If someone was to ask you what is a Christian what would you say ?
Some might say : someone who goes to church; someone who believes in God; a good person; an English person...
From verse 2 we could give the answer, 'Someone who is standing in the grace of God'. I think it is a wonderful picture of what it means to be a Christian.
Verse 1 could provide the answer, 'Someone who has been justified through faith in Jesus.' But what does this mean ? The word 'therefore' in verse 1 gives a clue because it points back to what Paul has been writing about in the first four Chapters of Romans.
First of all Paul had written about how we all turn from God, and that this deserves judgement and brings God's wrath. He then shows that no-one is good enough for God and that we can only have a right relationship with him if we have accepted that Jesus died in our place on the cross. That acceptance is called faith, which is itself a free gift from God. So justification has two elements. It frees us from the effects of sin, and into a right relationship with God.
During the American revolutionary war a Baptist Pastor, Peter Miller, lived in Pensylvania and General Washington was a friend of his. A man called Michael Wittman lived in the same town and did all that he could to abuse and oppose the pastor. But Wittman was involved in treason, was arrested and sentenced to death. The old pastor walked seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for the life of Wittman. He was admitted into Washington's presence and begged for the life of the traitor. 'No Peter,' said Washington, 'I cannot grant you the life of your friend.' 'My friend,' exclaimed Miller, 'he is the bitterest enemy that I have !'
'What?' said Washington, 'You have walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy ?' This puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.' And he did. Peter Miller took Michael Wittman from the verge of death and back to his own home. But no longer as an enemy, but as a friend.'
This is grace. Undeserved favour. There is no better, more secure place to stand. If we were to rely on anything that we did, or were, we would always be uncertain that this was enough. Am I really good enough ? Do I go to church enough ? Am I English enough ?
We stand on grace. Grace is God's undeserved favour to us through faith in Jesus' death for us on the cross. Faith brought about by God's Holy Spirit working in us. So one definition of a Christian is someone who is standing in the grace of God.
If someone was to ask you what are the benefits of being a Christian what would you say ?
Verse 1 gives one benefit. Peace with God. In Chapters 1 and 2 Paul has written about the wrath of God that awaits those who reject God's ways. Jesus became the object of wrath for you and me on the cross so that we can now have peace with God. It is talking about harmony with God. Not necessarily an inward peace, because this can be misleading because it can be subjective. In the Old Testament false prophets promised peace and people felt better. But it was untrue.
Read Ezekiel 13:8-11a. 8" `Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. 10" `Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall.
True peace with God can only be known through trust in Jesus. But, ironically, this peace leads to hostility with and from a world that has rejected God. This results in sufferings, distress and persecution.
We live in a world where Christians are still persecuted. This year the Chinese government have had a crack-down on Christian groups who have to go underground. Only patriotic churches, loyal to the communist government are permitted. Before Easter seven clergy and thirteen laity were arrested. Only one is known to have been released.
In Sudan police threw high-explosive grenades and fired tear-gas into Khartoum Cathedral on Wednesday of Holy Week. More than 2.5 million Sudanese Christians have been killed and 4 million made refugees.
The apostles rejoiced when they were whipped because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name ( Acts 5:41 ).Paul and James point out that suffering, in various forms, can be positive in another way. It produces growth.
How does this growth happen ?
Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance here is making the most of the situation, rather than just putting up with it in a resigned way.
Perseverance produces character. I don't know if you've ever heard someone say, 'Oh so-and -so is a character' , really meaning that they are a nut-case !
The word for character is talking about someone of value, who has been tested and shown to be so. This in turn leads to hope, but more of that later.
So peace with God results in hostility from the world and results in growth. We should see our sufferings as opportunities to keep going in our faith. For it to be refined in the light of the knowledge of God through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.
Christianity brings peace with God, verse 1.
It also beings us access to God, verse 2.
At the entrance to an Abbey in Yorkshire there are three steps near the chancel door. One of black marble, one of red marble, and the last white marble. The black represents our sin. The red Jesus' blood. The white indicating cleansing through his death for us.
This is about how we can approach God, how we can be introduced to him if you like. Strangers are introduced to one another by someone who has a relationship with both of them. Similarly we are introduced to God by Jesus in this way. This access leads us to 'rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God', verse 2.
What makes you rejoice ? Some Christians rejoice when they feel happy. When things are going well in their lives. When things are difficult they feel sad and do not rejoice.
We have already seen how sufferings are growth points. Now we see that our rejoicing should not depend on our feelings. These can fluctuate and be uncertain. Our rejoicing should be in the hope of the glory of God. Glory is the self-disclosure of God. Revealed in Jesus. To be revealed in all it's splendour when Jesus returns. That hope is a certain hope, one that will not disappoint as verse 5 says. How do we know this ? We are onto another benefit of being a Christian, here.
'God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.'
Human love will fail and disappoint. When we feel disappointment, unloved that may be pointing to the need for a perfect love. A love that only God can provide. When we receive that love we feel loved with all the warmth and security that this brings. It also brings us a guarantee of fellowship with God and the glory that is to come. And it brings a source of love so that we can overflow with love for God and for others.
This love is poured. A word that infers an enormous source of love. One that can swamp us, one that will never end.
The Holy Spirit is a gift given to every Christian. A gift is free, undeserved. God's Spirit helps us to live for him, to bear fruit, to guide and teach us, and gives us gifts to serve him. Through this passage we can see the greatest three gifts of the Holy Spirit listed at the end of 1 Corinthians 13. Anyone tell me ? Faith, hope, and love. Faith in verses 1 & 2. Hope in verses 2,4, & 5. Love in verse 5. Perhaps these are the main three benefits that we should want to receive as those who are standing in grace.
A small boy had been consistently late for dinner. One particular day his parents had warned him to be on time, but he arrived later than ever. He found his parents already seated at the table, about to start eating. Quickly he sat at his place, and then noticed what was set before him -a slice of bread and a glass of water. There was silence as he sat staring at his plate, crushed. Suddenly he saw his father's hand reach over, pick up his plate and set it before himself. Then his dad put his own full plate in front of his son, smiling warmly as he made the exchange. When the boy became a man, he said, "All my life I've known what God was like by what my father did that night."
This love of God is not only shown through the pouring out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit but also, and especially though the death of Jesus. This is what verses six to eleven are about. Practical love that reaches out to the undeserving. Costly sacrificial love that we remember, celebrate and proclaim in this Holy Communion Service. You could say that verse 8 summarizes the gospel : 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I define 'grace' as 'undeserved favour'. This is what God has shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Verses 9 to 11 tell us that, once we have received God's grace this will bring us security and joy in our salvation from God's wrath into a new, reconciled life with him.
As we come to receive the bread and wine this morning let us look back to the fact that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Let us examine ourselves today and ask, Have I been reconciled with God by Jesus blood ?
Let us rejoice as we look to the future and the life that God offers us with Jesus in glory