Lesson 55: Romans 15:13
Enabled toward Spiritual Maturity
by Bob Burridge ©2012
When I was growing up, in our house the last of October was never celebrated with gross horrors, monsters, and demonic characters. Thoughts of pagan celebrations and witchcraft were far from our minds.
It was the time of year when we got to dress up as our favorite characters or heroes. What costume we chose was more important than the candy we expected to collect. My mom loved to help us put the outfits together. She spent loving hours sewing them into shapes never intended for the garments we started with.
I remember when long underwear was dyed blue and accessorized with red shorts, red snow boots, a cape, and a large emblem bearing the letter “S” sewn on the chest. That night I became a grown up: Superman. Sometimes it was Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, George Washington, a spaceman (this was before they were astronauts), a soldier, a New York Yankee, a Canadian Mountie, the great King Arthur, and a few others I can’t remember any more. The nice thing was that after the night of gathering treats, the costume was available for play until we either wore it out or outgrew it.
Children generally love to dress up. It is fun to have a hero to admire, to want to be like that image, to learn to copy his heroic ways. This is why it is so important that parents supply good role models for children. Those offered in the media are not usually examples of admirable qualities.
It was most of all fun to imagine you are a grown up. To be able and free to do more things, things that seemed more important. Of course pretending does not make a child really mature. This superman still scraped his knees and elbows. This soldier still ran home for lunch when his mother called him. Until they actually aged and experienced certain things they were just pretending.
We all start out our spiritual lives as children in Christ who need to grow up. In our study of Romans 15, we have seen so far that we need to bear up the weaknesses of brothers in Christ who are not yet strong spiritually. Like Christ we need to humble ourselves for the spiritual benefit of others.
However, to be able to help others we need to be mature ourselves. We have a wonderful role model in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just knowing about him, and imagining ourselves able, does not make us like him.
There is more to spiritual maturity than good intentions, words, and outward actions. Like children playing at being grown ups, pretending does not make it so. There must be a true growth inwardly, not just a costume of religious words or behaviors.
Our needy brothers who are weak in faith need mature believers to guide them, not pretenders dressed up to make it look as if they are able to help.
Paul was able to invite believers to follow his example to the degree that he also modeled Christ. That example began with a heart made secure in the confidence of the gospel promises.
The characteristics we need to help others do not spring up in us in full maturity right away. Christian growth begins in spiritual childhood. It matures all through this earthly part of our lives. Paul ends this section by turning our attention to the source of our own spiritual growth:
Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The qualities Paul prays for in his readers are joy and peace.
What wonderful things! Most of lost humanity tries desperately to get them. There are many fake substitutes and deceptive paths that only lead to frustrations. As God’s children, we know he promises that we can grow in these good things. However, they do not come from outward circumstances as so many think. They are inner attitudes that must begin in the heart if they are to bring true joy and peace.
As we appreciate the promises made to us in Christ, and the fellowship God has with his people, we can make these rare treasures our own possessions. The joy we have is a sincere delight. As Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:8, “… yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
The peace God gives is an inner contentment. Paul wrote in Phil 4:7 about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”
These are the things David rejoiced over in Psalm 4. He thanked God saying in verses 7-8, “You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
Paul prayed that believers might be filled with this joy and peace. God’s covenant promise is not just that we enjoy these a little bit. He wants his children to be filled up with them, to have them dominate their lives.
This is the process of maturity we ought to be experiencing as believers. When we have but a little joy and peace, we ought to confidently ask for more. We should seek God to so fill us that they crowd out the despair, the dreariness of hopeless living.
The world tries to fill its people with empty and unsatisfying things. It imagines that peace and joy come only when all is going smoothly, when there are no challenges, when they have all the material things they can imagine. However, those ways of finding joy are the junk food of the soul. Instead of nourishing us with healthy contentment, it does us harm.
When we put our hope in the outward offerings of this fallen world we are bound to have a joy and peace that fleetingly comes and goes. It does not really satisfy when it’s there. It is more a distraction from the distorted reality that holds us in its grip, than a confident blessing.
When Christ makes us holy by his grace, and satisfies our heart with his promises, we have a foundation for joy and peace that carries us through the hardest of times. As Psalm 16:11 says to God, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Here Paul joins these blessings with believing.
Faith is the means God works in us so that we can grasp the promises we have in Christ. It is that assurance, that we are accepted as holy in our Savior, that brings this joy and peace. Our guilt is covered by the atonement of the Savior. By his work we are made right with the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all that is. The opposites of joy and peace offered by the world are irrational and unsatisfying. How can the redeemed not rejoice and rest in this promised peace of God?
Peter said, “… you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8-9).
These qualities, along with the righteousness we have in Christ, are the essence of God’s Kingdom. Romans 14:17 says, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
By pursuit of these blessings we are rendered able to help the weak. The helper must abound in these qualities. Without them we are no example to the immature. We will lack the genuine tender spirit of patience that is most effective as a tool of God.
This maturing joy and peace in believing abounds in hope.
The false hope of the world is all wrapped up in mere probabilities and possibilities. All hope that is not of God is based upon deception and is illusory. That kind of hope is just an empty wish for things that might be. Hope becomes more of an empty dream than a real confident hope.
We in Christ have a certainty based upon an implanted confidence in a divine promise. It arises by grace from the implanted joy and peace of the redeemed soul. It is not based upon good circumstances or any moral innocence we have to achieve on our own. Rather, this hope may come to the most despondent or the most wicked. It may be expected in the midst of the greatest calamity. Hebrews 6:19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast …”
If you were to have been there to witness the plea of the pagan thief about to be crucified for his crimes, what hope could you have given him? How could anyone imagine that in his situation he might find joy and peace that day? But when God transformed his heart and he turned in faith to Jesus on the cross beside him, he heard those words, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
If this convicted criminal could be given such abounding hope in his situation, how foolish and immature it is for us to doubt that this too can be our portion in the common things that trouble us every day?
1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
If we are to abound in this hope, we must go to the source.
God is the author of all true hope. He alone brings hope out of despair. He shifts the circumstances from the outward to the inward, and blesses us by grace in our knowledge of his sovereign mercy and omnipotent love. Nothing can fail if God himself has pledged these graces to his children.
It shows the whole Trinity at work. The Father gives it by his certain and unfailing eternal decree. In fact, there is no true blessing that is not the sovereign gift of God. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
He gives this to his children by the power of the Holy Spirit. The hope that abounds from true joy and peace are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). This is not a natural attribute of fallen persons. This is a supernatural assurance. This hope abounds to those who are redeemed by the finished work of God the Son.
The one who made us and who redeems us is properly called the God of Hope.
As Paul prays here for his readers, it shows that this is a proper thing for us to pray in faith. David, when he had sinned and lacked the abounding of inner peace and joy, prayed in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
David then asked to be a help to the weak, once he was made strong again. In verses 13 of that same Psalm he wrote, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.”
Paul does not leave us with vague theological ideas or goals that frustrate. He promises rewarding success by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we be able to help the weak as explained in the previous section of this letter.
It is wrong to separate all the elements in this verse. They work together. Joy and peace come from God by the faith he implants when we are redeemed by Christ. This joy and peace abound toward hope, because the God of hope has saved us and revealed his promises to us. He indwells us by his Holy Spirit to keep these promises growing in our souls.
This is a Covenanted Blessing God has
Promised to those who are in Christ.
Our part is to strive with all effort and the means of grace praying earnestly to abound in this way, studying the promises and examples of spiritual life in his word, giving thanks in regular worship of the God who saved us, and encouraging those who struggle to help them to grow to be Christ-like too.
God’s promise is that he will grant joy, peace, and hope to those he redeems by grace through Christ.
When God grants to us even the least taste of joy and peace, we are obligated to remember to humbly thank him for his unmeasurable gift. If we give the glory to our circumstances we rob God of his honor, and put created things on our altar of worship, instead of the one true God.
Our maturity in Christ is not a game of dress up. We are not to pretend and be satisfied with the trappings of religion. Instead we must put on Christ’s righteousness and copy his example by the real power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are to trust confidently in his promises to us. Then we must put our own maturity to work in encouraging other believers.
This is real maturity: that which grows in abundance of joy and peace, and abounds in hope for the glory of God.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)