We're so happy you're joining us today,
whether you are with us in person, or are reading online.
When we meet in person, we share joys and concerns from our past week. Take some time to consider whether you have anything you would like to share. You can do this by making a comment on this post. Then, we can all pray for your request. When you are ready, you can use the prayer below (source) to get started.
God, thank You for caring for us. You know the things that have been weighing us down with worry, anxiety, or fear. Right now, please guard our hearts and minds with Your peace.
Help us fix our minds on You, and on Your Spirit. Thank You for promising to bring us life and peace. We can rest … because You make us safe.
This week's lesson is on Romans 5:1-11.
The book of Romans was written as a letter from Paul to the people in Rome. The first four chapters of Romans are about being justified by faith. Faith is the only path for salvation. Eternal life cannot be earned by works, and is not inherited by ancestry. This is the big idea that Paul will build from in this passage.
The word justification comes up a lot in this lesson. Our book gives one way to think about it. Being justified means being treated "just as if I'd" never sinned. The Presbyterian Church USA's website equates salvation and justification.
The first verse of our lesson is expanded upon through the rest: "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Our book says that our sins invite God's wrath. Our justification from him by faith results in peace. God has provided a way to reach that peace: Jesus.
Our book talks about the word hope as it appears in the lesson. When we use the word hope, it usually means something that we wish for, but may or may not become reality. In the New Testament, hope means a "confident expectation of something good." We are confident of the good thing that will happen.
Verses 3 to 5 gives us a chain of character-building virtues that Paul believes form the core of a Christian life. Before we dig into these, I thought it might be interesting to read this chain from a few different translations to see some of the different aspects of the virtues.
Our book describes this chain as a constantly advancing spiral. First, we have suffering, hardships that could drive away all hope. But working through the suffering, we learn and build patient perseverance. We learn to wait on God. This builds character. The original word is translated in other places as test, proof/proved, and trial. This might be thought of as being tested to determine or improve one's mettle. Hope sustains us through this process, and helps us to continue advancing.
Question: What happens if you feel stuck at some point in the sequence? How could you get unstuck?
Now that Paul has established this cycle of hope and faith, he goes on to explain that we have been given this gift from God. God changes and empowers us by pouring out his love... into our hearts. The Holy Spirit maintains this love, and helps us grow in love. When love is clearly visible in the church, it is a sure sign of the Holy Spirit's presence. The Holy Spirit is not a reward, but a gift bestowed to propel us to act in love.
This passage ends with Paul circling back to the big idea of Christianity: Jesus died for us. The beginning of the book of Romans talks about how all of us have sinned, and are therefore unrighteous.
Christ did not wait for us to do something to get right with God before dying for us. We should, in some sense, repeat this pattern. As a follower of Christ, we are expected to love our enemies. In the context of Jesus' day, this included loving the despised Roman overlords who occupied the land. Love was to be extended also to fellow Jews who collaborated with the Roman occupiers. The good news is that all our enemies can become one with us in Christ, part of the family of God.
The act of Christ dying for our sins has reconciled us to God. We do not need to fear his wrath because we have been saved.
On a grand scale, we understand the truth of Jesus' teaching: the God of all creation chooses to love and save his enemies rather than hate and destroy them -- at least for now. But we must take that grand scale down to the level of the individual person, beginning with ourselves.
We are not to let fear control us. The key always is to focus on the future Christ has prepared for us, made possible by the price for peace that Jesus paid on the cross.
Father, we stand amazed at your love for us, and we praise you for it. Our hope is in you for having redeemed our past, giving meaning to our present, and delivering us into our future. In Jesus' name we rejoice and pray. Amen.
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on Romans 10:5-17.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.