In most cases of the gospel proclamation, the message preached is about entering into salvation. The Romans Road is often used to lead a person to faith in Jesus Christ. (To learn more about this method of chaining verses, see this article from GotQuestions.org.) From the tension, despair, and frustrations I’ve seen among Christians in hard times, it’s evident that they’ve missed the other parts of Romans, which tells us that salvation is an ongoing process in which God uses difficulties and trials to mold us into people of victory and hope. I have been frustrated and endured long bouts of tension-filled sleeplessness myself, and can relate to this misunderstanding. When we don’t understand how God saves after we accepted Christ, or what exactly He saves us from, then “victory” becomes a hazy buzzword at best.
If you thought the gospel was only about entrance into salvation, if you are frustrated that things are not going your way, or your financial situation or relationships are causing you pain, then there is more to the gospel and the power of God than you have been led to believe. If you believe that God is here to smooth things over when you have trials, that He will help you escape every hurt and sorrow, and He will banish all difficulties from your life, then you have not begun to enjoy the gospel fruit. There is more! God’s way of salvation is different than what we have believed. He does more than deliver us from a future Hell and leave this life a hit-or-miss affair. Let’s look a little closer at what Romans really teaches about salvation.
In Romans chapters one through four, we find that we are sinners and already condemned by God. There is no way out for us; we can’t undo our unrighteousness by performing good deeds or by following God’s Old Testament laws. So God Himself made a way to count us righteous — by faith in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. You already know that part, right? But immediately after talking about this aspect of salvation, Paul moves into chapter five and drops a bombshell:
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. (Romans 5:3-5)
These verses tell us that God has a purpose for our suffering. They do not assure us that God will save us from suffering or promise to stop the suffering. Rather, God turns the tables on nature and uses that same suffering to teach us about Himself so that we learn of His presence and power during suffering, and uses those experiences to create true hope in us — developing a confident expectation of future good no matter the present circumstances.
If we have tension and frustration in our sufferings, then this hope has not been formed in us yet. We have not yet learned the lessons that help us rest fully on His grace to get us through. When we still have doubts and suspicions about God, then the love of God has not been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit yet. We do not get this hope and love at our initial entrance into salvation, but through undergoing a Spirit-led process of sanctification.
Perhaps you think of salvation as primarily physical. You are in this camp if you believe God has blessed you by giving you a good family, home, bank account, and good health and career, but you start agonizing as soon as any of these things are threatened. Life is fine as long as you are in comfort; but when sufferings come, you think there is something wrong.
But verses in Romans chapter five teach us that our salvation is greater than these things. It is so great that the very sufferings that threaten us are exactly what God will use to save us. What is this salvation like? It says, “we rejoice in our sufferings.” If we do not have this perspective, then we are believing lies; we have not taken hold of God’s way of salvation. Let’s look at this passage more closely to discover the truth and the greater salvation God leads us into.
1. Suffering produces endurance
We know that we can endure a long hike by first taking many short ones, and gradually lengthening the time and increasing the difficulty levels. We build up endurance over time. I remember on the freeway how I regularly entered a traffic jam and thought, “Oh, man, this will take forever.” That got me down every time! But then my eyes were opened to the fact that the jams were only temporary patches that cleared up, and once I got home and into my routine there, I quickly forgot the traffic. So with this lesson in mind, I was able to just wait out the rough patches (while listening to the other passengers groan). Patience is part of our salvation. If we don’t have it, then it’s difficult to move on.
Patience was the one thing the children of Israel lacked when God was moving them out of Egypt toward the Promised Land. They demonstrated this lack by murmuring repeatedly. Eventually God told them that He would not bring them into the Land. They would all die out there. In Hebrew chapters three and four, we find this same lesson applied to Christians. God has something much better than our physical things and circumstances to bring us to, and if we are always complaining about our distress, then we cannot enter the Promised Land. (Tip: the Promised Land is not Heaven.)
In the same way, God has much to give after we first trusted in Jesus that were not automatically given to us when we first believed. We enter the Land by faith over time, not automatically, and only after a season of testing. Two people, Joshua and Caleb, had the patience to wait for God to bring them through the wilderness training. Do you believe, or complain? It helps when I keep reminding myself, “God has something much better than this.” The Bible has many promises to see us through the “rough patches” of our sufferings. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Paul saw the rough patches as temporary, and let the eternal things draw him on. This insight helps us to endure.
2. Endurance produces character
Patience is the carefully tilled ground that produces good fruit. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). Fruit from plants do not grow overnight. Sure, this is obvious, but still a lesson that many of us miss when it comes to salvation. Again, when we think that salvation is purely physical, then we miss the inner, character-development aspect of salvation. Patience, or endurance, is an aspect of character, not a physical trait like eye color.
I have tried hard to be like Christ, and when I missed the boat I was very depressed. I wanted to be like Him now, not later. I wanted instant change. I thought by simply believing, I can could be like Him. No matter how many good spiritual habits I developed, I still failed again and again.
The Holy Spirit teaches us slowly, here a little, there a little, just like in a real school. It takes time to take it all in and internalize the teachings. It takes time to learn of the many idols, small and large, that have taken the place of God in the heart. It takes time to let them go and hang onto God.
Suffering is vital, for it helps us pinpoint the many hidden flaws in our makeup, like a light from a flashlight probing an attic. When we suffer, our tensions can point us to that thing or idea that we have placed on a pedestal in place of Christ. When we suffer, what we really cling to for sustenance becomes clear. The trial may reveal an unhealthy attitude toward money, self-image, or security, giving them greater important than they are. Falling into a depression over a job change can reveal areas where Jesus was never really believed in or allowed to have a part in.
Any place where we lack faith in Jesus is a place without peace. Romans 5:1-2 tells us so: “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.” How do we “obtain access” into “having peace with God”? Through Jesus by faith. Suffering will reveal the things we are really trusting in, and those will be the times to face them squarely, die to them (according to Romans chapter six), and turn your faith back to Jesus for peace during the trouble.
Sure, five minutes later you’ll be down in the dumps again. That’s the time to start the process over again. God has not given us anything else for deliverance aside from faith in Jesus. God does not have any other remedy for the flesh. Dying to the self and its deceitful, self-trusting ways is God’s only remedy. “I’ll try harder,” just doesn’t work. If it did, then Jesus need not have died. When the old habits come back, it’s time to put on the battle armor and stick it out. Time to go through the process as many times as necessary until the foe is neutralized. Make no mistake about it — if we use the weapons God gave us then we will be victorious. Our weapons are spiritual.
When we learn to deal with our problems His way and we enjoy the fruit that results from it, then we trust God’s word more for the next trial. In this way we anticipate suffering, knowing that it’s another opportunity to root out and destroy the hidden things that prevent us from what we really want — freedom from a sinful life and a deeper relationship with God. This is why those with spiritual intelligence are positive about their sufferings — another enemy will be exposed and destroyed!
3. Character produces hope
The faithful men and women of Hebrews chapter eleven no longer called this world their home; they were “strangers and pilgrims.” Their comfort was that God is with them in their trials. Their hope was set on the next life, where their God would reign supreme, and trials will be no more. This is the perspective of those who continued with the Lord in spite of their sufferings. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” is more than a mere sentiment to them. “The Lord is a very present help in trouble” is more than a terrific memory verse; it is their experience.
We don’t have this hope when we say things like, “If God loves me so much, then why ….” We say these things because we don’t trust Him enough yet. We don’t have true hope yet. This person needs more patience in learning of God and how He works. Fortunately, it’s never too late to yield and learn. Hope is the diploma given to those who graduate.
Those with hope have moved from salvation as physical to salvation as relational. They willingly undergo whatever sufferings they endure that they may please Him. None of this fruit grows overnight; and all of it is missed by those who have no patience or accept merely surface truths. It takes patience to mine the gold; the impatient leave it behind for others to find.
When the salvation becomes relational — that is, when we seldom look to ourselves and our resources for help, but rest in God — then we go through trials with expectation of a great end. We expect to know God’s presence more during those times. Nothing can stop God’s promises, not even death. The heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter eleven all died in faith, not having received the promises, but were assured of them, and trusted God to the end.
4. The love of God shed abroad in our hearts
Romans 8:28 is a heartfelt assertion by those in this place of hope: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” This statement expresses the attitude of those who have gone through trials with patience and found God’s strength and presence in them. Their sufferings did not mean that God had abandoned them. They understand how God uses suffering and have submitted to the process, and have experienced the fruit. They have developed a personal conviction that God can do nothing wrong; so great is His love and power that He uses their very trials to perfect them.
The trial Satan intends to disorient us, God uses to strengthen us.
This is what salvation looks like: suffering in trials and working with God to bring about His purpose in it, which is the formation of His Son in them. It is a relational salvation. Jesus died on the cross for our sins because our sins separated us from God. Throughout our long pilgrimage we’ll learn of the many hidden idols where trust in Jesus should have been supreme. For instance, we’ll see how we used religion as a cloak to justify ourselves (“I’m a good person; look at all the church work I’m doing!”) and not rest on God’s justification in Christ that is imparted solely by grace.
The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In this place, Christ lives in and through us; we learn to love others as He loved. We get strength to love where formerly it would be psychologically draining. We used to love others according to our own comfort zone. We now empathize with them in their suffering and come alongside to help as God did to us. We make room for them. Their troubles are no longer a hard thing to bear, for God has taught us how to love.
We see this love in us as a byproduct of God’s grace, not of our efforts. Knowing it was God who created this miracle of love in us, we have full assurance for the better miracles to come. God has proven His integrity; His promises are golden; we have full confidence that He will bring us into a great inheritance, and we rest in it.
As God has repeatedly forgiven us and worked with us in spite of our works or character, so the haze of a works-driven judgment has been eclipsed by grace to help those whom God places in our path. Prejudices disappear. We identify with the downtrodden, no matter their nationality, religion, sex, appearance, political ideology, or finances. God is holy; this means that He is above all these things and is not influenced by them, and that holiness of spirit motivates us as well. God had patiently continued to work with us sinners, imparting great personal dignity and worth to us. We can do no less for others.
Salvation is more than being saved from Hell. Jesus died to bring is into a strong bond with God by breaking the bonds of sin that had dominion over us. He uses our sufferings to bring us to that place. This is the salvation God has in mind for you. Is this what you want — a deeper relationship with God? Do you prefer instead that God would just cut off the suffering and leave you in your comfort zone? Do you want a salvation where God would just shower physical blessings on you and keep the good times rolling?
Do not be deceived. The true Romans Road does not stop at a door marked, “Receive Jesus Christ as Lord and you will be saved.” It continues after that statement, after the initial acceptance of Christ. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God through Him, but they must accept the salvation process He came to give, a deliverance which takes time to experience and grow into.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)