Grace for Today, Grace for Eternity
Passage: Romans 5:1-5
This past week, Pastor Kris and I had the privilege of attending the Shepherd’s Conference in Santa Clarita. The fellowship and preaching were a rich blessing; however, since we were there for 4 days, I didn’t have a lot of time for sermon prep, so I decided to preach a passage I have done before.
A couple of weeks ago as I was thinking about what I should do, I reflected on what kinds of themes I have addressed recently and what kind of theme could use more emphasis. I realized pretty quickly that all of my sermons so far in 2017 have had a very strong focus on exhortation. We’ve talked a lot about running hard and practicing discipline. And so I thought that we could really use a Sunday where we meditate on the gospel and rejoice in God’s grace. This led me very quickly to Romans 5:1–5.
It’s important to note that the opening phrase, “Therefore, having been justified by faith” functions as a major hinge in Romans. Romans 1–4 are dedicating to arguing that justification by faith is the only way sinners can be made right with God. And so when v. 1 says that we are justified by faith, it summarizes the conclusion of chapters 1–4, and it prepares the way for chapters 5–8, which spell out a series of incredible implications of salvation by grace alone. Our text begins this section with a bang by listing five benefits that flow from justification. My primary goal today is that we would rejoice in these gifts. But before we get to the benefits, let’s talk about what it means that we are justified by faith because no concept is more central to the good news of the gospel. Understand that…
Justification provides the foundation for grace.
To appreciate the beauty of the gospel, you first have to understand that we need grace. Since most people think they are pretty good and don’t sense their need of grace, Paul spends most of his time in Romans 1–4 establishing that we are sinners in need of grace. He begins by reminding us of the terrible evil in the world (1:28–32). Everyone agrees that there is sin around us. No one is going to look at the Holocaust or suicide bombings and not admit that there is real evil in the world.
But Romans 2 takes a surprising turn when it argues that even the most religious, ethical people are still sinners. They may not do the really bad things, but everyone loses their temper, acts selfishly, and demonstrates pride. You may do better than the guy down the street, but when God is the standard, how you compare to people doesn’t really matter. There is no such thing as a righteous person (Rom 3:10, 23). And that includes you. You are guilty. This is a problem because God can’t just ignore sin. He is just and must punish sin.
But since man could never make himself righteous, God provided an alien righteousness through justification.
Justification is a legal term. Think of a judge declaring someone on trial, “not guilty.” But how can God declare “not guilty” the same people who sin every day? The answer is Christ. When Christ died on the cross he took the punishment for our sin.
And now when a sinner is justified, he is credited with the righteousness of Christ so that when God looks at the person legally he does not see our sin; he only sees the righteousness of Christ. As a result, he declares him not guilty. I want to emphasize that it’s not that we are righteous or that we do something to earn a righteous standing because we all continue to sin. But legally speaking, God no longer sees our sin; he only sees the righteousness of his Son. We are justified. But notice that everyone is not automatically justified. Rather justification must be applied by faith.
It’s important that we have a clear understanding of what this faith is because Paul has a very specific kind of faith in mind. First of all, it is not just a faith that God is real since Paul says a lot of people, including many of the Jews, who believe in God are condemned.
It’s also not a faith that with God’s help I can earn a right standing because saving faith is not me and God working together to get me to heaven. Rather, saving faith recognizes that I can’t help at all. But I believe that Christ’s sacrifice is fully sufficient to rescue me from sin. Therefore, I am trusting in Christ alone for my salvation.
If you’ve never called out to God with that kind of faith, I would urge you to do so today because if you do not believe on Christ, you will face God’s just wrath against sin. But if you believe on him, you can stand in the righteousness of Christ and be secure in God’s grace for all eternity. Cast yourself completely on the mercy of Christ so that you can be saved from the judgment you deserve. But justification does more than just rescue us from wrath. Our text goes on to list blessings that should either cause you to want Christ or cause you to rejoice if you are already saved.
First Benefit: We have peace with God.
This benefit is pretty incredible in light of Romans 1–4. There should never be peace between a holy God and sinners like us. We deserve wrath, not kindness. But those who have been justified now stand in Christ’s righteousness; therefore God’s wrath has been replaced with peace. It’s as if a violent storm has been replaced with a quiet calm.
But this peace means more than that God is no longer angry; it also means that we have a personal relationship with him. Paul was a Jew, and when Jews greet each other, they say, “shalom” or peace. This greeting expresses a desire you would enjoy good things. That’s what Paul means here. It’s not just that God’s wrath has been removed; he also looks at us with favor and desires our good.
I said earlier that salvation involves a legal declaration. God as our judge, declares us righteous. But most people don’t continue to have much of a relationship with the judge once they walk out of the courtroom. But God is much more to us than a judge. He is a father who loves us as his children. He desires our good, and his blessing is on our lives.
It’s very sad oftentimes to hear our society’s views of God. Most people want to believe in God, but they have a hard time grasping his full beauty, and they fall into one of two ruts. Many people view God as a mean ogre who is little more than a condescending judge. Others view him as nothing more than a senile grandpa who has no power or sense of justice.
But God is so much more. He is holy and just. He hates sin. He hates it so much that he sent his Son to the cross to deal with it. But he is also full of love and compassion, and he proved it by sending his Son to die in our place. And so the peace God offers is truly remarkable because it was costly to God. If you are a Christian, you should be in awe and give thanks that you enjoy such a costly peace with God. The second benefit of justification is…
Second Benefit: We have access to grace.
It’s interesting that the term translated “access” is used in other places to describe being in the presence of royalty. If I decided that I needed to talk to the President, and I tried to walk into the Oval Office, I wouldn’t get far. I don’t have that right, but Paul says that the Christian has access to someone far more significant than the President. We have access to God. We have a relationship with the King of kings and Lord of lords.
In particular we have access to grace. This is important because even after we are justified, we still desperately need help. We continue to sin, and we need forgiveness, we also need grace just to believe the promises of God, and we need grace to do battle with sin and pursue godliness. And through Christ, we have at our fingertips all of the grace we could ever need to meet these challenges. It is as if God has given us a limitless credit card of grace.
And this grace is always available because we have unlimited access to God. The grammar indicates that Paul is not talking about a single appointment with our king or even a monthly appointment. No we can approach the throne of grace anytime and receive the grace we need right now.
We ought to praise God today that his grace is always available because we need a lot of grace. The Christian life is hard. There are so many temptations that surround us. The sin nature is powerful and persistent. And all of us sin a lot. We need lots of grace, and praise the Lord that it is always available.
So are you taking advantage of the access to grace that Christ has provided? Do you regularly confess your sins, crying out for mercy? Do you pray like someone who is in desperate battle against sin and who needs God’s help to be victorious? We have an incredible gift at our fingertips, but so often we don’t take advantage of it because we don’t sense our need of grace. Let’s be reminded today of our desperate need for help and of the incredible access we have been given. And let’s seek hard for this grace in prayer.
Third Benefit: We have an eternal hope.
We need to carefully break down this statement down so that we understand what it means. First, what does Paul mean by the “glory of God”? Normally this phrase refers to God’s glory, but Paul can’t be referring to God’s glory because God’s glory is a present reality, not a future hope. Rather, the hope that Paul has in mind is that one-day believers will share in God’s glory when we are fully transformed into the image of Christ. On that day, we will not just be legally righteous before God; we will be practically righteous, and our war with the sin nature will be over.
Paul says this is our “hope.” We fight sin and work hard at godliness because God has promised that one day we will be glorified. I want to emphasize that this is not the kind of hope that may or may not come to fruition, such as when you hope that your team will win a game or that you will get a promotion. No this is a hope that is certain because the character of God stands behind it. All believers will day be made perfect.
Therefore, Paul says we “rejoice” in this hope. That term describes a confident excitement or even a boasting about something you know is going to happen. Think of a bride waking up on her wedding day and screaming, “I’m getting married today!” In the same way, our glorification is coming, and it is something to be excited about. We ought to praise the Lord today that our battle with sin will end, and someday we will worship and serve God with a perfect, undivided heart. What a day that will be!
Verse 2 ends on an incredible high. We rejoice in our coming hope of glorification. But then the passage takes a surprising turn with vv. 3–4. Not only can Christians rejoice in our eternal hope; these verses say…
Fourth Benefit: We can rejoice during trials.
It’s important to see that there is a very tight connection between the last benefit of v. 2 and this benefit because Paul uses the same verb in both statements. Paul’s point is that just like we rejoice or boast confidently in the hope of glorification we also rejoice in trials.
But while the response of joy is the same, the causes couldn’t be more different. Glorification and earthly trials are on vastly different ends of the spectrum, especially if your trials are some of the challenges that Paul faced. So how could Paul say that justification allows us to rejoice in trials? The answer is that because of the grace we receive in justification, trials are no longer merely bad things that make us miserable. Instead, they become a means of grace. Paul first notes that…
Trials produce perseverance.
Another word for perseverance is endurance. The term describes strength to press on despite carrying a great load. Trials and difficulties can certainly feel like a great load. Have you ever felt like life is just crushing you because of the pressures you feel? Sometimes it feels like we are trying to stand in an avalanche as we get hit with one challenge after another, and sadly many unbelievers are crushed by the hardships of life. They lose hope and joy, and they take their anger out on loved ones.
However, trials don’t crush God’s people because we don’t face them alone. Chapter 8 will say that the Holy Spirit is with us through our trials giving us strength; therefore, rather than crushing us, trials make us stronger. The Holy Spirit uses them to develop endurance or strength. Verse 4 continues by noting that …
Perseverance produces character.
This is a picture of something that is proven or tested and because of that you have confidence that it can stand up to pressure, like strong steel that has been tested with high heat. The logic is that the more we overcome trials, the stronger we get and the more victories we win. And every time you win a victory, the more confident you become that you will win the next time.
Therefore, you are faced with a family crisis or cancer, and it looks pretty intimidating. You wonder how will I ever get through this, but then you begin to look back at your life, and you remember how God has sustained you through past trials. And because you have overcome in the past, you know that God is sufficient and that by his grace you have the character to overcome again. Finally Paul pulls this chain together by saying that …
Character inspires hope.
Remember that hope in context is hope of glorification. So how do trials produce hope? The answer is that when a believer faces a trial and overcomes, it shows that God’s grace is alive in him, sustaining and strengthening him, because there is no other explanation for how instead of being crushed by the trial we became stronger.
How does that give hope? Well, the fact is that we don’t really know what trials and temptations are ahead of us. You don’t know when a health crisis may strike your family or when Satan will assault your faith. And we may fear that something will come along which will derail our faith and cause us to turn from Christ.
I know we doubt ourselves based on how people respond to discussions of perseverance. The NT clearly teaches that all true Christians will continue in right doctrine and godly living and that if they don’t, they were never truly saved. But just about any time I’ve been involved in a conversation about this doctrine, someone will push back that if we have to persevere, we can never know that we are saved. We just don’t trust ourselves.
But praise the Lord that our faith is not in ourselves. Christ will keep his children. And if you have been a Christian for anytime at all, you can look back and see him keeping you through the trials you have endured. You can remember a time when something very hard came up in your family. Your heart was hurting, and it seemed as if God was not being fair. You were tempted to question the goodness of God or even his very existence. But you made it. You experienced tremendous grace, and God held your faith fast. The truth of God moved beyond a story in an ancient book to your experience. You experienced grace. As a result, you can boast or rejoice in a trial even though it was really bad because it allowed you to experience the power of God and to take another step toward glory.
Maybe you are in the fire today. It feels like the world is crashing in on you and your faith is hanging by a frayed thread. Remember the promises of God. If you are justified, your trial is not without purpose or hope. God will be faithful and so rejoice in how God is moving your toward glory even through the heartache you feel.
And don’t let yourself get so focused on getting out of the trial that you miss God’s manifestations of grace in your endurance. Rather, remember how God has strengthened you in the past and rejoice that he will do so again, and then watch him work. And once you have endured, don’t forget to look back and see what God did and to glory in the grace you received.
We can rejoice in trials. This is an awesome benefit of our salvation. Praise God for the incredible grace that is ours. Verse 5 mentions a fifth benefit.
Fifth Benefit: We enjoy the witness of the Spirit.
Paul opens this verse by saying that the great hope he mentioned in v. 4 will not be met with disappointment. The idea is that it will not be brought to shame from not being fulfilled. Have you ever boasted about something that ended up not happening? Sports fans do this all of the time. I am a Bears fan, and when I lived in Detroit, the kids in my youth group would talk big every time the Bears and Lions were getting ready to play about how the Lions were going to crush the Bears. But most of the time the Bears would win, and they would walk into church Sunday night with their tale between their legs. You could say that their boasting was brought to shame because they placed their confidence in the Lions, but the Lions did not come through.
Paul just said that as Christians we boast confidently in our future glorification. We build our whole lives on this hope and make all sorts of sacrifices because of it. But how do we know that our hope will not be brought to shame? The answer is that the “love…”
Explanation: Paul’s point in context is not that the Holy Spirit gives us the love of God; instead he causes us to know and believe that God loves us and to feel that love.
God has not left us on our own to believe what he has said and that’s a good thing because we would never believe on our own. But the same Spirit who creates saving faith continues to strengthen our faith that God’s promises are true and that they apply to us.
This does not mean that a believer can’t experience doubt. When we don’t feed on the Word and obey the Word, we are likely to doubt. But when we come to God’s Word with a hungry heart, the Spirit will cause us to sense God’s love. This focus on the Word is important. A lot of people who struggle with doubt do so because rather than focusing on the Word, they focus on how they feel. Maybe they are even looking to feel this ministry of the Spirit. But when we do that, we are essentially challenging God to prove himself to us, and God doesn’t take challenges. Rather, he honors submission. Just read the Bible believing it is true, and the Spirit will honor your submission by strengthening your faith that God loves you.
Finally notice that this ministry of the Spirit is not merely a whisper. Paul says that the Spirit’s desire is to cause the love of God to be poured out in our hearts.” The idea behind “poured out” is the idea of overflowing. Think of a dam, like the Oroville Dam, that is barely holding back a massive amount of water. When the dam breaks, it pours out immense volumes of water.
Folks, God’s love is just as mighty, but sometimes we don’t appreciate that. Sometimes we question his love and the goodness of his will. And if left to ourselves, we would not believe. But God has not left us alone. The Spirit is sustaining our faith. Praise the Lord for his incredible grace!
We’ve seen from this passage that God has blessed his people with some incredible blessings of justification, and we need to thank him for his amazing benefits. If you are a Christian, once you were under wrath, but now you enjoy peace and constant access to grace and someday you will be made perfect and enjoy all of the glories of God in heaven. And how we long for that day, but the blessings of eternity have also broken into our lives right now. God gives grace through trials, and he strengthens our faith through all the ups and downs of life. Let’s be encouraged today, and let’s rejoice in the goodness of God.
Finally, there may be someone here who has never experienced this grace. The good news of the gospel is truly good. I pray that you will come to Christ today and cast yourself on his mercy. Do not leave today without making sure that your sins are forgiven and that the incredible blessings of the gospel are yours for now and for all eternity.