The benefits of faith - Romans 5:1-11

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 15th June 2008.

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We’re in the middle of a war.  We’re not allowed to call it a war, but we’re still engaged in the war on terror.  That’s the inevitable conclusion we must draw from the top secret document left on a train this week by a senior civil servant.   A top secret document that was helpfully handed in to the BBC.   I don’t know if you saw it in the news, but the report was an analysis of our enemy:  Al Qaeda that is;  an analysis of Al Qaeda’s weaknesses and how we might defeat them.  Our politicians might not be calling it a war any more, but our security and intelligence services are obviously still functioning in a wartime mode:  spying on the enemy;  processing the intelligence and writing up their conclusions.

Link

And there’s been a similar war going on in Rom chapter 5.    Look with me at v1:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

And on to v10:

10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Just like Al’Qeada and the West, here in chapter 5, there’s been a breakdown in relationship between 2 sides.  A breakdown so bad that the 2 sides are enemies.    Enemies implacably opposed to each other;  enemies who can’t stand even being in each other’s presence.    Enemies that will need to be reconciled to each other if there’s any hope of peace. 

Context

And the war chapter 5 is talking about is far more deadly and serious than the war on terror.  We’re not talking about detention for 42 days without trial.    No, in this case, the losing side gets locked up for all eternity in a living hell.  A sort of Guantanamo Bay that never ends.  And this is a war between God on one side and His people on the other. 

And that’s the shocking thing about Romans.   People expect God to be angry with really evil people like suicide bombers.  Of course God’s going to judge those who blow themselves up on planes, trains and busses.    But not us!  We’re respectable people.  We’re church-goers.  Surely God looks at us and thinks:  OK they’re not perfect, but they’re doing a good job;  they’re alright enough, especially those who get really stuck in and help our with the work of the church. 

But look again and v1: 

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

And on again to v10:

10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

And ‘we’ factor’s picking up on 4:23 we looked at last week:

23 The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

It’s been the golden thread running through Paul’s whole argument so far in Romans.  That Jews were no different to Gentiles in this respect;  that Christians and church-goers are no different from everyone else.  Every single one of us, by nature, is an enemy of God.  That’s been Paul’s central argument.  ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ he wrote back in chapter 3.    ‘There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ he went on to say in the rest of chapter 3.    Let’s look at that verse again: picking it up half way through 3:22:

3:22b:  There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

We were God’s enemies;  every single one of us;  no matter what our background.  We were all God’s enemies;  those who’d rejected our Creator as chapter 1 reminded us.  But the reason Paul spells out the bad news is to prepare us for the good news. 

Before Sept 11th 2001 America hadn’t experienced a massive direct hit within its own borders since the second world War.  Sept 11th was a wake up call.  We’ve got enemies that can hit us where it hurts.  We need to take this threat seriously. 

And the opening chapters of Romans have been a similar wake up call for us.  We’ve got an enemy.  And His name is God.    And because of our sin and rejection of Him, he’s going to hit us where it hurts.    But, even worse is the fact that there’s nothing we can do about it.  God’s such a powerful enemy, that on Judgement Day when God sends the troops in, not one of us could stand.  Just like the Iraqi regime crumbled under the onslaught of American military might, left to own devices, we’re all facing certain defeat.    

But this bad news is what makes the good news so amazing.  Listen again to those words from chapter 3:

3:22b:  There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Yes God was our enemy.    But He had a plan to save His people.    A plan that would involve them being justified before him.   And that word justification is so important that Paul spent a whole chapter unpacking it for us.    As Don explained for us last week in chapter 4, being justified means that, even though we were sinners, even though we were God’s enemies;  even though we deserved to be punished, God had a plan to rescue His people.    That’s what the redemption word means.  To rescue someone from a state of slavery;  slavery to sin and judgement in our case. 

 

And God did that by justifying His people; by declaring them to be innocent;  God declared His people to be innocent even though they weren’t.  It’s a term borrowed from the law courts.   It’s a legal declaration.  Before the eyes of almighty God, His people have been declared righteous;  despite the underlying reality of their guilt, they’ve been cleared of all charges and they’re free to go. 

That’s were we got to at the end of chapter 4.    God’s people had been justified.  They’d been acquitted.  They’d been let go.  It doesn’t matter who they were or what they background was, God’s people have been released from court Scott free.  And chapter 5 simply carries on with the next step of Paul’s argument.    And we’re going to look at that argument under 3 main headings:

1.  Justification is only possible because of Jesus’ death (v6-8)

So first of all in v6-8, we see that Justification is only possible because of J’s death.    Justification is only possible because of J’s death.      Look with me at v6:

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Do you see the point?  Jesus once said:  "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

And that’s the point of this word powerless, which literally means weak or sick;  spiritually sick that is and utterly helpless or powerless to restore a right relationship with God.  And such people remained God’s enemies;  without God that is;  or as the end of v6 puts it:  ungodly;   literally not having god in their lives.    And it was these people, the spiritually sick, for whom Jesus died. 

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless [or spiritually sick], Christ died for the ungodly.

And J's death on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of God love.  As v8 puts it:

8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

V6-8 are another classic literary sandwich with v6 & 8 being the 2 slices of bread.  In v6 we were still spiritually sick;  and in v8 we’re still sinners;  rebels against God that is.  And it’s these rebel sinners who Christ died for.  He died for us. 

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and I got a card from my daughter, Bethan, as you might expect.  Would you like to see it?  [hold up]  Daddy, you know how big the sky is [it says on the front].  ‘Well I love you that much’ [it says on the inside].  So I asked Bethan why she loved me so much.  And she said:  because you’re the best daddy in the world.  Ahhhh!    No I can assure you I’m no where near being the best daddy in the world, but don’t tell Bethan.  But the point is that’s how we think and act don’t we?  We love people who are lovely.   And we’re especially motivated to act in a loving way to those close to us.  I’d lay down my life to protect my wife and children if I had to.  But what about Bin Laden.  Would you risk your life and jump into a river to save Osama Bin Laden from drowning?  And that the point of v7:

7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still [spiritually sick;  while were still his enemies;  while we were still] sinners, Christ died for us.

As far as God’s concerned, we were all in Bin Laden's league.  We’ all God’s enemies that is.  And it was then, while were His enemies that God sent His son to die for us.  And J’s death wasn’t a meaningless gesture like me declaring I loved you all and then jumping off the Humber bridge.  What would that achieve?  No;  as we learnt in chapter 3, by dieing in our place, Jesus paid the ransom we owed God.  Jesus paid the price for our sins;  on the cross, Jesus died our death;  he was punished for our sickness, sin and rebellion.  You see, God can’t just forgive us and sweep our sins under the carpet saying: ‘Oh well never mind’.  No; we were His enemies.  And God is totally just and holy.  And so he must punish sin and rebellion.    Somebody must pay the penalty for our sins.   And so


God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And so the key question for each and every one of us is this:  who’s going to pay for your sins:  Jesus on the cross 2,000 years ago;  or you yourself in hell for all eternity.  That’s the choice:  our sin and rebellion must be paid for by someone;  and it’s either you or Jesus.   And it’s only through J’s death that our justification has been made possible.  That’s the first main point in v6-8.

2.      Justification is received through faith (v1-2)

But how do you receive that justification.  How do we benefit from what Jesus achieved 2,000 years ago on the cross?  And that brings us to the second main point in v1-2:  Justification is received through faith.    Look again at v1:

 1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

The phrases ‘through faith’ in v1 and ‘by faith’ in v2 are the same in the original.    And in one sense, this is simply summarising another key point from chapter 4:  Abraham was a pagan enemy of God.  His father worshiped the pagan gods of the Ancient Near East.  But then God called him and gave him some promises of salvation.  And the point chapter 4 was making again and again was that Abraham wasn’t perfect;  but he took God at His word and trusted His promises;  and so the Lord credited righteousness to him.  Abraham was justified by his faith in God’s promises.  And that’s how justification works under the new covenant as well.  J’s death on the cross was the ultimate fulfilment of all those promises to Abraham.  And so for us, trusting in God’s promises means believing that you were God’s enemy and that Jesus died on the cross for you;  for your sins that is.  And it’s by that faith, as you exercise that trust in God’s promises, that you receive the benefit of J’s death:  justification.  Being declared right with God.    Not because you’re perfect, but because Jesus died for you.    Justification is received then, thought faith alone, in J’s death on the cross alone. 

3.      Justification guarantee 3 things:

Which brings us to the 3rd main point.  According to these verses, justification guarantee us 3 things:

3a.    Justification Guarantees peace and reconciliation with God (v1 & 10-11)

First of all, justification guarantees us peace with God;  it guarantees reconciliation between us and God.  When you’ve got implacably opposed enemies, you can’t just invite both side over for tea, get them to shake hands and smile for the cameras as various US presidents tried with the Israelis and Palestinian on numerous occasions.  No you can’t solve the symptoms of war and terrorism without addressing the underlying reasons for the conflict.  If we had 2 holy Lands, then maybe there wouldn’t be such a problem in the Middle East; the Israelis and the Palestinians could have one each.   Dealing with the underlying problem, the root cause, is the hardest thing.  But if you can solve that, then peace and reconciliation should be the easy part.

And when it comes to our war with God, the underlying problem’s been sorted.    God’s just wrath against our sins has been death with.  If we’re Christians, our sins were transferred onto Jesus.  And so when God looks at us, he sees J’s perfection.  We’ve been justified.  As Don told us last week, it’s just as if I’d never sinned.    The underlying problem of our sin and God’s need to punish it has been dealt with.  That was the hard part.  And now that’s been sorted, peace and reconciliation are the easy sequel.  Look again at v1:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

Justification guarantees peace with God because the underlying problem of our sin has been sorted.   And reconciliation and peace are 2 sides of the same coin.  Look on to v10:

10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life [his resurrection that it]!

3b.  Justification guarantees our future salvation (v9-10)

Which brings us onto the second main thing our justification guarantees.  Our future salvation.  Look back to v9:

 9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

The flow of Paul’s argument is this:  having achieved the hard thing, finishing off the job will be easy.  Or to continue our war analogy:  having won the main battle, the mopping up operations will be no sweat.    The difficult job, as we’ve just seen, was our justification;  which was made possible by J’s death for us;  we are justified because of J’s blood;  and we simply receive that justification through faith;  simply by trusting in who Jesus is and what he did for us on the cross.     And since God has done the hard bit of justifying us, saving us from his wrath will be the easy bit.   

But, if we’re Christians, ‘aren’t we already saved’ you might be thinking?   Well yes and no.     Because we need to ask what we’re saved from.    The biggest issue we all face as human beings is being accountable to the God who made us.  On Judgement Day, God’s wrath will be unleashed on His enemies;  on those who’ve rebelled against him.    On that Day.  On that future day.   You see, it’s still an event in the future.    When don’t know when but it’s certainly a date fixed in God’s diary. 

But if we’re Christians, then we’re justified, then we’ll escape God's wrath on that day;  guaranteed.  Why?  Because we know that when we stand before the Lord as our Judge, he’ll see us a righteous;  because our sin and rebellion has already been dealt with.  And so on that day, we’ll be saved.  In a strict sense, our salvation is still in the future.  We haven’t yet been saved from God’s wrath because we have gone into the courtroom yet.  But in another sense, we already know the verdict:    we’re justified;  we’ve already been declared not guilty.  And so our justification guarantees our future salvation.    It’s so guaranteed in fact that Christians often talk about salvation in the past tense.  We’re so confident of that verdict on the last day, we’re as good as saved already;  saved from the Lord’s righteous wrath against our sins.  Justification guarantees our future salvation then on the last day. 

3c.  Justification guarantees our godly character (v2b-4)

And finally, justification also guarantees our growth in godly character.  That’s the final benefit of justification:  justification guarantees our godly character progressively in this world, but in a perfect sense in the next.     Look at the second half of v2:

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.

The word translated rejoice in both these verses is perhaps better translated boast or exalt.  In chapter 3, we were reminded that all of us fell short of the glory of God;  fell short of God’s perfect moral standards that is.    But as Christians, v5 tells us that we’ve been given the HS.    And the role of the HS working within us is to change us from the inside out so that we start to reflect God’s character.  It’s a process;  a process that will reach perfection on Judgement Day.  On that day we really will reflect the perfect Glory of the Lord, not just in the legal declaration of our justification, but in reality.  On that day we’ll be free from sin;    and so our boast is not in our good works or obedience to the law now;  no, we boast or exalt in the sure and certain hope of reflecting God’s glory when we reach heaven. 

But it’s not just pie in the sky when you die.  Not just about future perfection.  Look at v3 again:

3Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice [or boast or exalt] in our sufferings [or perhaps tribulations], because we know that [tribulations] produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.

The process of becoming a more godly person begins not when we reach heaven but the moment we become Christians.     And Paul is going to unpack this in much more detail as we go through chapter s 6-8.  But the point as we draw to a close this week is this:    God uses the tribulations of life, both the things that we share with the rest of humanity – things like sickness and bereavement;  things like redundancy and other struggles at work;  and the thing that we go through simply because we’re Christians:  the discrimination; the ridicule; the burden for caring for people and sharing the gospel with them;   God uses the tribulations of life to shape us.   

The word perseverance comes from a root meaning to ‘remain under’;  so the sense is that we remain firm under the pressure of life’s circumstances;    and if we remain firm under a series of successive pressures, then we develop character;  and the word character come from a root that means testedness and was originally used of blacksmith’s shaping horseshoes.  And the idea is that the constant hammering by the blacksmith produced the right shape or character of horseshoe;  the finished produced has a certain testedness.  And so with us in the tribulations of our Christian lives.    Justification guarantees godly character;  not overnight, but as a process that will one day reach completion.  And as we look back on our Christian lives and see the Lord’s hand giving us strength in the trials and tribulations of life, this should greatly strengthen our hope for the future. 

And that’s why, at the end of v2 we can boast or exalt in our sufferings or tribulations;  not because we’re masochists and enjoy pain and trouble;  but because we trust in a God who is in control of all the circumstances of our lives;  a god who has promised to be working through even the most painful times in our lives to shape us and move us towards the blessed future he’s prepared for us. 

So if you’re a Christian here this morning, is this joy in your heart - this attitude towards trials, sufferings and tribulations?   It’s hard isn’t it?  I’ve certainly struggled myself this week as I’ve been preparing this sermon:  Lord help me like Paul to exult in the tribulations you've recently put me and my family through in your wisdom and sovereignty.  It’s not easy, but it part of the Lord’s promise to His people.  So what about you if you consider yourselves a Christian?

But what if  you’re not a Christians or you’re not sure.  And if that’ you then you need to reflect on still being one of God’s enemies.  And enemy facing sure and certain condemnation on Judgement Day.  But an enemy for whom Jesus died if you will only say yes to Jesus.  So before I close in prayer, let’s all take a moment to reflect on what the Lord’s been saying to us this morning.    Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that while we were your enemies you sent Jesus to die for us and then gave us faith and justification through the gift of the HS.  Help us to reflect on what you’ve done for us in the past, what you’re doing in us now in the trials and tribulations of the present and what you’ve got guaranteed for us in the future through our Lord Jesus Christ.   For our eternal comfort, but your ultimate glory we pray, Amen.

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