Updated: Dec 18, 2020
[Commentary on Romans 5:1-11] We are justified with God through the death of Jesus. Being right with God brings us peace, grace, joy, and love. And above all, it means we no longer have to fear the wrath of God against sin. Our sin has been forgiven in Jesus Christ our Lord.
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings. Romans 5:3
[Editor's note: This was our first Sunday after the initial COVID lockdown. We were not being forced to close our church, but we didn't understand the risks or the rules quite yet, so we shut down for a few weeks. As a historical referent, we thought things would be "back to normal" by April.]
The World We Live in
The world was in pretty rough shape before this coronavirus hit. This mini-movie was released by Igniter Media 10 years ago, and it's no less relevant. In fact, I would say that the pressures added to us by the down economy and social isolation will actually just compound any struggles like these that people (including us) deal with.
Think about this mini-movie, "The Weight I Carry". Some of those burdens are the simple consequence of sin. Some of them are the result of faulty expectations. Some of them are caused by trying to live up to a standard that he's just not equipped for.
The Weight I Carry - a minimovie about the struggles people can't seem to shake.
I really hope all of that sounds just a little like Romans 1-4. Think about it - the inexcusable and undeniable presence of sin in all people; the crushing weight of the law; the failures of self-righteousness.
The disease has been clearly diagnosed. And now Paul shares the cure.
A Turning Point in Romans
If you've never watched these, I recommend the Bible Project overview videos of Romans. They do a great job of turning this overwhelming tour of theological force into digestible and memorable pieces.
But this most important thing I want you to notice is that they split Romans at chapter 5--at our passage this week. They see Paul's change in tone and content as proof that this is the key "therefore" in the entire book. Let me illustrate with a overly-simplified outline of the book:
What is the gospel? Salvation through justification by faith (chap 1-4)
1. Humans have a sin problem--Jews and Gentiles alike (1:18-3:20)
2. God has a grace solution: faith, not works (3:21-4:25)
What does the gospel bring? Peace and freedom and life (chap 5-8)
1. Peace with God and the hope of glory (5:1-21)
2. Freedom from sin and law, bondage now to righteousness (6:1-7:25)
3. Life eternal in the Spirit, so much more than our present suffering (8:1-39)
An aside on a very important question: where does Israel fit? (chap 9-11)
How should the gospel affect us? Transformed lives in the power of the Spirit (chap 12-15)
1. Sacrificial service (12:1-21)
2. Humble submission (13:1-7)
3. Urgent love (13:8-14)
4. Not being judgmental (14:1-23)
5. Loving acceptance (15:1-13)
I think of it this way: what are the parts of a basic gospel presentation?
My life before Christ.
How I came to know Christ.
How Christ has changed my life.
Well, Paul has covered those first two points in the first four chapters (in that order even; didn't we marvel at how clearly he explained salvation in our passage last week?). Now he transitions to the "testimony" part of a gospel presentation. "We don't need to dwell on the bad news any longer because there's too much good news to share!"
Part 1: Justified - Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through him 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 will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
These are such wonderful, powerful, needed words. We can dig in on the meanings (and I guess I should) but we don't have to for you to understand them. All of those problems, all of those struggles, all of that condemnation Paul talked about--God has a way to deal with it all. That's what we talked about last week. When we have faith in Christ, God credits Christ's righteousness to us, so that when we stand before God, He "justifies" us (declares us right with Him). That happens because Jesus atoned for our sins.
Therefore . . .
What a beautiful word here. I can only imagine how anxious Paul was to get to it! When we read Paul's letters, some people try to dwell on his discussions of sin and judgment, but I can't get past how giddy he is to talk about God's love and grace. How he can't help but break out into declarations of praise for God's mercy and greatness. Paul loved to share the love of God. And the love of God is so much more powerful when we realize what that love has to overcome--us.
Benefit 1: Peace
I did a video search on "peace" and got a lot of talking (more or less) about how people need to be nice to each other. And hey, that's true. But you should know this as well as I do: people will never be at true peace with someone else until they can be at true peace with themselves, and we can never truly be at peace with ourselves until we are at peace with God. Well, God gives us peace with Him when we come to Jesus for salvation. And this is true peace--not just a cessation of hostility or an inner sense of calmness. That's such a low bar! No, this is true harmony and actual well-being, more akin to the Hebrew idea of shalom--wholeness. That's peace.
Benefit 2: Grace
I go back to my Veggietales days for this, where they define mercy as not giving someone what they deserve and grace as giving someone what they do not deserve. Grace (charis) is a powerful word in Greek. It refers to a beautiful quality in someone that brings delight to others. Over time, it came also to refer an actual favor or gift that was given to someone without expectation of anything in return. And that's the perfect definition of salvation! What could we possibly give God in return for the gift His Son Jesus? Exactly.
Benefit 3: Joy
Paul mentions "rejoicing" several times. Today, like "peace", we have a very impoverished understanding of what "joy" should mean. It has very little to do with a feeling happiness; this is a state of delight--an awareness of our well-being--that only comes from knowing God. And look at the two very different sources of joy: joy in the hope of glory (not our own glory, but God's; in other words, this is not about having hope in heaven--this is simply the hope in knowing that God will win), and hope in affliction. What?! Think about it. Where does life happen? In struggling through and sometimes overcoming our obstacles. You see, as a Christian, we believe that the is a purpose and an end to our struggles. In circumstances like today's, that hope is irreplaceable.
Benefit 4: Love
Love, as always, ties everything together. As you might guess, Paul is talking about agape love.
Let me include the startling New York Life Superbowl commercial in which they accurately describe the four Greek terms for "love". I have not found a Christian connection in that company, but I have learned to use the culture's tools when they get something right.
God did not stop with justification. That would have been enough (more than enough). But He went on to "overfill our cups" by then pouring His love into us by the Holy Spirit who now indwells every believer. When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within you, reminding you of the unparalleled benefits of being justified in Jesus.
Part 2: Justified through His Death - Romans 5:6-8
For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I'm so excited that we are going through these verses at the Easter season. And I think that the fact that our world is in such bizarre turmoil right now makes it all even more helpful. Let me make this section really simple. Just memorize these words. Say them so many times out loud that you can't forget them. If you can have these firmly in your heart, you're well on the way to not being shaken by the tragedies of this life.
I love a good "self-sacrifice for the sake of others" moment in a book or film. I think it brings a character's arc to a place that is unforgettable. Think about it--doesn't a self-sacrifice define the way you look at a character? The Marvel Cinematic Universe basically lived on that through the self-sacrifices of Iron Man, Gamora, Black Widow, Loki, and Doctor Strange (all in one movie!). My daughter and I just watched an episode of a show last night in which a bit role, demonstrating the resolve of a certain nationality, gave up his place on a rescue ship so someone else could get out. I'm sure you can think of many examples of self-sacrifice! But here's the point: they are the exception that prove the rule. Most people aren't going to do that for someone else.
Of course, there are plenty of examples in real life of this happening. Here's one list:
I wanted to include that list not just because it's a good list, but also as a teaching moment. When describing the self-sacrifice of some extraordinarily brave chaplains on a sinking ship, they include the commentary, "It’s hard to say how many lives the men actually saved, suffice it to say it was enough to get into heaven and then some." That's exactly the wrong response to an amazing act of love. That's exactly the sort of works-based self-justification that Paul has been dismantling. If those chaplains are in heaven, it's because Christ died for them, not because they died for someone else. I always want to make sure that we don't lose sight of the point.
Part 3: Justification and Reconciliation - Romans 5:9-11
How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.
And the payoff just keeps getting better. Paul really wants to make sure that we understand the full impact of his words. Being saved by grace, being justified by faith, having peace with God -- that means we no longer have to fear the wrath of God against sin.
You've heard of the doctrine of Purgatory. It's the idea that even though Christians have been forgiven, they still have to pay the price for their sins before they can get into heaven. And so, after we die, we go to this temporary place of "cleansing" where all of the bad things we've done are burned away from us, and then we can be with God in heaven.
Well, there's a good Hebrew word to describe that: baloney.
Paul makes it clear that we are saved from the wrath of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. Think about it: Jesus gave His perfect life for us. Do we really think there's is still something left to be paid? How offensive to God and Jesus to even consider that His sacrifice didn't take care of everything!
And these verses are, I think, the best way to approach a skeptic about the love of God. If they are willing to admit that Jesus existed and that He died on a cross (which most people are willing to admit that, even if they don't believe He is God), then they have to admit that He did so at the hands of the very sinners He came to save. And that those of us who live today could only be considered enemies of God from the perspective of the cross. And yet Christ still died for us.
I think that one way to understand reconciliation is to put it in terms of human relationships. I taught a Bible study on forgiveness that really helped me understand some things. Here are three concepts to understand:
What I tried to establish in that Bible study is that Christian are always required to forgive. We cannot understand the forgiveness of God if we are unwilling to forgive another. Then Lord willing, we can reconcile. Reconciliation is a key moment in forgiveness because it is mutual; you cannot force reconciliation (except in unhealthy ways). Restoration usually sounds good, but the honest truth is that sometimes it's not safe to try to "go back" to the way things were. Sometimes, it is better for two people to move forward separately. I think if we can understand those three concepts, we would go a long way in having a healthy view of the effect of sin on our relationships.
But now let's turn things to God's perspective, as Paul does in our passage.
God has forgiven us. Better than anyone, He understands the consequences of our sin and the impact it had on Him (the sacrifice of His Son Jesus), and yet He has forgiven us anyway. And then Paul says that God reconciles with us. You might look at the three terms above and say, "Wait, wouldn't it be better to restore?" That's the whole point! There's nothing to restore! Restoration is about two old friends who had a falling out; they had something to fight for together. But we had no relationship with God when He chose to reconcile with us. In fact, we were God's enemies when He made that step! And whereas in human relationships it takes both parties to reconcile, God unilaterally reconciled with us in Jesus. He did everything. We couldn't not be reconciled with God if we came to faith in Christ. Does that make sense?
So one practical implication of this passage is the idea that we should take inventory of our human relationships. Are we withholding forgiveness from someone? Are we holding back from reconciliation with someone who desires it? What God has done for us in Jesus should inspire that in us and more.
But more than anything, this lesson is about us facing the uncertainty of our world with faith and hope and peace and love. We have the hope of the glory of God. God wins! No world crisis can interfere with God's plans to bring history to the right conclusion. No struggle can knock us off of God's path to make us more like Jesus. Think about everything Jesus suffered for us; should we not see these days as a pale reflection of the obstacles that the overcoming of which bring us to Him?
I'm praying for you and your families. And I can't wait to go through these verses on Sunday with everyone--I won't be leading the lesson; I'll just be enjoying it with you! In Jesus, mww