This morning we’ll continue our study of Romans by launching into Chapter 5. Romans 5 begins the second section of Paul’s letter. In the first four chapters he’s been laying some groundwork. He’s been talking about “justification”. What we’ve seen is that to be “justified” or to be “in the right” is God’s declaration that we are his people—that we are part of the covenant family that began with Abraham. God makes that declaration on the basis of our faith, which is itself our response to his gracious promise.
But as Paul explains this, he’s not just lecturing on theology. He tells a story. He takes us back to the beginning of history itself and reminds us what God intended for his Creation and particularly for us human beings. He created us to live in his presence, to share in his life, to be his stewards or representatives in the world. The way Genesis 1 portrays things, the Garden was God’s temple and we his priests. Our vocation was to by fruitful and to multiply and to expand his temple and his rule throughout the entire Creation. But the story went wrong. Human beings rebelled. He abandoned our vocation and we were cast out of the life-giving presence of God and condemned to death.
But God hasn’t left us to die. Paul then took us back to Abraham. God called him out of paganism, gave him a promise of life, and Abraham believed this impossible promise. Ever since, God has been adding to the family of Abraham all those who have put their faith in this impossible promise of life. In Jesus we see the promise fulfilled. In the birth of his son, Isaac, Abraham saw that God is the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence things that did not before exist. He is the Creator and the Life-giver. Now, in Jesus, we see God’s promise to Abraham expanding. By his death and resurrection, Jesus is making all things new and has extended Abraham’s inheritance to all the nations.
Again, in the first four chapters of Romans, Paul’s focus has been on justification. In the next four chapter, Paul moves on to the implications that he’s so far hinted at or mentioned in passing. The theme of these chapters can be summed up with the words of 8:30, where Paul says that those whom God has justified, he will also glorify. Our glorification is a sure thing and we Christians shouldfind this to be our source of assurance. God has accomplished the task of justifying sinners. He’s not going to drop the ball. He’s not going to abandon us now that he’s justified us. Since God has justified us, we can have absolute certainty that he will also complete the task by saving us from the wrath to come and by restoring us to the glory of God.
This is one of the most common issues people bring to me as a pastor. They want assurance. They want to know that God hasn’t or that he won’t abandon them. Maybe it’s trials and suffering they’re facing. Maybe they’re struggling with sin. Whatever the reason, many of us struggle with doubt. We wonder if God will really do what he said he will do. We wonder if we will ever be restored to God’s glory. And so Paul points us to the cross of Jesus. As he wrote back in 1:17: The gospel, the good news about Jesus and his death and resurrection, reveals the righteousness, the covenant faithfulness of God. God made a promise to Abraham. He fulfilled that promise through the death of his own Son at the cross. Brothers and Sisters, God is faithful. God does what he says he will do, no matter the cost. And if he was willing to give up his own Son to restore us to his fellowship, he will certainly finish, he will bring to completion what he started at the cross. As we’ll see, Paul often looks back to Israel’s exodus from Egypt in order to tell the story and his point in doing so is to stress that he will not abandon his people in the wilderness. Those whom he rescued from bondage he will one day bring to the promised land. This is our story and if we would learn it, if we would internalise it, if we would think it through and meditate on it, we would have a greater measure of assurance than we often do. I think, too, that we would have a greater devotion to God, because, the better we understand this story, the better we understand the faithfulness, the love, and the goodness of God and desire to respond with our own love. More on that later…
So, lets look at Romans 5:1-2.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
“Therefore”—because or following on from everything that Paul’s been saying about our justification by faith in God’s impossible promise. Therefore—because or following from the gracious pouring out of forgiveness and life by Jesus at the cross: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Not only that, but we also live—or we should be living—in hope of what Paul refers to as the “glory of God”. Bp. Wright talks about this as being the past, present, and future of salvation. We have been justified. Because of that, here in the present, we have peace with God. And this gives us a future hope that we will one day be glorified.
Now, what does Paul mean when he talks about our having “peace with God”? This is where it’s helpful to remember that justification means being declared to be part of God’s covenant family. Now, that said, human families aren’t always peaceful things. Sometimes they can be very un-peaceful. And sometimes things get so bad that the family disowns one of its own members. Husbands and wives divorce. Children disown parents and parents disown children and walk away. From our short-sighted, sinful, and selfish human perspective, sometimes this seems like the best way to find peace. But, Brothers and Sisters, this isn’t real peace. No matter how calm things may seem, there’s no real resolution to the hurt and enmity. We disowned God. We rebelled and rejected his life. We forced God to remove us from his presence. But that removal from God’s presence didn’t bring peace. Just the opposite. We rejected him all the more, running further and further away, digging ourselves deeper and deeper into ungodliness, idolatry, and sin and all the time moving further and further away from the life and vocation for which he created us.
Sinners often look for peace further and further away from God. Aside from illness and infirmity, the number one reason people leave the Church is personal sin. They refuse to give it up. The more they are aware of the presence of God the more convicted they feel and so they run. It may temporarily lessen the feelings of guilt, but it doesn’t solve the problem. God knows better and so God does not leave us in the outer darkness. God desires peace and he knows that peace is only found when we, his creatures, are restored to his presence.
As human beings, one of our greatest sources of assurance and security is our family and that’s probably why God has chosen to work through a family. He deals with us each individually, but as he does so, as he restores each of us to himself, he brings us into this family that began with Abraham. Whatever you want to call it: the covenant family, the Church, the body of Christ—it is ultimately a family with Jesus as its head. In this family we are restored to God’s presence. In this family we find true peace. And so in this family we find security and assurance.
That said, we need to remember that there’s more to peace than just being restored to God’s fellowship. Remember that part of the story is that in setting his Creation to rights, God has to deal with ungodliness and the ungodly. There will be no place for it or for them in his new creation. Sinners can either align themselves in faith with Jesus and with his kingdom as it breaks into the world or they can be swept away when he returns on that final day to consummate his kingdom. Either way, through salvation or through wrath, God’s faithfulness to his promise is revealed. Either way, God’s goodness is revealed as he sets his Creation to rights. In Chapter 2, Paul wrote about the destruction that will come on those who do evil. In Chapter 3 he wrote about the way in which Israel had turned her back on God, choosing to walk the path of injustice, anger, and violence and that she had not known “the way of peace”. Throughout the Old Testament we see that peace goes hand-in-hand with righteousness. God forgives the sins of his people, he withdraws his wrath, he restores his people to a position of favour, and as Psalm 85:10 says, “righteousness and peace kiss each other”. Isaiah had written that if Israel had paid attention to God’s commandments, “your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains, their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me” (Isaiah 48:18-19).
But it’s not just Israel that faces God’s judgement. Israel must be held accountable first, but judgement is coming on the nations. For the Roman Christians it would have been hard not to see Paul taking a stab at Caesar and his empire and all his loyal followers. Caesar’s great claim was that he had established peace through justice. Starting with his heir, Augustus, the emperors claimed the titles “Lord” and “Saviour”. They claimed divine status. And the emperors maintained their power through the imperial cult. “Caesar is Lord” was the Roman pledge of allegiance. But Paul knew that Caesar was a cheap imitation of the true Lord and Saviour and that his peace, which came by the sword, was a cheap imitation of the true peace given by Jesus at the cross. Judgement will come, first on Israel, but then on the nations for their refusal to submit to the lordship of Jesus and to his kingdom. For all their talk of peace and justice, they are rivals of the true kingdom.
We can have a false peace with Caesar and the world or we can have real peace with God. We can’t have both. And yet we don’t stand alone as Christians. Again, peace with God means being part of this family, the Church. And the Church stands as a witness to the kingdom of God. The Church stands to bring the world’s attention to the Lord Jesus and to show what real peace and real justice look like.
Paul gives us a sense of this when we writes about having “access” by faith into this “grace”. The Greek word he uses when he writes about having “access” is from the same root as the verb used to describe people in the Old Testament approaching the altar in the temple when they offered their sacrifices. The temple was the place of God’s presence. We now find his presence in Jesus and through is gracious sacrifice made on our behalf. In fact, in Jesus and by his gift of the Holy Spirit, we ourselves become the temple.
So, we have peace with God and we stand in his presence by his grace. That’s the present result of our justification. But there’s more. We have a future hope. Paul writes that “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. Most of our English translations talk here of rejoicing or celebrating. The word that Paul uses here is the same word he used when he wrote earlier about the Jews boasting in the law. Here he’s saying that we who are in Jesus the Messiah, boast in the hope of the glory of God. The problem is that for us, boasting is almost always a bad thing. That’s why the translators don’t have a problem using boasting in a negative sense when it’s about Israel boasting in the law. But Paul says that we do boast in this hope of glory. It’s helpful to understand that boasting didn’t have the negative sense in Paul’s day as it does today. For people like Paul, boasting wasn’t so much the sense of bragging, but of revelling in something. The Jews revelled in the law and the distinctiveness it gave them. They revelled in and found hope in the idea that God would one day come and vindicate them and judge everyone else. And Paul here writes that what Christians boast in, what we revel in or rejoice or celebrate, is the hope of the glory of God.
Like Abraham, we hope against hope. God has made us a promise. It’s an enormous promise. It’s a seemingly impossible promise. But that’s what faith is all about. We trust in God because he can do the impossible. We hope against hope. And just like Abraham, we hope in faith for the fulfilment of God’s promise of life. Abraham saw it fulfilled in a small way in the miraculous birth of his son, Isaac. But the birth of that one baby boy to an elderly man and his barren wife pointed towards a much greater promise of life to a dead world and a dead race. Remember that Paul wrote earlier that when he rebelled, Adam lost the glory of God. Adam rejected and lost his vocation. He was cast out of God’s presence. He lost the life that came from living in fellowship with God. And the fallen human race has dragged all of Creation down with us. And so, having been justified, having been given peace with God, knowing that Jesus has risen from the grave, we live in hope knowing that through him, God is working to restore us to the place of glory for which we were created—and we live in hope of the day that human beings being set right, all of Creation will be set right with us.
But there’s more to this than rejoicing in the assurance of glorification. Paul goes on in verses 3-5:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
We rejoice in our sufferings. Paul uses that same word again that means “boasting”. In Paul’s word and amongst the Jews, suffering was typically seen as a sign of being out of favour with God. Lots of people still think this way. The Prosperity Gospel say that suffering, sickness, and poverty are signs of a lack of faith. And yet here Paul stresses that because of our faith we rejoice in suffering. Suffering is a given. Our rebellion, idolatry, and sin “broke” God’s creation. He’s in the process of setting it right, but because he’s chosen to redeem sinners rather than just wipe us all out and start over, dealing with sin and its effects in the world takes time. But if we remember the story, this all makes sense. Our suffering moulds and shapes us and in the process and as a result, we witness the good news that Jesus is Lord and that he’s making all things new.
So, Paul says that our suffering produces endurance. It’s easy to read Paul as telling us to have a stiff upper lip and be stoic about all the pain and trials we face, but that’s not what he’s saying. When he talks about endurance it has more of the sense of patience and of waiting on God in expectant hope. It has the sense of staying the course and not losing heart because we know that what God had started he will surely finish. The result he says, is that our endurance produces character. The Greek word has the sense of being tried and tested. Our faith grows and is proved. Think again of Israel in the wilderness, dealing with hardship and trials, but learning to trust in God as a result. And then, Paul writes, that tried and tested character produces hope. Think about hope for a minute. Do you hope for things you don’t believe will really happen? I look at my country’s national debt. It’s almost $19 trillion. I have no hope that it will ever be paid off. Why? Because politicians have proved by their actions that they’ll only add to that debt. But when I have endure trials and tribulations in this world and as I watch my brothers and sisters face their trials and tribulations, and when I see God’s faithfulness, both in Scripture and in the Church today, when I look back to God giving his own Son at the cross in order to fix what we have broken, I have with every year more reason to hope that God will one day make good on his promises. Again, he gave his son to fulfil what he promised to Abraham and today we see the power of the cross making people new all over the world. God will complete what he started. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit is the down payment. Now, the Church is a mess. Often we’re not very effective at fulfilling the mission Jesus gave us or at being the people he has called us to be, but I am fully confident that one day—no matter how long it takes—we will be the people God has called us to be and we willfulfil the mission he gave us in the world. And I am sure of that because he’s given us the Holy Spirit. God has poured himself into our hearts to transform us and equip us for what he’s called us to do and we know that he hasn’t given us his Spirit in vain and, the Spirit being God, we know that God complete what he starts.
Brothers and Sisters, we see it already. The ESV translates verse 5 saying that the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, but a better reading that makes much better sense is that love for God has been poured into our hearts. Already, the Spirit is working in us to set us right and to reconcile us with God. Our problem started when we stopped loving God and tried to take his throne for ourselves. God’s plan, his agenda ever since has been to reconcile us to himself—to bring us back to the point of loving him. Like the prophet Hosea going out to find his unfaithful harlot wife, bringing her back to his home and showing her his love, God comes after us…again…and again…and again…showing us his love and teaching us to love in return. His command to Israel was summed up in the words, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Israel struggled to love God, but for us, the new Israel, Jesus has poured his Spirit into us and transformed us from the inside out. He’s given us a love for God that we could never have if it weren’t for God’s gracious work in us first. Do we still struggle to love God? Yes. Do we love him as much as we should? No. But the renewing work of the Spirit is a process. Endurance produces character and character produces hope. The more we experience the love and goodness of God, the more we steep ourselves in Scripture and read of his love and his goodness and faithfulness, the more we meditate on the deep, deep love of God, shown for us in Jesus and at the cross, the more we will gradually respond to God with our own love, itself a loving gift of the Spirit. Brothers and Sisters, our love for God—and, I’ll add, our desire to love him more because know that we don’t love him as much as we should—is a source of assurance. This love for God is the fulfilment of the law and its presence in us marks us out as God’s people. It marks us out as part of his new creation.
Let us pray: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.