“To be convinced in our hearts we have forgiveness of sins & peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” – Martin Luther
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Paul, Romans 5:1
This Sunday I will be preaching again. This time it will be for my own congregation, a group of people we have grown to wonder if we could live without.
When I was thinking about what I would preach on, I asked myself what is the hardest thing for me right now. “Where is the battle raging in your life, Matt?” And the answer came slow like a mid-morning mist.
It’s where the battle always lies. There is no shadow of turning in this. Cloaked often differently but nevertheless still the same battle always.
“Do I have peace with God?”
Actually sometimes I look at my circumstances and wonder if he is actively at war with me. Am I forgiven? Or am I an enemy suffering under his wrath? Is all this suffering because there is not any peace with God? Is he ticked off at me and am I now suffering the due recompense of my sin?
I can remember the night I had a breakthrough in understanding justification by faith and grace and being able to lie down at night resting in the righteousness of Christ instead of my own. I did not sleep for joy. And I knew I would be a pastor and tell others this good news.
Now I cannot sleep for worry. Worry for work. Worry for wife. Worry for kids. Worry about being a pastor again, if ever. And I worry with every trial if God has forgiven me. Every setback begets a furious mental search for sin in my life that could be the reason for the trial.
I sound a little crazy. I know.
But you do it too. Probably.
Why? It is hard to believe Grace is real. It is hard to, with hearts full, buy into the idea that God accepts us and loves us and has forgiven our sins. It is hard to believe he is not holding a grudge. It is hard to believe we are not enemies with God and instead have peace with God because of the justifying work of another.
It’s the hardest thing.
It’s hard because appliances break. And cancer is real. And friends betray. And cars fall apart. And children have disabilities. And death takes everyone.
And it feels like war is being made against the walls of your soul. And you cannot seem to muster belief in God being for you because possibly for this season or a hundred and one seasons, everything seems arrayed against you. “Why not God too,” you might even ask?
And Paul. I started wondering about him this week. What was his thorn? Where were his weaknesses. Because if I’m Paul, in very weak moments I’d worry about having peace with God. His mental list of past sins would be fairly dramatic. Hated the gospel, hunted down Christians, held the robes of the men who made the first martyr.
Was it the hardest thing for him also? Maybe it’s why he wrote such a letter to the Romans. He knew firsthand that it was a hard thing to trust in grace on the best of days. And on the worst of days, it can feel impossible. Maybe he knew they needed the reminder.
Which is really all a sermon needs to be for many. A reminder that the justifying work of Christ on our behalf procures a peace with God. Even when our hearts and mind veer away from confidence. Even when we cannot begin to imagine the story that sounds too good to be true is in fact more true than we know.