It is time for a new step in the explanation of the gospel. Paul has brought his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith to its conclusion, and he now wishes to consider the next stages of the gospel salvation. And we should understand that the gospel is not yet complete. There is a tendency at times among us to think of the gospel as synonymous with the doctrine of justification, but this is an error, and a rather harmful one as well. As foundational and important as the doctrine of justification is, it is not the whole of the gospel; it is but the first part. In fact, one important part of Paul’s desire in the book of Romans is to broaden our view to see just how large and great is the whole scope of the true gospel of God. He wishes to help us see the gospel message as the biggest and greatest truth possible. It is a message so big that it deals with the whole created universe, every single part without exception. We will see this by the time we are done with our study, and I hope that you will have a greater appreciation for just how large the truth of the gospel really is. Moving beyond the first step of justification, Paul now wishes to deal with the glorious truths of the experience of the man who has received justification through a true faith in God.
Though in these first 11 verses of chapter 5 we can and will see various particular things named as the blessings and fruits of justification, there really is one main focus among those various particulars. Paul introduces us immediately to the most foundational and central point of importance about the matter:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:1)
We see that Paul is making the explicit transition from justification to the accompanying realities. We have now been justified, and what is the result of this truth? What follows? The first and great result of this justification is that now we have peace with God through Christ.
As Paul transitions to his new focus upon the results of justification, he will make many connections with what he has already said. This first emphasis upon peace with God is perfectly suited to help us understand the large picture of the gospel truth that has already been explained. Paul’s first point of all in explaining the gospel was that God’s wrath was revealed against the sin of man. We were under the awful wrath and anger of God. Now, however, the fundamental change that has taken place is that we have been brought out from under God’s wrath and we instead have peace with Him.
We need to learn to think the way Paul does, recognizing that the fundamental and defining point of life is the nature of our relationship with God. If we are under His wrath, there is no hope or blessing or anything good at all for us. On the other hand, if God is not angry with us but looks favorably upon us, then this will determine all else in life for the good. This is the fundamental question to be answered in all of eternity for each man: Is God pleased with me? If He is not pleased with me, but angry, what else matters? If He is pleased with me, again, what else matters?
The new position of the justified man is that of peace with God. Paul also describes it as having obtained an entrance into grace. We now have a new boast, he says. What is that boast? The answer to that question brings us to what is probably the central concept of this and the following chapters: Hope. Hope of what? Hope of the glory of God:
We boast upon hope of the glory of God. (5:2)
This great concept will be the central focus of all that Paul wishes us to understand from this point on through the end of chapter 8, where the second major thrust of the gospel explanation is concluded. Much will be said in explanation and application of this fact. And it is not a new concept to our ears and minds, either, for it likewise has already been introduced to us. Do you remember how Paul has asserted to us that all men, having sinned, are lacking of the glory of God (3:23)? What does he mean there (and here) by this idea of the glory of God?
Remembering how the Bible teaches us that we were created in the image of God will be a large help to us in understanding this language. We were meant to represent His image of holiness and righteousness and goodness upon this earth. Our sinfulness, though, is the direct contradiction of this intended purpose. Having sinned, and continuing as sinners, how can we possibly demonstrate God’s glory to all creation?
And we must remember that we are not talking only about one momentary act of sin that we have committed, for the picture is more dire than that. We have been in rebellion against God, and the result of that was such as to govern the whole of the nature of our lives: God has given us over to corrupt minds and hearts. We now live in depravity. We have exchanged the glory of God for a lie, and the fruit of that has been a vain and empty existence devoid of God’s glory. Our hearts and minds have become controlled by empty, wicked, corrupt perversions. Such has been our hopeless condition in life: Guilty and corrupt in perversion, with God’s anger upon us.
Thus far, Paul has really only dealt with the solution to the first of these aspects of our problem, our guilt before God. He has been concerned to convince us that all men are guilty, and we now see that there has been a provision of a sacrifice to atone for that guilt. This makes possible the removal of God’s wrath from upon us. But what about our corruption and perversion? What is to be done about this second and terrible fate? Any “gospel” that does not provide a remedy for this part of our condition would be fool’s gold indeed. What good is forgiveness of the guilt of our sin if we continue trapped in a perpetual corruption of heart and life?
Far too often today we think of a gospel that is limited in this way. We hear promises about forgiveness without much emphasis upon transformation of heart and life. Why would this appeal to us so much? The sad truth is that such a gospel message appeals only to the man whose heart loves sin rather than hates it. If a man comes to despise the wickedness that controls his life, he will be longing not only for a promise of forgiveness of guilt, but also for a way to be rescued out of the snare of sin that enslaves him. What do our hearts really feel about sin after all?
Paul will not leave us with an empty gospel that does not bring a full salvation to us. He now comes to the second major part of the gospel truth, the solution to the problem of our corrupted condition. These first 11 verses of chapter 5 give us the basic answer and solution to this problem, and the next two and a half chapters will continue to deal with this same focus.
We have already mentioned the keyword by which Paul is going to explain to us this remaining portion of our salvation in the true gospel of Jesus Christ:
We boast upon hope of the glory of God. (5:2)
Though we have lost the glory of God that was given us when He so graciously created us in His own very image, we now have hope of that glory’s being restored to us once again. When we were estranged from God and He was angry at us, what hope could ever be ours of recovering that glory? But now that our Creator is once again on our side, there is no reason why He cannot again form in us that glorious image. This is our new hope, based upon a restored relationship with God our Maker. It is God’s righteousness, God’s glory, God’s image that we so desperately need. Only He can grant it to us, but as we are now reconciled to Him, this is not outside of our hope.
Paul will now tell us more about this hope. First, he instructs us briefly in the fact that there is a process that we must undergo before we can find this hope fulfilled in our lives:
We boast in the tribulations, knowing that the tribulations accomplish steadfastness, but the steadfastness, proof, but the proof, hope. (5:3-4)
This is a fact that Paul will emphasize more explicitly later, but we already see in seed form here that the hope is not immediately granted to us in its fulfillment. There is much to go through still before we have that hope in our hands as fully realized. Tribulations must be endured; this will teach us how to carry on in faithful steadfastness; we will be tested and proven as true and faithful; this will engender hope and confidence in us.
Three times the concept of boasting is named in these 11 verses (v. 2, 3, 11). This also is a theme that we have encountered before. We have been instructed that we have no boast to make in our works and righteousness; our only hope is to boast in the righteousness that God grants us through Jesus Christ by faith.
Here in these verses, the teaching concerning our boasting is both the same and yet different. Previously, our boast in our righteousness was proven to be an empty one because it was found that no man could possibly uphold righteousness in his life by his efforts and works. We were taught that grace had excluded all boasting as impossible.
Here, however, we are taught to boast properly. It is a boasting that rests upon a hope that we will indeed be able to live righteously as befits one created to reflect the very image and glory of God. The situation is now quite different. Paul before treated us as hopelessly unable to do this, but he now speaks and thinks in a very different way. He even speaks of the process of enduring these trials as giving us a proof that we are indeed able to work righteousness and a confident hope, then, concerning that which is ahead of us to come.
And yet, this confidence and boasting, so very vitally, is a boasting and hope in God and will clearly be seen not to be a boasting upon ourselves. Rather, what we have here is a brief introduction of a glorious truth that we have not yet seen or heard in these chapters, but that will be vital and absolutely central to the further development of this argument before we reach the conclusion of it:
Hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us. (5:5)
This statement is an absolute necessity for right thinking about these matters. How can we have a hope that is not a foolish dream, certain to be proven false? Why does hope not disappoint us and leave us empty and abandoned? Because God has come into our lives and filled our inner hearts with His love through His Holy Spirit. This changes everything. The story is no longer the same. We are not left to our own depraved minds and hearts any longer. We have been given the very Spirit of God Himself within us.
Though this concept of God’s Spirit within us will be explicitly developed at length at later stages of the argument, it is not hard even at this point to see the connection between it and the following vitally important verses:
For yet Christ, we being yet week, according to the season died for the ungodly. For hardly on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die. But on behalf of a good man, someone might even dare to die. But God commends His own love unto us that yet we being sinners, Christ died for us. How much more, then, having been justified now in His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath. For if enemies being, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved in His life. But not only this, but rather also boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom now the reconciliation we received. (5:6-11)
So many wonderful and important points of truth are here declared to us. First, the newfound hope of ability to attain to the glory of God is contrasted with our former weak condition. Christ died for us at a time when we were hopeless, enemies of God, completely unable to accomplish anything good at all towards our salvation. Such was our condition, and thus the measure of His love for us is seen.
At that previous time of weakness and hopelessness, Christ died for us and won for us a glorious reconciliation to God. This is already ours, Paul emphasizes. However, not only is a present reconciliation ours to treasure, but this has much to say about what more we might confidently expect to receive from God. We have been justified, and we will be saved from the wrath, Paul says. This must mean the wrath that is to come on judgment day. When the day of judgment arrives and God judges all men according to their deeds, we will not be subjected to the great wrath of God that lasts for all eternity in torment and perdition.
As a passing note, it would not hurt us to recognize how Paul uses here the language of “salvation.” He states that we have been justified (past) and that we will be saved (future). This should cause us to broaden our way of thinking concerning salvation. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that it is improper to speak of the past justification as salvation simply because Paul here uses the term “save” as a future event distinct from the past justification. I do strongly suggest, though, that our way of thinking about salvation had better include the way Paul speaks of it here. Far too often “salvation” means for us only the first part, justification. This would be but a part of the gospel and but a part of salvation. Too often the “gospel” becomes synonymous with justification. And this is too often reflected also in our way of thinking about the book of Romans. It would do us well to see that Paul knows we need salvation beyond only justification, as important as that is itself.
The next way that Paul describes our hope of more grace to come, our final point in this section, is very worthy of our notice because of how central this language will soon become. Paul says that we were reconciled to God through the death of Christ and that we will be saved in His life. This analysis of the two-step process of redemption in Christ is extremely helpful in understanding the gospel of salvation as Paul explains it in Romans. It is a simple and yet so profound pattern: Death and then life. We know that the natural way of thinking is the opposite, life and then death, but Paul understands things much more profoundly with spiritual insight.
The death of Christ wrought much for us. It was the focus of the first major section of the gospel in Romans. His death provided reconciliation to God and appeasement of His wrath against us; we are justified by His blood.
But after the death of Christ was the magnificent truth of His resurrection. This fact of the resurrection must never be overlooked or underappreciated. It is of foundational importance to the gospel. What meaning does it have for us, then? We could measure our understanding of the gospel in part by comparing our appreciation of Christ’s death with our appreciation of His resurrection. Which do we think more important? Which do we talk about and think about and emphasize more? Which do we understand better? If I were to ask you why Christ died, how much would you be able to tell me about that question? If I were to ask you why Christ arose, how would your answer compare?
For Paul, the resurrection is a part that is equal and parallel to the death of Christ in prominence and importance. Yes, the death comes first. But the resurrection follows surely. Neither one would be a full gospel on its own.
Paul has not yet fully laid before us the significance of this life of Christ that followed His death, but he soon will. At this point, though, he is telling us already the main point: The resurrection of Christ serves as the basis of our hope of attaining to the glory of God. His death brings us reconciliation with God; His resurrection and life bring us hope of salvation to come.
Do you remember the summary of the gospel message that Paul gave us way back in chapter 1, verses 16-17, before the beginning of his explanation of the gospel? An important truth was imbedded in that summary that may or may not have been appreciated very fully by us at first. We are today very accustomed to appreciating the importance of justification by faith, which served as one of the main parts of that gospel summary, but there is another key point that is equally important. Paul told us from the start that “the righteous one from faith will live” (1:17). We are now ready to hear Paul’s explanation of the rich meaning of what it is to live in Christ. Being justified is so very necessary indeed, but is there a greater and richer promise in God’s word than the promise of life itself? Paul is about to open before our minds great and glorious truths about the nature of spiritual life, real life, eternal life to the full. This is life in Christ. We will find life in His life, and it will be true life indeed.