Summary: Here's why you have the hope of eternal life.
"DO YOU BELIEVE IN HEAVEN? DO YOU HAVE HOPE?"
"Do you believe that there's an actual place called heaven?" This was the question one of my relatives asked me, a couple Sundays ago. We were at a restaurant, celebrating Grace's 91st birthday. As our time was coming to a close, she leaned over and asked me that question - do you think there is really a heaven? Then she went on to say that she thought maybe there wasn’t. Maybe heaven is all the good moments you experience while you're here on this earth. Maybe heaven is when your great grandchildren smile at you and laugh and give you a hug, she said, because that's what she was experiencing that day. Maybe you should live life to the fullest because this is it, this is heaven. Is that what you believe?
I know that she wanted me to smile and agree with her, but I also knew that this was a chance to witness to her. We've been trying to witness to Grace for a long time, but she's so set in her ways for the last 91 years, and she can't hear so well. "I believe there is a real place called heaven," I said to her. "What?" she said to me. And I didn't want to shout at her in the restaurant. So the next day, on Monday morning, I wrote her a letter about hope, how to have the sure hope of heaven. She still reads quite well, so we'll see if God works through that letter and starts a spark of faith in her heart.
Do you know anyone that doesn't have the hope of heaven? Maybe they're happy with their lives right now, kind of like my relative Grace, sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by family and great grandchildren - happy now, but unsure about the future. Do you know anyone like that - or maybe that's you. How would you respond, if someone asked you if you believed there was a real place called heaven? What would you say?
This morning, we're going to look at Romans chapter 5, where God teaches us about having hope as we think about our future, and even right now, as we face the problems and challenges of life. Do you have hope? The answer is yes, you do, and today we'll see why, as we look at Romans chapter 5.
My relative, Grace, really didn't have peace with God. But you do? What gives you peace with God? Verse 1 tells us, "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." You have been justified through faith. Do you remember what "justified" means? It means that God has declared you not guilty. He has pardoned you.
Every year in the news, there is an uproar, as outgoing governors of states pardon criminals. A couple months ago in the news Brett Favre's brother Scott Favre was pardoned by the outgoing governor of Mississippi. This is one of the things that a governor can do. Right before he leaves office, he receives a list of criminals who have done something wrong, who have something on their records, who are either in jail or serving some other kind of punishment, and the governor decides who he wants to pardon. Scott Favre was one of those guys. He was convicted of manslaughter because he had driven in front of a train after drinking too much, and the passenger in his car had been killed when the train hit the car. It was all Favre's fault, and he was convicted. It was on his permanent record. But not anymore. As an act of Grace, the outgoing governor pardoned him - his record was wiped clean - in the eyes of the state of Mississippi, it's as though the offense had never happened. His record is completely blank.
In many ways, this is what God does for you and me. The Bible says that we are "justified" - that God pardons us. You and I are guilty of many offenses in our lives - offenses against God, offenses against our family members, our friends, offenses against the people we work with, the people we live around. We are guilty, and deserve to have something on our record. But God pardons us, he declares us not guilty.
And it's not something you and I can earn. Instead, as it says in Romans chapter 5, we are justified through faith. Believing in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Believing that he took the punishment that you and I deserved for our sins. Believing that his sacrifice was big enough to cover all of my sins, and the sins of the whole world. Believing that I am forgiven, pardoned by God, by the sacrifice of Jesus - this is faith. And as I believe in Jesus, God in his mercy declares me not guilty. My record is completely wiped clean of all of my offenses. This is what gives us hope as we think about our lives, and our future: "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."