Kate and I have been working to memorize Romans chapter five. The exercise has been most refreshing, and it has led me to really meditate on the greatness of the gospel – but also how upside-down gospel-thinking is to the way we normally think.
This hit me hard this morning as I read through the first five verses of the chapter:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 ESV)
Verse 3 is perhaps my favorite verse, and it’s the one I think would be most enigmatic for the neophyte who hadn’t walked in the shoes of Bunyan’s Christian, for Paul tells us here that he rejoices in his sufferings. What? How can he do that?? Is he living the life I am living?! Well, if we read 2 Corinthians 12 we will find he is not – Paul’s life was much harder!
Yet through this Paul saw what trials yielded: Joy and Hope. Hope begets joy and the Spirit affirms (Rom. 8:16) that we are right to hope – he whispers to us that we won’t be disappointed in what our Father has planned for us!
This may seem like a leap – but that’s why Paul carefully explained the sequence: first trials, then endurance, then character, and then hope. Think about that closely and it makes sense. If you’ve been going through the exercise of running, you will gradually gain more and more endurance – such is the case with trials in this life.
The same is true of character. We develop a depth of maturity when we have endured. We’ve been there. We know what to expect, and our minds are prepared. We have character – worn from years of first hand experience.
Character begets hope because the man or woman with character is wise, they have knowledge combined with wisdom and therefore know where to place their confidence. They’ve seen life’s transient and fleeting nature, and they know what the real stuff of life consists of (so to speak). This long view is more than earthly wisdom earned by grey hairs, it’s spiritual wisdom banked by miles of suffering and character forming. It’s the experience of the Potter’s clay who (personified) looks down on the shop floor with knowing glances at the discarded mud that used to hang upon its ever winnowed cylindrical frame.
And because He is the one forming us, we can have confidence not to be ashamed – for he also looked forward to the joy of Heaven (Hebrews 12:2) and endured the pain and the cross (Phil. 2:6-10) and thereby set for us not only the example of suffering, but of how to suffer: in joyful hope for a future which will not be worthy to be compared to this present age.
That is what is meant when Paul ends that paragraph by saying, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This pouring of love into our hearts is God’s down payment on our eternal joy, and it is a taste of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus!