by Roger McCay
2 May 2021
Sermon Passage: Romans 5:1-11
Link to Audio Version
My uncle Pierce (Pierce Pettis) is a popular Folk/Rock musician. He has an album out called State of Grace. I’d like to read some of the lyrics to the title song. He’s singing about being from Alabama—our home.
Oh I wash my hands, And I take my place, Bow my head, And clean my plate
I think and act, And I talk this way, For I was raised, In a state of grace
Well, I always know, Right where I am, From Muscle Shoals, Down to Birmingham
From the rolling hills, Clear to Mobile Bay, Where I come from, Is a state of grace
Well I’m up and down, And I’m left and right, Rich and poor, Black and white
I am not alone, I am not ashamed, To make my home, In a state of grace
Oh I hear the call, Of the whippoorwill, As the moonlight falls, Over cotton fields
And if I should die, Before I wake, I will lay me down, On a state of grace
In commenting on this song Pierce talks about home. He mentions that he spent most his life trying to get away. But now he’s moved back. He’s been a musician for over 40 years, traveling all over the country, and even internationally. Over the years, he’s spent so much of his time away from home. And he’s come to look at home as a state of grace.
Why? Pierce says, “A state of grace is not necessarily a state of piety. It’s just a state of where you are not fooling anybody.” “There’s nothing like going back home to experience that…but also, to find out who you were all along.”
As a retired soldier, this resonates deep within me. And, perhaps, you know what I mean.
Our passage today, in Rom. 5:1-2, mentions the peace that Christians have with God, and the “grace in which we stand.” This “grace in which we stand,” this “peace” with God, means that we are in a state where we don’t have to try to fool God. And we couldn’t anyway—like the folks in our hometown. Can’t fool them—they know us.
God knows us so well, and he loves us anyway—a state of grace. This state of grace has the sense of being truly at home, no matter where you are. There is something very safe and secure in that. And it gives us hope. It makes it possible to rejoice not only in our hope of glory, but even in our sufferings.
We so often get caught up in all the struggles going on around us. They can overwhelm us: national troubles, crime in the community, coronavirus fallout; and personal troubles like sorrow, grief, health issues, family troubles, economic troubles, the travails of ageing, or any of the myriad of pains we feel every day. Caught up in the flood of struggles, we can find ourselves spiraling downward. Despite the hope that is available to us, we forget to look up to it, and look down instead. And we can become depressed and angry (a burbling mess of anxiety), far away from the rejoicing that Paul talks about in our passage today.
What does this passage tell us about our “state of grace”? Let’s look at vv. 1 & 2 again.
5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The first part of v. 1 pretty much sums up the central teaching of Romans 1-4: “Therefore, having been justified by faith….” When we trust in God to save us from our sins through Jesus Christ, we are declared righteous in God’s sight. This has many benefits.
One is that we are no longer considered enemies of God, in open rebellion because of our sin. Rather we have become reconciled to Him, in peace. This status is not just a sense of inner well-being, or a feeling of peace, but a situation involving a solid, concrete, reliable relationship of peace with God. And there is only one way to be at peace with God—through the Lord Jesus Christ.
At the very same time, through Jesus, the benefit of having access into God’s grace is conferred upon us. And it remains our permanent place: the place in which we stand, our home where our sins are forgiven. And we are loved by God—loved absolutely, even though he knows our dirtiest, darkest secrets.
So our status is one of grace and peace. This hearkens back to Paul’s opening greeting in Rom. 1:7: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the state of grace and peace we have the benefit of hope (hope of future glory)—God’s glory. God’s glory will be fully revealed to us in radiant splendor when Jesus returns (Matt. 25:31; Acts 17:31). He will return in power and glory. We will see Jesus face-to-face (1 Cor. 13:12)! Our frail bodies will be changed, glorified in his glory, powerful, fully renewed after the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 15)!
Our rejoicing is to be a sort of “boasting” in it, “exulting” in it—a joyful, confident expectation that God’s promise will stand (unshakable), constantly strengthened by the inward testimony Holy Spirit, who constantly reassures us by pouring out God’s love in our hearts. Verse 5:
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We should rejoice in our future hope.
That sounds rather easy, doesn’t it? It’d be kinda hard to get depressed over this, right? But Paul kicks us in the shins with his next statement. Verses 3-4:
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Paul is talking about pain. Suffering can be intense physical or emotional agony: pain that rips right into your soul, horror, terror, and loss. It can be those many pains that you have to deal with every single day.
Pastor, author, and former Green Beret, Stu Weber has commented that “Soldiering is … connected with pain.” You might wonder what that has to do with you. But if you are a Christian, remember, you are a soldier of Christ—2 Tim. 2:3: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
It is understandable if you are suspicious of Paul’s statement in Rom. 5:3 (“we rejoice in our sufferings”)—this idea of rejoicing in suffering. A chaplain once shared something to the effect, “You don’t really know your theology until it has been tested on the crucible of human suffering.” I agree. In line with that, it seems to me that if a person tells you to rejoice in your sufferings and they don’t understand what suffering really is, there is a credibility issue. For what do they know about it? Paul passes this particular test, however. 2 Cor. 11:23-27 gives us an idea, where he recounts some of his sufferings:
23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
When Paul wrote about suffering, he understood it better than most. And in rejoicing, he’s not talking about putting aside sorrow, denying pain, or ignoring grief. He’s not a Stoic.
Even Jesus grieved and shed tears over troubles. In John 11:35, Jesus wept at Lazarus’ death and the people’s sorrow. Lk. 22:44 tells us of his great agony, and his sweat becoming “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” In Mk. 13:44 he says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Our Savior understood pain.
Paul is saying that even in your grief, even in your pain, even in your sorrow, have an attitude that recognizes that your status with God has not changed. You are still in grace. Even in your pain, he is loving you. He has not abandoned you and never will. God overcomes suffering and works it towards your good. You never have to despair.
And then we see that suffering produces the necessary ability to continue on day-after-day, despite our circumstances—perseverance.
A marathon runner doesn’t just wake up one day and decide he or she’s gonna go run 26.2 miles, and do it. She only does it after months of grueling training. Doing long runs of 10 miles then 12, 15, 18, 23, and so on. Sometimes she lays there on a Saturday morning at 0430 trying to psyche herself up to get up to go run 18 miles. She pushes through the pain and struggle of step-by-step, mile-by-mile to reach her goal—building endurance through suffering.
Suffering makes it possible for us to follow the call in Hebrews 12:1, concerning the Christian life, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” And, in this perseverance, character is produced.
Have you ever known an older Christian who has gone through suffering in their life, but had a peace about them, a sense of deep inner strength, stability and wisdom? With character like an oak tree with deep roots, a powerful base, and a canopy that offers cool shade from the harsh elements for those who stand close to them? It is, as one man said, “the temper of the veteran as opposed to the raw recruit.” I think that is exactly what Paul is talking about—character like that only comes from years of walking with the Lord, not only through good times, but through bad times too—character refined with fire. The fire is necessary for the refinement. And our hope is strengthened.
Through it all, every tear, every bit of agony, every step through the fire, Christians gain hope. As God refines us more and more through our crucible, our character becomes more and more modeled after Christ’s. We begin to exhibit more and more of the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:23). We come to better understand the reality of God walking with us. He lovingly takes every step with us. He remains true to his promises, throughout.
We will never be disappointed in our hope (v. 5). We see the evidence of this in God’s love. It is constantly being poured out in our hearts by the Spirit. It is inwardly felt, and exhibited in our thoughts and our actions. In Romans 5:8, Paul gives further evidence, hard evidence of God’s love in the Lord’s actions in history: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In a state of grace we watch our own character lovingly molded and crafted by his hand.
Maybe you are suffering here today. I mentioned some examples earlier, and maybe those apply, or maybe not. Fill in the blank. Everybody suffers at some point, some more than others. And, if you are a Christian, it is likely you have been or are persecuted in some way—perhaps ridiculed or left out because you are trying to live your life for Christ. Maybe you’ve been cancelled by the culture. These are very difficult things, tortuous even. Suffering is pain. It hurts. It aches.
And it should be no surprise that attitude (as you go through various trials) can make all the difference as to the outcome. Every day as you put one foot in front of the other, in this race called life (following Christ), remember your status. Remember you are in a state of grace. Recognize God’s hand in your life, as he lovingly gives you endurance to make it, and confidently move forward in his love. While it may be difficult now to notice, because it is often a gradual process, be encouraged by the knowledge that your character is being molded by God into the man or woman that he wants you to be.
My personal experience, looking back at how God has molded my character through suffering, gives me hope. Some of you can look back on past struggles, and recognize this in your own lives.
God loves you. This is a great thing! In Christ, sufferings are turned around from being a completely negative experience that has no other end but despair, to being something we can rejoice in. We should rejoice in our present hope.
My uncle Pierce said, concerning a state of grace, “Not only can you go home again, but you might find you never left the place.” What a truth! Each day we get closer to the hope of God’s glory—the ultimate expression of God’s grace in which we already stand. And, as a Christian, no matter how bad it gets, you have never left that place (that state of grace) home. God’s love for you is so great.
Rejoice in the present (despite the circumstances) and rejoice in the future—that hope you have in Jesus Christ. Because Christians have peace with God, we should rejoice in our state of grace.
 Pierce Pettis, State of Grace, Track 2 of the CD State of Grace (2001 Compass Records, Nashville). Used with permission from Pierce Pettis. Pierce Pettis’ website: https://www.piercepettis.com/. Video, from March 2007, of Pierce singing “A State of Grace”: https://youtu.be/0DDbxCQ9baA.
 Stu Weber, Tender Warrior (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1999), 45. I was going from memory with the quote when I originally wrote this sermon, saying “Soldiering is about pain,” having, in the past, taught some studies from Tender Warrior with soldiers. While digging to try to find the reference I had cited from memory, I discovered that I slightly misquoted. Sorry about that, Stu. This manuscript contains his words, which, in full, are “Soldiering, after all, is connected with pain.”
 Chaplain (Major) Mark Jones hammered this into our head at the Chaplain’s Officer Basic Course (CHOBC) back in 2005.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 142, quoting from William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1902), 125.