Three weeks ago, I explained how mobility and athleticism can be a liability for an NFL quarterback. My argument is that mobility is often a crutch that prevents quarterbacks from developing more important skills like accuracy and pocket awareness. The opposite is also true. That is, a quarterback’s immobility is an asset if his immobility forces him to improve his accuracy and pocket awareness. These arguments about mobility only make sense if we look at mobility as a piece of the bigger picture. We must evaluate mobility in terms of what is most important, and this principle is also true outside of football.
Two weeks ago we looked at how for heaven to exist and for us to obtain salvation, we need our hearts to be fundamentally transformed. Last week we looked at how God transforms us through the cross, but that we still need God to perfect this transformation. This transformation (both the initiation and the perfection of it) is what is most important for us – much like accuracy for an NFL quarterback. Anything that hinders this transformation becomes a liability, and anything that promotes this transformation becomes an asset.
Paul understood this when he wrote his letter to the Romans, and we see that in chapter 5. Listen to what he says starting in verse 3:
“Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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.” Romans 5:3-5
In isolation, we would never rejoice in suffering – just like in isolation, I’d never want my quarterback to be immobile – but Paul is saying that if suffering leads to hope, we should rejoice in suffering. This begs two questions: why is hope so important, and what does Paul mean when he says hope does not put us to shame?
Why is hope so important? To answer this, we need to understand what our hope is in, and in chapter 8, Paul tells us.
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Romans 8:23-24a
Our hope is in the day when we are adopted by God and our bodies are redeemed. We hope for the day when God perfects our transformation and we become like Jesus. This is when heaven will truly become a reality.
Our second question: What does Paul mean when he says hope does not put us to shame? My pastor uses a great illustration for this. In our culture, we use the word hope to mean wanting something to happen that may or may not happen. I may hope that Tom Brady wins the super bowl this weekend, but there is no guarantee it will happen. But when Paul talks about hope not putting us to shame, he is saying that hope is longing for something that hasn’t happened yet, but that we know will happen. For example, if I’m stuck camping in the cold, I hope that the sun will rise. It hasn’t risen yet, but I am fully confident that it will. That is what Paul is saying here. We have confidence in our hope that God will adopt us and redeem our bodies because God’s love has been given to us through the Holy Spirit. Paul continues to expand on this, particularly in verse 10.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 5:10
Do you see Paul’s logic? We can trust that God is going to perfect our transformation because of what the cross proved. When we were God’s enemies, Jesus endured the cross and reconciled us to God. Is He suddenly going to stop pouring His love out for us? Of course not! So even though we may be suffering, the Holy Spirit teaches us to say, “Even though I don’t understand this suffering, I will trust you because you are God, and I am not, and I know that you love me because of the cross.”
God perfects our transformation by drawing our eyes to the cross because at the cross we learn to trust God.
So I would never say that poverty, or sickness, or the death of a loved one are good things in and of themselves (and neither would God!), but if these things cause us to turn to the cross and meditate on God’s love for us, and if in doing so, God transforms our hearts, then we rejoice in these things.