Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
There is a great deal of deep truth packed into these verses, and the Lord has been helping me to unpack some of it:
(1) What is proven character? To have character be approved it must be measured by a fixed, perfect standard. Who or what is that standard? It is the character of Christ. Christ’s character is character proven at the highest level—perfect holiness. Therefore when Paul says affliction can result in proven character, he is repeating his common theme that God’s desire is for Christ to be formed within us. It is God’s intention that the afflictions He allows in His wisdom not be empty of purpose, but pregnant with purpose. One of those purposes is that the character of Jesus be produced within us.
(2) In Proverbs 13:12 it says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” In others words when our hopes end in disappointment we are left desolate, empty and heartbroken. But in Rom. 5:5 Paul says there exists a “hope that does not disappoint.” There is only one hope in the entire universe we can grab a hold of that will not leave us disappointed, disillusioned or heartbroken. It is the “hope of the glory of God” (v. 2). But what hope is that? What does that mean? How is that acquired? Does it simply mean a hope to go to heaven and escape all pain on this earth? Is it a hope we have to wait to experience, or is it a hope we can have now and live in now?
I believe the “hope of the glory of God” we are to have and which “cannot disappoint” is given more definition in Colossians 1:27. There Paul declares, “God wanted to make known…the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In other words, the “hope of God’s glory…that does not disappoint” in Rom. 5:2,5 is nothing other than “Christ in you, the hope of glory” in Col. 1:27.
(3) But that only pushes back the question one step further: What does it mean to speak of “Christ in me?” Throughout the N.T. we find a common theme coursing its way through the Scriptures like a winding river. It is the theme of being conformed to the image of Christ and having Christ’s nature and character formed within us. That is why Paul in Romans 5:2-5 connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with “proven character.” Paul is essentially saying the end result of affliction that God allows is meant to produce and form within us the transformative character of Christ. And the character of Christ is indomitable, invincible and cannot be overcome by anything this world throws at us. In contrast other things we put our hope in can be taken away, such that we are left heartsick and in despair.
But when Christ’s character becomes formed within us, we become more than conquerors, and many of the promises of God that use to seem so distant and unrealized, are now within our reach—such as having peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7), finding rest for our souls (Mt. 11:29) and souring high on wings as eagles (Is. 40:30). When the character of Christ becomes formed within us, we may suffer disappointment and sorrow in other areas of life, but we can never be left permanently disappointed or disabled emotionally.
(4) It is interesting to note how Paul connects our “hope that does not disappoint” with the reason why it does not disappoint. He states, “This hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (v. 5). In other words the Holy Spirit has been given to us an agent of divine love to pour into us none other than God—who is love (1 John 4:8). This is the essence of the gospel that makes it good news.
However to “pour into” signifies there is both a vessel and room within the vessel to pour into. It implies we are soft, new wineskin that has the capacity to expand to the measure God pours in. When our lives are cluttered and congested with the “gospel of self-fulfillment,” wherein we always run from “x” if “x” is hard and pursue “y” if “y” is easy and pleasant, then we cannot experience how God can both allow and redeem the afflictions of life to produce within us a hope that does not disappoint based on a love that cannot be overcome.
We need to work from this verse going backwards to see how God’s ultimate desire to pour His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit can become our personal experience with God. So if we “connect the dots” by starting with the last truth and trace the sequence back to the beginning we discover the following:
(A) Individuals who can testify of God’s love being poured into them through the agency of the Holy Spirit are those who have a hope that cannot leave them disappointed (v. 5).
(B) And those who can testify of that hope are those who have allowed this unique hope to be produced within them through their character be proven (v. 4).
(C) But proven character—the character of Christ— cannot be produced within unless it first be produced by endurance (v. 4).
(D) Yet endurance only comes by persevering through hardship and affliction (v. 3).
(E) Nevertheless in order for this entire process to progress forward we need our starting place to not be bitterness, anger or resentment, but an attitude of “rejoicing in our afflictions” (v. 3).
(F) However our attitude of rejoicing in affliction grows out of our rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God—which is submitting ourselves to Christ being formed within us—the hope of our glory.
(G) If we truly want it, the grace of God to persevere and rejoice is available to us because “we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2).
(H) And lastly all of this is made possible because “we have been declared righteous by faith” and “ have peace with God through our Lord Jesus” (vs. 1).
That last point is a critical point of origin for any journey we take in the Lord and with the Lord. We must know that our starting place with God is always peace and goodwill, not hostility and opposition. We don’t have to “win” God over to our side. He is already there—ready and willing to be our refuge in time of trouble. No matter what comes our way we can be assured that God is for us, not against us; He comes to us as friend not foe.