Life from death
Paul said in chapter three that there is ‘none righteous, no not one!’ The human race is headed for God’s wrath. The picture is bleak. But God has delayed his wrath and in the meantime offers a solution. Faith in God is the solution, faith in his ability to credit our account with the righteousness that we lack. That’s the message of chapter 4. In this 5th chapter we discover that having exercised faith in God there are more beneficial consequences for us.
- Future glory, present glory
Paul links this chapter back to chapter 3 in which he explained that we are ‘justified through faith.’ In our sinful state we are under God’s wrath, but this all changes when we put our faith in God. Having exercised faith, righteousness is imputed, and we are no longer under God’s wrath. That’s good, but there is much more to it than that! Paul says that ‘since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God.’ We were once enemies with God – just as Adam through sin hid from God, so we too in our sinful state are not at peace with God, but this all changes. By faith, God becomes our father rather than our judge.
Faith is like a key that gives us access to God’s grace. Some people have said that God gives faith by grace: they suggest that God dishes out faith to just a select few, unless you are one of the few lucky ones you are toast! But Paul does not say that God gives faith by grace, he says that ‘we have gained access by faith into this grace.’ Faith is the key to God’s grace. Can anyone exercise faith in God? Absolutely! In the closing paragraph of the book of Revelation the Sprit and the Bride say the following ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’ Faith can be exercised by anyone who wishes. I had a brief conversation with a colleague of mine the other day, I remarked that the biological system he had been describing in a mathematical model was so exquisitely balanced and complex that it suggested very strongly that it is a product of design. He was having none of it, he couldn’t accept that there was a creator and kept on saying that the origin of a creator was a bigger problem than the origin of biological systems. Sadly my colleague wouldn’t countenance the possibility of God and thus could never have faith in a God he did not believe existed. But this is the only way, and it seems to me that the creation actually ought to prompt us to faith in the God who made it rather than a brainless faith that it all came into being without any cause at all! The capacity to have faith is within us all. Paul has more to say about how we come to faith later, but if we take a quick peek at Romans 10 we will find there these excellent words: ‘faith comes from hearing the message.’ Indeed it does.
Having exercised faith we stand in God’s grace – a favourable position we do not deserve! This brings us future benefits. Rather than fearing a day when God’s wrath will be displayed, we look for a day when we will see God’s glory in a very positive sense because we will not fear God’s judgement. We have hope. Paul says that ‘we boast in the hope of the glory of God.’ We certainly cannot boast in our good works and compliance with the law, but we can boast in what God has done for us and given us in Christ. That word boast is odd isn’t it. It carries the idea of holding one’s head up high and not shrinking into oneself. We don’t need to be embarrassed about the favourable position that God puts us in when we have faith in him, after all it’s what he’s done for us not what we’ve done for him. My company used to sponsor the top orchestra in London and having done so for almost 20 years we were nominated for an award at ‘Business in Arts.’ There was to be a special awards ceremony in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, there was a dinner, nominations and winners: all a bit Oscars style. For reasons I still don’t quite understand all of the senior people in my company were unable to attend and the lot fell to me (about 10th choice at best!) to attend the event on behalf of the company. My company won in its category and I proudly accepted the award from none other than Kate Mosse (the author!). It would have been quite inappropriate for me not to hold my head up high as I received the award on behalf of my company – I had done nothing to deserve it but I could ‘boast’ in the glory of the moment. This is how it is with us: we should not be ashamed or shrink back from what God has done but hold our heads up in the hope of the glory of God.
Faith doesn’t just bring future benefits it also has present benefits. A number of Christians believe that the benefits should be immediate, spectacular and of a physical nature: perfect health, a decent amount of wealth and overall happiness. Superficially this seems reasonable, but it’s not what Paul says. Verse 3: ‘we also glory in our sufferings.’ If faith brought about perfect health, wealth and happiness we probably wouldn’t be all that bothered about a future hope, but rather faith produces a present hope in the midst of difficulty. Here’s Paul’s formula: ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces hope.’ That’s pretty clear. If we suffer we can glory in that suffering because we know that it will ultimately produce hope. Notice that we are not to glory ‘over’ trials or ‘about’ trials but ‘in’ trials. Now in the midst of trials we may wonder if the hope that Paul speaks about is a false hope – a mirage, a hope that is merely an illusion, a hope that puts us to shame. Not at all says Paul, this hope is validated because God has placed the Holy Spirit within us, it’s God’s love poured into our hearts. We will see more of how this works later in Romans, but for now, be sure that the hope that comes from suffering is not a hope that will mock us and shame us.
- Death to life
In this next section of the chapter (verses 6-11) we see the word die or death no fewer than five times. The big question Paul is addressing is what can be done for all of us who are under God’s wrath – remember there is none righteous, no not one. We may be under God’s wrath but don’t be fooled into thinking that this means that God does not love us. Quite the contrary, and God in his love offers a solution to the whole dilemma. The solution is simple but comes at great cost and it is this: ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ (v 6b). Paul says that rarely someone might give their life for a righteous person, maybe even for a good person, but God’s love is demonstrated for us in that Christ died for us while we were still sinners! Since Paul has described the whole human race as under God’s impending wrath it is a remarkable thing that Christ died for the ungodly. He didn’t wait until we were ‘good’ but he died for us whilst we were still sinners.
We are justified (or declared righteous – in spite of our condition) by faith, this comes through death, Paul says ‘we are justified by his blood’: remember that to be justified means that we are saved from God’s wrath. Once we were enemies of God – separated by the barrier of sin, but through his death we are reconciled to him. This points to something much more than merely being declared righteous. Paul says that we’re reconciled by his death but we are saved by his life. The theme Paul is beginning to address is this: avoiding God’s wrath is just the start, there is much more to this than just a great escape, it’s an escape to a perfect place. We don’t just to avoid God’s wrath, there is something more. Indeed there is something more, a new life. Paul expands on this in the remainder of this chapter as he contrasts the effects of Adam’s life with that of Jesus Christ.
- Adam’s death to Christ’s life
Paul writes in Corinthians: ‘For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ You may recall that when God made Adam he placed him in a garden. Adam was given responsibilities to work and take care of the garden. There were fruit trees in the garden and Adam could eat freely from any of them. But there was one tree that came with clear instructions ‘you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.’ Satan, you will recall tempted Eve, he lied and said that ‘you will not certainly die.’ Eve ate the fruit and gave some to Adam who ate too. Death was thus introduced to this world. Paul says this ‘just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people.’ This is the source of the problem and it came through just one man. Some of the Jews reading this letter may at this point have objected. How could Adam have caused this since the law did not come until later? Paul’s reply is that sin was already in the world before the law was formally given. In some ways Adam broke the most simple of laws that God had given him concerning the trees in the garden, but there were others (after Adam and before Moses) to whom no specific law was given, in spite of this, death still reigned. Adam set the pattern for everyone. When the law was given there was a more formal reckoning of sin: as Paul put it ‘sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.’ But Paul made it quite clear in chapter 1 that there is a sort of natural law written on people’s hearts, there is also conscience as well as an ability to rationalise right and wrong – and people come under God’s wrath on this basis if they are ‘apart from the law.’ Thus death reigned even in the period between Adam and Moses before the law was give.
The law for sure points out with great clarity what the offence is, but there is on the other side a gift from God. Adam’s trespass resulted in death not just for himself and Eve but for all who came from Adam. In sharp contrast God’s gift is much greater because it ‘overflows to the many.’ Paul’s thinking seems to be this: by one man we all inherited death, but by one man, Jesus Christ, life is made available for everyone. In some ways it seems the two are sort of balancing and equivalent, but Paul is pretty keen to point out the contrasts rather than the similarities. It’s quite easy to destroy things, but it’s quite a different proposition to renew things. We’ve seen occasional pictures coming out of Syria – whole cities and towns lie in ruins the damage comes so quickly with bombs, it takes however much more effort and time to rebuild. Adam detonated the bomb that caused great destruction but Jesus brings reconstruction.
Adam’s trespass affected us all. It’s a reasonable question to ask how this could be. How come we are so affected by what Adam did? Paul says that we are in Adam (1 Corinthians 15: 22). To be ‘in’ someone seems to indicate that at birth the person inherits certain attributes of the person in whom they were in. To take an example, one could say that my children are in me. As a family we’ve lived in England for many years, our three children were educated in English schools and colleges, they speak with English accents and yet when the Scotland rugby team take to the field to take on England they cheer for Scotland. Why? Because of my (and my wife’s) nationality and the fact that each of our children were born in Scotland, they thus consider themselves to be Scottish: quite right too! They are in me in this sense and it was only when they were born that this was expressed this in real and tangible ways. Likewise we are naturally in Adam, when we are born we acquire certain attributes on account of Adam’s actions. Sadly we’ve acquired a sin nature and death. But when we believe in Jesus we are placed ‘in Christ.’ How does this come about? By another birth, a new birth (see John 3 for more on this!). This new birth places us in Christ and we acquire attributes as a result of this too: eternal life, righteousness and justification. Here’s how Paul puts it: ‘just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in the justification and life for all people.’
So where’s the law in all of this? Paul says that the law brought emphasis to the trespass, ‘but where sin increased grace increased all the more’ (v 20).When sin is in charge there is only one outcome: death. In contrast when grace reigns through righteousness there is only one outcome: eternal life! How should we live in response to this amazing thing? That’s the subject of the next section of Romans…..