Access by Faith

Romans 5:1-5

People are being slaughtered by terrorists, soldiers, and bombs in the Balkans.  Thousands  upon thousands of refugees flee Kosovo. A few weeks ago, the nation was shocked by students and a teacher being murdered in a high school in Littleton, Colorado. Last Sunday, a bus transporting young children from a Christian camp was slammed into by a runaway trailer and twenty-three children died. This week tornadoes in Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma killed young and old alike while destroying entire communities.

Turmoil, pain and anger are crushing many victims. Some are simply numbed by shock.  Others are experiencing the PEACE OF GOD that transcends all understanding in the midst of suffering for they have experienced PEACE WITH GOD.

In the past several weeks, the news media, officials, even the President of the United States, have called on Americans to pray for those who are suffering from these tragedies!

Does God hear the prayers of all Americans who pray? The LORD told the prophet in Jeremiah 11:14—

Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Two things are apparent in God’s command. First, the prophet who has access to God is told not to pray for the people in distress because God is not going to answer any plea or petition on their behalf.  Second, God will not listen to the people when they pray to Him in their distress.

Why? The nation’s pleas for help go unanswered because the people will not repent. They are offering worthless sacrifices since they will not repent; so God refuses to credit righteousness and forgiveness to them. And without righteousness they have not access into grace; hence God will not listen to them.

One requires access to God in order for Him to listen, even in times of distress. Romans 5:1-2 tells how this access is obtained—

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

The believer’s ACCESS TO GOD is one of the most precious truths of the Bible. When the Law was given at Mt. Sinai, the people stood afar off and were warned repeatedly that they should not come near to God or they would die. When the Tabernacle and Temple were built a curtain separated the people, even the priests, from God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.

Access to God was closed, except to the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. With the blood of bulls and goats, the High Priests entered through the curtain to sprinkle the animal blood on the Atonement Cover of the Ark of the Covenant. This act covered over the sins the High Priest and the people’s for the past year.

From time to time, the Shekinah glory of God would reside above the Atonement Cover, which symbolized the throne of grace. Thus, only the High Priest could directly access God for fifteen centuries leading up to Calvary. Matthew 27:50-51 records—

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Hebrews 10:19-23 explains that the death of Christ symbolized by the tearing of the Temple Curtain opened a new and living way to God —

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

We enter into the holy of holies by blood. Christ’s death gave all believers access to the throne of grace. We are invited to come into the presence of God with confidence and boldness by faith.

Hebrews 4:14-16 stresses that this access is conditioned by faith—

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

The writer of Hebrews gives the exhortation: LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE POSSESS. Without faith, there is no justification, without justification, there is no peace, and without these two things there is no access into this grace.

Before our salvation, we stood IN ADAM and were condemned; but now IN CHRIST, we have a perfect standing before God and can enter into His presence.

I doubt if I could ever obtain a fifteen-minute audience with the President of the United States, a finite human being who will soon pass away. Indeed no one has free access to him at all times; not his wife or daughter, not the Secretary of State, not his most intimate adviser. No one has free access at all times.

Not only I, but you also have access to God the Father at all times. We can approach Him and talk with Him while He listens at our convenience. If we maintain our fellowship with Him, we’ll never get an answering machine or a busy signal. He can give individual attention to millions of petitioners at the same time.

Since we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, we can bring our sorrow and grief; come with our questions and problems; come with our anxiety and fear; come with our troubles and woes, and cast our cares on Him because He cares for us.

THROUGH  FAITH  our  POSITION  is  RIGHTEOUSNESS  and  PEACE,    and  our  PRIVILEGE  is

ACCESS and STANDING. Little wonder Paul adds at the end of verse 2—

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

What is THE GLORY OF GOD? Certainly, we might think that this GLORIOUS HOPE is PEACE WITH GOD and ACCESS TO GOD.  But those two things take care of the past and the present.  Since

HOPE is ANTICIPATION, this GLORIOUS HOPE must relate to the future, not the past or present. We find THE GLORY OF GOD in Revelation 21:10-11—

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with THE GLORY OF GOD, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

The heavenly city is lighted by the Divine Presence—The Glory of God. Grace gives a foothold in the door that one day will swing wide to permit the enjoyment of the glorious presence of the Almighty, a privilege to be enjoyed for ever. Sharing eternity with God that’s the believer’s hope—what Paul calls THE HOPE OF THE GLORY OF GOD.

We are walking in our father Abraham’s footsteps of faith. Like him, we are were longing for a better country—a heavenly one, where God is preparing a city. Like Abraham, we are pilgrims on earth, assured of heaven; so we cherish our inheritance; we rejoice with the grace and peace in which we stand.

Now Paul adds something else to rejoice about that is completely unexpected with Romans 5:3-4—

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Paul views sufferings as one link in a chain of events and interactions that bring blessings to the Christian. Suffering relates to access to God in a very striking way.

SUFFERING comes from a Greek word (yliqiv {thlip’-sis}, which conveys the idea of pressing, pressing together, pressure, oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits. It means to be squashed under pressure.

Much to our surprise, the Bible asserts that SUFFERING has great value, for it produces PERSEVERANCE, that is STEADFAST ENDURANCE.

PERSEVERANCE is illustrated in the Bible by a man named JOB. Turn to James 5:10-11—

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Notice that James unites us—his readers—with the prophets by writing WE CONSIDER BLESSED THOSE WHO HAVE PERSEVERED. The prophets lived in days of apostasy and wickedness, but they remained true to God under  sieges of trials, tormentings, temptations without losing  heart, and  so faithfully endured until the end.

In spelling out the signs of the End of the Age, Jesus says in Matthew 24:12-13—

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Larry King was interviewing Ross Perot the other night. Ross was advocating parents getting their children involved in the Boy Scouts and spending a lot of time nurturing children in the first eighteen months of life. Larry King thought it was foolishness to think our nation could to return to such a time when things like the Boy Scouts really mattered. He felt scouting could not compete with Nintendo Games and peer pressure to be involved in other vices. Are Christians standing firm today?

Surrounded by wickedness, God’s prophets stood firm until the end. James applauds the prophets for their patience and perseverance in face of suffering that this wickedness produced. On the other hand, Job lost his patience with friends, and especially God.

As we read the tremendous drama of Job’s life, we see him passionately resenting what has come upon him, passionately questioning the conventional wisdom of his friends, passionately agonizing over the terrible thought that God had forsaken him.  Few men have spoken such passionate words as he did.  Yet, in spite of the all the agonizing questioning which tore at his heart, Job never lost his faith in God.

Job persevered in faith. His faith never faltered. He stood fast in the midst of tremendous emotional and physical sufferings. One of his cries of steadfast faith is Job 19:25—

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes— I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

That’s rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God!

There may be a faith which never complained or questioned, but still greater is the faith which was tortured by questions and still believed. It is the faith that holds on that comes out on the other side that God rewards.

What did the LORD finally bring about in the life of Job? The Scripture records in Job 42:12— The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.

After the testing of suffering was completed, God doubled everything that Job possessed before it began. The outcome for Job is a happy ending—a blessed one. It demonstrates the LORD is full of compassion and mercy.

There will be moments in life when we think that God has forgotten, but if we cling to the remnants of faith, at the end we, too, shall see that God is very kind and merciful.

Turn to James 1:2-4. James starts his letter with a rather enticing exhortation to readers who have been scattered because of persecution—

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

That’s exactly what happened to Job. The LORD painted a target with a huge bull’s eye on Job and basically said to Satan, “Now that’s a man who fears God. You can do anything to this blameless and upright man except kill him and he will still love Me.”

The sufferings God allowed had a threefold purpose: First, to test Job’s faith; second, to refute the slander of Satan; and third, to vindicate and strengthen Job’s faith.

God tested Abraham’s faith when He demanded that the patriarch sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. The many trials of Israel in the desert were testings of faith. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:4—

We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

David confessed in his prayer in 1 Chronicles 29:17—

I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.

Testings are not meant to make us fall; they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger.

Therefore, we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them. The Christian is like an athlete or soldier. The more difficult the course of training he undergoes, the more he is glad because he knows that it is fitting him all the better for victorious effort.

The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles. Unswerving, faithful perseverance in the end makes the Christian three things according to James 1:4:

It makes us mature.

It makes us complete.

It makes us not lacking anything.

By the way in which we meet every experience in life, we are either fitting or unfitting ourselves for the task which God calls us to do. He uses trials to remove the weakness and the imperfections of our character. Trials enable us to conquer old sins, to shed old blemishes and to gain new virtues until in the end we become entirely fit for God’s service.

The testing of Job’s faith had made him mature, complete, not lacking anything. In fact, at the end of his sufferings, he was fitted for service to God. We read in Job 42:7-10—

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the LORD told them; and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.

Job had learned to pray for himself in the midst of his sufferings—now he could pray for others.

It is always a comfort to feel that others have gone through what we have to through and to see how God comforted them. That’s the point of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4—

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

The Christian who has persevered through suffering makes a wonderful intercessor on the behalf of others—for that saint has learned to trust and lean on the LORD. In order to do that, one must communicate in prayer with God. Some of the best prayer warriors are those who have persevered in suffering, who have faced and come through difficult trials not only with their faith intact, but increased.

One of the greatest difficulties in life is coping with suffering when it touches you and the people you love. Popular opinion says: “If you really love God and do your best to serve Him, your life will be free from suffering.” This notion has circulated for thousands of years, but it is dead wrong! Often the opposite is true!

Suffering can touch our lives at four different levels which often overlap. First, our PHYSICAL HEALTH can be taken from us, temporarily or permanently. Second, our MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS in life may be lost, damaged or, destroyed. Third, our EMOTIONAL HEALTH can be attacked by stress, depression, or a host of other problems. Fourth, our SPIRITUAL LIVES may be shaken as we fight spiritual battles.

Some of you may be burdened with suffering today. If you are free from suffering, fasten your seat belt because suffering visits each of us at some time during our life. Suffering can show up any time, anywhere, with anybody. It comes in all sizes and varieties, big and small. Some suffering lasts a short time while other sufferings never quit.

While sinful choices can cause suffering, suffering is not always the result of personal sin. Suffering sometimes has no explanation.

There are instances of suffering where Satan and God are the direct cause. TEMPTATION and TESTING are the same word in Hebrew and in Greek. God never tempts, He tests. Satan never tests, he tempts. God allows Satan’s temptations to test our faith.

Satan had to ask God if he could attack Job, and God set a limit on what Satan could do to Job. Satan attacked this man of faith for a spiritual purposes. Satan wanted Job to turn his back on God.

Satan works the same way today. He wants us to doubt God’s love for us. As “the father of lies,” Satan will lie to us about God. When we are hurting, Satan whispers lies to us to get us to doubt God: “If God really loved you, you would not be suffering like this.” It is easy to fall into Satan’s trap when we’re suffering. We begin to feel abandoned by God. We get frustrated with God. We begin to doubt God’s love for us. We get angry with God. We drift away from God as our emotions overwhelm us.

Or the opposite occurs. We draw closer to God. We trust in God. As we lean on Him, our love for Him grows. Instead of being angry with God, we find Him to be our Rock, our Refuge, an ever present help in time of trouble. Since we have gained access into God’s grace, we can go to Him for help and strength.

We can only experience God’s strength through our weakness. Paul testifies in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9—

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Suffering teaches us to trust in God for who He is—not for what He does. When God broke the long silence and finally answered Job complaints, He spoke to him out of a mighty storm to impress Job with His infinite power. Job wanted to know the answers but God refused to give Job the answers. Instead of giving him the answers he wanted, God assured Job that He was in control and that He alone knew the reasons for Job’s suffering.

In chapters 38 to 41, God taught Job that it is better to know the Creator than to know all the answers. That can be hard to accept when we want to know all the answers.  Job didn’t need to know WHY he was suffering.  He needed to know WHO—who was in control, who loved him, and who would be with him in his suffering. Job needed a new understanding of God.

Rather than telling Job the reason for his suffering, God assured Job of His love, wisdom, and power. Job learned the hard lesson that when everything is stripped away from our lives, all we have is God. And God is enough!

No matter how difficult life gets we are to put our HOPE in God.  Romans 5:5—

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

In addition to God’s grace, we have His love, and His presence in our life. That’s enough. We don’t need to know more answers to why we suffer!

The answers God gives in the Bible are sufficient. Suffering tests our faith. Suffering can strengthen our faith or shatter our faith. We will have to make the choice. Suffering will either drive us into God’s arms or suffering will cause us to walk away from God.

Make the right choice. Trust in God’s infinite wisdom. Trust in God’s perfect love for you. Seek God’s presence in the midst of your pain.

We have access into this grace in which we now stand—for the Holy Spirit of God lives in us.

God gives His Word, His people and His presence to help us in our trials and sufferings. His grace is sufficient!

Our Lord, who still bears the scars of crucifixion, stands with arms open wide to comfort you with His loving presence.  Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God! And rejoice in suffering! Consider it pure joy!

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