United In the Results of Our Justification (preaching resource for 6/18/23, third Sunday after Pentecost)
This post exegetes Romans 5:1-11, providing context for the RCL Epistles reading for 6/18/23. It draws on John Stott’s "The Message of Romans" and "The Expositor’s Bible Commentary."
|"Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)|
In Romans chapters 1-4, Paul addresses the doctrine of justification, which proclaims the stunning reality that, in and through Jesus Christ God has forgiven and reconciled all humanity to himself, opening the door for all to receive by faith what Christ has done for them, and thus to share in Jesus’ right relationship with God. As this free gift is received, we personally experience the truth that because humanity has been justified by God in Christ, we are made one with God. We also experience the truth that we have been made one with all people who in faith embrace the justication they have before God in Christ, whether those people be Jews or Gentiles, circumcised or not, law-observing or not. Indeed, all believers are of one family on the basis of trusting in Christ who is our justification with God. This truth is Paul’s theme throughout Romans 5:1-6:23--a section that he begins with multiple, joyous, ‘we’ affirmations that exclaim how believers are united as one family in their enjoyment of the results of their justification. In this list, Paul enlarges on what he referred to in Romans 4:6 as 'the blessedness' that is ours because we have been justified in Christ.
We have peace with God
Romans 5:1. The pursuit of peace among peoples is a human obsession. Yet more fundamental is *peace with God*, the reconciled relationship with him which is the first blessing of justification. Thus 'justification' and 'reconciliation' belong together, for God does not confer the status of righteousness upon us (justifies us) without at the same time giving himself to us in friendship (reconciling us to himself) and so establishing peace between himself and us. This peace with God is ours *through our Lord Jesus Christ* (1), who was both delivered to death and raised from death (Rom. 4:25), in order to make it possible. This is the heart of the peace which the prophets foretold as the supreme blessing of the messianic age—the ‘shalom’ of the kingdom of God, inaugurated by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Because we are justified, peace with God is our wonderful, precious and present possession.
We are standing in grace
Romans 5:2a. The phrase is literally, 'through him [Christ] we have obtained our introduction into this grace in which we have taken our stand'. Two verbs are used here in relation to *this grace*, denoting respectively our entry into it, and our continuance in it. The first verb, *access* is perhaps better translated ‘introduction’ (as in NASB), because the initiative for entering this grace is God’s, not ours. The verb in Greek is suggestive of being brought into God's sanctuary to worship or into a king's audience chamber to be presented to him. The second verb, to *stand* suggests that we are privileged to stand firmly in or on this grace into which we have been introduced.
Be faith, we believers experience the justification that all people have, through Christ, with God. We enjoy a blessing far greater than a periodic approach to God or an occasional audience with a king. We are privileged to live at all times in the temple and in the palace. The perfect tenses of these two verbs express this. Our relationship with God, into which justification has brought us, is not sporadic but continuous, not precarious but secure. We do not fall in and out of grace like courtiers who may find themselves in and out of favor with their king, or politicians with their voters. No, we *stand* in it, for that is the nature of God’s grace. Nothing can separate us from God's love (Rom. 8:38).
We rejoice in (our) hope of the glory of God (2b)
Romans 5:2b. Christian *hope* is not uncertain, like our ordinary everyday hopes about the weather or our health; it is a joyful and confident expectation which rests on the promises of God, as we see in Chapter 4 is the case of Abraham. The object of our hope is *the glory of God* (Rom. 5:2), namely in his radiant splendor which will in the end be fully displayed. Already, this glory has been uniquely made manifest in Jesus Christ, most notably in his death and resurrection. One day, however, the curtain will be raised and God's glory of God will be fully disclosed:
- First, Jesus Christ himself will appear 'with great power and glory' (Mk. 13:26; cf. Titus 2:13).
- Secondly, we will not only see his glory, but be changed into it (1 Jn. 3:2; cf. Col. 3:4), so that God will 'be glorified in his holy people' (2 Thess. 1:10). Then redeemed human beings, who were created to be 'the image and glory of God' (1 Cor. 11:7; Gen. 1:26f.; 9:6; Jas. 3:9), but now through sin 'fall short of the glory of God' (Rom. 3:23), will again and in full measure share in his glory (Rom. 8:17).
- Thirdly, even the groaning creation 'will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God' (Rom. 8:21). The renewed universe will be suffused with its Creator's glory.
We pause here, after Paul's first three affirmations about the 'blessedness' of the justified, and reflect. The fruits of justification relate to the past, present and future:
- 'We have peace with God' (as a result of our past forgiveness).
- 'We are standing in grace' (our present privilege).
- 'We rejoice in the hope of glory' (our future inheritance).
We rejoice in our sufferings
Romans 5:3-8. The 'sufferings' Paul refers to here are the opposition, even persecution of a hostile world. John used the same word to report Jesus’ warning to his disciples that 'in this world' they would 'have trouble' (Jn. 16:33), and Paul warned Christians that they 'must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22, same word). What attitude should Christians adopt to these pressures, troubles and hardships which they endure for the cause of Christ? Far from merely enduring with stoic fortitude, we are to *rejoice*, not as masochists, but as those who recognize and appreciate God’s reasons for allowing such circumstances. Paul points to three such reasons:
Suffering leads to glory
It was so for Christ; it is so for Christians. As Paul will soon express it, we are 'co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory' (Rom. 8:17). That is why we are to rejoice in them both.
Suffering leads to maturity
Suffering can be productive, if we respond to it positively. *We know* this, especially from the experience of God's people in every generation. *Suffering produces perseverance* (3, *hypomone*, endurance). We could not learn endurance without suffering, because without suffering there would be nothing to endure. Next, *perseverance* produces *character* (*dokime*) which is the quality of a person who has been tested and passed the test. It is 'a mature character' (JBP), the temperament of the veteran as opposed to that of the raw recruit. Then the last link in the chain is that *character* produces *hope* (4), perhaps because the God who is developing our character in the present can be relied on for the future too.
Suffering assures us of God’s love
*Hope does not disappoint us* (5a), it is ‘no fantasy’ (REB). The reason our hope will never let us down is that God will never let us down. Our hope of glory rests on God’s steadfast love. But how can we be sure of that love? Paul points to two reasons.
- The first is that *God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us* (5b). One of the distinctive ministries of the Spirit is to pour God's love into our hearts. He makes us deeply and refreshingly aware that God loves us.
- The second reason is that God has proved that love by Christ's death on the cross (6-8). The essence of love is giving, and 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son' (Jn. 3:16). The degree of love is a function of the costliness of the gift to the giver and the worthiness (or unworthiness) of the beneficiary. The more costly the gift to the giver, and the less the recipient deserves it, the greater the degree of love.
As sinners all, the recipients of God’s supremely costly gift of his Son are indeed unworthys. Yet it is for these that God's Son died. Why, he adds, *very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man* (probably referring to somebody whose uprightness is rather cold, clinical and unattractive), *though for a good man* (whose goodness is warm, generous and appealing) *someone might possibly dare to die* (7). *But God* (the stark contrast is underlined) 'commendeth' (AV), *demonstrates* (NIV), even 'proves' (REB) *his own love for us* (a love distinct from every other love, a love uniquely God's own) *in this: While we were still sinners* (neither good nor righteous, but ungodly, enemies and powerless), *Christ died for us* (8).
Human beings can be very generous in giving to those they consider worthy of their affection and respect. The unique majesty of God's love lies in the combination of three factors, namely that when Christ died for us, God (a) was giving himself, (b) even to the horrors of a sin-bearing death on the cross, and (c) doing so for his undeserving enemies. How then can we doubt the love of God? To be sure, we are often profoundly perplexed by the tragedies and calamities of life. But then we remember that God has both proved his love for us in the death of his Son (8) and poured his love into us by the gift of his Spirit (5). Objectively in history and subjectively in experience, God has given us good grounds for believing in his love.
We shall be saved through Christ
Romans 5:9-10. Have you been saved? Paul’s answer in verses 9 and 10 is ‘yes and no.’ For yes, we have been saved through Christ from the guilt of our sins and from the judgment of God upon them. But no, we have not yet been delivered from the indwelling sin or been given new (glorified) bodies in the new heavens and new earth. In vv9-10 Paul has in mind the future tense of our salvation. He uses two expressions, the first negative and the second positive.
- First and negatively, we shall *be saved from God's wrath* through Christ (9). Of course we have already been rescued from condemnation (the sense of God's"wrath") in that through the cross God has, by grace, given us peace with himself. However, a day of judgment is yet to occur at Jesus' return in clory which Paul refers to as 'the day of God's wrath when his righteous judgment will be revealed' (2:5). But as believers we have no fear of this judgment for we understand that we have been justified with God through the faithfulness of Christ and in that judgment we will not be condemned for we have already crossed over from death to life’ (Jn.5:24).
- Second, and positively, we shall *be saved through his life* (Rom. 5:10). For the Jesus who died for our sins was raised from death and lives, and means his people to experience for themselves the power of his resurrection. Though we, in the Spirit, share Jesus' love and life now, we will share his resurrection on the last day--a truth Paul unpacks in Romans Chapter 8.
Paul's point here is that the best is yet to be! In our present (though incomplete) saved condition, we are eagerly looking forward to our full, final salvation. But how can we be sure of it? It is mainly to answer this question that Paul pens verses 9 and 10. The basic structure of both are identical, namely that 'if one thing has happened, *much more* will something else take place'. We have been *justified* (9), and *reconciled* (10), both of which are attributed to the cross. On the one hand, *we have now been justified by his blood* (9a), and on the other, *we have been reconciled to him (God) through the death of his Son* (10a). So the Judge has pronounced us righteous, and the Father has welcomed us home. In addition it is essential to Paul's argument that he stresses the costliness of these things. It was *by his blood* (9a), shed in a sacrificial death on the cross, that we have been justified, and it was *when we were God's enemies* (10a) that we were reconciled to him.
Here then is the logic: If God has already done the difficult thing, we can trust him to do the comparatively simple thing of completing our salvation. If God has accomplished our justification at the cost of Christ's blood, *much more* will he save his justified people from condemnation (God's wrath, speaking of the final judgment) (9)! Again, if God reconciled us to himself when we were his enemies, *much more* will he finish our salvation now that we are his reconciled friends (10)! These are the grounds on which we dare to affirm with complete assurance that we *shall...be saved*.
We also rejoice in God
Romans 5:11. In Rom. 2:17 Paul chastised Jews for ‘bragging’ about their relationship to God as if he were their exclusive property. Yet here in 5:11 Paul uses the same word to declare that as believers we are privileged to *rejoice in God*. This rejoicing in God is quite different than the Jews bragging in God. It begins with the humble recognition that we have no claim on God at all, it continues with wondering worship that while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us, and it culminates with the humble confidence that God will complete in us the work he has begun. So to exult in God is to rejoice not in our status but in God's mercies, not in our possession of him but in his possession of us.
In spite of our knowledge that for Christians all boasting is excluded (Rom. 3:27), we nevertheless boast or rejoice in our hope of sharing God's glory (2), in our tribulations (3) and above all in God himself (11). This exulting is *through our Lord Jesus Christ*, because it is through him that *we have now received* ('the' or 'our') *reconciliation* (11).
It seems clear from this paragraph, that the major mark of justified believers is joy, especially joy in God himself. We should be the most positive people in the world. For the new community of Jesus Christ is characterized not by self-centered triumphalism but by God-centered worship.
For additional detail on justification, see https://update.gci.org/2016/03/justified-and-sanctified-in-jesus/. For additional detail on God's "wrath", see https://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2010/11/how-can-loving-god-be-god-of-wrath.html.