Are there days when being a Christian seems incredibly hard? The effort of going to church; the burden of turning up every week to a Home Group or Gospel Team; the challenge of saying no to sin; the pain of working hard to love people and maintain relationships. Of course there are days like this – we all have them.
Are there times when the world simply overwhelms you? Sad images of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria; militant extremists that are prepared to do all kinds of evil; and closer to home – the pressure of living as a Christian in a society that increasingly wants to silence the Christian voice in the public sphere. Of course there are times when the world simply overwhelms us.
I love the clarity that the Apostle Paul brings for people who are feeling overwhelmed. In Romans 8, Paul doesn’t say “yes, yes, it is all too hard”. Instead in Romans 8:18 he lifts our eyes to see reality:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.
In this age we need God’s regular reminder through Paul that even when our world looks bleak - all is not lost. In fact, what we see in this world is entirely expected. Paul explains that creation has been corrupted as a direct result of the corruption of the relationship between humans and God.
The difficulties we see in the world are in fact directly tied to human rebellion against God. This is on one hand incredibly sad – that we are all responsible for the mess the world is in and that we are all estranged from God. However, on the other hand, there is good news because there is a solution for this fundamental problem. Jesus came to restore relationship with God by standing in our place and taking our punishment for our crimes. Therefore there is certain hope that all the problems of this age will be dealt with once and for all.
In Romans 8 Paul’s response to sufferings in this present age is full of hope. Yes, creation might be in slavery to corruption BUT it eagerly awaits God’s sons to be revealed says Paul (v21). Yes, humans are at war with God BUT still there is a hope of adoption into God’s family and redemption from punishment for our crimes (v22). Yes, it is possible to feel sad and alone, at sea and tossed around in this seemingly chaotic world BUT God’s people are never alone because God’s Spirit is always at work interceding for Christians (v27).
When Paul talked about his sufferings he wasn’t mucking around. We can be sure he had a better idea of suffering than most of us - yet he suffered with great hope.
We also should not despair at our sufferings in this present age. They should actually magnify our hope. God has not abandoned us to this broken world; instead he has done something about our problem. Since the creation of the world he has chosen his people to be conformed to the image of Jesus and to become members of his family (v28-30). Nothing, absolutely nothing will get in the way of God’s plans.
My prayer for our church in this age of suffering of all kinds is that we will be the flag bearers of hope for our desperate world. This will take a deep conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord and that nothing stands in his way. It will take an incredible unity amongst us to stand firm and together in the face of opposition. It will take real Christian love for one another, strong commitment to our fellowship and regular meeting together around the Word and for prayer. Finally, it will take God’s strength to lovingly proclaim the saviour Jesus into our world.
Don’t despair - we have a great hope! As Paul says in Romans 8:24: in this hope we were saved. In Jesus – salvation has been assured. The rest of life is simply about following Jesus (hint: listen to today’s sermon for more information).