Peace With God/Romans 17
Recall that the first three chapters of Romans address the universal problem, the problem of sin. Sin afflicts the Gentiles, as we saw in chapter 1. It afflicts the Jews, as St. Paul shows in chapter 2. Sin has both Jew and Gentile in its grip—that is the argument of chapter 3. In the fourth chapter, Paul begins his discussion of the glorious solution—a solution promised repeatedly in the first book of the Bible. That solution was the establishment of a new humanity through Abraham. And now Paul comes to the paradoxial truth—the seed of Abraham, the one through whom this new way of being human will be brought about, is a new Adam. This means that this second Adam has a father, Abraham.
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Rom. 5:1-8).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT:
We have believed in the God who quickens the dead, who raised Jesus from the dead. On this basis, we have been justified (“righteoused”) by faith (v. 1). As a result, we have (as a present possession) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1). In addition to this, we also have access by faith into the status of grace (v. 2). Consequently, we rejoice in hope, hope that looks forward to the glory of God (v. 2). On top of that, we glory in our tribulations now because we know that tribulations are part of a process (v. 3). Tribulation works out to patience(v. 3). Patience, the next link in the chain, leads to experience and this experience leads to hope (v. 4). This hope does not let us down, and why? Because the love of God is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirt who has been given to us (v. 5). In our experience, when did this grace start? We had no strength to do anything, and while we were in that condition, Christ died for the ungodly (v. 6). For us it is a big thing to die for a righteous man, and sometimes some of us attain to that level (v. 7). But God’s love is quite different—Christ died for us while we were all messed up (v. 8).
WHAT WE HAVE NOW BY FAITH:
This passage focuses on the present and on the future both. Because we have believed (the same way that Abraham did), what do we have now? In the first place, Paul says, we have justification (v. 1). As a result, we have peace with God (v. 1). We have the privilege of standing in grace (v. 2). We also have the joy that hope brings (v. 2). We also have tribulation coupled with a right perspective on those tribulations (v. 3), which is to glory in them.
WHAT WE LOOK FORWARD TO BY FAITH:
Now the joyful hope that we currently have looks forward to the coming glory of God (v. 2). Remember from a chapter or so ago what sin causes us to fall short of? Right, the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). And Abraham, justified by faith, did what? He gave glory to God (Rom. 4:20). What was at the center of the Gentiles’ idolatry? It was that they exchanged the glory of God for the image of mere creatures (Rom. 1:23).
In between now and the glory to come, what can we look forward to? The answer is three-fold—patience, experience, and more mature hope (v. 4).
GLORY NOW AND GLORY THEN
The word glory is fascinating, and helps us to understand its relationship to tribulation. Though they are different words in the Greek, notice that we glory in tribulation now as we look forward to the coming glory. What do tribulation and glory have in common? Well, they are both heavy, and Paul is very clearly using the image of training for something. This is not just training—it is weight training. We boast in the privilege of carrying the weight of tribulation now because we know that we are being prepared to carry the weight of glory later. Tribulation is a set of training weights.
A Christian approach to tribulation therefore strains toward a goal. It is not the response of one who just hunkers down to “take it.” Our trials are teleological—which means they all have a point. And this means we must interact with our tribulations with both faith and intelligence. Faith is first, and intelligence follows the argument through patience, experience, and hope.
NO REAL POINT WITHOUT PERSONAL TRUST:
But if tribulation is a set of training weights, who is the trainer? Well, of course, the answer in our text is the Holy Spirit. But as many who have had this experience can tell you, there will often come a temptation to think that your personal trainer is a maniac and a sadist. That’s what training does.
And that is why Paul turns to a discussion of the nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts. What has He shed abroad in our hearts? The answer is love, not aimless, mindless torture. Notice that God has not sent a sense of love from a distance. He has not sent love, He has brought it. The Holy Spirit is given to us, and the love He sheds abroad in our hearts came with Him.
God gives us things because He gives Himself, and brings the stuff with Him. He does not give as a substitute for giving Himself, but rather as part and parcel of giving Himself. The Holy Spirit is given unto us (v. 5). Christ was given to die for the ungodly (v. 6), that is, for us (v. 8).
A STRONG HOPE:
When we are tempted to falter in the course of tribulations, what should we tell ourselves? We should tell ourselves the very same thing that the Spirit in this text tells us, and which the Spirit in our hearts tells us. Here is the argument, and it is very simple.
What were you like when God undertook you as His project? What condition were you in? And while you were in that condition, what did God do for you? The answer is that we were “without strength” (v. 6), and “ungodly” (v. 6). We were sinners (v. 8). Now, while we were in that condition, Christ died for us, and this was intended as a commendation of God’s love for us (v. 8). The argument looks ahead a few verses (vv. 9-10). If God did all this for His enemies, what will He do for those of us who are now His friends? Remember, we have peace with God (v. 1). We are justfied (v. 1). After what God did for His enemies, what do you think He might do for His friends?