The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 12, 2022
God has given every human being a natural capacity to develop themselves. But God asks the followers of His Son to do things they soon realize they cannot by relying solely on their natural capacity. They see they must draw upon a power from outside of themselves – and God provides it in the person of the Holy Spirit.
There is an analogy of Corrie Ten Boom’s that I think about a lot and cited most recently in Adele’s and my online meditation two weeks ago. The analogy involves a glove and a hand, with the glove representing us in our natural potential and the hand, the Spirit in His supernatural potential. Now, a glove can do some things apart from an immediate on any hand. If draped over an elderly person’s lap, it helps keep them warm; if tucked into a child’s pocket, it helps them adjust to changing weather. But, if the glove doesn’t have a hand filling it, it can’t pick up a coin, move a book or catch a ball.
So too, if we don’t have the Spirit filling us, we accomplish less good than we could.
In Romans, Paul lays out the doctrine of justification. In justifying us, God makes us right with Him, at home in His family, and fit for achieving high possibilities. God’s justification of us brings us God’s peace.
Paul says, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access to this grace in which we stand.” We stand in this grace as we trust that God has given us pardon through His Son’s death and new life through His resurrection; and that, because such goodness to us is unmerited, it is also unlimited. After all, this grace is based, not on any quality of our own, but on an unchanging, boundless quality of God: His love. To stand in this grace is to expect that God will ever be good to us way out of proportion to whatever good there is in us.
To stand in this grace is then to live in peace. To live in God’s peace is not to be free from conflict or threatening circumstances. But it is, even when in danger, to be in harmony with our Maker, our best self, and others (insofar as that depends on us).
This peace God gives is not first and foremost a subjective feeling of tranquility, though it brings about such a feeling more often and makes each deeper and more enduring. Rather, it is first and foremost an objective state of having the enmity between God and us ended and a friendship with God started.
When we are reconciled with God, we have peace with Him and with an earthly life that is frequently hard and painful. For hope in His grace remains always valid.
Paul speaks first of the hope of “sharing the glory of God” – that is, of experiencing in heaven the eternal and infinite magnificence of God, and of becoming on earth more and more like God in His glorious compassion, justice and holiness.
By the way, some of you may wonder what Paul is driving at when he says we “boast” in this hope. He does not have bragging in mind. Kauchaomai, the Greek word he uses, means to glory in something with delight. Thus, Paul words may be more clearly translated to say, “We exult in our hope.”
At any rate, immediately after expressing exultation over Christian hope, Paul expresses exultation over Christian suffering, saying, “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings.”
Though a person of joy, Paul is a realist about life. Hence, Paul wants to praise God’s peace as the origin both of a calm confidence about our ultimate future and of a calm confidence about our often harsh and painful present. Trials and troubles do not disturb our peace when we believe that a gracious God is with us to transform hardships into sources of blessing. In God’s grace suffering develops endurance – meaning, not an uncomplaining resignation to adversity, but an ongoing resolve to keep on keeping on, in the pursuit of our hope. Then, endurance develops character – meaning a whole-hearted commitment uncompromised by ambivalence or inconsistency, like gold purged of impurities from a refiner’s fire. Then, character develops hope, as we – walking in God’s will – come to know Him better and thereby to trust Him more.
Even when the future is uncertain or foreboding, this calm confidence that God will see us through and, on the way, make the evils that beset us serve our good, this hope will never disappoint us. For it is founded, not on our capabilities, but on God’s faithful and endless love which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The Spirit brings us both divine peace and divine power. He enables us to suffer but not lose our joy; to be thwarted but not lose our resolve; to do societal justice but not lose our interpersonal justice; to testify to Christ but not lose our open-spirited humility.
Given the power the Spirit brings, we don’t just “stand” in God’s grace; we “walk” forward in it. And that reminds me of Tony Evans’ comparing the Holy Spirit to a moving sidewalk such as you use at a big airport to get to your next gate. We can walk on a moving sidewalk as fast as we want; but it, all by itself, does the biggest amount of work and does work for us we never could. On its own, it accelerates our progress, enlarges the distance we travel, and guarantees our making our connections. The Spirit does all that. He makes us peaceful, powerful people of hope! Let us pray.