(Sermon preached in Cromer 22/5/2016)
Good morning. I’m Tim Britton; I was curate here 40 years ago, and Frances and I retired here last summer. We love being here in Cromer again, and being part of this church!
Today is Trinity Sunday when we remember God is three Persons in one God, a tri-unity. Well known illustrations include the three leafed clover with one leaf and three parts, water with three phases, steam, liquid water, ice. No illustration is perfect. I offer another imperfect picture: a hug. Three parts to the hug: the right arm, the left arm, and the heart! Speaks of the Three-in-One’s desire to draw us close and love us. At the heart is the Father’s love; the Son reaches out and draws us near; the Spirit completes the circle, sealing our relationship. Let’s see how this works out in Romans 5:1-5.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…
We have been justified through faith. The first four chapters of Romans have been explaining all about that: We have been put right with God, made acceptable to him, justified – just as if I’d never sinned – and all because we’ve put our faith in Jesus and accepted his authority over us and his assurance that we are forgiven and accepted by God. Paul has explained that our acceptance is not due to any merit on our part, but only because the Son of God has died for us and been raised to new life for us. Now Paul goes on to explore the consequences of our acceptance.
Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have peace with God. Peace in the Bible is not simply the absence of strife. It is the presence of harmony. We are put right with God in order that we can live in harmony with him – there are no barriers between us, no clouds on the horizon or skeletons in the cupboard. Again, this is all through Jesus: we are united to him and benefit from all he has done for humanity; his status with God is our status too. Although at the moment we are constantly falling short, failing to match up to what we ought to be in thought, word and deed, yet those failings do not affect our peace with God. Jesus has taken responsibility for all our shortcomings and paid the price, and his achievements have been credited to our account, so that God is completely at peace with us.
Are you at peace with yourself as God is at peace with you? Too often Christians are weighed down by condemnation. It’s essential to be aware of our own shortcomings, yes – but it’s equally essential to be aware of the grace in which we stand, the love and esteem and joy in which God holds us in Jesus. What does Paul say in Romans 8? ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ God is speaking to each one of us: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you are condemning yourself for anything, stop it! Let God love you!
…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.
Grace – God’s unmerited favour, undeserved love. We stand in the love of God, through no merit of our own, but as we have seen, entirely through Jesus. As it says in 2 Corinthians 8, ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.’ He’s brought us into harmony with God, so that we can live in his presence.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Leicester City fans know what it means to rejoice. We have far greater cause! Our hope is not just that we will see God’s glory, fantastic though that will be. Our hope is that God will in some way share his glory with us. Maybe that is part of what happens when he seats us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, as Paul says to the Ephesians, or when we participate in the divine nature, as Peter writes in his second letter. Whatever it is, it will be the most amazing experience, and is something we can truly exult in as we look forward to it. But then, Paul suddenly changes tune.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…
What? How can he say that? That’s inhuman, unnatural, isn’t it? Some people think that what Paul means is that we rejoice in our hope in the midst of suffering. But I believe in this context he really means to say that suffering for the Christian is itself a cause for joy.
The early church expected everyone to suffer for their faith. Acts 14:22 says we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. We do not follow Christ in order to escape the problems of life; indeed, if we follow Christ we can expect the devil to do all he can to make life difficult and unpleasant for us. But Paul goes on to tell us that God can make good come even out of evil.
…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Suffering produces perseverance as we patiently keep believing, patiently keep aiming to please our Saviour, doing good and loving even those who harm us. Such perseverance produces character, as exercise produces muscle; it gets rid of spiritual flab and grows us spiritually. As we grow spiritually, so our hope grows. It is not just that our longing for the new creation increases – which it will; it is also that the glory we hope for increases. Paul tells the Corinthians, ‘Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ (2 Cor 4:17.)
Do you know what Paul is talking about? Or do you feel your sufferings are unbearable and are achieving nothing but pain? 1 Corinthians 10:13 says that God will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But even if you feel you can’t, even if you do break under the pressure, God understands. Patience and endurance can be hard to learn. Meanwhile, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And what you have already suffered will achieve an eternal weight of glory. Your hope is growing, even when you feel the opposite is happening!
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
A hope that is not fulfilled will indeed put us to shame. But the Christian hope is not like that. We hope to share the glory of God because that is what God has promised, and God always keeps his promises. Our hope has already begun to be fulfilled, because Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven on our behalf – there is already a human being in the place of glory. But Paul gives us another reason for assurance: God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. God gives his Holy Spirit to live in each believer in Christ. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, the Trinity. So if the Holy Spirit is in you, God is present in you and you are already in the presence of God!
Do you know that the Holy Spirit is living in you? The New Testament assumed people knew from experience whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit. His presence was something that could be seen or sensed, maybe by tongues or prophecy, sometimes in other ways as when people are described as being full of the Holy Spirit. Our problem today is that often we don’t recognise him. We may sense God’s presence, we may be uplifted or helped or used by God in some way, we may have an intuition about something – but we don’t realise this is the Holy Spirit at work in us. God’s Spirit is in our hearts! And Paul points out that the Spirit’s presence is the channel for the love of God:
God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit is in our hearts, God’s love has been poured into our hearts.
God’s love. Think about that for a moment.
God’s love is immense – greater than we can imagine.
God’s love is inclusive. He loves even the most unlovely. Even us!
God’s love is always reaching out, wanting to draw more people into his loving embrace, and for them to experience more and more of the depth of his love. He never forces us to respond against our will. He wants us to love and obey him freely.
That’s the love that has been poured into our hearts.
Poured. There’s no careful measurement.
Into our hearts. ‘But I can’t feel it!’ we may say. No, there’s lots going on in our hearts that we’re not aware of. We are asked to believe it and to act upon it – and then maybe we’ll feel it.
How do we believe it? It helps to try and imagine it – imagine God’s immense love for you. Accept that because of Jesus you are utterly loveable, and just accept that God loves you.
How do we act upon it? Remember that God’s love is always reaching out – it reached out to include you, it reaches out to include others. Let God love others through you. Think of yourself as a tea pot, not a reservoir – God’s love has been poured into your heart so that it can be poured out into other lives. Don’t let it grow cold! You may not feel God’s love; don’t let that stop others feeling his love through you. God wants all to know his love and not to perish but have eternal life with him as his beloved children.
We began by thinking of God the Holy Trinity as a hug – the loving heart of the Father, the right hand of the Son reaching out and drawing us in, the left hand of the Holy Spirit sealing us as God’s beloved children. We’ve seen the grace of our Lord Jesus giving us access to the glory and love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit giving expression to that love in our lives as we reach out to others. God is yearning for people to know his love for them. And what is our mission, but to draw people into God’s embrace? Into his love and joy?