can 'bring us back home' to God. We live in a fallen world where evil brings senseless pain and suffering, cutting us off from the glorious existence God intended. Jesus can save us from that cut-off-ness, being alienated from our Creator. He's God's Logos: in Him, life once again makes sense.
From Enemies to Friends, Ungodly to Glorious
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans paints an accurate but unattractive picture of our depravity, how far short we fall from God's glory, especially in chapters 1-2. Here at the beginning of chapter 5 we see several words that describe our situation apart from Christ. V6 says "we were still powerless" (in the NLT, "utterly helpless"; in the Greek, 'strength-less'). I'm blessed to be fairly healthy, but Friday when we had to be shifting and lifting skateboard ramps weighing 1/4-1/2 a ton each, I felt pretty powerless - couldn't even budge them; it required several people, or tractors or forklifts with hydraulics. That's how massive our sin problem is - we can't handle it, even budge it by ourselves. V6 also describes those for whom Christ died as "ungodly"; the lexicon defines this as those who are "destitute of reverential awe towards God". V8, "we were still sinners": those who've 'missed the mark', trespassed, violated God's law. From gossip to immoral thoughts to cheating on an exam to lying to greed to murder, it's all unrighteousness, making us warrant condemnation - compared to God's holy standard. V9 speaks of "God's wrath" or judgment that we deserved. Yes folks, this is New Testament: God's wrath is directed against evil just as much as in the first half of the Bible. V10, "we were God's enemies": the Greek means "hostile, hating, and opposing another." When our fleshly sin nature is in control, we want to tell God to shove off (or worse) so we can run our own show - a path that, over time, leads to the grave and destruction. Enemies aren't just at odds with one another: they're viciously opposed, loathing, despising the party with whom they're at enmity. An enemy is defined as "a person who hates another and wishes to injure him."
We were caught in an endless loop of hate and animosity toward our Creator, ignorant or defiant of His revealed will for us. How could this chasm be bridged? How could we possibly be spared the destruction and punishment our hostility to Him deserved?
Not because of any virtue or beauty on our part, at this point the heavens opened and God Himself in mercy intervened. Jesus Christ immersed Himself in our "mess". It was totally God's initiative - as you read through this passage, there are a lot of passive verbs or indirect ways of saying He's totally responsible: "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access...God has poured out His love...the Holy Spirit whom He has given us...Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrates His own love for us...Christ died for us...we have now been justified by His blood...saved from God's wrath through Him...we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son...shall we be saved through His life!....we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Who's the subject - who's the main actor? God's doing it, through Jesus!
It wasn't our initiative - we were enemies. God has taken the first step, sending Christ to be the perfect sacrifice so we could be forgiven without Him losing His divine justice. His Holy Spirit poured out in our hearts released the prevenient or going-ahead-of grace that we needed to even begin to desire God rather than hate Him. God made the first move to break down the wall between us, so through Jesus we might be reconciled - as NLT puts it, "making us friends of God."
When believers are baptized, we're not joining just a local congregation: baptism is about union with Jesus Himself, not a particular church. Paul describes it in Galatians 3(27) as being "clothed with Christ", or in Romans 6(3f,5,8) as being "baptized into His death...being united with Him...in His death/in His resurrection" so that "we will also live with Him". It's about being joined to Jesus. He's the One who by such suffering at the cross cleared the way so we could be changed from God's enemies to His friends, from ungodly sinners to glorious saints.
The Family Treasure
Besides friendship, there's a still closer metaphor or word picture Scripture uses to describe this new relationship or closeness we can enjoy with God - that is, family. We all know families aren't perfect; some of us have experienced significant ruptures and failures from our families of origin. Sin causes parents and children, cousins and siblings to be selfish, impatient, cold-hearted, neglectful, or abusive. By contrast, Jesus' plan for believers was to become part of a new "church family" where healing and true community might be experienced with sisters and brothers in faith. he encouraged His followers to call on God as a dear heavenly Father. Paul wrote in Galatians 3(26), "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." In Romans 8(14-17), "because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, <"Abba,> Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs-- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."
With the RELATIONSHIP (being God's children) comes RICHES (being God's heirs). What's there to inherit? Paul says "all things belong to you" - when you belong to Christ (1Cor 3:22f). Heaven is thrown in there (as opposed to unending agony in hell), but salvation is about far more than just a fire escape. God gives us Himself through the Holy Spirit - a closeness we sense, prompting us to cry out, "Abba!Papa!" And as the Spirit dwells in us and leads us, He produces His fruit and gifts. Paul lists 9 characteristics of that in Galatians 5(22f) - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." How'd you like that kind of person for a sister or brother? They wouldn't be hard to get along with, now would they?
In this passage right here in Romans 5 you can see Paul starting to spell these out - at least the first 3, Peace, Joy, & Love. V1, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." No more war, no more fighting, in terms of our spiritual state; that's all been settled for us by Jesus at Golgotha. Stuart Briscoe recalls "the ecstasy with which we Britishers welcomed VE Day in 1945. The lights which had been blacked out for years were allowed to shine freely, the church bells which had been silent for six long years rang cheerfully once more, and the people danced in the streets long into the night."
With peace comes joy. Paul says (v2) "we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" - we "look forward to sharing God's glory" (NLT). Not only so, v3, "but we also rejoice in our sufferings" - because that develops in us stick-to-it-iveness, character, and hope. And v11 mentions another joy item - "we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ". What a delightful wonder to know the great God of the universe!
But the richest treasure of all that we are heirs of is love. V5, "God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit..." NLT puts it, "For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love." Not only do we experience this love now: we see it expressed once and for all in history that first Good Friday and Easter Sunday, written in blood on wood and the broken seal that was binding a rock. V8, "But God demonstrates (shows) His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." As the song puts it, "The nails in His hands, the nails in His feet, they tell me how much He loves me."
Cling to the Rescuer
An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, died in the flames. The boy's cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed an iron drain pipe and came down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.
Several weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town's wealthiest citizen all gave the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. As they talked, the lad's eyes remained focused on the floor.
Then a stranger walked to the front and slowly took his hands from his pockets, revealing scars on them. As the crowd gasped, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life and whose hands had been burned when he climbed the hot pipe. With a leap the boy threw his arms around the man's neck and held on for dear life. The other men silently walked away, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. Those marred hands had settled the issue. Let's pray.