Day 34 – Religious Virtues

Walking The Roman Road – Lenten Season 2019

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 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.”

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  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.”

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  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!

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:1-11 NIV).

Religious Virtues

This is one of those passages that is just too good to pass up.  I want to take a few moments to really savor these words and explore what they mean.  Would you like to join me?

Our pastor was having a Bible study on Romans a few weeks back.  He was the one who inspired me to write this devotional.  We had been talking about the wrath of God and the final judgment and things were getting heavy.  At the end of one particular session, he said, “Now it’s time for some good news.”

I immediately piped up and said, “God isn’t angry with me anymore because Jesus took my place on the cross?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “That’s right.  You were at war with God but now, the good news is that you can have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

That’s it in a nutshell.  And that’s exactly what Paul is saying in these verses.  If you accept God’s solution, become a follower of Christ with a sincere heart and accept him as your substitute so that you can begin a new relationship with God, then you are no longer at war with God, no longer subject to his wrath, free from final judgment and you are declared by God, Himself, to be at peace with him.  Paul calls this reconciliation.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1,2a NIV).

What does it mean to be justified?  To be declared innocent, without guilt before God.  Why? Through faith.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is our substitute.  He became a sinner so that we could become saints.  We aren’t actually saints yet in terms of our morality but God declares that we are innocent and without guilt already now.  Not because of our own efforts but because of the righteousness of Jesus.  God is telling us now what His judgment will be in the last day at the final judgment.  It has already been decided.

How is that all possible?  God loves us and is trying to save us from the consequences of our own rebellion against Him.  We don’t deserve it but that is just the kind of God He is.  That’s why it is called “grace.”  Grace means undeserved favor.  We don’t deserve it but He gives it to us anyway.  Why did He choose you or me and not others?  I don’t know.  He wanted us and gave us grace.  Paul says “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

Where did we get that faith?  Like falling in love, it just showed up.  Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

You can imagine that God isn’t interested in any of us boasting that somehow we deserved His grace, or did something that forced His hand in allowing us to be saved.  Don’t forget our first lesson about godlessness and wickedness.  No one is exempt.  Everyone is in rebellion against God.  Without God’s grace, which gives us the gift of faith, we would never wake up to our situation on time and respond to God’s call to follow Him.

I have a saying that goes like this:  There is nothing more embarassing in heaven and on earth than the arrogance of men who ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Sadly, that applies to all of us.

There is no room for boasting.  Any works we do AFTER we are saved are done in gratitude for our new relationship with God and are only possible because God motivates us to follow Him and to do things the way He does.  Loving enemies.  Giving generously.  Helping the poor.  Teaching people about God.

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (vs. 2b)

Actually Paul talks about us being joyful about three things.  First, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Second, we rejoice in our sufferings (we’ll get back to that one) and third, we rejoice in God and in the peace/reconciliation we have with Him (vs.11).  Let’s talk about each one specifically.

First, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  There’s a lot that can be said about the glory of God and you can check out some of my other posts on the subject but right now I want to focus our attention on the key idea.  The glory of God (or what makes God valuable) is His character.  God is good.  His goodness is made up of His Justice and His Love.  Both are necessary for God to be good.  But the Bible repeatedly tells us that, although God did reveal Himself (and His character) in the OT in a lot of ways, the most complete way that God reveals Himself and who He really is, was done through Jesus Christ.  It was the character of Christ, the work he did, how he related to the poor and hungry and also how he treated the Pharisees and Sadducees, how he got angry when it was appropriate to get angry and gentle when he needed to be gentle.  But the true glory of God was shown in the cross.

In fact, Paul talks about that glory a bit later on when he talks about God’s love.  That is His character.  We will just run ahead a little bit to make a quick point that the character of God is His glory and His glory is most fully revealed in Jesus and his work on the cross.  Paul says in vs. 6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  That is what God is all about.

Yes, I know that there are many who believe that God is evil (since He seems to allow evil to flourish) and we humans are basically good.  The Bible tells us, and Jesus showed us, that we are evil and God is good.  That is the truth about God (and us).  That is the glory of God.  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t deny God’s justice (which is rooted in His love for us) because we want to get away with our godlessness and wickedness.  And then only accept the love of God as if that is all we need.  God’s love and his justice go together.  The only way for God to fulfill the demands of His justice was for Jesus to become our substitute and take our place.  He did not set aside his justice as if it didn’t matter or as if love was more important.  No, He fulfilled His justice with His love by taking our place on the cross and becoming our substitute.  That is what shows the true glory of God.

So what does it mean that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God?  Well, the whole point of the exercise is that we will become like Jesus Christ, learning the ways of sacrificial love and participating in his glory.  The process will go on for the rest of our lives and it will be a struggle (more on that later).  But we have hope and look forward to the time when we will also be fully transformed from glory into glory and become more like Christ every day and then fully like him on the last day when we enter into eternity with him.

So we are filled with joy just thinking about that process that begins now and continues into eternity.  We want to become that kind of person and participate in that glory.

But one last thing about the word “hope.”  This is not used in the Bible the same way that we use it normally.  We don’t have much control over the future so when we hope, we are expressing nothing more than a desire. But in the Bible, the future is under the control of God, He has made certain promises to us and one of them is that we will become like Him in His glory and so our “hope” is a sure thing.  It is certain because it is based on the promises and power of God and He will do it.  Which makes us happy and we rejoice.

The second source of joy is more difficult.  This is a joy that we can have in our sufferings (vs. 3,4).  Now I don’t know about you but I find this one hard to swallow.  Why would anyone rejoice in their sufferings?  Paul says that we know our sufferings will produce perseverance and then character and then hope.  Perseverance.  Character.  Hope.

I suppose that’s true.  Hardship that is endured stoically can produce character.  We all kind of know that but where does hope fit in?  First of all, let me say that Paul isn’t just talking about any kind of suffering here.  He is talking about suffering for the gospel, because we are Christians, under persecution in one form or another.  All suffering is included in the sense that if we handle it as Christians who follow Christ, we can, with God’s help, transform all forms of suffering into Christ-like character.  But here specifically he is talking about persecution.  Suffering for Christ.  And when we persevere in our walk with Christ even though we are suffering for being a Christian, it produces hope in us.

Let me put it another way.  Sometimes following Christ gets you into trouble.  It feels like it would be easier just to quit.  Often you are tempted to quit and just call it a day and let the whole thing drop.  But you can’t.  After a few days, you are back at it.  Trying to follow Christ.  Getting back into the game.  Fighting temptation.  Walking with God.  Learning how to be a disciple.  I’ve tried to quit a number of times.  I’m still here.  I can’t take much credit for it.  God keeps me going.  He keeps bringing me back.  I still persevere.  I suppose I would develop more character if I gave it more effort but the truth is that whether I like it or not, I’ve got the bug.  I’ve got the Holy Spirit within me.  I can’t walk away from this relationship.  I will keep on keeping on.  And that gives me hope.  That tells me that it is real.  That something beyond myself is happening to me.  And it is only in the context of suffering when anybody else who was merely religious would have no problem quitting, when others who were not truly disciples would throw in the towel, yet I keep going.  Not to my credit but, it still gives me hope.  Hope that God has a hold of my life and won’t let go, which is what He promised.  That is something you can only discover in the midst of suffering, pain and discouragement.  Hope springs eternal in the heart of the true believer.

And what is that final thing that we rejoice about?  In vs. 11, Paul says “we also rejoice in God through our Lord jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  So, yes, it makes us happy, often mysteriously so, that we have this new relationship of peace with God.  It is a relief.

Like the old hymn, Amazing Grace, puts it in the second verse – “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.” 

Knowing God becomes a joy.  Knowing that we are at peace with God is a source of happiness in this life that no circumstance can take from us.  It may take a while, since we are all slow to grasp the true grace of God, but when you finally realize that there is nothing you can do to change God’s attitude toward you, it will change your life.  When you realize that your sin doesn’t put you outside in the dog house but simply makes God sad, your life will change.  When you realize that there is nothing you can do to get God to reject you any more than you can force your wife or husband to stop loving you (but even more), you will start to get that confidence, that certainty in your relationship with Him that will produce a deep, abiding joy.  That will become the new foundation of your life that nothing will be able to shake you from.  No circumstance.  No situation.  Nothing.

Paul says in Romans 8:38,39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul understood.  He got it.  When we get it, we will have that same certainty in our relationship with God and it will transform our lives.  That is cause for joy.

So what is all of this talk about religious virtues?  Traditionally they are called the  theological virtues (what a terrible name!).  The theological virtues are faith, hope and love.  They are called that because they just show up when you become a Christian.  You didn’t really do anything to create them.  They are a package deal.  You have faith.  It was a gift.  You have hope which is the certainty that God will keep his promises to you and save you from the consequences of your godlessness and wickedness.  You have love.  Not just for yourself but for others, even strangers, maybe even enemies.  You feel different about people.  You look at them with new eyes.  You want to save them and tell them about Jesus.

Obviously, the more you exercise these virtues, the stronger they will become but they were not created by you.  They actually come from the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life (which we will talk about in a later post).

There are other virtues of course but I want to point out that the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (see I Corinthians 12,13) produce in you other fruit of the Spirit such as peace, gentleness and kindness.  But they also produce joy, which is what we have been talking about here.

So don’t be surprised that your non-Christian friends think you’re nuts.  The things that make you happy are not even possible for them.  Without faith, hope and love you will never experience peace with God, nor the joy that comes from knowing you will be changed by the glory of God into the character of Christ and that your own experience of suffering and perseverance will give you a certain hope that it is all real and that your future is assured.  And to know God and enjoy Him forever (Westminster Confession Question 1), well, your friends will think you are crazy.  But you won’t be able to deny it.  It will change your life.

The Desert Warrior

P.S.  Let’s talk to God….

Lord, I know it is true.  I can already see it in my life.  I don’t know where the faith came from.  I now have hope for the future and expect great things both in this life and especially into eternity.  And yes, I seem to relate to people differently.  There is more love in my heart.  I have a long way to go and I know that you expect me to exercise these virtues to make them grow but I still want to thank you for giving them to me in the first place.  And it is true that it produces peace and gentleness and kindness and also joy.  It’s strange but true.  My life has been transformed.  Help me to go from glory to glory.  In your name I pray.  Amen.