The Joy of Reconciliation
Preached Sunday morning, October 31, 2004
New York Avenue Church of Christ
As we go through Romans, we moved last week into a description of the justification Christians have through faith in Christ. Here in chapter 5, we see the richness of the blessings that come with being justified by God. The section we’ll be looking at today encompasses nearly all the main themes we see in Romans: God, love, Jesus Christ, shame, righteousness, faith, justification, grace, reconciliation, peace, hope, joy, glory.
Most of those themes come up in the first five verses, where we see the overwhelming benefits that come through justification by faith. In a sense, justification is the working of God’s grace in the past—at the moment of our conversion. And from that point of past salvation flows a full measure of blessings in the present and future. We’ll look at five.
First of all, we have peace. In this context peace doesn’t necessarily mean some sort of inner feeling of calm. No, the peace Paul is talking about here is one we may not particularly feel as an emotional sensation, but it is the source of the greatest joy we can have. The peace in Rom. 5:1 is the peace that comes when persons are at peace with one another—in this case Christians and Almighty God. If we have been justified through Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God. That is a wonderful condition to be in, because it means we are at peace because of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because of our good deeds. When we are at peace with God we don’t have to continually “renegotiate” our salvation with God (1). Jesus paid it all.
Along with peace, through faith we have access to God’s grace. I don’t know about you, but the idea of access is one that has always appealed to me. When I first went to work at K-25, I came as a temporary, contract employee. Every day I had to go to the guard shack and get a temporary badge. I remember how excited I was to get my own badge with my picture on it, and even more excited later when I got a different colored badge that allowed me to go into more places at the plant. I like the access that comes with being a police chaplain—being where the action is. Some police officers in East Tennessee get the penultimate access this time of year—of getting in free to UT football games. As exciting as those kinds of access are, however, they are nothing compared to the access Christians already have with God. Paul told the Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus...” (Eph. 2:4-6). Sitting down, resting in heavenly places—now that’s the ultimate access.
With that access comes its fruits—joy, hope, glory. Paul says “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” We naturally like all these things. But did you notice something about glory here? It’s not our glory; it’s God’s. Most of us are used to hoping for some kind of glory, however small it may be. But in our success-oriented society, what we mean by glory is usually the personal kind. One commentator has pointed out that “Personal glory is common currency in our society. Everybody seeks it” (2). The American Dream is built on the hope of personal glory, whatever form it takes—whether it’s money, power, fame, or even conspicuous service in the church. However ambitious or unambitious we may be, we’re at home with the idea of personal glory. But this idea of God’s glory is something new, something we’re not comfortable with (3). God’s glory is as far beyond personal glory as light is beyond darkness. And the promise we have is that we will, somehow, some day, share in that glory through God’s grace (1 John 3:2). If justification through Jesus is the working of salvation in our lives in the past, God’s glory is the working of salvation in the future (4). And if we remember that any glory worth having comes from God, there is no room in our lives for arrogance or pride.
In addition to the joy in what’s coming at the end of time, Christians are called to rejoice in what may be coming in this life—suffering. Why should we rejoice in suffering? As we see here, for Christians suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. And biblical hope is much more than we usually mean when we talk about hope. It’s not wishing; it’s assurance. Hope is like a bowl of chicken soup in a dark room. Human hope is coming up with a spoon full of broth and wishing that maybe we’ll find meat at the bottom of the bowl. Christian hope is feeling the spoon come up heavy with big chunks of meat. We shouldn’t be surprised that even with the many gifts of God to the justified, we will still suffer for Christ. Our peace is with God, not the world. The world hated Jesus, and if we live Christian lives the world will hate us. In suffering on earth, we share in the character of Christ. And we also share in his hope—eternal life, infinite glory, boundless joy in the presence of the Father.
That hope, you notice, does not put us to shame. Shame is the opposite of boasting, and boasting is a theme in Romans. When we are justified in Christ, we have no more shame for our past sins. That’s a wonderful place to be. As a young Christian I spent a lot of time remembering with shame my past sins. From time to time I still feel stabbings of shame for those sins. Yet in Christ we are called to hope, not shame. We are being sanctified, made holy—that’s the working of salvation in the present (5). We now have something to boast about, but nothing of ourselves, as Paul told the Corinthians: “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).
Paul mentions one more benefit of justification here, perhaps the most exciting of all: the love of God poured into our hearts. That pouring of God’s love directly into our hearts describes a vital relationship between God and us. "This is not a matter of following carefully defined oughts...but of being inwardly connected in such a way that we allow ourselves to be loved the more we are free to ride the flow" (6). As we’ve seen, God’s love for us is not based on our doing anything to earn it, but on God’s love. It’s hard to allow ourselves to be loved for no reason—we want to be loved because we’re smart or pretty or talented or friendly, because we think we deserve it. But that’s not how God loves us. He just pours the love on, pours the love in. Which takes us to the next section.
In verses 6-11 we see something about the nature of God’s love for us. Christ died for the weak, the ungodly. The first three chapters of Romans demolish any idea that anyone is qualified through merit to receive God’s love and blessings (7). No, we are justified through faith by grace, an unmerited gift of the love of God. Here we see a bit of the depths of what that love involves.
Most importantly, Christians are reconciled to God by the death of his son. There is no other way to heaven than through faith in Jesus Christ. “Christ died for us.” Those words say so much. Jesus is the way. I read recently that some members of a mainline denomination have introduced pagan goddess worship under the guise of women’s ministries (8). As we think happy thoughts about joy and hope, and love, let’s be absolutely clear about something. There is no other name by which we may be saved than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). The blood of Jesus somehow justifies us and, amazingly, his bloody sacrifice is an expression of God’s love. As someone once said, "God's love is soaked in Jesus' blood" (9).
But let’s remember that while we are justified through Jesus’ death, we are saved through his life. We seem to forget this at times when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper with a death-oriented solemnity. Yes, the gospel is about death. But let’s remember that the Gospel is even more about life—of a righteous savior who triumphed over the grave so that we might have life with him. Our faith is centered around not only a blood cross, but an empty tomb. In our worship, let’s not try to leave Jesus on the cross. He has ascended to heaven and goes to prepare a place for us with him (John 14:3).
To go a little beyond our study passage, Romans 5 closes with the reign of God’s grace (5:21ff). That reign is all about life, as opposed to sin and death. In the idea of “reign” we have a good picture of the kingdom of heaven—not a place as much as a rule, a sphere in which we are under the protection and care of God. It also implies a new citizenship, a new way of seeing ourselves in terms of God and the world. Paul will develop that idea further in chapter 12.
Notice also the use of the word “gift” or “free gift” in this chapter. Paul uses that word four times here. Justification and righteousness before God are free gifts, something we have not and cannot earn. That idea is threatening to some part of us. We would prefer to earn our salvation—that’s much better for our egos. But it’s absolutely deadly to our souls. The free gift of God’s grace is the only path to eternal life.
So we see in chapter 5 that God’s grace is expressed in relationship with Christians. In the past his grace was manifested when we were justified with God through Jesus Christ. In the present, we are sanctified through the Holy Spirit. In the future, we will be gloried to share in the joy of heaven (10). The most basic elements of the Christian faith, it seems, come down to relationship: love, wrath, reptenance, compassion, forgiveness, grace, hope (11). Through the grace of the God who wants us to be in relation with him, we have peace, access, and God’s love poured directly into our hearts.
We live in a relationship-poor culture. For decades the forces of the marketplace have been relentlessly persuading us to value having things more than building relationships. This attitude has invaded every aspect of our lives. In the Presidential campaign, many Americans seem to view the election as little more than a choice of which candidate will put the most money in their pockets. Even in the church, some Christians seem to view the local congregation as a commodity to be sought—which one will give me the best music, the best recreational facilities, the prettiest building. I know I’m guilty of this “having” mindset, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So what do we do? How do we move from a having to a relating heart?
The answer is found in the grace of God, which can purify the most corrupted heart. When God’s love is poured into our hearts, he is showing us the real meaning of peace, love, joy. His love shows us what it really means to be alive, to be loved.
1. William Loader. "First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary." Online exposition at wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au.
2. James Squire. "Glory, Revised." Online textual analysis at www.crossings.org.
4. Thomas Constable. Dr. Constable's Notes on Romans. Online commentary at www.soniclight.com: p. 53.
5. Constable, 51-53
8. Ted Olsen. “Episcopal Church Officially Promotes Idol Worship.” Christianity Today online, 25 Oct. 2004 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/143/21.0.html.
9. Ronald Goetz. "Jesus Loves Everybody." Christian Century, 11 Mar 1992, pp. 274-77. Online copy at www.religion-online.org.
10. Constable, 53-54
11. John Douglas Hall, Douglas John. "Faith: Response in Relationship." Online sermon text at www.pulpit.org.
Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ