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July 25 lesson: Peace with God

July 18, 2021
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Peace with God

Summer Quarter: Confident Hope
Unit 2: Faith and Salvation

Sunday school lesson for the week of July 25, 2021
By Dr.
Jay Harris

Lesson Scripture: Romans 5:1-11
The Peace for Which Our Hearts Long

One of the most apt metaphors for the human condition, in my opinion, is the metaphor of the God-shaped hole. Once I heard of this metaphor, it made so much sense to me. I did a quick online search recently and discovered it is attributed to Blaise Pascal. He wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Since the hole in our heart is God-shaped, only God can completely fill this hole. We may, and often do, try to fill this vacuum with something else, but nothing will fill this aching or longing except for God’s own self. When this hole in our hearts is truly filled, it means that we have found peace with God. Finding peace with God satisfies the desperate longing in our hearts. Notice that with this peace two actions are happening at the same time: one is relational (our relationship with God) and one is internal (a change in our heart).

You will notice that today’s lesson builds on the two Sunday School lessons that have preceded it. You will build on what we learned about the power of the gospel: the amazing power unleashed when Jesus Christ became a willing sacrifice of atonement for the sins of humankind on the cross, and his victory over sin and death when he was raised from the dead. You will build on what we learned about the righteousness that comes by faith, not by works, resulting in God’s own righteousness being credited to us, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. So, in today’s lesson, look for these building blocks to be put together to help us learn how we find peace with God and how it results in our transformation.

The structure of our scripture passage seems to follow a progression: 1) it tells us what we have, 2) it tells what it does, and 3) it tells how we got it and what this all means.

What We Have – Peace with God

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;

The fifth chapter of Romans begins with a big “therefore – since.” This “therefore – since” carries a heavy load, because it reveals the implications of all that has been said in the first four chapters of Romans. Since we are justified, made right with God, and since this has come about through faith and not by our works, we are able to obtain that for which our hearts have always longed – peace with God. We have gained this peace through the loving, sacrificial mission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one through whom we have obtained grace – the unearned, undeserved favor of God.

The grace that we have obtained through Jesus is a gift upon which we stand. You could say that grace is our new foundation, or starting point, from which we live life. When we talk about standing on something, it is an expression of confidence. Standing upon this grace, we have peace in our hearts and peace between ourselves and God. There is no longer this conflict that has existed with our Maker that we have felt in our hearts, long before we even knew what it was we were feeling, or why we felt it. Now that we have obtained this peace with God, a big question we can ask is, “What does this peace do?”

What This Peace Does

And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

The short answer is that peace with God gives us a confident hope. Peace with God opens the door to imagine a future in which we share the glory of God. We want to boast about it and shout it from the rooftop, but not because it came from us. It came from God. Romans 3:23 describes our human condition before Christ: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Yet, through our faith in Christ, we have the hope of sharing the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.

Once we have discovered peace with God, it does not mean that all of our troubles have gone away. We still have challenges, struggles, habits, hang-ups, hurts, and sufferings. However, because of the peace that we have through Christ, these sufferings do not have the last word. They become the starting point for our own redemptive story. The peace we have with God means that when we suffer trials, our faith does not have to suffer, and our peace does not have to suffer. It is natural to feel that our faith is being tested, but we have the opportunity to show that our faith can withstand the testing. We can prove our ability to endure. And with this endurance, we know that we are building spiritual muscles. We are developing virtues. We are building character. We are learning more about ourselves and becoming more in the process. As we emerge from suffering, feeling stronger than we were before, we can also feel ourselves growing more confident and more hopeful. This hope is not going to eventually disappoint us, because it is altogether different than wishful thinking. This hope is built upon Jesus Christ and the peace we have with God through Christ.

Upon the foundation of our peace with God, not only are we building endurance, character, and hope through suffering, we are experiencing the greatest gift of all: God’s love is being poured into our hearts. We do not feel alone in the universe while we suffer. We feel the opposite of alone. Through the Holy Spirit given to us, we know God to be our companion in our circumstances. Through the Holy Spirit living in us and communing with our spirit, God manifests his presence in our suffering. God’s love becomes less and less of an abstract concept. We experience God’s love being manifested in specific ways as God works in and through our difficulties. For some, God’s love is encouraging. For others, God’s love is healing, or restoring, or strengthening. For some, God’s love fills what has been left unfulfilled by a less than loving parent or spouse. For some, God’s love fills the lack of love individuals have had for themselves all of their lives. You get the picture: God’s love being poured into our hearts takes many forms not only from individual to individual, but also at different stages in our own lives. 

How Peace Is Made with God

Now that we understand more about the peace we have with God and what it does in our lives, it’s as if Paul feels the need to say even more about how we got this peace and what it means. You could say that Paul has already spent the first four chapters of his letter to the Romans telling us about how we get this peace, but he wants to put a finer point on something to make sure we get something crystal clear.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

The key thought here is that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died for the whole human race, not when it was at its best, but when it was at its worst. Jesus on the cross showed the inhumanity of the human race against one of its own: whether it was the jealousy of the religious leaders, the callousness of the Romans, the mob mentality of the crowd, or the betrayal of those who had claimed to be his followers. Not only was Jesus innocent of the charges made against him, he was also sinless in all respects, selfless, and all about doing good and caring for the least, last, and lost.

When Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Jesus not only had in mind everyone who had a role in his death, but the whole human race. No matter how many years out from his crucifixion we happened to have been born, Jesus had us in mind. Christ died for us not when we were good enough, or when we measured up, or when we earned it, or when we deserved it. Christ died for us while were yet sinners. That proves God love for us. It proves and it demonstrates that God’s love is unconditional.

Think about the messages we have heard in life telling us to measure up. Think about people who have withheld their approval – people whose opinion mattered to us. Think about people who seemed to dole out their affection only for times when it was deemed we deserved it. Think about people who reserved a mood for us designed to let us know we had disappointed them, and they punished us with that mood for an extended time. Some have had parents who showed too little affection or who were not generous with words of affirmation. Why do parents, other authority figures, teachers, and friends withhold love, affirmation or approval, or kindness from us? They do so, thinking we will eventually get the message and measure up or learn our lesson. Of course, I have been focusing on being on the receiving end. What about our participation in this method of shaping other humans? Does using this kind of leverage work? We often think it does, but a lifetime of not being enough leaves us wired to fail.

This is the point: if we see God as one who withholds his love until we are good enough, we find ourselves walking away from God, not toward God. God, however, is revealed as one who loves us unconditionally, into whose loving presence we are drawn. The closer our conscious contact is with God, the more God’s love is able to heal us and transform us.

Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

Christ’s death on the cross was the perfect sacrifice for sin and therefore satisfied the wrath of God that sin warrants because of sin’s death-dealing nature. Think about this: God would be less than loving toward us if God swept sin under the rug. God would be less than caring if the destructive effect of sin on humans did not rouse his wrath. When we, by faith, have been justified by his blood, Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved from the wrath of God. We have peace with God. God is One into whose loving presence we are drawn.

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. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The words “peace” and “reconciliation” go hand in hand. Through Christ, conflict and wrath have been replaced by reconciliation, resulting in peace with God and peace in our hearts. From this peace flows the healing needed to make our wounded heart whole. We can pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” because a heart that has received unconditional love is full enough to offer forgiveness to others. When we forgive others, we know that we are setting that person free, and we are setting ourselves free. Every time we forgive others, we comprehend that much more the unconditional love that God has for us.

Notice in Paul’s words, that when we are reconciled with God through Christ, we are in a very real sense able to appropriate the power of the cross and the power of the empty tomb. We’re reconciled to God through the death of his Son, so how much more will we be saved through Christ’s life – his resurrection life. As the unconditional love of God makes its way into our lives, we are given the confidence to die daily with Christ, die to self, and die to sin so that we can be raised to new life by the power of the risen Christ.

There is so much in our scripture lesson to incorporate into our lives: finding peace with God, the role suffering plays in the development of character, the love of God being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the nature of God’s unconditional love, reconciliation with God, and the need to receive God’s unconditional love into places where we have been wounded.

Which of these themes are calling out to you to embrace? What would embracing them look like in your life? What testimony can you imagine sharing if you embraced one or more of these themes?

Prayer

God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, You proved your love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Through Your unconditional and reconciling love, grant us the peace for which our heart longs, that we may have the confident hope to persevere and grow through suffering, to receive the healing you offer, and to embrace the power to love as You love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever, Amen.

Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at jharris@sgaumc.com.

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