Romans is a huge book, both in word count and in theological mass. I am currently wading my way through it in my inductive study Bible and truly am being encouraged and strengthened by the study. The last couple of days have found me at the beginning of chapter 5. Paul has been showing that we are all (both Jew and Gentile) under God's wrath. He has further shown that no one seeks after God; we have all pursued sin. He has demonstrated that the way to be right with God after having been at odds with Him is to be made righteous through the channel of faith. The law cannot save you, and circumcision cannot save you.
This brings us to chapter 5. The benefits of being justified by faith is that we are now at peace with God. We are standing in grace. We are able to revel in our future hope of Glory. Yet, Paul does not stop here. He says we can revel or exult in our tribulations. How can this be? Tribulations are supposed to be, well, bad... Why would we exult in them? John Piper has 3 sermons on this that I think really hit the ball out of the park. He posits that there are two concerns being raised here. The first is that concern that our faith might not be genuine. What if we get to the end of our lives only to realize that our faith was not real, just some game we had played all along? This is where tribulations come in and how we can exult in them. Tribulations that are endured produce a recognizable perseverance. If you came through a trial, you persevered through it. Persevering through it leads us to a "provenness," a character that has demonstrated an ability to endure trials. This proven character produces hope, a hope that through these trials my faith has persevered in a consistent, proven way, demonstrating that my faith is real. If I gave up, then my faith must have been a farce. But to make it through with my faith intact gives me more and more hope that it is the real, tested and tried thing.
Now, for the second concern. Suppose that I made it through trials with my faith intact, and that I have hope that it is the real thing. What if I get to the end only to realize that God really does not love me, that God will not keep His promises to me? The next set of verses come to show why we can have hope in God's love for us, a hope that we get to not only know about, but experience. We oftentimes have to be leery of experience, longing for it and trying to glean truth from it. Movements like the Charismatic movement have taught us to be suspicious of experience. Yet, God says here that we can not only know God's love for us, but experience it. How do we have that experience of God's love? He tells us that it is by His Spirit. It is something He does; not something we conjure up. It is also not some mindless, out of body experience. It is based upon the truth of the Gospel, that God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us while we were still His enemies. Who would do that is the obvious question the passage raises. The answer is simple: God. He uses the beauty of the truths of the Gospel mediated by His Spirit to convince us of how much He loves us so that our hope is not in vain.
What majestic truth is this? What amazing love is this love that God has for sinners like us? Oh, may we pray that the Spirit would bring to mind the beauty of the cross so that God's love for us is poured out into our hearts. May we be able to comprehend with all the saints the height, the depth, and the width of the love of God. Praise be to God!