STUDIES IN ROMANS

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

STUDY TEN: JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH: ITS RADICAL AND LIBERATING IMPLICATIONS - ROMANS 5:1-11

Paul is not content to tell us that we are justified by faith and not by works. Because he knows only too well the self-oriented, legalistic mentality of the human heart and mind he sees it necessary to also spell out the significance and implications of justification by faith. So he says: therefore, since we have been justified through faith ...

A. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:1)

On the basis of justification through faith Paul makes the statement that we have peace with God. 'We' includes all who believe in Jesus Christ; 'have' indicates that right now, at this present moment of existence, and at every moment of existence, we possess peace with God. Because it is through faith and through Jesus Christ this present peace is not conditional on our goodness, not conditional on our degree of sanctification, not conditional on our present sinlessness. It is grounded in Christ. This possession of peace is an objective fact, not a subjective feeling, though the subjective feeling of peace does issue from it. And what is this'peace

Objectively, peace with God is the removal of the enmity, alienation and hostility between us and God. It is the freedom from the necessity to strive to gain or maintain our acceptance with God. It is being able to live in his presence without fear of rejection, condemnation and punishment today or in the future. It is the fact that yesterday, today and tomorrow, irrespective of our performance, we can rest with absolute confidence in the completeness and permanence of the work of Jesus Christ for us, fearing no reduction or alteration of our access to God, because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is the certainty that, even when we are acutely aware of our sin and real guilt, God is still for us, and that this sin and this real guilt make no difference to his relationship with us, because that relationship is anchored in the cross-work of Jesus Christ by which our sin is forgiven and our guilt robbed of its power of accusation. This peace is a fact. It has nothing to do with our feelings: it is all about what God did for us in and through Jesus Christ. This peace with God is, Paul says, 'through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Through him, because he is who he is, because he did what he did on the cross, those who believe in him possess, right now, this objective peace with God, whether they know it or not, whether they feel it or not.

Paul is endeavouring to assure his readers of the existence and reality of this objective peace with God. He has described justification by faith (gospel righteousness), and now he says 'Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ'. Out of this objective peace with God comes a subjective peace with God which will (apart from fluctuations due to our emotional or physical condition) be directly proportionate to our understanding of and confidence in the objective peace with God gained for us by Jesus Christ. The firmer and clearer our understanding of justification by faith, the firmer and clearer will be our understanding of our peace with God. And the more firmly and clearly we understand and have confidence in that peace gained for us by Christ, the more we will live our lives in the reality of it. Out of this objective peace, subjective tranquillity, concord, unity, rest, security and contentment - all in the presence of God - will issue. The person who has this peace will no longer fear God's wrath, judgement and condemnation, and will no longer fear that some real personal guilt or real personal unworthiness will separate and disqualify him/her from access to God. This is the subjective peace with God that issues from a firm grasp of the gospel.

For your study: [1] Read Isaiah 9:6; 53:6; Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 1:77-79; 2:14; John 14:27; Acts 10:36; Ephesians 2:14-17; 6:15 (where 'peace' is a one word summary of the Gospel); Philippians 4:4-7; Colossians 1:20; 3:15; Hebrews 3 and 4; 10:19-23. Discuss the references to peace (or similar concepts) in these passages, and how they relate to Paul's statement in Romans 5:1.
[2] Discuss the contrast between Paul's statement in Romans 5:1 and the subjective lack of peace with God which characterizes many Christians today. Where do you identify yourself? And why is there such a great absence of peace with God?

B. through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (5:2)

The words 'through whom' indicate that Jesus Christ is always the mediator; that our relationship with God is always and only through Jesus Christ. This 'grace' this 'peace with God is never, even for a fleeting moment, gained through our own goodness and/or endeavours.

'we have gained access' that is, into the presence of God; this was previously barred to us because of our sin; the verb is in the perfect tense, indicating both the initial entry at some point of time in the past, and present, constant reality and effectiveness of that access. Right now, at this existential moment, we have this access.

'by faith':faith is always the present operating principle in our relationship with God. It is not merely the initiating principle which brings us into relationship with God at the point of our conversion; it is, rather, the only valid and effective operating principle by which we relate to God at any and every moment right through our lives.

'into this grace' for a sinner to enter the presence of God, and live, is sheer grace. The complete salvation which was gained for us by the death of Jesus Christ is here compacted in this one word 'grace'. It is totally incongruous with this definitive one-word summary of the Gospel to assume that we have to maintain our salvation by our own efforts; it is also incongruous to assume that some wrong behaviour of ours can undo the Gospel and cause us to lose our salvation. This word 'grace' indicates an impossibility in three dimensions: the impossibility of our ever saving ourselves, the impossibility of our ever being able to keep ourselves saved, and the impossibility of our ever losing our salvation.

'in which we now stand' Grace is also now, not only a description of the way God relates to the believer, but indicative of the sphere in which the believer now exists; the believer is in the arena, or the kingdom, of grace, not the arena or kingdom where law and performance rules. We stand in the presence of God, not in our own name, not trusting in our own works, but in and through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose merits we trust, and on whom we depend.' In the Greek text the word 'stand', like 'have gained' is in the perfect tense, indicating a past completed action with present effectiveness. At the point of our conversion we stood in this grace, and that's where we still stand at our right-now-existential moment. Colossians 1:13 teaches us that it is God who has brought this about: he rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us (literally, caused a change in our standing/position) into the kingdom of the Son he loves. God, not our own actions, put us on his side; our own actions cannot undo this work of God, as Paul is about to point out.

For your study: Compare Paul's teaching here to the message of Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:1-24.
For help with assurance of salvation: Check out the Assurance of Salvation study on this website.

C. 'and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God' (5:2)

Not only is there now peace with God, there is also confident joy. The word translated 'rejoice' is the same word translated with 'boast' or 'glory', depending on which translation you read, in 3:27 and 4:2. The salvation we have in Jesus Christ outlaws boasting or glorying or rejoicing in our own actions. On the other hand, it promotes boasting, glorying and rejoicing in what God gives us in Christ. The Christian's confidence is not in him/herself, but in the certain assurance of God's 'glory'.

Not only is there now peace, there is also certain hope. This 'hope' is not the uncertain, wishful thinking such as we express in 'I hope it doesn't rain' or 'I hope I get this position'. Biblical hope is a certain and fixed confidence and assurance. So Paul is saying 'we rejoice in our certain expectation'?, 'we rejoice in our calm and confident assurance . Here is something to boast and glory about, here is some thing to be confidently, exuberantly happy about, here, if you wish, is something to brag about, to talk about all the time, because it is so sure, so certain, so guaranteed. There are no doubts about it. No uncertainty. No mere pensive, wishful, uncertain longing. For those who are still trapped in the performance paradigm where their assurance of salvation is relative to their ability to do enough good deeds, this confident assurance of life with God that the believer has, is seen to be self-righteousness and pride, and to be quite out of place and wrong. Their perception is that no one can be that sure that they have done enough good deeds to merit God's favour. But God's word here says: 'we rejoice (boast, glory) in the hope of the glory of God.'

What is this 'glory of God' in which the Christian believer rejoices with strong and certain confidence? What is this 'glory of God' which apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ we would not and could not attain. It is that pure, untarnished knowledge of God in which there is no darkness and no doubt, where the fullness of his holiness and majesty are uncorrupted by our human misconceptions of his being. It is also that close and intimate positive original relationship with God in which we reflect his image, his glory, and which we rebelled against and abandoned when we rejected God in Genesis 3. (Compare 1:21-23; 3:23.) This 'glory of God' is out of reach and barred to us no longer. When we truly see Jesus Christ we see the glory of God (John 1:14; 17:4) pure and undefiled; and when we see him seated at the right hand of God the Father, we will see that glory in all its power and fullness (John 17:5; Revelation 1:12-18; 5:1-14; 19:11-16). And as we live with him day by day God is at work in those who are his, quietly, little by little, working at restoring his glory and image in us (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).

For your study: Read and discuss Genesis 1:26,27; Isaiah 40:5; 43:7; Habakkuk 2:14; John 17:1-5; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Colossians 1:27; 1 John 3:1-3.

D. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings ... (5:3)

The unexpectedness of this statement surprises us. Why should Paul, in the middle of his lengthy explanation of the gospel truth of justification by faith, abruptly refer to suffering?

When we consider the mentality of his culture and age, and, if we stop and think about it, the mentality of our own culture and age, Paul's statement is not surprising after all. It is a common human perception that suffering is a punishment for sin, that if something bad happens to me, then I must have done something bad to deserve it. We can see this quite easily in the frequently asked questions'What have I done to deserve this and'Why do innocent children suffer Suffering is clearly viewed as punishment, as an expression of the 'justice' that 'god', whoever or whatever 'god' is, is meting out on the inhabitants of earth.

But Paul says that not only do we rejoice in our hope, but we also 'rejoice in our sufferings'. This is because:

[1] Suffering is not

  • because of our sins.
  • because of our lack of faith,
  • evidence that God is punishing us,
  • an indication that God does not love us,
  • an indication that God cannot help us.

[2] Suffering is

  • here because of sin: Genesis 3; Romans 8:18-27,
  • part and parcel of human existence: Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:14-16; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7,
  • part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus Christ: Mark 8:31-37,
  • an indication of our identification with Christ: John 15:18-16:4,
  • a means by which the genuineness of faith is proved: Luke 8:1-15,
  • a means by which God is glorified: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:16-12:10,
  • a means by which God refines us: Hebrews 12:1-11.

E. because we know that ... (5:3-5)

[1] 'suffering produces perseverance' that is, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness. The Greek word is 'hupomone'.

For your study: Read and discuss: Luke 8:1-15; Romans 8:25; 15:4-5; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 6:3-10; 11:16-12:10; Colossians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 2:20; and Revelation 2:2,3.

[2]'perseverance produces character ... ' The Greek is'dokime': the process of proving, the effect of proving, approval, approvedness, tested character. The imagery is that of proving gold by testing it with fire. See James 1:3; 1 Peter 1:7; and Job 23:10. James Dunn comments 'To regard affliction as divinely appointed testing designed to prove and mature is the key ... toward a positive attitude to suffering.' (p 251.)

[3]'character produces hope ... ' Confident certainty and expectation.

[4]'and hope does not disappoint us ... '

Hope does not make us ashamed, or put us to shame.

This is not primarily our ultimate hope of life with God after death and our conformity to his glory which will be perfected only in the future, for that has been already mentioned in 5:2. The hope in verses 4 and 5 stands in contrast with the hope in verse 2. It is distinguished from it by Paul's'not only so, but ... ' at the beginning of verse 3. This hope is, today, not disappointing us or making us ashamed, present tense, because ...

Because God has poured out his love into our hearts ... ''This is the ground or foundation of our confidence, our hope. The verb is perfect tense: it happened in the past and the effects of that are continuing in the present. Note that this is not speaking of our love for God but of God's love poured into our hearts, so that we have experienced and still experience his love.

by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us ... 'It is God's Spirit within us, who testifies to the love of God for us, who assures us that we are now children of God - see Romans 8 and Galatians 4. God himself, by his Spirit, assures and comforts us (John 14:15ff).

F. When did God's justifying act in Christ occur (Romans 5:6,8,10)

Answer: 'You see, just at the right time'. Paul's point here is that God saved us when we were totally unable to save ourselves, totally disqualified, totally cut off from him by our sin. He stresses this very strongly, because of our ever present inclination to relate to God on the basis of our own merit and ability, and to assume that God relates to us on that same basis. Paul teaches us that the primary truths of the Gospel make these inclinations and assumptions of ours invalid and ludicrous. We have peace with God, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, we even rejoice in our suffering, precisely because our salvation in Christ has absolutely no connection to our own merit and ability.

[1] Christ died for us 'when we were still powerless ... ' God didn't wait for us to improve our behaviour and increase our merit before he took steps to save us. When Jesus died for us we were 'powerless'. This tells us of our utter inability to save ourselves - when we didn't have the strength, figuratively speaking, even to lift our little finger and beckon Christ to come and help us. This reflects the truth taught by Jesus: 'apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). It reflects also a statement in Hebrews'without faith it is impossible to please God (11:6), and it assumes what Paul has already taught us in Romans 3:20'no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.' In ourselves, as we stand in our humanness, as we stand kata sarka - according to flesh - we are powerless to gain or maintain our own salvation.

[2] Christ died for those whom Paul calls 'the ungodly' . As Jesus said: 'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' (Matthew 9:13), and 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). At the bottom line no one is 'godly', but it is only those who recognize that who know their need to reach out and take salvation as a free gift from the hand of Jesus. So here Paul says'Christ died for the ungodly his death, and the grand salvation that it achieves, was not planned and implemented by God for us to merit, but precisely because we will never and can never merit it. Who are these 'ungodly' for whom Christ died? The Scripture tells us that they are those upon whom God's wrath and judgement are due: Romans 1:18; 11:26; 1 Timothy 1:9,10; 1 Peter 4:18; 2 Peter 2:4-6; Jude 15,18. These are the 'ungodly'. But let us not stand in accusation, for we also are included. We are the 'ungodly', those whom Paul has so painstakingly described in Romans 1:18 to 3:18, and we were still the 'ungodly' when Christ died for us, and we were still the 'ungodly' when the Spirit of Jesus moved us to faith and repentance. If we refuse to classify ourselves by this accusing adjective, then we can have no part in the death of Christ: he died 'for the ungodly'.

[3] Christ died for us 'while we were still sinners ... ' Not content with stating that Christ 'died for the ungodly' Paul says it again in different words, and again he emphasizes that it was 'while we were still' sinners ' not after we had achieved some degree of self improvement, not after we had turned over a new leaf, not after we could show some evidence that we were serious about God and religion - no. While we were still sinners. Paul considers this act of God in Christ on our behalf to be a demonstration of God's love. Who would do such a thing for such undeserving people? Only someone with infinite, immeasurable, unconditional love. It is possible that someone might choose to die for a good man (5:7), but to die for sinners, to die for the ungodly, to die for those who are contrary to everything one is and stands for - that takes incredible love. That takes, and that demonstrates, the love of God (5:8).

[4] Christ died for us 'when we were God's enemies ... ' Not only were we powerless, ungodly and sinners, we were also God's enemies when he did this amazing thing for us. 'When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son' (5:10). This is sheer, absolute love. Sheer, absolute grace. God planned it. God initiated it. God did it. For us. When we were his enemies. He didn't wait for us to move onto his side and then send Christ to die. He didn't wait for us to change allegiance, and then offer us a peace treaty. All that he did, all that was necessary to reconcile us to him, he did when we were his enemies - when we were opposed and contrary to him in thought, in inclination, in word and attitude and in action.

G. How does Paul describe God's justifying act in Christ (Romans 5:6,8,9,10,11)

  1. 'Christ died for ... ' (5:6,8).
  2. 'we have been justified by his blood' (5:9)
  3. 'we were reconciled to him through the death of Christ ... ' (5:10)

As we have seen in Romans 3, and as we will see again powerfully taught and explained in chapter 6, the death of Christ is means by which salvation is obtained and provided. Again we see Paul using the word'justified that is, legally acquitted; we see also the concept of reconciliation, which is very similar to the'atonement' we found in 3:25. Paul's purpose here in 5:1-11 is to make sure we understand what the effective cause of our salvation is: it is nothing in us, for we were powerless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. The effective cause of our salvation is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, an action, an event, embedded in the will of God, that cannot be undone by any lack of merit or deserving on our part. It is this death, this shed blood, by which we are justified, by which we are reconciled to God.

H. What are the implications of justification by the blood/death of Jesus (Romans 5:9,10,11)

[1] 'how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! ' Paul's argument here is very simple and very logical: since we have been justified by the blood of Jesus (and when God did that we were powerless, ungodly and sinners) how much more, now that God has justified us in this way, completely irrespective of our merit, - how much more will we be saved from his wrath today and tomorrow. Our sins today and tomorrow cannot undo what our sins yesterday could not prevent. If it was impossible for our past sin and ungodliness to prevent God from saving us from his wrath, it is far more impossible for our present sin and ungodliness to make God now pour his wrath out upon us.

[2] 'how much more ... shall we be saved through his life!' Similarly, if our past enmity towards God did not prevent him from reconciling us to himself through the death of his Son, how much more impossible is it for us to prevent his present and future friendship with us, now that he has already reconciled us to himself! It's simply not in our power to do that, for our state of reconciliation with God was never in our hands to begin with. It has always been in God's hands and the result of God's initiative and action, and it always will be in his hands and the result of his initiative and action.

[3] 'we rejoice in God ... ' With the grand assurance that comes with Paul's argument in this passage, he now notes another focus of' rejoicing/boasting/glorying: 'we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Because of who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ did in his dying 'we rejoice in God.' Gone forever is the fear of God's judgement. Gone forever is the threat of condemnation. Gone forever is the anxious, cringing heart and the guilt-ridden mind in the presence of God. We stand before him with joy, fearing no rejection, fearing no wrath, fearing not even an angry frown. We rejoice in God. We glory in God. We boast and brag about what a wonderful, loving, gracious, forgiving and merciful God he is. Having no longer to stand before him needing to defend, preserve, excuse and justify ourselves we are free to see him as he really is. And we rejoice.

[4] 'we have now received reconciliation ... ' Note the little word 'now'. Reconciliation with God through the death of Jesus Christ is now. It is not something that was effective only at the point of our initial conversion. Nor is it something for which we have to wait for until we 'get to heaven'. It is now. Right now, we possess reconciliation with God. No more enmity. No more wrath. No more separation because of our sin. Did you listen to that! No more separation because of our sin! The death of Christ, through which God reconciles us to himself, is effective now.

All of this is why Paul can say in 5:1 'therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' - Nothing of ours gained this position for us; nothing of ours can take it away from us. It is Paul's desire, it is God's desire, that we possess and live with that peace and that joy today. Christianity is not 'pie in the sky when you die'. It is, rather, eating the meat while you're still on your feet! Do not look at your own sins: look at Jesus Christ and his sin-bearing death for you, and with peace in your heart, rejoice in God.

For your study: Discuss the potential impact of Romans 5:1-11 on your day to day relationship with God. Check out Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 5:11; 9:1,2,14; 13:5;16:11; 27:6; 33:21;Habakkuk 3:17-18. It would be good to do a study right through the Psalms: joy and rejoicing are there consistently, with the double focus of God and his salvation.