Aaron Hernandez was the high school football player of the year in Connecticut in 2007.
His father had died from complications of minor surgery when he was 16…a deeply impactful event in his life…in any person’s life.
He went to become an All-American and National Champion at Florida
He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2010 and suddenly become a millionaire on a Super Bowl team
5 years later, in 2015 at the age of 25, we was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Last week, he took his life in prison…he was 27.
His life story has been heavy on my heart for the past two years whenever I thought about him…even more so this week when I heard of his death.
I read a Sports Illustrated story that was based on interviews with his older brother…who was his closest friend…in that story you see a young man looking for affection and direction.
Rom. 5:1 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 rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,
“Therefore, since”… is our clue that Paul is making a transition.
The truth of justification by faith has been established in the first 4 chapters…now he will lay out the results of the new status God has given us in Christ.
Three results are given here: Peace, Access, Hope
5:1b…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
- Peace: Here is the objective state of harmony with God that our justification has brought us.
There are feelings of peace that can come and go depending on circumstances and our current physical and emotional status.
But Paul is referring here to the fact of peace not the feelings of peace.
I had a period of time where I experienced near constant anxiety for several months…it was partly the result of my circumstances…but also my response to them.
Some have this experience for years…it can be physiological, it might be some thinking patterns that need to be re-directed.
During my time of anxiety…feelings of peace were often absent.
But what I had to focus on during this difficult but important period in life was the fact of peace (the presence of relationship with God) rather than feeling of peace that I was missing.
Of course feelings of peace are important and we desperately want them when they are absent…but what is essential is to understand and believe and hold fast too…are the facts of our peace with God.
This peace gains access…
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Access: Means a backstage pass…it means you can walk into the presence of the CEO, or General’s office.
Here the access is gained by faith…not by our own good deeds…and this access is into his grace.
So just as you first experienced relationship with God through faith by grace…not as a result of your religious activities or good deeds.
So now, your ongoing relationship with God…your access to him continues to be by faith.
This means that when you and I fail…we do not have to “earn our way” back into his good graces…we don’t have to hide from him, until he cools down enough to allow us into his presence again.
We stand by faith…we mess up, fess up, move on…because we are his children.
This continual access into his grace is the reason for our hope.
Hope: We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
-Not hope as something that might…but hope as in…what will certainly happen.
What does it mean that we rejoice in the “hope of the glory of God”?
It means that we learn to rejoice (celebrate, enjoy, look forward to) that fact that we will share the glory of God.
Not as in “getting some of the glory he alone deserves”…but as in enjoying him in his full glory.
We rejoice in the hope of being with God, experiencing him personally, directly.
If this doesn’t sound all that compelling…it might help to think it through your eternal future more broadly than some sort of “eternal church service”…or a long, and somewhat boring vacation in a sterile place.
The images of heaven from culture of course do not do justice to our future state of existence.
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
Think of every spark of joy, fulfilled hope, pleasure, delight you have ever had.
Think of beauty, music, taste, love…every sense of satisfaction, fulfillment
Consider that all the good you have ever experienced, seen, or even longed for…points to God.
Then consider this “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”
So of course we do…all joy, all looking forward to, all hope…whether we realize it or not…is tied to the glorious God…our justification ensures our future with the one from whom all good has come or ever will come.
But Paul knows where human minds will go from here…so look at verse 3.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Paul quickly adds an important addendum to these great benefits of our justification…the opportunity to rejoice in suffering.
He is aware that many will hear of the great promises of justification and assume this means a trouble-free life now…but of course this is not so.
Phil. 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him
For some the question would be…”Why follow him if it won’t exclude trouble from my life?”
We talked about this at length last week…but essentially we follow him because he is life.
We were made by him for him…when we have relationship with him by faith we are living according to our design…it is the path to our own greatest good and joy.
To not live in a faith relationship with him will not exclude suffering…it will maximize it and eliminate the ultimate purposes that can come from it.
The choice is not between difficulty and no difficulty…but between difficulty with hope and purpose and difficulty without hope and purpose.
In addition to preempting those who might be considering the gospel but might have unrealistic expectations
He is also likely addressing those who have been Christians for some time and have become disillusioned because they had been operating under those false assumptions.
Perhaps they had been taught, or just assumed that if they put their faith in Christ…then Christ would eliminate troubles and give them a life of smooth sailing.
Over the years…they have been puzzled by the fact that this has not been the case.
Paul says in effect “I know Christians will continue to suffer, but difficulties do not contradict my point…because God uses even suffering to bring us greater blessing.”
God uses trials to build “perseverance” into our lives.
This perseverance turns into character…character increases our hope.
So trouble in the believer’s life can fuel rather than undermine real hope.
Let’s stay there for a few minutes…I want to point out three things about this important point.
- Suffering is a normal part of the consistent Christian life
1 Pet. 4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
- God uses suffering to accomplish his purposes.
Suffering=perseverance (endurance)…the ability to keep pressing on…a super important quality.
Without this endurance…we will always quit before we see the fruit.
Gal. 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Perseverance=character…a tried and true inner personality…the quality that comes from having been “proven” in the fires of real life.
We can believe the right stuff and even do the right stuff…but to become the “right person”…a man or woman whose core is solid…this is the path.
Character=hope…a faith that is firm.
Think of faith like a muscle…how does a muscle grow?
Through testing…if the muscle could talk it would call your work-out “suffering” and question your goodness in putting it through all that.
I know your muscles do “talk to you” when you make them suffer…but the suffering is for their “good”
The muscle suffers(through exercise) and it grows in perseverance (endurance)…the ability to work out longer, harder.
This endurance gives the muscle its character…it has been tested and pushed in the workout…now it has the ability to perform…it has increased strength…character.
It doesn’t love to be pushed and forced to drink lactic acid…but it has learned the character quality of knowing that the pain of exercise has the gain of growth and health…it is not meaningless pain.
Now the muscle has “hope”…muscle memory…that fuels ongoing endurance.
It has personal experience from the past that will give it what it needs when facing the future…
This kind of hope won’t disappoint because it is based on real experience…it is not book knowledge, or borrowed from others…it is personal hope.
Let’s leave the muscle analogy and look to our real lives.
We don’t run to suffering…and when possible we should avoid it…but we must not run from it…we must pursue faithfulness to God.
Suffering is maximized when we move through life with our highest objective being to avoid pain.
Growth is maximized when we move through life with our highest objective being to pursue faithfulness…whatever the cost.
To find the right thing and to do it every time…to not be turned around by the possible cost.
- We are to rejoice in the midst of suffering…we are not told that we must like the actual suffering itself…I will never like suffering…nor should I.
Some believe you are to praise God for cancer, or the death of a loved one.
I don’t believe we are to rejoice in evil things…they are not part of the original design and someday will be eradicated.
Paul calls on us to rejoice in the midst of and even because of afflictions…but he does not ask us to be joyful about the affliction itself.
We rejoice in hope of God…his final purposes in all of this.
It may sound like semantics…and certainly you can be thankful for the affliction because of the benefit it brought to your life…but my point is that it is a waste of energy trying to make yourself be grateful for something horrible.
Turn that energy to being grateful for the hope of glory of God.
5 Because hope does not disappoint us,
Better translated as “hope will not disappoint us” future tense
How can we be sure of this?…our future is secure because of what God has done in the past and is doing even now.
Two basic reasons he gives for our hope: God’s love for us in Christ and God’s work for us in Christ.
- God’s love for us in Christ
Hope does not disappoint…because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
-God has “poured out” his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
-It is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts who communicates God’s love to us.
Of course we believe objectively through his word in the Scriptures that God loves us.
We also experience this love subjectively as we learn to hear his voice speaking in our hearts
I remember being far from home, feeling very low and discouraged…I was standing outside by myself one day listening to some music…this has always helped me focus my attention on God’s presence and love.
As I was listening to a particular song(I still remember it) almost 12 years ago…feeling discouraged…God’s love suddenly broke through to my heart and I began to cry…with happiness…even though I remained sad about my circumstances.
This was the ministry of the Holy Spirit…my mind, my emotions, my circumstances were low…I was feeling discouraged…then God’s love swept through.
It was not some spectacular experience…no one watching me would have noticed anything…no angels, no external voices.
But it was sweet and special…Because the Holy Spirit poured, not trickled the communication of God’s love into my heart.
The enemy brings condemnation to us…the Spirit speaks to us of his love
Paul will deal with this ministry of the Holy Spirit more fully in chapter 8…feel free to read ahead if you like.
But what if you feel condemnation for your failures?
What if your subjective experience of the love of God is absent much of the time?
We must learn to believe his love based what he has done…so we will be better positioned to hear what he has to say to us personally.
- God’s work for us in Christ
Perhaps you have had the experience of struggling to believe that someone likes or loves you…they tell you but maybe you find it hard to believe their words.
But over time they demonstrate they really do love you…in fact even when they come to know you in all of your flaws, they still pursue you it love.
It becomes easier over time to hear what they are saying…when you see what they do.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Here you have the objective (rather than the merely subjective) evidence of his love.
Objective means not determined by feelings or emotions…a fact that stands apart from us and is not “subject to” our shifting moods.
The subjective is trickier…it can be prone to emotions, deception, moods.
But both are important…to have the objective side is to know his love through what he has done on the cross…it is a settled fact independent of our feelings.
To have the subjective is to feel and experience his love through his Spirit dwelling in us.
Since this is a relationship between two living, feeling, choosing beings…we want and need both.
They are tethered to each other…we do not chase emotions neither do we disregard them.
Our subjective experience with God(feelings) is held in check by the objective facts of God.
Very important verse…8
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
He has demonstrated what the Holy Spirit wants to communicate…unconditional love.
God knows us completely…every thought, word, deed…he did not require us to clean ourselves up and become a bit more worthy of his love.
While we were still sinners…Christ died for us.
He demonstrated his love in his actions on our behalf.
When you feel like God could not possibly love you…you must look to what God has done on the cross for you.
Remember what Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
This is the objective measurement of your status with God…loved, friend…regardless of what you feel.
From that foundation of fact…you can learn to hear the Spirit’s voice speaking to you of God’s love for you…something we “feel”
Be aware that Spirit’s role in your life is also to point out sin…but that is love as well.
Sin undermines our joy and his glory…So when the Spirit says “Repent, turn around and head back towards God”…that is a voice of love.
I spoke with a friend last week about a talented young man who worked down the chain of command from him.
He told me that this young man relies way too much on his own talent and doesn’t pay enough attention to character.
I heard this talented young man present in a public forum…and indeed he is gifted…and indeed he does need to pay attention to character development.
My friend said that the young man has been directly supervised by people who somehow believed they were helping him by not calling him out on his short comings.
They were trying to be “nice”
I said…”How is that nice? To allow him to believe he can continue to act foolishly means he will someday have a longer, harder fall to the ground.”
My friend agreed…it is not nice…it is certainly not love.
When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin…”You should not have said that, or done that…now you must go and make it right.”
We may hear this as condemnation…but it is love.
When we repent and ask for forgiveness…the Spirit affirms again “You are loved and forgiven”
He does not continue to condemn…the Spirit pours out God’s love through correction and through words of affection.
Again…the subjective experience of love is important…but it must be grounded on the objective experience of God’s love.
Because our future hope is founded on God’s activity in the past.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Verses 9 and 10 are parallel…meaning he is saying essentially the same thing in two different ways.
It indicates a point of emphasis.
Paul interchanges “justify” and “reconcile” in these verses…they are two ways of describing what happens when God first accepts us.
Justify: he declares us “not guilty” or better “innocent” and absolves us from punishment for our sins…this is judicial in nature.
Reconcile: he removes the barrier that was between us (sin) and brings us into relationship with him…this is relational in nature.
Paul also speaks here of “being saved” as a future event…this can be confusing if we don’t remember what “being saved” means.
We tend to say “I was saved back in 2001″…referring to our initial acceptance with the Lord…in the past tense.
Paul does use the word (salvation) this way…but he most often uses it to describe the believer’s final deliverance from death and the wrath of God in the last day.
It is helpful to remember our salvation is a like single symphony with three movements.
Justification: we were saved
Sanctification: we are being saved
Glorification: we will be saved
This future hope is what Paul is referring to here…and this future is guarenteed by what God has done and is doing.
-Aaron Hernandez was a man (like all men and women) struggling to find his way…looking for affection and for direction.
On his forearm in a tattoo he had written “if it is to be…it is up to me.”
Not a bad life philosophy if it simply means taking personal responsibility…but if taken too far it will fail us…because we cannot make life happen on our own…not ultimately.
Evidently he felt this tension in his soul at the very end of his life…because even though in that tattoo on his forearm he had written “If it is to be it is up to me”
On his forehead he had written just before he died with a red marker “John 3:16″…for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.
We all struggle…struggle is normal…our faith does not remove the struggle, or the doubt…it does however remove doubt about the outcome.
It also gives purpose, meaning, and new power in the struggle.
If nothing else…then take this verse home with you.
- 2…Grace by which I stand
Bottom line…you stand by Grace…put your faith(your confidence in him)…when you succeed and are doing great…when you fail and are doing poorly.
But if he does not cause us to stand in the end…we will not stand.
We are banking everything on his faithfulness.
But he is faithful…and though it may seem like the world is crashing down around us…and when in fact it might be…he will cause us to stand in his grace.
This is our sure hope…it gives meaning and purpose and power in the current struggle.
Final word of encouragement: Do not keep his grace to yourself…
Many are searching in vain for affection and direction.
What they are finding out there apart from the gospel is not enough…never will be.
The gospel points others to the God who wants to pour out his love into their hearts.
So enjoy his grace…but don’t keep it to yourself…
Know his great love…make his great love known to others.