The Blessings of Justification

Scripture Readings: Psalm 25:1-5; Romans 5:1-11 (text)
By Rev. Nollie Malabuyo • November 14, 2010

Introduction

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

Today, we begin a mini-series on Romans Chapters 5-8. Why these three chapters? As we shall see later in the series, Chapter 5 has several parallels with Chapter 8.

In only a little over a month, the whole world will celebrate Christmas, and for most people, it means nothing more than merrymaking and gift-giving. For Christians, we remember that first Christmas night when Jesus was born into the world to save his people from sin. We remember the story of the shepherds watching their flock in the field, and the angels appearing to them announcing the birth of a long-awaited Redeemer, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

What peace on earth? The end of wars? Peace between individuals? Inner peace derived from yoga meditation? Paul speaks more about this peace in our text.

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He speaks of peace as one of the blessings of a believer’s justification before God. In the opening chapters of Romans, 1-4, Paul explains a sinner’s standing under the judgment and wrath of God, but how Christ’s perfect life on earth, his death and his resurrection provided the ground for a sinner to escape God’s wrath. It is only by faith in Christ alone that a sinner is declared righteous—“Not guilty!”—before God’s holy court of law. Then in Chapters 6-7, Paul explains how this faith works out in the sanctified life of a justified believer.

In these verses, Paul explains the many benefits or blessings a sinner receives as a result of this right standing before a holy God. Many scholars have proposed several main themes of verses 5-11: peace and reconciliation with God, freedom from God’s wrath, hope in God’s glory, the love God has for us, and joy in suffering. All of these benefits are mentioned by Paul, but they are only “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” a constantly repeating theme in this epistle (Romans 5:1, 11, 21; 6:23; 7:25; 8:39; 15:30). We will consider each one of these blessings in three sections: (1) Peace and Reconciliation with God; (2) Joy and Endurance in Suffering; and (3) Hope of God’s Glory.

Peace and Reconciliation with God

Paul writes in verse 1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “therefore” means that everything he will now be explaining is in view of all the things he wrote earlier in the first four chapters—how “none is righteous… no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:10-11); how it is that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Rom 3:20); and how Christ’s righteousness “is counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25).

What Justification Is

What does Paul mean by “justification”? Like many theological terms, justification is a big word, and sadly, a word that many Christians do not know, much less understand. Thomas Boston, an early 18th century Scottish minister, clearly defines justification as “a discharging [of a person] from guilt, and declaring or pronouncing him righteous… the bringing him out of the state of condemnation, and setting him beyond the reach of the law, as a righteous person.” Who declares the person righteous? It is God in his heavenly court.

What is God’s basis for declaring a person righteous before him? Is it because of his own good deeds? No, this is impossible, because all our good works are considered by God as filthy, stinking rags. The only ground by which God declares a person righteous is the perfect righteousness of Christ, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). How then is a person justified by Christ’s righteousness? It is by faith in Christ alone that he is justified by God, because by this faith, he is united to Christ. In this union, we are crucified with him (Gal 2:20), we were buried with him (Rom 6:4), and we are resurrected with him (Rom 6:4; Eph 2:5). In addition to this union with Christ in his death and resurrection, even Christ’s righteousness actually becomes our righteousness as well. This is why Martin Luther calls our righteousness as an “alien righteousness.” It is not ours, but Christ’s, only by imputation, by counting it to our account.

Justification then is a judgment handed down by God in his heavenly court that a sinner is acquitted and pardoned of his sin, and is therefore righteous. We know this from the legal language used even in the Old Testament, a judge’s responsibility is “acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty” (Deut 25:1), and “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Prov 17:15). This is why Paul uses the same legal language in assuring us that no one can condemn us because of Christ, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8.33-34).

This justification has been completed and Christians now enjoy its blessings as a result.

The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio by Michaelangelo

The Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio by Michaelangelo

Peace with God

The first blessing is peace with God. Why does he say we now have peace with God? It is because we were enemies of God when we were formerly unrepentant sinners, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (verse 10). We used to be “alienated and hostile in mind” towards God (Col 1:21). And God used to be hostile against us, ready to pour out his holy wrath on us if we continued in our rebellion and disobedience. This is absolutely contrary to a different gospel we commonly hear today when preachers declare to unrepentant sinners, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” On the contrary, God says to the unrighteous, “God hates you and has a terrible plan for your life if you don’t repent and believe!”

This is the peace that the angels announced to the shepherds on that first Christmas night. It is the same peace that we love to sing about at Christmas time, “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” The war between God and the sinner ends when God pours out his Spirit on the sinner’s heart, so that the sinner receives the gift of faith in Christ, the only Mediator between God and the sinner.

Paul also says that this reconciliation is meant to make you holy before God, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col 1:22). Christ did not mediate peace between you and God just to give you peace of mind, but to sanctify you into his image, holy and blameless before God. You are not to sit complacently and think that since you have been justified, there is nothing else to do. On the contrary, you are to strive for a life of holiness and to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).

As well, justification results not only in peace with God, but also in gaining access to the grace God has given to us. The body of Christ broken for us served as the curtain between God and the sinner from the Most Holy Place. But instead of being the veil of separation, Christ is now the entrance into God’s throne of grace. We now have confidence to enter into God’s grace “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). This was signified by the tearing of the veil of the Temple when Jesus died on the cross (Matt 27:51). Now Jesus is in heaven sitting at God’s right hand, mediating for us, in order that we can come boldly into God’s throne of grace in our times of need. This access to grace gives us confidence that God pardons us of our sins, that he accepts our repentance, and that he hears our thanksgiving and petitions when we pray.

When Paul thinks about these great gifts of peace with God and access to God’s grace, he cannot help but to rejoice, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (verse 2).

Joy and Endurance in Suffering

Our justification not only enables us, through the Spirit, to live holy and blameless lives before God today, but also gives us hope of our final victory over Satan, sin and death when Christ returns in all his glory. Two thousand years ago, Christ completed his work of saving his people from sin on the cross. Today, he continues his work in us through his Word and Spirit in the church. Later, in Romans 8:17-30, Paul explains that not only mankind will be restored into full communion with God, but that the whole creation will be fully redeemed, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Future glory awaits you on the day of Christ!

This future glory gives us joy, endurance and hope in our present sufferings, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (verses 2-4). All the links of this chain—sufferings, endurance, character, hope, joy—are the benefits we receive from our justification through our Lord. For us believers, the end result of our sufferings is joy!

Peter and James also used this chain linking in encouraging Christians in their sufferings. Peter says that various trials lead to strengthening of faith which then result in the receiving of praise, glory and honor (1 Pet 1:6-7). Similarly, James says trials lead to strong faith, producing steadfastness, which will be perfected and completed when Christ returns, a glorious outcome of sufferings (Jas 1:2-4).

The recurrent theme of Jesus and all of the New Testament apostles is that Christians will always suffer persecution, trials, temptations and martyrdom until the Lord returns. Indeed, God foretold in Genesis 3:15 that beginning with the fall of Adam into sin, Satan and his people will always assault the kingdom of God, attempting to destroy God’s church. So much for prosperity gospel preachers.

But make no mistake about it: suffering is not a good thing. All suffering is the result of sin in this world brought upon mankind by Adam’s fall into sin. Whether we caused them or others brought them down on us, sufferings are the result of sin. But God uses sufferings—in fact all things—for the good of his chosen ones who love him (Rom 8:28). This “working out” by God according to his gracious purpose is why you as believers persevere and endure through all the sufferings and afflictions that come to you.

The result of endurance is “character.” This word is related to someone being tried and tested by hardship, like a soldier who had been through many battles, or an athlete who had competed in many games. A Christian who has endured much suffering becomes more and more battle-tested, ready to endure even more severe trials and temptations. Unlike the prosperity gospel of “your best life now,” Paul’s gospel promises hardship and suffering. But he also promises you hope of God’s glory.

St. Paul Rescued from the Multitude (Acts 21:34-35) by Gustave Doré (1832-83)

St. Paul Rescued from the Multitude (Acts 21:34-35) by Gustave Doré (1832-83)

Hope of God’s Glory

Going back to verse 2, Paul says that he rejoices in the hope of God’s glory. Again going forward to Romans 8, Paul compares our sufferings today with the glory that awaits us, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). This hope and goal of our lives produce endurance and character even in our sufferings, because “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24).

David prayed that God would not let him be put to shame by his enemies because of his troubles and afflictions (Psa 25:2, 20). Like David, Paul says that this hope in God “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” When we suffer, other people see us. They see us depraved of financial and material needs when we lose our jobs. They see us despair when our marriage relationship is on the rocks. They see us groaning when our precious son or daughter rebel and fall into drugs, sex and alcohol. They see us in terrible pain when we or our loved ones waste away physically due to a terminal sickness. All these things might put us to shame, so we hide our pain from others. Others, like Job’s friends, might even blame us because of sin in our lives or lack of faith.

But Paul says that our hope of a glorious future in Christ must not disappoint us or put us to shame. Instead, we are to rejoice, and even boast with confidence, in our afflictions. This is because God pours out his love on our hearts through the Holy Spirit who indwells us. This love of God for us enables us to love him. This pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people was already promised in the Old Testament (Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34). On that Pentecost Sunday, only several days after Christ ascended into heaven, God poured out his Spirit on 3,000 people. And God is true to his Word as he continues to do so today, all over the world, whenever a person repents and believes in Christ through the preaching of the true gospel.

How does God show this love for his people?

Paul tells us how in verses 6-8. God’s love for his people is unfathomable in that while we were still ungodly sinners and enemies of God, God sent his only-begotten Son to die for us. The apostle compares a person’s love for another and his love for his chosen ones.

In the movies, we watch many heroes. Soldiers die for their country. Someone dies trying to save his friend from drowning in the river. In 1981, a Secret Service agent shielded President Reagan from an assassin, getting shot in the process, but saving the President’s life. During last year’s big typhoons, there were many stories of people heroically saving many others from certain death, only to die while doing their great work of saving others.

These are certainly noble acts. But Paul says that even these heroic sacrifices could not compare with the saving death of Christ on the cross. He died for wicked sinners like you and me. He did not wait for us to turn into good people, or saved only those who do good things to others. No, he died a most cruel death on the cross to save us who were still ungodly and unrighteous—whose good works are as filthy rags—in his sight. What amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretched person like me! What’s remarkable in his sacrifice is that he died for his enemies. A soldier or any other person would usually be willing to die for a friend, even a morally upright person who does good deeds, but not for an enemy. Christ died for bad people, people who do not know him, people who are wretched sinners, people who are “such a worm as I.”

Christ as our Substitute willingly sacrificed his body and blood on the cruel cross “for the ungodly” and “for us.” By dying on the cross, he gave God the basis for declaring the sinner a saint, the ungodly righteous, the guilty acquitted in God’s highest court of justice. By his broken body and shed blood, he saved us and turned God’s wrath away from us. So instead of us being sent to hell for eternity, Christ suffered the pangs of hell all throughout his life, but especially on the cursed death on the cross. This is what we affirm when we say together in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell.”

Conclusion

This is the good news today as you come to the Lord’s Table. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, you are at peace and reconciled with God because you have been justified by God when you repented of your rebellion and believed in Christ alone.

This peace and reconciliation was given to you by God because of his love for you As a result, you have joy and endurance even in your present sufferings and afflictions. God pours out his love upon you through the Holy Spirit.

And your perseverance results in the hope for a future glory in God that Christ has promised to you. He will finally complete your salvation from sin, death and the wrath of God when Christ returns to take you to your glorious heavenly home.

So our Lord invites you to come to his Table. Take, eat and drink, for the body and blood of our Lord was broken and shed for you so you may have peace and reconciliation with God. You who have professed faith in Christ alone have gained access to this holy sacrament.

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