Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Deeply positive buzz

Deeply positive buzz

How the gospel gives us true positivity

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Deeply positive buzz

Phillip Jensen: Romans 5:1-11 is the passage today, and frankly, it is one of my very favorite passages in the Bible. It's marvelous, isn't it? It's just so wonderfully positive. And coming out of the resurrection at the end of chapter four, you get this marvelous statement of the consequence of knowing that you're justified by the Lord Jesus Christ's death, and that justification is sealed for us in the resurrection. 

Tony Payne: I'd be very glad to start off with that wonderful ‘therefore’ coming at the end from the end of chapter four. 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Not only that, but we 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.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

PJ: That passage is just full of buzzwords–not just Christian buzzwords–love, joy, peace, rejoicing, hope, glory. 

TP: Reconciliation is positive. 

PJ: It’s not a buzzword, but yes, it's a positive thing, isn't it, that we have reconciliation? How many people would like to have reconciliation? 

There's also the word 'justification' that is the basis of it all. It's not quite a buzzword, but it is referring to the justification that Romans 1-4 have been about. That is, the justification that comes in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. Seeing as we've been justified by faith it's on the basis of that that we have the love, joy, peace… all the good stuff that flows from it. So this passage is about the good stuff that flows from it, isn't it? 

TP: Yes, and in a way, that's what our society wants from Christians and from the church, isn't it? Our society wants the church to be a positive influence.

PJ: Yes, but at the same time, society does not think the church is a positive influence. 

There are other buzzwords of our society like ‘thriving’ and ‘well-being’ and ‘flourishing’, which came out of positive psychology–the movement that came towards the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century from Professor Martin Seligman and others. Instead of just worrying about people's dysfunctionality and problems, we should look at the question, what do we need to do to create well-being or flourishing or thriving or happiness? The world wants that. 

But its concept about church and church gatherings are very much like that of the 19th century where church is seen as a boring, moralistic, and uptight kind of negativity, with sermons that were long, tedious and boring, with music that was awful, and I just hated having to sit on the cold, hard pews for hours on end. 

TP: Yes, and now it's shifted from churches being boring, negative, guilt-inducing and posing the question of ‘Why would I want to go there?’ to Christianity being a source of harm and hate that perpetuates power structures, that engages in the kind of violence that is done by words and by concepts.

PJ: I think the church has made a response to the first problem: boring. The issue of our harm and hurtfulness, I think that can be looked at another day. In terms of the boring side of it, I think churches in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century have made real attempts at change, but I think it's been superficial, window dressing. Don't get me wrong, I was doing it myself. It says more traditional people have turned church into something that's happy clappy. That is, you no longer have to wear your best suits; you can now wear shorts and T-shirts. You no longer have to be able to sing medieval songs or play tunes; we now sing modern songs. And we no longer just have an organ that drones; we now have bands with drums. And we now use simple English and call each other by first names and call each other “you guys”. 

TP: I hope you guys are enjoying yourself today.

PJ: But this sense of relaxed, carefree church is new. There was even a movement that noticed the churches that grew were churches that were messy. And so they then tried to invent ‘Messy Church’ on the grounds that that would then lead it to grow. But well, successful churches are messy. But messy churches are not necessarily successful.

TP: Correlation is not causation. Rather, it's the other way around; the messiness is a result of their success, being so busy doing things you haven't got time to make everything absolutely pristine. It's interesting, though, what I was saying earlier that the world kind of wants positivity from the church. 

PJ: Yes, that's right. And yet, at the same time the media always presents the old church. Every time they wanted to talk to me when I was at the Cathedral, they wanted me dressed up in conservative clothes, standing in the sandstone building with stained glass windows behind me. Because that's the photo opportunity. And when I offered to be natural and just meet them anywhere in the city and just in the clothes that I normally wear, well, that wasn't a photo opportunity, that wasn't church. They couldn't connect that to their readership's view of church, which showed just how far out of touch the journalists were with the reality of church. But I think a lot of this being more modern in church–which I don't mind–is superficial. 

But what we have to offer in Romans 5:1-11 is profound. And what we're going to do is grasp it ourselves and share it with others, because that will give what the positive psychologists are actually unable to give. They want positive psychology to help people be optimistic, extroverted, outgoing. It doesn't work… or if it does work, it works on the basis of irrationality.

TP: Yes, because to be optimistic in the face of the world we actually live in is to be irrational, is to not stop and see how difficult and hard and and terrible the world really is. You actually are happier and get on better and tend to do better, it's just you have to close your eyes to the way the world really is.

PJ: That's right. And it's even explicit in Professor Seligman’s book called Learned Optimism, which teaches you how to be optimistic. And he does that because every study they've been able to do up until that stage showed that optimists do better than pessimists–in sales, in sport, you name it, they did better in everything than pessimists. Except, there was one thing pessimists were better than optimists in. 

TP: What was that? 

PJ: That was in the predictions of the future.

TP: In your understanding of what reality was really like?

PJ: That's right. The pessimists are much better at that because they see it's not going to work. Whereas the optimist thinks it's going to work when it's not. And they’ll have a go, and by random chance, occasionally it does. So what Professor Seligman was teaching was, be irrational. Irrational optimists have greater success than rational pessimists. 

TP: So that's what's gonna work for you.

PJ: Whereas in Romans 5, it's profoundly rational. And it really works for you. So I just think it's a great passage that we as a community need. It's based on justification, the deal with God that has already been done by God in the past. So, taking us back to the first four chapters, therefore, we have been justified now that we have been justified through faith in Jesus, because that's what's been spelled out for us in the previous chapters. Therefore, it's a little hard in the next bit to know whether he's saying let us rejoice, let us have peace, or we do have peace.

TP: Grammatically, it could go either way. 

PJ: Yes. And so doesn't matter. The consequence of it is peace. But the peace that we have is different to the world's peace. The world's peace is cessation of warfare.

TP: Calm, a degree of comfort and of lack of disturbance.

PJ: A lack of disturbance, yes. So I get on peacefully with my neighbor by building a massive fence

TP: And not knowing his name and never talking to him.

PJ: That's right, and shoot his dog if it barks too much. Or I'll have peace if I live on a desert island. Whereas the shalom of the Bible, the sense of peace of the Bible, is not a negative, meaning a lack of interference or lack of disturbance. Rather it's the positive of health, well-being, harmony. And so I get on with that kind of peace with my neighbor when we've pulled the fence down because our kids play together out the backyard and we enjoy each other's company. It's the positive outcome of living well.

TP: Living in a good relationship, a right relationship with someone–you could even say reconciled to someone–and there'll be peace in your relationships. So it's quite different from the peace of non involvement. 

PJ: Yes, so peace with God in the non-involvement sense is God leaves me alone. But peace with God because of justification means I now rejoice in God. I love having God in my life, and I love to be in his view.

TP: Because he has already justified. It's something that's done. And it was done while we were hostile and enemies of God. It was done quite apart from anything we contributed except contributing our enmity to the situation, because as it says later in the passage, he died for us while we were still sinners.

PJ: Yes, but he then moves to joy. 

TP: Yes, rejoice. 

PJ: But the word ‘rejoice’ I'm not sure is the best way of translating that particular word ‘joy’. ‘Joy’ is a funny word in English. It covers a variety of things, which includes happiness at one end. But ‘joy’ is not really happiness, it’s more profound than happiness. How would you describe the Greek word behind the translation of the word ‘joy’, Tony? 

TP: Well, it’s the word for ‘boasting’, for ‘glory’ in the old translations. Glorying in something. And it's a word we've met already in Romans, back in the earlier part of Romans 3-4. 

Romans 3:27 - Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 

And so the issue of what you take pride in, what you boast in for the Jew and for the Greek, it can't be works of the law. It's got to be faith. 

PJ: Yes. For example when my football team wins, I rejoice, I exalt. It's not boasting that my team won as if I did anything. It's that victory is ours even though they did all the work. And so I rejoice in Jesus and what He has done for me, not in boasting in my works.

TP: There's an overlap between those two words, isn't there? You can see that the kind of boasting he’s talking about in the previous chapters, which is boasting in myself, boasting in my works, boasting before God of my performance, he says “No, no, no. There's no boasting in all that.” I mean, look at Abraham. There's only one way Abraham stands right before God and that's because he put his faith in God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And so since we have now been justified like Abraham, by faith, well, what about boasting then? We rejoice, we celebrate. All our pride, all our boasting, all our celebration is only in one thing: the hope of glory that the Lord has given us through justification.

PJ: The joy is our rejoicing, our glorying, our boasting of our Lord who has done so well.

And in this passage, three times he magnifies our Lord, enlarging his fame and glory by telling everybody about him. Firstly, in verse two, “Rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory, hoping the glory of God.” You need hope. Life without hope is, obviously, hopeless. Life without hope is unlivable, unbearable. People do not survive without hope. And the depression that is so widespread in Western society today has to do with no hope. What are we living for beyond ourselves? There is nothing beyond ourselves. It’s just getting old, and where's the hope in that? But now that Jesus has risen for the dead, now that we are justified by his death on our behalf, now we have an expectation that's more than wishful hope. We have the expectation of sharing in the very glory of God. Now that's shout time. That's “My football team didn't just win the game; my football team has just won the grand final.” 

TP: Has just won everything. 

PJ: That’s right, and I’m carried along with it. We're going to be saved for a glorious future. And so we hope in that, we have a life that's full of hope. 

TP: So what about the next one then? Is that related to it? It’s understandable enough to boast or rejoice in the glory of God, but the next one is “but we rejoice/celebrate/boast in our sufferings”. 

PJ: Yes. Isn't that extraordinary? It's wonderful. It's marvelous, because we now know that God is at work for our good. See, if you don't believe in God, then the sufferings of this world are dreadful. They’re just random; there's no justice in them. And there's no solution to them and there's no meaning in them other than pain. And so, what do you do with the sufferings of this world? Avoid them or deny that they're there? I mean, the idea of the Stoics and the Buddhists is they won't have any attachment to anything, because they don't want to lose the thing that they're attached to, because in losing it, you get suffering. So I don't love anything enough to have it lost. Well, life becomes dreadful, really. Whereas what we know because of Jesus dying on our behalf is that God is at work in our lives in everything. And it's not that God hates us; we know God loves us. It's very, very different, you see. We don't have to avoid suffering. We accept the suffering, but we see that God is at work in the sufferings of this world to bring about his purposes for us, like with Jesus. He was in the suffering of Jesus to bring us salvation. 

My easy illustration is my dentist. I voluntarily go to him knowing that he is going to create pain. And he succeeds in doing it–if I may say he's very good at it. And why do I do that? Well, because one, I trust he's in charge, he knows what he's doing. And second, because the outcome will be better. My teeth will be better and things will be better because he has done this to me. Once I know who's in charge, and seeing as he is benevolent towards me and going to remain good in what he's doing, I can volunteer for that pain.

TP: And so be the person of the age you are and have teeth. 

PJ: Yes. But also, my dentist is not like God, because he charges for the pain. And so the real pain comes when I leave the chair and go to the office, and then I find out how much it has cost me.

TP: And exactly how little your health fund refunds. 

PJ: Yes, but God's salvation is not like that because he gives generously. He himself endured greater pain for my salvation. So I can rejoice now knowing the sovereignty of God over the sufferings of this world. And that's why the third joy comes in verse 11. Could you read that for us, Tony?

TP: Romans 5:11 - More than that we also boast in or rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

PJ: Who doesn't rejoice in God?

TP: I suppose those who aren't so sure that they're reconciled to God.

PJ: Absolutely. People who don't believe in God don't rejoice in him. But what gets me is they hate him; they write books against him, they take up campaigns against him. And so they don't rejoice in God. But the other ones are those people who are guilty, because when I'm guilty, one of the ways of solving my guilt is by attacking the person who's really innocent, attacking the person who's going to call me to account, attacking the court system or the police who are going to approach me. So as long as I see God as the eternal policeman, monitoring every bit of my life to punish me for everything I'm doing, I'm not going to rejoice in God. I'm going to hide the very name of God. But when I find out that God has paid the penalty for me, so as to make peace with me at his own expense, out of his grace and generosity which has cost me nothing at all, I could rejoice in God. No one is more my friend than God.

TP: Rejoicing in God, making much of him, boasting in him, making that the cause and nature of our celebration and our joy and what we are most taken up by, what we most celebrate, it can only be because we look back on the justification. Like you were saying before, it's all based on this thing that has been done and that keeps coming out through this passage, doesn't it? The reason we can have confidence in facing the future, in looking at what will happen on the Judgement Day, the day of wrath, is because we've now been justified by his blood.

PJ: Yes. So we've got two words in particular there. The word ‘love’-everybody loves that word. That's a word that means so many things it means nothing. But not in his passion, because it's actually spelled out for us. The love that's been shed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We know that God in His Son laid down his life for us. Not because we were friends, but because we were his enemies. 

TP: But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

PJ: It's just one of the great verses of the Bible. Because you know, someone may lay down their life for somebody else.

TP: If he's a good person, he says in the previous verse. One would scarcely die for a righteous person, perhaps a good person I might possibly die for.

PJ: But the very enemies of God, the very people who hate God, the very people who reject God, rebel against God, ignore God: us, we are the people for whom Jesus laid down his life. So God shows his love. If you want to understand love, that is God's love. That's the verse that spells it out for you. It's the laying down of his life for the enemies, for the sinners for their salvation.

TP: And so the fact that this love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us, it's saying that our hearts have come to know and respond to that love, is that what it is? What does it mean for it to be poured into our hearts? 

PJ: Yes. Because we've been born again as the children of God, loving God is no longer unnatural for us and is now what the Holy Spirit is moving us to do. Remember, the fruit of the Spirit is described as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. 

TP: Many of the things we see in this passage. 

PJ: Yes, but it also is that other thing that's happened in the past, it's the assurance that you were mentioning a few moments ago. You see, now that I have been reconciled, now that I'm no longer an enemy, how much more will I be saved not just by his death, but by his resurrection? Jesus is not still dead; Jesus has risen from the dead. He's been raised because of our justification as Romans 4:25 says. And so now that he is alive, we can be assured of the salvation that lies ahead in the future. It's an extraordinary thing.

TP: Which almost brings us all the way back around to the hope of glory you mentioned at the beginning, that with the expectation of glory, the expectation of what the future holds, we can now celebrate and rejoice in what's coming because we know what's coming is our salvation. We know that because he's died for us in the past and because his blood justifies us, it is done. And it means that in meeting the living Lord on that last day, we can be absolutely assured that we will be saved because our justification has already taken place.

PJ: Yes. And you see what the positive psychology movement wants. And good on them, they want the right thing. But what they want, we already have. This is mental health 101: to have peace, to have that sense of the purpose of life, to have that sense of assurance of what is going to happen, even assurance which takes in the sufferings of a fallen world as well, that I can know my profound relationship with God. And I may say, although it's not in this passage, therefore with God's people I can know this as well, being loved, being certain, being assured, being at peace, being full of joy, being in the positive exaltation of the victory that God's won for us. That is mental health, that is thriving, that is flourishing, that is a basis for a healthy mind and attitude in life. And I'm sorry that many of our western civilization who have lost touch with God have lost touch with the justification that Christ has won for them, go seeking within themselves and fail to find it because it's not there unless you become irrational and say, “I'll be better if it's there, even if it's not.” And leap off into the dark. And they think we are the people leaping into the dark. How sad.

TP: It is very sad, in a sense to celebrate yourself, to boast in yourself, to look to yourself. 

PJ: It’s hopeless. 

TP: Yes, that’s right. To celebrate your own pride, to kind of gear up your own identity into something that is worth putting all your celebration and rejoicing into, it slips through your fingers. There's nothing there. 

PJ: Absolutely. You might be proud of yourself because you pulled off a great deal yesterday, but you can't be sure you will do the same tomorrow or the day after. And how sad it is to think that you have done it yourself, rather than your parents or your upbringing or your school (in its education) or the culture you live in. Over and over again, you’ve got no basis for pride in yourself. Reality would lead you to be ashamed of yourself. But in the justification that Jesus has won for us, I am now proud, not of myself, but of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Gospel thinking for today, with Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen.
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Phillip Jensen