One of the first weddings I performed as a young pastor had all the promise you could hope for in a marriage. Both in their mid-twenties, both believers, he was a medical student, she was a nurse. It should have been a model marriage filled with peace and joy. Struggles would come, of course, but an enduring hope would get them through the dark days.
Yet when I saw the bride about eight years later she looked twenty years older. She described a spiraling tragedy of drugs, adultery, bitterness, and separation. Long gone were the original peace and joy. And that weary soul had lost the one thing that could have snatched her marriage from the lowest levels of matrimonial misery: she had lost hope.
How about you? How would you rate your own level of joy in the Christian life? Have you become depressed? Has that original fire for knowing Christ cooled to a simmering indifference? Have the tribulations of daily life rendered you hopeless? Pastors today constantly counsel believers struggling with depression, broken marriages, anxiety, anger, and weak self-control. They can't help but wonder, "Where's that abundant life Christ promised in John 10:10?"
In Romans 5:1-11, Paul takes us from the marriage altar of our Christian faith to a new relationship with Jesus Christ — a relationship of peace, joy, and hope. This passage reveals how lasting joy in the Christian life can be achieved even in the midst of trials and struggles. Look at it with me.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand. (Romans 5:12)
The justification Paul describes is that moment when you placed your faith in Christ alone to forgive your sins and give you new life (Romans 5:5-11). For me that happened back in the 1940s. For some of you it may have been the 60s...or 80s...perhaps even more recently. If you're a believer, at that moment you said "I do" to Jesus Christ you became His bride, a member of His family, the Church, committed to Him forever. In this same paragraph Paul also describes the present effects of this past event: we have peace (5:1), we presently stand in grace (5:2), and we exult in hope.
When someone says the word hope people usually think about the future — "I hope things get better"..."I hope I get that new job"..."I hope I don't get sick." Most of the time these hopes are no more than wishes based on personal desires. Such hopes can be easily shattered when reality barges in like a raging bull. Trials land on us. Disappointments linger. And inevitably joy languishes.
But in Romans 5, Paul urges believers not only to look back on their past justification but also to look forward, beyond their immediate hardships and let-downs. He writes, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him" (5:9). Don't miss the tense: "We shall." That's future. That's hope. And because we know we'll spend eternity in Heaven, we can face any earthly hardship — even death itself (8:35-39). That is our unquestionable hope!
Are you experiencing that kind of hope today? If not, why not?
How can we have an unquenchable hope that withstands even the worst onslaughts of despair? We rejoice our way through them! Paul points out three levels of rejoicing: we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2), we rejoice in our tribulations (5:3), and we rejoice in God (5:11). Notice that we don't rejoice because of tribulations. We rejoice in the midst of them. We rejoice in spite of them because we know "that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint" (5:35). Think of it this way: you're God's personal project of character growth. That means you can rejoice even more because God never gives up on His project (Philippians 1:6). He always has His eye on you, cultivating your character through tribulations.
Are you feeling like the Spirit's fruit has withered up under the excruciating heat of trials? Paul's answer is clear: when tribulations come, we must remember that these trials are a means toward a magnificent end. If I'm told that the road to my glorious destination is marred by loose rocks and potholes, every jolt along the way reminds me that I'm on the right road. But I must never forget that God accompanies me on the journey. His reputation as our loving Father is at stake. We don't always know where we're going, but He does.
With your past justification as your footing and your future hope as your fuel, you can take the present journey through trials and tribulations without losing your joy and peace. Yes, that's possible! Your hope leads to perseverance, which builds character, which leads to greater hope (Romans 5:4). And that's not just wishful thinking.
That's unquenchable hope.
Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, "Unquenchable Hope," Insights (March 2006): 1-2. Copyright © 2006, Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.