We Exult in Our Tribulations
From Gospel Translations
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Faith in God
What happens to make a person a Christian - a child of God? First, the gospel is made known to him - the historical fact that God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners and to rise from the dead triumphant over death and hell for all who believe in him. The Holy Spirit opens the heart to see in this gospel that Christ is trustworthy and more to be desired than all human treasures. And so the heart trusts in Christ for all that God promises to be for us in him. When that faith happens, we are justified before God. In other words, by that faith the Spirit of God unites us to Christ so that his death becomes our death, and his life becomes our life. God laid on him the iniquities that we performed, and God laid on us the righteousness that he performed. He takes our sin, though he didn't perform it. And we take his righteousness, though we didn't perform it. And so by the faith that unites us to Christ we stand before God forgiven for all our sins and righteous with the imputed righteousness of Christ.
On the basis of that great foundation that makes us Christians, Paul says in Romans 5:1 that we have peace with God - and calls us to enjoy that peace (best manuscript tradition says, "let us have peace with God") - and says that we now stand in grace (verse 2), and says that we exult (and ought to exult) in the hope of the glory of God. The glory of God and our exulting enjoyment of it, is the goal of justification by faith. This is where all of Christian life is moving. Justification by faith is designed to help us exult in the hope of the glory of God. We are reckoned right before God so that we can finally be with God and see him and enjoy him as the infinitely satisfying Reality forever and ever.
Tests to Your Faith
But before that eternal day, something else comes in the Christian life, namely, tribulations. This is what verses 3-5 are about. How shall we understand them and respond to them? Paul's answer is that they have a gracious and purposeful place in the Christian life and that we should therefore exult in them.
Now I don't take this lightly or say it easily. Today, as God would have it, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. One brief look at the brochure in our worship folder will take away all flippancy and levity and superficiality from our talk about afflictions. At the bottom of the first page it says,
Christians who aren't killed are often subjected to brutal torture and brainwashing - attempts to force them to recant their faith. In some parts of the world, Christian women are brutally raped to break their allegiance to Christ, while children are sold into slavery for as little as $15. Thousands more languish year after year in prisons or hard labor camps.
When Paul says in Romans 5:3, "And not only this (that is, not only do we exult in the hope of the glory of God), but we also exult in our tribulations" - when he says this, he is not speaking as a spectator but a fellow-sufferer. Paul's sufferings were long and hard. But in 2 Corinthians 12:9, he said, "[Christ] has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.'" Notice, just as it says, "We exult in tribulations" here in Romans 5:3, he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that he "most gladly" boasts or "exults" (same word) over his weaknesses. Paul practiced what he preached.
And what he means by "weaknesses" in 2 Corinthians 12:9 he shows us in the next verse: "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." The whole array of distresses and weaknesses and sicknesses and difficulties are meant by these afflictions in Romans 5:3, not just persecutions. And Paul says he exults in them, instead of murmuring and complaining about them.
So as we look at the role of afflictions in the Christian life, keep in mind that they are any tests to your faith. They could be tribulations from loss of health, or tribulations in broken or strained relationships, or tribulations in vocational hardships and disappointments, or tribulations in accidents or natural disasters, or tribulations in verbal or physical assaults, or simply everyday inconveniences from traffic jams to plumbing problems. Anything that makes life harder and threatens your faith in the goodness and power and wisdom of God is tribulation.
These are normal, not abnormal. It would be abnormal for a Christian not to have them, because Paul taught all the churches, according to Acts 14:22, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."
"Exult in Tribulation"
Now he says in Romans 5:3 the astonishing thing: "Exult in them." This is what he does. This is what he calls us to do. How can this be? The answer from verse 2 is that we are standing in grace. This is God's omnipotent power to help us though we don't deserve it. You don't hold the key to this wonderful, supernatural way of life that should set Christians off from the world, God does. The power to rejoice and exult in tribulation comes from omnipotent grace that we receive by trusting in God's promises.
Here's an illustration of it from 2 Corinthians 8:1-2. Paul is talking about the way the Macedonian Christians rejoiced in their afflictions even in great poverty. Notice the key: "Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality." Do you see the key: "the grace of God" was given to them. And that produced an indomitable joy in a great ordeal (or test) of affliction. And that joy in affliction overflowed in love.
How are we doing today when things go bad for us? Do we rest in the grace of God and experience joy in God and keep on loving people? Or do we forget the grace of God, overflow with complaining and become self-absorbed and critical instead of loving? So omnipotent power of grace is the key. We stand in this grace, Paul says in verse 2.
But grace does not work like magic. It works through truth. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32) - from complaining and from paralyzing frustration and from a critical spirit. Grace opens the eyes of the heart to truth and inclines the heart to embrace it and live by it.
Grace Works through Truth
What truth? That is what the rest of this text is about. There are four truths that Paul wants us to know and meditate on. That is how grace will change us into peaceful, joyful people who exult in our afflictions.
1. Tribulation brings about perseverance.
Romans 5:3 says, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing [that is, because we know] that tribulation brings about perseverance." Another word for "perseverance" is "endurance." In other words, if something happens in your life that is hard and painful and frustrating and disappointing, and, by grace, your faith looks to Christ and to his power and his sufficiency and his fellowship and his wisdom and his love, and you don't give in to bitterness and resentment and complaining, then your faith endures and perseveres. It becomes stronger. How is it stronger? It's stronger the way tempered steel is stronger: it takes more to break it. Tribulation is like the fire that tempers the steel of faith. So when Paul says, "Tribulation brings about perseverance," he means that the fiery tests of trouble are meant by God to make your faith unbreakable.
That's the first truth that grace uses to make us into joyful people who exult in tribulations and love others. The second truth is this:
2. Perseverance brings about proven character.
Romans 5:3-4a, "We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance [brings about] proven character." The focus here is on this word "proven" (dokimen). The idea is that when you put metal through a fiery testing and it comes out on the other side persevering and enduring, what you call that metal is "proven" or "authentic" or "genuine." That's the sense here. When you go through tribulation, and your faith is tested, and it perseveres, what you get is a wonderful sense of authenticity. You feel that your faith is real. It has been tested. It has stood the test with perseverance. And it is therefore real, authentic, proven, genuine.
That's the second truth that God's grace uses to make us into the kind of people who exult in tribulation. The third follows from it:
3. Proven character brings about hope.
Romans 5:3-4, "We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; (4) and perseverance [brings about] proven character; and proven character [brings about] hope." Now how is that? How does "proven character" bring about hope?
Isn't the answer that when your faith has been tried in affliction, and persevered, and thus proven genuine and authentic you know you are real and not a fake Christian and that gives you hope that you really are a child of God and will inherit his glory. In other words, one of the great obstacles to a full and strong hope in the glory of God is the fear that we are hypocrites - that our faith is not real and that we just inherited it from our parents and have been motivated by things that are not honoring to God. One of the purposes of afflictions in our lives is to give us victory over those fears and make us full of hope and confidence as the children of God.
So God takes us through hard times to temper the steel of our faith and show us that we are real, authentic, genuine, proven, and in that way give us hope that we really will inherit the glory of God and not come into judgment.
Now there remains one more truth that the grace of God uses to make us into the kind of people who exult in tribulations. Actually it's not just a truth but an experience:
4. The hope that is inspired by proven character will not disappoint us, because God gives us the experience of his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:5, "Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
Now what shall we say about this? Well, we should say a lot more than we have time to say this morning. So what I am going to do is say something and then continue with this verse and fold verses 6-8 into the answer the week after Thanksgiving.
God Means for Christians to Have Assurance
But this morning I will say only this: If you are a Christian, God really means for you to have assurance that you are going to inherit the glory of God. You are going to go to heaven when you die, not hell; and you are going be a part of Christ's future kingdom, and live forever in the new heavens and the new earth with unbroken joy and no affliction. The truth of verse 5 is that God gives assurance to us through the Holy Spirit.
Paul knows that there is more than one enemy to our assurance. One is the fear that we might be hypocrites. We might be fake Christians, no Christians at all, even though we are religious and belong to the Church. He teaches us here that affliction is God's great proving ground for the genuineness of faith. And he graciously takes us through trials so that our faith will be seen as genuine and we will have hope because we are not hypocrites.
But there is another enemy to our assurance. What if the object of our faith is false? Not just our faith, but what we put our faith in. What if we make it through tribulation with proven faith and growing hope, and in the end that hope proves to have been built on sand? We thought God loved us, but it turns out he didn't. He may not even exist. That too is a great obstacle to our assurance.
And Paul's answer here to it is not an argument, but an experience. There are arguments, and Paul is willing to use them. But here he simply says, your hope, rooted in the genuineness of your proven faith, will not disappoint you. And you can know this because the Holy Spirit has come into your life and has begun to pour the love of God experientially into your heart. This is not mainly an argument. This is mainly a personal experience of God's love flooding the heart with an immediate sense of God's reality and love.
You can see how big and wonderful this is, and why I feel the need to linger on it longer. So in two weeks I am going to pick it up here. Then in the meantime, would you join me in praying that God increase this experience in our lives. That he make it unmistakable. That there be a great movement of the Spirit in us and among us to give not only the assurance that our faith is genuine, but that it is well founded in the love of God for us.
And as you pray, don't count it strange when the afflictions come. They will come. But rejoice and exult in the love of God to use them to temper the steel of your faith and confirm in your heart that you are indeed the child of God through faith.