Here’s the podcast of my sermon, Poured Into Our Hearts, from Sunday, June 15, 2008. The text is Romans 5:1-8, which is one of the lectionary readings for Year A cycle. I hope you find it helpful.
Poured Into Our Hearts
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Understanding Paul’s Theological Jargon
Last week we looked at Romans 4, where Paul talked about faith. Specifically, Paul used the example of Abraham as a person of faith and because of his faith, Paul says it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. Remember what we said righteousness was? Going the same direction as God — orienting our lives with the plan of God. That’s what Abraham did as he left his homeland, the Ur of Chaldees, and all the pagan idolatry there to follow the plan of God. Because, the Bible tells us, Abraham believed that God had the power to keep His promises. And of course, God had promised Abraham at the age of almost 100, and Sarah his wife, who was about 90, that they would have a son. Abraham would be the father of a great nation, and would be a blessing to the world. Now faith is believing God can, and righteousness is packing for the journey. So, that’s where we left Paul last week.
But, this week, we run into more theological jargon from Paul, starting with verse 1 of chapter 5. Paul uses words like justified, peace, grace, and hope. Let’s take a look at these and see if we can bring them down from the world of Greek and Roman thought into our own 21st century world.
The Results of Faith
Without getting bogged down in more theological mire, let’s just remind ourselves that Paul is telling us that Abraham wasn’t counted righteous because of what he did, but because of his faith. So, faith — belief — is a central part of what Paul is trying to tell us. Faith is trust, faith is confidence, faith is assurance that God is powerful enough to keep his promises. But, what are the results of that faith for those of us who believe?
First, in verse 1, Paul says we have peace. Now when we think of peace in our modern day, 21st century lives we think of peace as tranquility, peace of mind, calmness, the absence of agitation — an internal feeling that everything is all right.
But, that’s not how Paul uses the word peace. The imagery Paul uses here is that of the military. The Roman empire is famous for its Pax Romana — the Roman peace. Now, here’s how Rome made peace with the world of the first century. The emperor would send his legions into a country and give them the chance to become a part of the Roman empire or be killed. In the words of President Bush, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists.” You did not want to be with the enemies of Rome when the Empire was at its most dominant.
So, when Paul says “we have peace with God,” he doesn’t mean a warm fuzzy feeling that “Wow, don’t I feel calm and tranquil now.” No, Paul means we are no longer enemies of God. We have crossed over, we are no longer at war with God, we are no longer going in the opposite direction, we are at peace with God. We’ve signed the peace treaty, there is no threat to us anymore, we are not “enemy combatants” we have crossed over into the family of God. So, this term “peace” is a legal term, a description of our relationship with God.
Secondly, in verse 2, Paul says we now have access to grace in which we now stand. In 1992, I was briefly on the staff of the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation. In addition to running an art gallery in the downtown mall in Nashville, The Greater Nashville Arts Foundation put on “Summer Lights in Music City” — a city-wide festival celebrating the arts. We closed off several downtown blocks, and set up stages for musical performances. We had visual arts, performing arts, food, activities for kids — it was great! Thousands of people came out each year to hear great musical groups, watch dramatic presentations, do hands-on art projects, eat some great food, and generally have a great time in downtown Nashville on the banks of the Cumberland River.
We also had security at each stage and art venue. Keeping 25,000 people on their best behavior in a downtown setting isn’t always easy. So, each exhibitor, artist, musician, food vendor, and festival staff member were given passes, which we wore around our necks on lanyards. Some passes only admitted the individual to specific areas — food, visual arts, stages, etc. But, I had an all-access pass — I could go anywhere! And, so I did. I walked back stage as musicians were getting ready to perform. I walked behind the barricades where only artists and exhibitors were allowed. I even had access to Tennessee state office buildings, because some of the exhibits were being set up in their lobbies. I had an all-access pass with no restrictions.
Paul says that’s what Jesus has done for us — He’s given us an all-access pass to the presence of God. Paul calls that the glory of God. And, he says, we’re standing in it. Now the word Paul actually uses there is the Greek word for someone who ushers you into the presence of royalty. Jesus takes us by the hand, and brings us into the presence of God. We have no right there on our own. We didn’t earn a royal audience, nor could we ever. But, Jesus says, “Come with me. I want to introduce you to my Father. He’s been waiting to see you for a long time. Come on, you’re with me.”
Thirdly, Paul says “we rejoice.” Of course, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. That’s an easy one. Who wouldn’t rejoice in the future where the Kingdom of God is fully come, where God’s glory is completely unveiled, where that glory settles over the new heaven and the new earth with such luminosity that the Book of Revelation says there is no need of the sun by day or the moon by night, for God is the light in the midst of His people. Easy to see why we’d be rejoicing over the prospect of future glory.
But, Paul doesn’t just rejoice over God’s glory. Paul says we also rejoice in suffering. Uh-oh. We didn’t sign up for this — or did we? Let’s look at rejoicing in suffering more closely.
Rejoicing in Suffering
Paul says we rejoice in suffering because suffering produces perseverance. The word there means “sticking out your chest, standing firm, and not being moved.” It’s not a passive verb at all — hupomone. Hupo means under. It’s the word we use when we say “hypodermic” as in needle! A hypodermic needle goes “under” the skin. Mone’ means to stand firm. Standing firm under pressure is really what Paul is saying here. That’s the kind of perseverance suffering produces.
Dr. Bill Wallace, Southern Baptist missionary to China, rejoiced at suffering. Wallace left is hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee in 1935 to serve in Wuchow, China as a medical missionary. Dr. Wallace stayed through the Japanese invasion of China, World War II, and the Korean War. When in 1951, the new Chinese communist government accused Bill Wallace of being a spy, he went to jail, and was tortured and killed for his faith. The communists sought to cover up their crime by burying Wallace’s body in a secret location, but Chinese Christians found his body, and reburied Wallace with the simple inscription, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Paul could have no better example that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character, than the person of Bill Wallace.
The Basis for Our Hope
But Paul says, “character produces hope.” Now when we talk about hope, we really mean “wish.” As in “I hope it will rain this week.” We might as well be saying, “I wish it would rain.” Because there’s nothing behind that kind of hope. But Paul’s hope is different. Paul’s hope is based on a promise — a promise kept by the God who keeps His promises. Paul’s hope isn’t one of many possibilities that may happen. Paul’s hope is a guarantee, a rock-solid assurance, an event promised in the future. Paul says, “hope doesn’t disappoint us.” Why?
Are you ready? Hope doesn’t disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts! While we’re looking at words Paul uses, let’s look at this verb, poured out. The King James Version translates it as “shed abroad” but that doesn’t mean much to us today. Poured out is used 9 times in the Book of Revelation, but always to describe God’s wrath being poured out on God’s enemies.
But, we’re not enemies any longer, remember? We have peace with God now. So, instead of pouring out His wrath on us, God pours out His love. Not just on us, but in us. In us through the presence of His Holy Spirit. Paul calls the Holy Spirit the down payment on our hope. The earnest money of that which is to come. The God who was with us, is now in us. Poured into our hearts. The essence of who we are, the God-shaped piece in each of us, now filled with God Himself.
And how did all this come about? How do we know that God loves us and has poured out his love into our hearts/ Because Paul says, at just the right time, Jesus died for the irreverent — the ungodly. While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. He didn’t wait for us to clean up our act. He didn’t wait for us to improve ourselves. He didn’t wait for us to do better. He died for us. He gave himself in love, so we could see it, hear it, feel it, and understand it. Someone said, “Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” That’s how we know God loves us. That’s how it’s possible to remain firm in the midst of suffering. That’s how we know we’re not in this alone.
While we were still sinners — undeserving, ungrateful, unhappy — Christ died for us. And in his death and resurrection, Christ made peace between us and God possible. Christ ushered into the presence of the King of the Universe, not on our merit, but on his. Christ gave us reason to rejoice, even in suffering, because God loves us and pours His love into our hearts before we can ever deserve it. We have an all-access pass to the glory of God!