…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… Romans 5:3b-4a.
Have you ever wondered what makes people age?
When someone faces extenuating life circumstances, whatever forms they come in, we occasionally say we can see they have aged. And they have.
More than ever before, I notice the character that is revealed in people’s faces. Whatever age-defying products we use and wellness practices we make a habit of in our day to day lives, time continues to march on. I love to see the wrinkles on people’s faces, the brightness of the sparkle in their eye, and the softness of a gracious smile that you know was earned by one trial or another. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Those who identify with another in a tough spot in life often make an immediate connection; they have a way to speak into each other’s lives, to bear one another’s burdens. While our life choices definitely have an impact on our journey and our destination, God sovereignly orchestrates events and people to cross our life’s paths to make us into the image of Christ.
Having just come through the explanation of God's righteousness, His wrath against Jews and Gentiles alike as sinners, and how we become righteous before God by faith in Jesus Christ, Paul builds a case for Christian hope in Romans 5. Justification by faith produces peace with God. Not simply peace in the sense of the absence of conflict, but a benevolent kindness and friendship with God in Christ Jesus. This is the confidence we have to be able to “stand” in the presence of God, in the grace of God.
God’s grace is really the beginning of glory for the Christian. It is the start of our eternal future, right here, right now. Our advocate Jesus Christ ultimately produces the believer's hope and is the anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19) that has gone behind the open curtain. What do we hope in? The glory of God (Romans 5:2). This hope is not only the anticipation of seeing God in all His glory on the throne in heaven but also a longing for the earthly struggle of life in the flesh to be over. We long for the day when all will be made new again in the New Heaven and the New Earth; the restoration of all creation back to its intended state and mankind to their original destiny, ruling and having dominion (Psalm 8:5-6, Hebrews 2:7-9, Colossians 1:20, 3:1-4). We rejoice in this hope, and we rejoice, though not always outwardly, at what produces this in us: suffering.
Paul outlines in Romans 5 the progression of how God brings this about. Suffering produces endurance. Endurance, in turn, produces character and character produces hope. Hope never lets us down because no one can take this away from us when it is grounded in Christ.
When God takes his child through suffering, we can rest assured He is working in us the start of an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Though we may only see this truth years later, and we have a thousand ‘why?’ questions, we must hold on to the truth Scripture promises us. The endurance produced by hard times, financial hardship, the loss of relationships, the passing of a loved one, or deterioration of our own health is simply a stepping stone God puts in our path to build a deeper trust in our Sustainer. Endurance often has a way of cementing character traits in us that cannot be gained through the short cuts of life. This character (defined as the quality of being proven dependable or reliable) needs experience in order to exist, an experience that can only be gained by a life sustained by God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (verse 5). This character has learned the reality of taking every thought captive and lifting it up in surrender to God. This character has learned that even when we are too weak to pray, God hears our cry. This character has a deep trust grounded on the bedrock of “the grace in which we stand,” and “all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purposes.”
Next time you pass a fellow believer who is ‘experienced’—someone more refined into the image of Christ through life’s suffering—take note. Perhaps the beauty of a few grey hairs, a special softness in their eye, and some extra wrinkles will take on new meaning for you as they have for me. They may just be the encouragement for us to endure the path God has put us on and secure our hope in the unveiled glory in the face of Christ, seen through the fruit of Christian suffering.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18a)