Faithlife Sermons

03.12.2023 - Third Sunday in Lent - Persevering Grace

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Scripture: Romans 5:1-11
Romans 5:1–11 NRSV
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Persevering Grace

Some of the most famous movies and stories are about perseverance. First, there are sports movies like Rocky, Hoosiers, and Karate Kid. There are movies about war, like Braveheart, Mulan, and Saving Private Ryan. Then there are stories about personal triumphs like Pursuit of Happyness and Forrest Gump. The history of our faith is filled with stories of perseverance, from Abraham and his family in Genesis to Corrie Ten Boom in the 20th century, and there are so many others. It doesn’t matter if the story starts with a hobbit who lived in a hole in the ground or the recent stories of those rescued from the earthquakes just a few weeks ago, we are wired to be excited by those stories, and they quickly become classics in our lives.
We remember the long brass swells in the movie as either Charleton Heston or Christian Bale, dressed as Moses, survey the wilderness they are charged to lead Israel through to reach the Promised Land. It is going to be a long journey. While we are not always thrilled about spending the next three hours of our lives watching someone else struggle through theirs, we identify with them through our own struggles. As the saying goes, “The Struggle is Real,” so perseverance is a necessary part of life.
We may not face man-eating spiders in the woods or fly on the backs of eagles to Mt. Doom, but we will face enemies in our lives, and the challenges we encounter will mark us, shape us, wound us, and scar us. The message we pass down from generation to generation, from the Tortoise and the Hare to The Little Engine That Could, is that if we want victory in life, we must persevere.
But the Bible tells us something a little bit different. It tells us that whether we persevere or not, God's grace does not give up on us.


A Long Way Off

Throughout history, the wealthy have been landowners who have had to care for those who worked for them, and the working class has worked to care for the rich. This system has had its failures, and those from both sides have abused it. But it has also worked in ways where everyone benefitted mutually. The Bible tells us that the beginning of humanity had God as the landowner and us as the tenant caretakers of creation. But something happened. The relationship between the owner and the worker was broken.
We sometimes romanticize our lives as if we are soldiers coming home after years of fighting on the battlefield. But Paul, in our passage today, gives us a necessary correction. The devil rebelled against God and tricked humanity into going with him. So we were not just born into slavery to sin and death. We were raised working for the enemy. We join the ranks of every war criminal who claims, “The devil made me do it.” But none of our excuses change that we have been at war with our heavenly father our whole lives. So, our version of returning home to God often looks more like leaving the home we know well for the new home that God, the very one we have been fighting against with our sinful nature, dwells in and rules.
We have been trained since birth that it is better to go down fighting, no matter what the cause, than to surrender anything. But you cannot receive reconciliation without putting down your weapons and surrendering. You can go to your grave saying that you never gave in, but you won’t ever find peace with God. Paul tells us that we will not receive victory in Jesus until we are reconciled to Him, which requires surrender.
Praise be to God that He understands us better than we know ourselves. His love and grace were given to us while we were still enemies and before we knew Him. We put our enemies on trial and try to decide their punishment when they surrender to us. God gives us a home and calls us His children. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Mt 5:43–48). (1989). Thomas Nelson Publishers.



When Jesus talked about the Heavenly Father in the Sermon on the Mount, He could have been describing the Father in the Parable of the Lost Son. “Lost,” “Found,” and “Saved” are matched with the words “Dead” and “Alive” in those parables, and they are all stories of Reconciliation. We read those stories and wonder when and where salvation starts for the lost son. What is the status of the older brother’s soul when he rejects the homecoming of his younger brother? How did the celebration turn out? Did everyone join in, or were there others who stayed back, unhappy that so much was wasted on a person who had hurt the family?
Meanwhile, it is the Father in that story who patiently perseveres. When everyone else gives up, He never stops waiting for His rebellious children to surrender and come home, nor does He stop providing for them while they live with Him. Apart from Him, they can do nothing but wither, waste, and die, but with Him, they are given everything they need and more.
God’s goals, according to these scriptures, and quite clearly in our passage today, are not to give everyone what they deserve. Instead, God wants us to be in the right relationship with Him and each other, and no amount of punishment will bring that about. Nearly every religion on earth revolves around the idea that those who do right are rewarded, and those who do wrong are punished. God does not play by those rules, and the world cries, “Unfair!” And it is unfair when we look at the mess around us. But what about God? What is fair for Him?
There is going to be true justice done at the end, not by our standards, but by God’s standards. But we only get there by being reconciled to God and each other. I have never met a parent who took joy in punishing their children. God loves us far more than an earthly parent. He will not make us love Him back, but His love, mercy, and grace will pursue us until the very end, giving us every opportunity to return to him.


Saved by His Life

The death of Jesus pays the price for our sins and accomplishes God’s justice for our past. But justice is not the end goal of God. So Paul writes in verse ten:
10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
More than justice, more than even reconciliation, Paul points us forward to salvation, which appears to mean more than escaping death, hell, and eternal punishment. It is also more than getting into a personal relationship with God. Of course, the death of Jesus accomplishes that much. But here, Paul says it is the Life of Jesus that saves us.
So we look back at the beginning of the passage. The suffering and challenges we go through produce endurance, which forms character and gives us hope. It gives us hope because our salvation does not depend on the world being made right. It depends on us being remade right. All of this depends on God’s ability to reach into our broken lives and pour His Spirit, Love, and Grace into us. To Paul, salvation means having the Spirit of Jesus living inside us.
As we have seen from other passages, that takes time to occur. God will only come as close to us as we are willing to receive Him. He won’t touch us if we want Him to stay away. If we would prefer to remain angry, hurt, and broken by the world around us, we have the choice to remain so, and the life of Jesus will leave us. It won’t be far from us, and God will be ready to begin His work in us again when we ask. Rather than fighting the world for God, Paul calls us to be living sacrifices, fighting ourselves and surrendering to God.
God is ready and waiting. His grace is persistent and persevering, prepared to work in and through us until we are fully reconciled to Him, and the perfect love of the Father, which loves His enemies until they come back home as His children, flows through our hearts and lives as well. When we love like Jesus, we will know we are saved. But, until that day, we pray that God’s love perseveres in us and wins us over so we can finally return to our true home with Him.
We are grateful for all that God has done for us. There is a long road ahead of us, though. We are not home yet, but if we put our trust in God and follow Jesus, He will get us there.
Join us this evening at 6 pm for our evening worship service with Gus Lavin sharing with us, and stay for Sunday school, which begins in just a moment.
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