We met in a coastal diner for breakfast on a foggy February morning. The damp found its way under every bit of clothing as it does near the ocean. I zipped up my jacket tightly and Mr. Johnson pulled his vest around him. I had never thought about it before, but farmers like vests, Carthart vests in particular. I never realized why until I got one, now I’m a disciple. Anyway, we met for breakfast there in the old diner near the train station and the train station was literally on the sand of the seashore. The prior night had brought the first rain we had experienced in months and weather is a big topic of conversation around here. We had over an inch at my house, but Mr. Johnson lived on the other side of the range from us.
“I got 1.2 inches last night, what did you get?” I asked with expectation that a dry-farmer would be jumping out of his skin with excitement as this glorious and foreign thing called rain. A dry farmer, if you don’t know, relies entirely on the natural rainfall to feed the harvest, in this case, barley, 1500 acres of barley.
“We had .6 inches, he said, somberly.”
I had to decide if this was a problem or if it was just his manner, he is a 3rd generation farmer on land an hour from civilization after all. So, I asked. “Is that good?”
“It would have been good in November when we planted the seed.” He said…followed by a long pause. “With dry farming, we depend on the short days and rain that comes in the winter. During that time, the roots of the barley grow deep and the grass grows just a short bit. Then, by the time the rain dries up and the sun gets hot, we’ve got good healthy roots reaching down to the moisture until the plant bears fruit. This will grow blade, but no roots…and it will die before it buds.”
The conversation continued with pastoral questions. I truly wondered if I was there that day to offer consolation to a farmer with no hope of a harvest. But he knew the way the cycle worked and had generations of experience wrapped up in his heart and mind. I was there to learn a lesson on from creation on hope and patience.
God has been using the Word about the world to teach us to consider our future glory better than our present suffering, whatever the suffering may be. Creation teaches us to long for the right thing: our glorification; to fight the right fight: against the frustration of sin; to live the right way: free from the power of sin; and the believe that all of this labor will bear good fruit. In verse 8:24-25 Paul summarizes the whole section with this good word. Creation is teaching us not to react to the sin that is in the world, no matter how close to home it hits. Because God is bringing glory, we do not react to sin. Sin is there. It is in me. It is in you. It is in the world. Just this week, the news blew up with images of white supremacists marching and rioting in Virginia. And if you wondered, the Bible clearly condemns racism as sin. It is impossible to think that one race is super to another, all people are created in the image of God and all are sinners through and through. Sin is in the world, but creation preaches his glory to us every day, reminding us that there is sin and brokenness and it is our fault. But, Jesus is putting the token pieces back together. That’s why we don’t react to sin.
So, again, bring to mind your present sin and sorrows. Bring to mind those things that are causing you pain right now; that person who has sinned against you and it has not been made right; bring to mind your very real sin. Let us preach glory to it.
Act from hope.
Paul here uses the present glory of creation to teach us that because God is bringing us to future glory, we can act from hope rather than react to sin.
Look with me at verse 24. It reads, in this hope we were saved. It also says that no one hopes for what he sees. Before we comment on those two, let’s remember that hope is not new here in Romans and it isn’t new to Paul.
First, we learned from Paul that hope is a confident expectation of things promised. For example, back in Romans 4:18, Abraham is said to believe in hope against hope. The situation was pretty dire. He was nearly 100 years old and his wife 90. They had no kids and no physical hope of having any. That was their present suffering, that was the effect of sin in their lives. Not their own sin, the biological effect of the fall on Sarah’s body. You know that this governed their lives. Every time they saw the empty bedroom where the child would have slept, every time they looked each other, every time they laid their heads down on pillows next to each other at night…the absence of a child was present. The inability of their seed to bear fruit grew up like weeds in their hearts to choke out the promise of God. But the present sin was not all that there was for Abraham and Sarah, there was also the promise of future glory. In regard to that promise, Abraham had hope, he believed God.
We have already seen how in chapter 5, we who have been justified through our faith in Christ alone are taught hope by our present suffering. Suffering does not eliminate hope, it is actually the fertilizer that brings it to fruition.
Hope is the confident expectation of things promised. It is not a leap of faith contrary to reality. If we learn anything from the glory of God in creation it is that this world is not as it should be, it is also not all there is. God and his promises are the very foundation of our reality.
Second, hope is in salvation. Look back down at verse 24 with me. It says that in this hope we were saved, past tense. Actually, it is the Aorist tense. Which in the Greek means there is a past action that has present results. There was a seed planted yesterday that is bearing fruit today. That seed that was planted was the good news that we have been justified by his blood in the past and will be saved from the wrath of God in the future. So when Paul says that creation is teaching us to hope, he is saying that creation is teaching us to believe the gospel for our salvation, past present and future. This is exactly what we see in Romans 8, verses 28 and following.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, ESV)
Theologians call this the unbreakable chain. What God begin in the past through His divine foreknowledge is certain to have a future and that future is our glorification. Our glorification means that both of our bodies and our souls will be sinless and like Christ one day.
Hope is a confident expectation in the promise of God and God has promised full salvation of every Christian, body and soul. This is true for every believer. You, present sinner. And the present sinner that you are having a hard time forgiving.
Third, hope is not in what is seen. Paul even makes a bit of a joke about this, “Who hopes for what he’s already seen?” He asks. That’s ridiculous. We have seen this time and time again. In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul cheers us on to walk by faith and not by sight because sometimes the only thing in sight is present suffering. You know, little things like being stoned nearly to death – twice. Or shipwrecked. Little things that are so small compared to our complaints against other sinners, right? The Apostle Peter encourages his readers in 1 Peter 1:8, saying that though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.
Hope is a confident expectation in the promises of God. God promises our full salvation and that promise is more sure than what we see today and every day.
Here is the point of the passage to us. Because God is bringing you to glory, do not react to the sin that you see in others. Do not react to the sin against you. Instead, act in hope. I mean the sinner can be right in front of you and by the power of the Spirit and instruction of the Word, you can act with hope instead of respond with sin. React to the promise that God will make them perfect one day. Act in hope for that to be true in them. Do what it takes. Labor. Lament. All with the hope of sharing in the harvest that they will bear. In 1 Corinthians 9:10 we are told that the plow man works with the hope of sharing in the harvest. You work for your sinning brothers and sisters with the hope of future harvest. Their good fruit will be a blessing to you on that day.
Plant the seed of the Word of God like Paul. Water the seed with good teaching like Apollos did, correction, rebuking and training in righteousness. You often reap the fruit of someone else’s planting and watering like the disciples did from the work of Jesus.
Can you not see signs of hope in your brothers and sisters? Can you see it in your parents who are, obviously, less than perfect? Can you see it in school mates who go to church but live like the devil? How about the sin of absence, when there is just no one there and you feel dreadfully lonely?
Is there any believer at all in whom you cannot see signs of hope? Look again. Look again! That sinner that you were looking at, that you were mad at, is being conformed into the image of Christ and you are part of God’s plan for doing that and He will use the sin against you to help make it happen.
For example, when a husband sins against His wife by abdicating his leadership in the family in some way – perhaps he does not love her the self sacrificial way that God would have her loved, he treats her unkindly or he treats other women (or pictures of others women) too kindly; perhaps he does not lead the family to worship and in worship; perhaps he does not provide for the family needs. So she is having to take up his part as well as hers. Especially in close relationships, it is easy to see them as defined by their sin. You ARE a failure of a husband, you never lead and you never will. I will always have to do this by myself and our children will suffer for it. She has no hope. And without hope, the lamenting that she is supposed to be doing for him because of his sin, the crying out to God so that God might make him holy, free you from his sin, have mercy on him and spare him the consequences of your sin, instead of lamenting she am fretting. Fretting is lamenting without hope. It’s crying out to a God who you don’t believe can or will do anything about it. You do not believe that He truly wants the glory that will come to Him when His people are made holy or at least when that person is made holy. You do not believe that He is able to change sinful hearts. But, hasn’t He changed yours?
God says, and creation confirms, that there is hope. That brother in Christ will be like Christ. He will be glorified. If you believe this, plant the seed, water it, harvest the fruit of holiness in their lives. If she believes this, she will pray for him – she will lament to God over him – and she will lay down her life because she has a confident expectation in the promises of God for her husband.
Now, we can apply the same truth to the effects of sin that some of you are experiencing in your aging bodies. Others have surgeries for those you love. Some are sitting with pains between friends.
In all these or yours, I ask, Do you fret that you will never be free from the power of sin? Do you fret that the sin in people around you will never be less painful, that they’ll never grow? Are you ready and willing to walk away from relationships because you don’t believe that the Spirit of God can change them into the image of Christ? Are you ready to walk away because you were not willing to suffer so that they could be holy? So that you can be?
Then go outside. I don’t mean leave. I mean, go outside and look at the sun. It is, right now marching across the sky from one side to the other like a groom going to get his bride. Every day it preaches to you the good news that Jesus has come for you like a husband and he will come again after He prepares a place for you. As you leave the church today stop and look at the cork oak that rolled across I street as an acorn and planted itself along the side of the basketball court. It is charging you before God to sink your roots down into the Word of God so that you can be stable, not tossed back and forth every time you are sinned against. The righteous man, with roots in the Word of God, is never shaken.
Let creation teach you too long for people to be set free from sin. Let it teach you to be frustrated with sin. Let it teach you to hope. God, who planted His Spirt in our bodies – the one Spirit in all of our bodies – will be faithful to complete what He began in us. Act in hope!
Act with patience.
What I hope for is the kind of relationships in the church that are patterned after Romans chapter 12. 12:10 says that we are to love one another with brotherly affection. 12:16 live in harmony with one another. 12:18 live at peace with all men, as far as it depends on you. In 15:15 we are called to be like minded with one another in the congregation and this is tied to God’s patience. Which reveals this problem, I am not always patient with you between here and your glorification. I mean, why can’t you just be like Jesus now?
The second thing this passage says to us is that because God is bringing us to glory, We do not react to sin but we act with patience.
8:25 reads, if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Don’t you hate that word, patience? God seems to like it, however. Love, God says, is patient. The fruit of the Spirit of God that is in us is patience. The term here used in the passage is one for endurance or perseverance. It is the term used for a soldier in the thick of battle, he can handle a sword because he has handled a plow at home. He can work hard with patience because he learned to work hard with hope.
There are two sides to the biblical understanding of patience in the life of the church. First, there is the reminder that God is patient with you. Second, there is the call for you to be patient with sinners.
Turn back a few pages with me to Romans chapter 2. In verse 4 we read, do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God is to lead you to repentance? God’s patience is what led you to repentance. And God, according to 2 Peter 3:9, is not slow, but patient. For him, a day is like 1000 years and 1000 years is like a day. He’s not slow, he is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Are you hearing what the patience of God does? The patience of God leads to repentance. It led you to repentance. You would not be here if God had not been patient with you. You would not be here if God had not been patient with your sin, your sin against him.
So the call of the word of God is that we would be patient with sin in the world. That means being patient with sinners because God is patient with sinners. Sinners come in two varieties, me and you.
Let’s talk first about ourselves as sinners. What does it look like it to be patient with ourselves? What does it mean to not condemn ourselves for being less than perfect, while at the same time never excusing ourselves for actual sin?
Just this week, as I spoke about my my own present guilt and struggles to a mentor of mine. He addressed my sin with patience and strength. He said to me, and I quote, “You only feel guilty because your expectations are so sinfully out of whack.” Yes, he spoke that way to me and yes, he was right. We all need to have someone who can speak to us that way if we want to be holy. And, it must be someone we are willing to submit to. If there is no one you will submit to, repent of that.
To be patient with ourselves, we must start with the right hope. That is, it starts with knowing where I’m going and where I am going is towards Christ like holiness in both body and soul. I find that where I think I am going often determines how I act. I find that my priorities and first values shape my behavior.
So, when I have expectations that I will preach 50 good sermons a year; that I will get a book written in my spare time; what I will not get angry; that I will not get hurt and even fearful when people leave the church or do not keep their promises…my expectations are “sinfully out of whack.” While these things make me human, they are not an excuse for me to sin.
What is the point? The point is that I begin to be patient with myself as a sinner but I see myself with hope, by having a confident expectation about myself that God will make me holy. So, church, let go of the expectation of sinlessness, but never let go of the expectation of holiness.
Now, with regards to the sin of others, the Proverbs wisely say that, Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense, Proverbs 19:11.
Patience with other sinners means that we need to overlook offense. Look, half the time we are offended by things that were never meant to be offensive. It was pure misunderstanding. Now, that misunderstanding could’ve come by words poorly spoken or by words poorly heard.
Also, according to Ephesians 4:2, we go further and bear one another’s burdens. That is, not only do we overlook offenses when we are sinned against, we go further and dig right in with patience because it is making both us and them holy.
Either way, it is to our glory and the glory of God for us to to to this whenever possible. And, as your pastor, I’m reminding you that this is a holy obligation. You have to do this. You cannot claim to have accepted the forgiveness of Christ for yourself if you refuse to give it to another. Why? Because if you do not believe that his death is enough to pay for the sin against you, how could you ever believe that it is good enough for your sin against God? You have to love your enemy and sometimes the enemy is a member of your own household or your own church. Do not react to sin, react with hope and patience.
The God of the universe is governing the futility of other people’s sin to make you holy.
So, here is what we are saying: act with hope towards sin and sinners. Act with a confident expectation in the promise of God and God promises to make us holy, to save us fully.
Also, act with patience. God has been patient with you for a thousand years. Now act towards sin and sinners with patience. Don’t expect perfection, but always expect people to be thoroughly biblical and to thoroughly repent when they are not. Consider yourself a farmer in relation to that one who has sinned against you. Plant a seed of hope, do not grumble, and wait. Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares. Among those of us with faith, growing in maturity and holiness in the church, there will be weeds. There will be those who do not believe but like to practice the faith. And, you will not know the difference. And, it is absolutely wrong for you to try to judge the difference.
See, without patience, you and I get angry and become judgmental. We become judges, not priests. That husband needs a priest, not a judge. That hypocritical student. That person sitting alone wishing someone would call.
When we are judges, we justify ourselves. We relativize sin in comparison to others. Perhaps that wife is short tempered and distant from her husband. Perhaps, she does not pray for him and she ought. Perhaps she withholds affection. Isn’t she justified because of what he did first? The standard is the holy character of God and the display of his glory in the world. It is a common phrase in the counseling room for me to say, “Don’t make a case.” If you have to make a case you are a judge, not a priest. (and, we always conveniently remember stories in our favor). Our job is to patiently cry out to God in hope for the conversion and holiness of sinners, both ourselves and others. This is how present suffering becomes future glory, making us holy in the process.
Act with creation
That is what creation teaches us. Sometimes it teaches us to wait and it always teaches us hope. In the year that Julie’s father died, we planted a patch of gooseberries in his honor. Gooseberries are a sour fruit that grows on a prickly version of of the Ribes species, they’re like a currant. They tend to grow in moister climates than ours, but we found a variety that should do well here. Five years on, we have wonderful bushes, but are still waiting for the fruit. We planted with hope and we water, fertilize, and prune in the hopes of a future harvest. Romand 8:18 calls that harvest a future glory.
Glory is the goal. God wants us to get involved in the glory. He wants us to live in the world in such a way that makes him look good, and He looks good when we look like Jesus.
Glory is the goal for both us and for creation, for both our people and our place. God wants us to live in such a way that the world, the dirt we walk on, is more glorious because we are here. Creation is waiting for the weight of sin to be lifted. Creation is waiting for us who are are free from sin to become better dominion keepers in all that we touch. Let us do all for the glory of God. That is, may the people we live with be more glorious because of us. May the place where we live be more glorious because of us.