In the last lesson we looked at two very important words found in the opening verses of Romans 5: grace and peace. In this lesson, we begin by looking at two more: hope and glory.
Having been justified by faith, having gained peace with God through Jesus Christ, and having received from God grace fills the believer with hope. This word hope as the Bible uses it does not have the same meaning as the wishful thinking our culture gives it. Today we hope someone has a safe trip; we hope for a sunny day at the beach; we hope we studied enough for the exam; we hope to get lots of nice gifts for our birthday. It refers to something we want to have happen, but we can never be sure. In fact, we don’t want to get our hopes up to high.
I once tried to offer comfort to a pious elderly woman whose mentally handicapped child had passed away. I spoke of the assurance of heaven and how in heaven every infirmity is removed. I read from Isaiah 40 and mentioned the joy that now belonged to her daughter. Her reply was, “I hope so.” She doubted. She was unsure of her daughter’s salvation.
Such a false hope is not given to the Christian. It is not a tenuous, pie-in-the-sky hope. The word hope as used by Paul is not a verb that expresses our “likely, but you never know,” uncertain desires. The hope of Paul is a noun that expresses absolute confidence in what is yet to be—the fullness of our salvation realized. No true Christian needs to fear death, because we can be assured with absolute certainty that salvation has been granted to us through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone. It is not a mere wish that may or may not be fulfilled. We have peace with God. This is our hope! It is not the doubtful hope of today but a certain hope that the Christian has because it is rooted in the glory of God.
The Christian’s hope is not based on any good works that he may have accomplished during his lifetime. Those are all as filthy rags in the sight of God. The Christian’s hope is based on the integrity of the God whom we serve. Does He keep His word? Does God finish what He begins? Is He faithful to the promises that He gives in His Word?
The Christian’s reply must be, “Of course He is.” Therein is our hope! Having freely justified us by His grace, He will also bring His chosen ones to glory. He does that not based on our merit but on that which Christ has merited for us.
The glory of God refers to that glory that God gives to His people. Christians have the comfort that they belong to Jesus Christ, body and soul, in life and death. As heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, they share in the fullness of the joy and splendor of the heavenly life through Jesus Christ. It is to be their joy already. John Calvin writes that although “the faithful are now pilgrims on earth; they yet by hope scale the heavens, so that they quietly enjoy in their own bosoms their future inheritance.”
The Christian’s hope, then, is in the certainty of the gospel—the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins; and we await His glorious return when all things will be made complete and the glory of God is fully revealed.
Rejoicing in Suffering
No one would argue against the idea that the person who has the hope of the glory of God can rejoice. Paul writes, however, that we rejoice not only in our hope, but also in our sufferings. That seems more difficult. How can a person rejoice in that which hinders him along the path that leads to glory? Rejoicing and suffering seem like oil and water—they simply do not mix. Suffering all too often results in depression, bitterness, and resentment. Yet, Paul writes of trials as a source for joy to the Christian.
To begin, we must understand that suffering in a fallen world is inevitable. It is the result of sin. For as long as Satan is granted time on this earth suffering will endure. Even so, the Christian can endure and rejoice in suffering. To do so better, the Christian should understand that there are different kinds of suffering.
Suffering because of cosmic evil
As long as the devil, the world, and our fleshly desires never cease to tempt us, there will be suffering. Paul wrote “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12–13). As sinful, depraved people, we yield ourselves to the temptations set before us. As a result, we suffer the consequences of our sin. Thanks be to God that He provides forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ. In that we rejoice. We may also rejoice because “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). We also rejoice because we know Satan has been defeated; Jesus has overcome the world; our flesh is covered with the righteousness of Christ.
Suffering for the glory of God
In John 9, the disciples are confronted with a blind man. They ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The book of Job is not about the trials of a man who loses his possessions and family. It is about a God who displays His sovereignty and majesty in Job’s life. Why did God send suffering to Job? It was for His glory. Surely the Christian can rejoice in suffering that brings glory to the name of God.
God uses our trials to form Christian character. Certainly this is evident in the life of Abraham. God brought several trials/tests to the patriarch. Some tests Abraham passed, some he failed. In each one, however, he grew spiritually. James knew well what Paul meant by the phrase “suffering produces perseverance.” He wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2–4). We rejoice that the Lord loves us so much that He brings into our lives that which will lead to our spiritual growth.
God will send suffering to His child in order to get that person back on the path of righteousness. When David sinned against God by taking Bathsheba as his wife, God sent the prophet Nathan to point out his sin. Grief-stricken, David repented and turned back to the Lord. The author of Hebrews writes, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
Of course we do not rejoice in the tribulations and disappointments that come to us. We may become disappointed in people or events, but never in God. We rejoice in the fact that God uses our suffering to purify and strengthen us in our faith. The Christian is well aware of God’s love for him and rejoices in everything that increases his knowledge of God. The well-rooted tree digs its roots deeper in the dry season and is strengthened by doing so. Persevering in trials produces proven character. The Christian becomes stronger in the faith, endures without falling apart, and grows in the certainty of his hope in spite of circumstances.
Paul goes on to stress an additional ground for our absolute confidence (hope). “Our hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us” (v. 5). It is God’s love to us, not our love to Him, that gives us confidence. Our confidence is objective. That is, it is not rooted in ourselves. If God would love us only when we love Him, our hope would be as reliable as the shifting sand. Christians have the assurance of living in peace with God because of His love—proven to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Again and again Paul wants us to look outside of ourselves for proof of our salvation. An indubitable proof that we are accepted by God as His children is the gift of His eternal and only begotten Son as the ransom for our sins.
And yet, this objective love that we receive is made subjective by the Holy Spirit whom God has given us. Paul reminds his readers of what we were like before the Holy Spirit entered our hearts:
Powerless—We were unable to save ourselves.
Ungodly—We had no desire to save ourselves.
Enemies—We were living in rebellion against God.
Sinners—We sought our own pleasure rather than God’s glory.
While we were in this horrible condition, Christ died in our place. A person might be willing to die for another good person or for a good cause. Christ died for us even before we turned to Him. His death is absolute proof of God’s love.
When a gift is given, the measure of love behind the gift can be measured, first of all, by the expense of the gift. Second, it is measured by the worthiness of the one receiving the gift. God so loved the world that the gift He gave was His only begotten Son. No gift could have been costlier to God. Nor could we as powerless, ungodly, enemies of God filled with sin ever have been less worthy of His love. God loved us so much that when we were enemies dead in ours sin, He gave His Son to die in our place. Think of how much He must love His elect now that His Son is alive and, instead of enemies, we are His adopted children! Of course, He loves us now! He regards us no longer in sin but declares us righteous through His Son. Not only is the Christian pardoned but he has also been reconciled to God.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the co-pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and the editor of The Outlook.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. How does Paul use the word hope?
2. What does it mean to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”?
3. How is rejoicing in hope related to rejoicing in suffering?
4. Give examples of the different types of suffering listed in the lesson. How did such suffering affect your life? Can you rejoice in it?
5. What does the progression of verses 4 and 5 teach about the changes that take place in the person who suffers for Christ?
6. How does the Holy Spirit make the objective truth of God’s love cause for rejoicing?
7. What does it mean that Christ died for the ungodly?
8. How do verses 9 and 10 assure us that God receives us completely in Christ?
9. Why should you be a Christian?