Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Sin of Adam and Its Consequences – Romans 5:12-14

The Christian is someone who hopes in the glory of God (5:3).  This hope is sure; it will not put those who have it to shame (5:5).  God’s love, which is most clearly seen in the redemptive work of Christ, will infallibly secure the hopes of those who trust in his Son (5:6-11).  This is the theme, not only of the first verses of chapter 5, but, as we’ve been arguing, of all of chapters 5-8.  So how does 5:12-21 fit into this scheme?

That it does tie in with the previous verses is indicated by the word “therefore” at the beginning of verse 12.  The question is, what is the “therefore” there for?  

Some have argued that Paul is drawing a conclusion from all the previous chapters.  That is certainly possible because, as we shall see, the theme of this section of the epistle is certainly tied in with the main point the apostle has been laboring to make.  That point is that we are justified not by our own righteousness, but by the righteousness of God.  Moreover, this righteousness is imputed, or counted, to us, not on the basis of our goodness, but simply by faith in Christ.  We can sum it up like this: when we believe in Christ, his righteousness becomes our righteousness by imputation, and on this basis we are declared to be right in the sight of God.  Now in these verses, the imputation of righteousness to the ungodly is now summed up and illustrated by a comparison and contrast between Christ and Adam.

Though that is all true, yet I think these verses also build the case the apostle is making for the security of the believer.  The point is made by this comparison and contrast between our Lord and Adam.  In order to really understand just how secure we are in Christ, we have to understand just how he has undone the misery introduced into the world by Adam.  All of our problems ultimately boil down to these three things: sin, condemnation, and death.  Adam brought all these things into the world.  The apostle will show that Christ has so conquered sin, guilt, and death, that all who belong to him will triumph in the end.  Yes, sin reigns in death, but grace reigns through righteousness that leads inevitably to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (5:21).

The word “therefore” could then refer to the previous verses; in particular, it could refer us back to verse 11, where we are told that “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  We have received reconciliation, or atonement, through Jesus Christ, so that our hope is secure – indeed, it is something in which we can rejoice.  The question is: how have we received this reconciliation by which our hope is secure?  And the answer is: much in the same way that we received sin, condemnation, and death from Adam.  But there is not only this comparison, but also this contrast.  There are similarities, but there are also differences.  Christ’s atonement was much more efficacious than Adam’s fall, so that in Christ we need not fear the death that Adam brought into the world.  We see the comparison in verses 12-14 and 18-19.  We see the contrast in verses 15-17.

So Paul is saying something like this: “Therefore, just as we receive reconciliation through Christ, we receive death through Adam, and this tell us something that is at once heart-breaking but also hope-filling.  Heart-breaking because of what Adam caused.  But also hope-filling because of what Christ has done.”

Interestingly, though Paul does not call Christ the “second Adam” in this chapter, he clearly thinks of him in that way.  In 1 Cor. 15:45, 47, Paul explicitly refers to our Lord in just these terms.  Christ stands in relation to those who belong to him in much the same way that Adam stands in relation to those who belong to him.  In fact, you could say that the argument of the apostle in Romans 5 is nicely summed up in 1 Cor. 15:22 – “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”  In Rom. 5:14, the apostle will say that Adam was “a type of the one who was to come,” referring of course to Jesus.  It is incredibly important, in order to understand this chapter rightly, to keep this before us at all times.  Once you forget that this comparison runs throughout these verses and you will be tempted to read them in a way that is foreign to the intent of the apostle.  Keep this in mind, and everything fits into place and makes sense. 

The Comparison

Now we said a minute ago that the comparison between Christ and Adam is made in verses 12-14 and 18-19.  However, what happens is that the apostle begins to make the comparison in verse 12, then breaks off and doesn’t finish it until verses 18 and 19.  Note how the verse reads: “Therefore, just as [here the comparison begins] sin came into the world though one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned –“ and then he breaks off the comparison.  However, he does complete it in verse 18: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”

Why does the apostle break off the comparison?  He does so because he has just said something in verse 12 that he feels needs some explanation, and that explanation is found in verses 13 and 14.  He ends verse 14 saying that Adam is a type of Christ (and so similar in some sense), but then feels that this too has to be kept from misunderstanding and so verses 15-17 show that Adam is not only similar to our Lord but that there are also very definite and distinct differences.  Having done this and cleared away the difficulties, he then completes the comparison in verses 18-19.

But what was so controversial in verse 12 that Paul felt that he needed to give some explanation for it?  I think what Paul is saying is that we sinned in Adam, and on that basis also receive his condemnation, namely, death.  When the apostle says, “because all sinned” at the end of verse 12, I don’t think he’s referring to our individual acts of sin, but to our sinning in Adam.  But I need to make an argument for that, because this understanding of the verse is hotly disputed, even by some who call themselves orthodox and evangelical.

Indeed, if you were to take this verse and cut it from the text, and pin it on a wall somewhere isolated from the overall context, it could be legitimately read to mean nothing more than that Adam introduced sin and death into the world since he was the first one who sinned, and we follow his example by sinning and dying.  Adam sinned and therefore died; we also sin and therefore die.  However, I don’t think that’s what the apostle is saying here, and I want to give you three arguments from the text itself for the position that “because all sinned” means that we sinned in Adam.

Before I do that, however, let me clarify what I mean by “sinned in Adam.”  What I mean is that the human race was so constituted by God that Adam was made our federal head and representative, so that the legal consequences of his acts were imputed to the human race.  When he sinned and alienated himself from God, he not only involved himself but every member of the human family.  Death spreads to all not just because we commit individual acts of sin, but also because we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin.  

This may seem strange to us, but this may partly be because we live in such an individualistic culture.  Apparently, cultures that emphasize the community over the individual don’t tend to find this doctrine very mysterious.  And in fact, this was the world of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles.  And we see this principle illustrated in a number of striking incidents in the Bible.  For example, when Achan stole and hid his loot from Jericho, his sin affected not only himself, and not even just his immediate family, but also all of Israel.  Men who had no knowledge nor partook with Achan in his sin died because of this man’s covetousness.    They were affected by Achan’s sin, even though they did not copy his sin themselves.  Moreover, when God alerts Joshua to the fact that something was wrong, he puts it in this way: “Israel has sinned” (Josh. 7:11).  Achan’s sin was Israel’s sin.  Charles Hodge put it this way in his commentary on this passage: “The curse of Canaan fell on his posterity; the Egyptians perished for the sins of Pharaoh; the Moabites and Amalekites were destroyed for the transgressions of their fathers; the leprosy of Naaman was to cleave to Gehazi, and ‘to his seed forever;’ the blood of all the prophets was exacted, says our Lord, of the men of his generation.  We must become not only infidels but atheists, if we deny that God deals thus with men, not merely as individuals, but as communities and on the basis of imputation.  The apostacy of our race in Adam, therefore, and the imputation of his sin to his posterity, although the most signal of the illustrations of this principle, is only one among thousands of a like kind.”[1]

But that does not yet answer the question: why must we understand, “because all sinned,” to mean our sinning in Adam?  Again, let me give you three reasons why I believe this is the right way to read this text.

The explanation in verses 13-14 demands it.

Whatever these verses are doing, they are meant to function as an explanation of verse 12.  We see this as Paul opens verse 13 with the word “for.”  “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin Is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (13-14).  How do these verses help explain the previous one?

The main point of verse 12 is that death which spreads from Adam to us is universal.  How then do we explain the universality of death?  What Paul is saying in these verses (13-14) is that neither the Law of Moses nor the law of conscience can explain the universality of death.  People sinned and people died before the law of Moses was given; that’s the point of verse 13 and 14a, so it can’t be that people only die because they have violated the positive revelation of God’s law in the Mosaic covenant.  But Paul goes further; I think he does this because one could argue that even though people don’t necessarily die because of the Law of Moses, yet Paul has already argued that God’s moral law is written on people’s hearts and perhaps that’s why death is so universal.  We sin against conscience and that’s enough to condemn us.  That’s why people die.

But the apostle says, “Wait a minute.  Hold on.  What about all those people who didn’t sin like Adam?”  Now admittedly there is a lot of debate as to who Paul is referring to by this phrase.  But I agree with John Piper (among others) that Paul is referring, at least partially, to the problematic case of infants here.[2]  Infants don’t sin like Adam did, since Adam sinned against personal revelation, and infants can’t do that.  They can’t read the law of God in Scripture; neither can they read God’s law written in their hearts.  I’m not of course arguing that infants are born with a nature pure and clean (this is contradicted by passages like Eph. 2:3), but I am saying what I think is fairly obvious: infants don’t sin against Scripture or conscience because they don’t yet have the faculties developed to do so.

And yet infants die.  If, as Scripture says over and over and over again, that death is the result of sin and that death is the penalty attached to sin, then why do infants die?  You can’t explain it by the violation of the law of Moses and you can’t explain it by the violation of the law of conscience.  How then do you explain it?  The implication of the apostle’s argument is that the only way you can explain it is by the solidarity of the human race in Adam.  Infants die because they are connected to Adam; his sin is imputed to them and therefore even before they are able to commit personal acts of sin, they are already liable to death.  That’s why infants die.

Verses 13-14 therefore explain how it is that death has spread to all – it has spread to all because all have sinned in Adam.

The analogy between Christ and Adam points to the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity.

At the end of verse 14, Paul says that Adam is a figure, or type, or Christ.  I said earlier that we have to keep this fact in mind if we are to interpret this passage correctly.  Now, if the point of verse 12 is that we die because we copy Adam in committing personal acts of sin, then the analogy would demand that we live because we imitate Christ in perfoming personal acts of righteousness.  But that would be to turn the gospel on its head.  The apostle has labored to show that we are saved and justified, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done for us and in our place.  Righteousness is imputed to us – not ours, but God’s.  

No, rather, Adam is a type of Christ, partly at least because he stands in relation to his posterity the way Christ stands in relation to his people.  They both represent others before God so that their merit is transferred or imputed to those who belong to them.  Adam’s sin is imputed to us in virtue of our connection with him by birth, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us in virtue of our connection with him by new birth.  

Now I am not saying that our personal acts of sin don’t have consequences, both temporal and eternal.  That is of course true.  I’m not saying that we will not be judged according to our works.  That’s true.  What I am arguing, and what I believe the apostle to be arguing, is that the fundamental reason we are born under a cloud of sin and guilt and death is because when Adam sinned, so did we.  His sin was imputed to us and we bear with him the consequences of it.

But the glorious counterpart to that truth is that the fundamental reason we are granted eternal life is because when Christ died, so did we.  When he rose to newness of life, so did we.  We are not saved because we must claw our way to heaven; we are saved because Christ has won eternal life for us, so that we receive by grace what we do not in ourselves deserve.

The emphasis on the “one man’s sin.”

Throughout this passage, the emphasis is not on the individual acts of sin that we commit and the consequences stemming from that.  Instead, the emphasis is upon Adam’s sin and the consequences stemming from that.  For example, in verse 15, we are told, “For if many died through one man’s trespass,” and in verse 16, Paul is writing again about “the result of that one man’s sin.”  In verse 17, he comes back to it again: “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man.”  In verse 18, “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men,” and in verse 19, “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”  And the point of all this is not on what Adam’s sin did to himself, but what it did on his posterity, to us.  Because of his sin, we died (15, 17), are condemned (16, 18), and were made, or constituted, sinners (19).

Verses 18 and 19 are especially important in this connection, because not only do they carry the same emphasis, but they also complete the apostle’s comparison from verse 12.  Verse 18 says that Adam’s sin led to condemnation, not just for himself, but for all men.  In the same way (“so”) “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”  Here the analogy is explicit: Adam and Christ are similar in the way they act for others.  Adam sinned and brought condemnation to all; Christ obeyed and brought righteousness and life for all.  Adam’s sin is imputed to us just as Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.

In verse 19, we read that “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”  Now the point here is not that we are made personally righteous by the obedience of Christ.  The context, remember, is justification, not sanctification.  Rather, we are made legally and declarative righteous by the obedience of Christ.  How?  Because his righteousness is imputed to us.  Even so, the point here is not that we are made corrupt by Adam’s sin (though that is true), but rather that we put in the category of sinners because of our connection with Adam, because his sin was imputed to us.

Verse 12, therefore, should be read as saying that Adam brought sin and consequently death into the world, and death spread to all men because all sinned in him.  For good and wise purposes, Adam’s sin was imputed to his posterity.

One of those good and wise purposes is that it provides a way out of our sinful and sad state.  For if we can lose our life through one man, then that means life and salvation can be regained through one man.  And we see, both in this text and everywhere in the NT, this is exactly the case.  Did sin and death come into the world through Adam?  Yes.  Did we die in him?  Yes.  But it is also the case, thank God, that righteousness and life have come into the world through the second Adam, Jesus Christ.  As we died in Adam, so we come to life in Christ.  Our connection to Adam guarantees that we will die; our connection to Christ guarantees that we will live.

What should we say to these things?  Three implications.

Sin is a horrible thing.

This text teaches us that one sin brought into the world all the misery that we see.  No, that doesn’t mean that our own sinful choices and acts don’t contribute.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t fact the consequences of our own evil desires and acts.  But it does mean that the primary explanation for all the misery and suffering and evil that we see is Adam’s first choice to disobey God.

But this has enormous applications to our own daily choices, especially when we are tempted to take the easy way out and give in to that sin and temptation.  Eating the fruit must not have seemed that bad to Adam.  In fact, we are told that it looked good.  But what consequences followed!  So let us resist the temptation that one little sin, one little forbidden fruit, will do us no harm.  If Romans 5 and Genesis 3 teaches us anything, it is that no sin is really little.  For it is not the sin, it’s the God that we sin against, that is the problem.

The righteousness that saves us is a wonderful thing.

This is the main point Paul is wanting to drive home.  It’s not Adam’s sin but Christ’s righteousness that is the main thing here.  And what Paul is laboring to bring home is that what saves us is not anything we do, not even our perseverance and good works (though they are necessary) – what saves us is the righteousness of Christ, and it is perfect.  Adam’s sin brought us death in all its forms; but Christ’s righteousness brings us life, eternal life.

Jesus is not just a tribal deity; he is the Savior of the world.

I owe John Piper for this observation.  The point is this: since all are connected to Adam, and Jesus is the only remedy for the situation brought about by Adam, this must mean that Jesus is the only way any man or woman can be saved.  People aren’t saved by different gospels; there is only one gospel and one name by which we must be saved.  It is Jesus Christ by which we must be saved.  Thank God, he came to save, not the righteous, but sinners; he came to justify, not the godly, but the ungodly.  Would you be saved?  Look to him, trust in him, hope in him, and you will never be disappointed.

[1] Charles Hodge, The Epistle to the Romans (Banner of Truth, 1972 [reprint of 1864 ed.]), p. 153-154.
[2] John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ: Should We Abandon the Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? (Crossway, 2002), p. 95-96.  I think one reason why Paul doesn’t explicitly refer to infants here is that they are not the only ones who necessarily fall into this category; some people with diminished reasoning faculties perhaps belong here as well.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Logic of (God’s) Love – Romans 5:6-11

God’s Love Redeems

The foundation of the text we are considering this morning is actually contained in verse 5.  There the apostle writes, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  What the apostle is doing in these verses is showing why it is that our hope will not put us to shame.  Why?  Because God loves his own, those who have been justified by the blood of his Son.  The apostle explains that one way we know that God loves us is from the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit who pours out God’s love in our hearts.

But he does not stop there.  Telling someone you love them is meaningless apart from some objective demonstration of that love.  Thus, the apostle goes on to show how God’s love has been objectively manifested.  This is the purpose of the word “for” at the beginning of verse 6: Paul is grounding God’s love in the death of Christ for us.  This is confirmed from the parallel structure of verse 8 to verse 6.  In verse 6, we have that God did something “while we were still weak” – in verse 8, “while we were still sinners.”  In verse 6, “Christ died for the ungodly,” and in verse 8, “Christ died for us.”  However, in verse 8, the apostle begins that verse by saying that “God shows his love for us in that . . .”  That phrase in verse 8 does explicitly what the word “for” at the beginning of verse 6 does implicitly.  How does God show and demonstrate and commend his love for us?  He does so in the death of Christ.

Of course this is echoed throughout Scripture.  “God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn. 3:16).  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).  The death of Christ is the supreme demonstration of his love for us.

Why is this?  It is because what Christ did on the cross he did not do for himself but for others.  But what did he do for others?  Well, just looking at the text before us, we see it spelled out in various ways.  Christ “died for the ungodly” (6).  He “died for us” (8).  The word “for” in those verses (hyper) does not simply say that our Lord did something that benefits us in some way.  No, it implies that what Jesus did on the cross, he did as our substitute and in our place.  And this points back to the idea of substitutionary atonement which is so central to the gospel.  

What did Jesus do in our place?  The answer is that he satisfied the wrath of God that was against our sin, and he did this by suffering the punishment for our sins in our place.  If we are going to take the gospel seriously, we have to reckon with these two realities: the reality of our sin and the reality of the wrath of God against our sin.  Both are highlighted in the text.  Note how Paul describes us: “weak” and “ungodly” in verse 6; “sinners” in verse 8; “enemies” in verse 10.  We were enemies, not just because of our hostility toward God, but more importantly, because of his hostility toward us because of our sin.  Our sins have made us obnoxious to God and have exposed us to his just and holy judgment.  And thus we come in verse 9 to this mention of the wrath of God: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”  

Now someone might object that the words “of God” do not appear in the Greek text and that is true.  So could this refer to the wrath of man?  Certainly not.  Paul has already argued that “for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom. 2:8-9).  It’s obvious that the wrath there is God’s wrath.  It is the fundamental problem that sets up the necessity for the gospel: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18).  We need to be saved from wrath, the wrath of God, and God is not unjust to inflict wrath on us (cf. Rom. 3:5).  Sin, which is treason against God, demands and deserves the severest judgment.  To be saved at least partly means to be saved from the wrath of God.  As John the Baptist said to the Pharisees who came to his baptism: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt. 3:7).  To take the sign of salvation, baptism, without even dealing with the fundamental problem that salvation solves – namely, escaping God’s wrath – is problematic to say the least.

It has sometimes been objected that this emphasis upon God’s wrath undoes the emphasis on God’s love.  But it should suffice us to observe that the Scripture emphasizes both.  Christ’s death on the cross demonstrates God’s love to us; and, it turns away God’s wrath which was aimed at us.  It does both.  We have to remember that God’s wrath is not a pagan concept; it is the necessary corollary of his holiness.  If God is holy, he must hate sin and he must punish sin.  If we have sinned, our sins must be punished.  If we have sinned, God’s wrath is aimed at us.  How then can we escape it?  We escape God’s holy wrath by the provision which God’s holy love provided: namely, the sacrifice of his Son on the cross for us.

Now, how is it that Christ’s death on the cross turns away God’s wrath?  The answer to this question can be found in verses 9 and 10.  In verse 9 we are told that we are justified by his blood and in verse 10 that we are reconciled by his death.  The phrase “since . . . we have now been justified” recalls chapters 1-4.  We are justified when we are declared righteous before God.  And we can be declared righteous because on the cross Christ took our sin and expiated it, purged it.  We are then clothed with his righteousness by imputation.  Our sins were imputed to Christ and his righteousness imputed to us.  That is what it means to be justified.  Of course, if this is true of us, then we can no longer be exposed to God’s wrath; on the contrary, we are accepted by him into his family.

Moreover, verse 10 tells us that we are reconciled to God.  As we have already argued in a previous message, this is not primarily a reference to the laying aside of our enmity against God; that would make nonsense out of the verse.  For Paul says that “while we were enemies we were reconciled.”  That would be like saying, “While we were hostile to God, we were no longer hostile to God.”  Rather, what this means is that Christ by his death did away with the objective cause of our alienation from God, which is our sin and the wrath of God which it provoked.  He died for our sins and therefore made it possible, not only for us to move toward God, but also for God to move toward us.

Paul’s perspective throughout this text is not on the here and now; it is on the future consummation of the glory of God which was purchased by Christ for us and on the future outpouring of the wrath of God which can only be avoided by the deliverance from it that Christ bought by his death.  When he says that “hope does not put us to shame” he is referring to the hope that we will make it through the final judgment unscathed and enter into the joy of the Lord.  The “glory of God” will be fully revealed only at the end of the age which will coincide with the final judgment.  You will not experience the glory of God’s mercy which is to be desired above all things unless you escape the glory of God’s judgment which is to be feared above all things.

That’s not to say that the cross didn’t accomplish things for us in the present.  After all, Paul says that because of our Lord’s death we are now justified (9) and now reconciled (10).  However, even then the emphasis is on the future life which awaits us.  Because we are now justified, “we shall (future tense) be saved from wrath through him” (9).  Because we are now reconciled, “we shall be saved by his life” (10).  We normally think of salvation as something we experience in the here and now.  However, in Scripture salvation is not something which is complete until the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth.  Therefore, in the fullest sense, we are not yet saved – that will not happen until we hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord.”  

But the point is this: you will not fully appreciate the death of Christ unless you have this perspective that Paul brings.  Being a Christian does not mean you will be healthy, wealthy, or wise in this present life.  In fact, it could mean a tremendous amount of suffering (3-4).  But all that is nothing in comparison to the glory that awaits.  “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).  It is not enough to say that our sufferings are made up for by the life in the age to come; what Paul is saying is that the glory to come is so great that our sufferings will be completely swallowed up and forgotten.  No comparison.

Which means that if Christ’s death on the cross is the only way that we can have this life in the age to come, then it is infinitely precious.  And it is rightly valued when we view it, not as a way to feel good about ourselves so we can get on with our lives in this world, but as something which gives us that which is more valuable than any earthly possession – so valuable, in fact, that we are willing to give up things in this life for the sake of our Lord.  As the person in the parable, we should be willing to sell all our possessions so that we might have that treasure.

We pondered the meaning of “the glory of God” in verse 2.  We saw that it is incomparable in terms of its value and preciousness.  There is nothing like it.  To desire anything more than the glory of God is madness.  But the only way we can obtain it is through Christ because of what he did on the cross.

God’s Love Reasons

So that brings us to the main point of the passage: how can we as Christians be sure that we will experience the glory in the age to come?  What can we look to when the trials of this life tempt us to doubt God’s love for us?  How do we preach to ourselves when it seems plausible that God has abandoned us?  What truths can we rest our hopes upon?  What sure ground do we have for the confidence that the apostle rejoices in?

The answer is, of course, the love of God.  Paul’s argument is that the love of God will secure our final salvation.  And the reason he gives for this is that God’s love has already done the greater thing; therefore, it should not surprise us that he will inevitably do the lesser thing.

What is the greater thing?  The greater thing is that “while we were still weak . . . Christ died for the ungodly” (6); “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (8); “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (10).  In other words, when Christ died for us, we were not contemplated in the purpose of God as being good and righteous.  God did not send his Son to die for good people; rather, he died for bad people.  We are described as “weak” – that is, helpless to save ourselves.  Worse still, we were ungodly, sinners, and the enemies of God.  As D. A. Carson has pointed out, the point of the word “world” in John 3:16 is not that the world is big but that the world is bad: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” (Jn. 1:10).  

To make his point, Paul points out in verse 7 that what God has done, we would never do.  In fact, it is not that often that one would die even for a righteous or good person.  It does happen, but when it does it is so remarkable that we wonder at it.  But die for one’s enemies?  Die for those who have sinned against you?  Die for someone who hates you and despises you?  That just doesn’t happen.

But God did exactly that when he sent his Son to die for us.  Christ gave the most precious thing he had – his life – for those who didn’t love him but rather hated him.  Paul felt this distinctly: as he would later write to Timothy, “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent . . . I received mercy . . . and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:13-15).  That is not just true of Paul, however; this is a good description of us all.  We are all, as long as we are in the flesh – that is, unregenerate – hostile to God (Rom. 8:7).  We are not his friends but his enemies.  He died for us contemplated as his enemies.  

Christ did not die for anyone because he foresaw that they would respond to his invitation and become a good person.  If we have responded to his invitation, that is a fruit of his death, not the reason for it.  There was therefore no reason in you that explains why Christ died.  Everything in us was a reason for him to reject us.  After all, we were already justly exposed to the wrath of God.

What then is the lesser thing?  It is that, now that we are justified and reconciled to God – that is, now that we are accepted before God and declared righteous and no longer alienated from God – then it is sure that God’s love will bring us to glory, that we will be saved from the wrath of God.  If Christ out of love gave his life for us when we were his enemies, now that we are his friends, how much more will his love secure our final salvation?  How is it that God would die for his enemies and then give up on his friends?  It cannot happen; it will never happen.  That is the apostle’s argument.  

Now there are several corollaries that follow from this.  One is that God never gives up on his commitments.  Or another way to put that is that God never breaks his promises.  He doesn’t promise to save those who trust in his Son and then renege on that commitment and turn away from them in the end.  God doesn’t justify us and then withdraw his favor.  He doesn’t reconcile us to himself and then become our enemy.  His love in unchanging and unfailing.  

This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you [in the gospel] has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.  For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:18-20).  God does not go back and forth on his word.  You can take it to the bank.  How is it that we can know that we have eternal life?  Because God has promised it: “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Tit. 1:2).  

The apostle is also getting at this in verse 10, in the words, “we shall be saved by his life.”  What does he mean by that?  It is almost certainly a reference to the resurrection of Christ.  But I think it refers to more than just his resurrection, but also includes his ongoing ministry for his people.  “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).  Or, as the apostle will put it later in the epistle, “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. 8:34).  It would be good for us to remember that the ministry of Jesus Christ for us didn’t end on the cross, but continues to the present day.  He is interceding for us – what more powerful person could you have in your corner?  What more powerful reason could we have to believe that our final salvation is secure?

A second corollary to this passage is that ultimately the hope of our salvation rests upon God and not ourselves.  Note that there is not a word about what we do to secure our final salvation.  It is all about what God has done. Christ died for us.  God shows his love for us.  We have been justified – this is something that God has done.  Reconciliation here is something God has done in Christ.  We are saved by him, by his blood.  If there is anything that we do that is mentioned in these verses, it is simply that we receive the reconciliation (11).  If our final salvation depended upon us, then wouldn’t Paul have mentioned it?  After all, he is arguing why our hope will not disappoint us (5).  If we can disappoint that hope by apostacy or sin, then wouldn’t the apostle need to add some qualifications here?  “Since therefore we now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” as long as we remain faithful to him, would needed to have been added.  In this text, our salvation depends upon God’s love for us, not upon our love for him.  His love not only gives us his Son, but also justification, reconciliation, and final salvation.

Now that doesn’t mean faithfulness isn’t important.  I’m not saying holiness is not necessary.  We could produce dozens of passages in the NT that show us that if we live in sin we have no right to this hope of which the apostle speaks.  The epistle of 1 John comes to mind.  How then do we put these two things together?  

Well, it must be that the love of God which brings us to faith will also keep us there.  The grace of God which justifies us by faith alone will also produce in us the fruits of holiness.  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  How is it that we come to produce good works?  Because we were better than those who do not?  No!  It is because we are God’s workmanship.  Those works in you are God’s works as much as they are your works.  It is why the apostle could say things like this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.  On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).  Or, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  Faithfulness is necessary, but only because faithfulness is the indispensable mark of those who are truly saved, who have been truly born again and given saving faith. 

Someone might object, “But what about those who fall away from the faith?  And what about all the warnings in Scripture about the dangers of falling away?  If God’s love will always preserve the saved until the very end, why all these warnings?”  We do not want to minimize those warnings.  They are real, and the consequences of which they warn are real.  What we need to realize, however, is that you can be a professing Christian without ever having been born again.  Just because you make a profession of faith doesn’t mean that faith is real.  That’s one of the points of James 2 and Hebrews 6.  You can have the faith of devils.  The warnings of Scripture are there because we cannot necessarily distinguish between true and false believers and in the present age the church is made up of both true and false believers.  It is only when they apostatize that the true nature of their faith is revealed.  The warnings then are there to remind us what happens to those who apostatize.  But they don’t imply that you can be saved and then lose your salvation.

That doesn’t mean the warnings don’t also function for those who have been in fact born again.  They are, under God’s providence, a means of keeping true believers in the way of obedience.  But that’s just the point: God keeps them and doesn’t lose them.  The warnings are part of God’s mercy in preserving his people from falling away.

At the end of the day, we who have trusted in Christ have a sure hope, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who Christ is and what he has done.  He has loved us with an undying love.  He has out of that love given his life for us, even when we were his enemies.  He has continued to love us, interceding for us even in heaven.  He has justified and reconciled us, and will save us from the wrath of God at the end of the age.

It is no wonder then that the apostle would end this passage by writing, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (11).  I think the point is this.  We don’t long for heaven for heaven’s sake.  We don’t want salvation just to escape the wrath of God.  Rather, we rejoice in God himself.  The reconciliation that we have received is precious because by being reconciled to God, we can have fellowship with him forever.  And there is nothing better than that.  If there is any reason to rejoice, it is because we can through Christ call God our Father and our Friend and can approach him with confidence through grace.  He may call us to do some hard things in this life.  He may call us to give up some things that we thought invaluable.  But he has already given us the Gift of all gifts: himself.  May God enable us more and more to rejoice in him and to see every other gift a mere shadow of himself.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Hope in the glory of God – Romans 5:1-5

“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  One of the ways you can know what a person thinks is supremely important is to look at what they rejoice in and what they hope in.  The Christian rejoices in hope of the glory of God.  What makes this look so odd to the world is that this is something they do not have as of yet.  The apostle doesn’t say that we rejoice in something that we presently have, but in something in which we hope.  Hope points to something yet future.  What the believer in Christ rejoices in is not something that you will find at Walmart or on  It is not something you can buy or obtain in the here and now.  You will not find it in the courts of human praise.  You will not find it at the end of a bottle or in a bottle of pills.  You won’t find it in success or glory.  You can’t get it by education or leadership or entrepreneurship.  What the Christian rejoices in doesn’t exist here.

That is because the glory of which Paul speaks is not a created glory, but the glory that belongs to God himself.  It is glory which is eternal.  I think it was John Piper who said that God’s glory is his attributes gone public.  The glory of God encompasses all his attributes: his omnipotent power, his searing holiness, his infinite love, his unsurpassed excellence, his breathtaking majesty, his free grace.  There is nothing like it in universe.  

What about the glory of God does Paul rejoice in?  He rejoices in the fact that the glory of God is not something that God keeps to himself, but something that he shares.  Now I’m not saying of course that we become gods.  There is an infinite chasm between the creature and the Creator.  However, a king can bestow the favors and gifts that only a king can bestow without losing his sovereignty.  Even so, God bestows his glory to undeserving creatures.  Theologians make a distinction between God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes.  Of course God never in this sense shares the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.  But he can and does share love, holiness, and grace.  If there is any glory to be tasted and seen and experienced that is worth having for an eternity, it is the glory of God.  

But even God’s incommunicable attributes are matters of rejoicing for the Christian.  We rejoice in them not because we can have them, but because we cannot have them.  We don’t typically celebrate people that are less than ourselves.  Worship belongs to those who are greater than we are.  And since God is infinitely greater that the greatest creature, the worship which God deserves and in which we delight is something which belongs to a category all by itself.

The Christian is someone who seeks for glory (Rom 2:7) - not the glory of the creature, but the glory of the immortal God (Rom. 1:23).  Sin is a falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and so it makes sense that salvation is being restored to the glory of God.  Paul continually describes this glory as something which the believer will experience in the age to come: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).  It is called “the glory of the children of God” (8:21), not because it emanates from them but because it is given to them by God.  God makes known “the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy” (Rom. 9:23).  It is no wonder, then, that Paul would say that he rejoices in hope of the glory of God.

But how can he rejoice in it if it is something future?  If the glory of God is something not to be found in this world, on what basis can you delight in its future enjoyment?  He could do so because the glory of God did come into this world in the person of Jesus Christ: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).  The glory to which we are called to enjoy is embodied in the glorious person of the Son of God, who died and is risen never to die again.  This is why Paul begins verse 2 by the words, “through him,” that is, through Christ.  How is it that we come to have access into God’s grace and rejoice in God’s glory?  It is through Christ.  It is why Paul will say in another epistle, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).  It is why Paul will say later in this very epistle, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17).  If you would see the glory to which you are called, look to the risen and glorified Christ.  

The hope of which the apostle speaks is not some faint wish.  As Schreiner points out, hope “means a sure confidence (cf. 4:18).  It does not mean that believers long to experience God’s glory but are not sure whether it will come to pass.  Believers are certain now that the glory Adam lost will be restored to them.”[1]  This is in fact one the main points Paul wants to get across in chapters 5-8.  The theme in these chapters is that the hope of the Christian is sure.  The Christian’s hope is certain.  We stand in the grace of God – it is not something we move in and out of (5:2).  Our hope will not put us to shame (5:5).  You could say that verses 1-5 constitute the theme of chapters 5-8.

We see this as the apostle works out his argument from this point through to the end of chapter 8.  In verses 6-11, Paul reasons from the greater to the lesser to show that we will be certainly saved.  Note the words “how much more” in verses 9 and 10.  If God has done this greatest thing and given Christ for us when we were his enemies and wicked, how much more will our salvation be realized in the age to come.  

In verses 12-21, the theme is still the surety of our salvation, this time by making a comparison between Adam and Christ, the Second Adam.  Though Adam brought sin, death, and condemnation into this world through his sin, “much more” will Christ bring righteousness, life, and justification to those who belong to him.  Just “as sin reigned in death, grace also” will “reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).

What we need to understand is that in the next two chapters (6-7), Paul has not ended this argument.  However, he stops to deal with objections to it.  The chief objection is that, if grace is sure and our hope secure, then why does it matter how we live?  (See 6:1.)  This objection has often been brought against the doctrine of the preservation of the saints.  If our salvation is secure, it is said, then we can live in sin that grace may abound.  What Paul does in chapter 6 is to show that this objection will not stand.  Even though the believer is absolutely and totally secure in Christ, it is no argument for carelessness with respect to sin.  His argument is that the death and resurrection which secures our hope, also secures our holiness.  The saved are also sanctified.  

In chapter 7, the apostle goes on to deal at length with the law of God.  Why?  He does so to contrast the security which we have in Christ with the fickleness of the law.  That does not mean the law is bad or sinful or unwise (since it was given by God), but it does mean that the law is powerless to save.  However, what the law could not do, Christ has done (cf. 8:3).  Thus the apostle ends upon the triumphant note: “Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).

In chapter 8, Paul continues in this triumphant strain.  John Stott has noted that the apostle begins with “no condemnation” (8:1) and ends with “no separation” (8:38-39).[2]  The believer has every reason to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, because nothing can destroy or invalidate this hope.  This is not the uncertain musings of a person who is always unsure whether or not he will be saved and who has to be constantly kept in suspense lest he fall off the wagon of grace.  No, rather, it is the exultant boast of a man who knows that his salvation is secure in Christ.  No one can be successfully against the one who is in Christ (8:31).  Even in our deepest, darkest times, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (8:37).

In some sense 8:30 summarizes what Paul is doing in these chapters: “And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  The clear import of that verse is that everyone who is justified (the theme of chapters 1-4) will be glorified (the theme of chapters 5-8).  Paul has dealt with the gospel in terms of justification.  Now he is dealing with the implications of the gospel in terms of the certainty of our hope in the glory of God.

Let’s now look more particularly at the text.  Our focus this morning will be on 5:1-5.

The foundation of hope in the glory of God (ver. 1-2)

Paul begins, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:1-2).  It is often noted that there are three things Paul mentions here as resulting from our justification by faith.  They are peace with God, access into grace, and hope in the glory of God.  

The first thing here is peace with God.  We should not miss the significance of this.  In some sense, everyone on this planet is seeking peace.  But the peace that we all need is peace with God.  The apostle tells us that we have this if we are justified by faith in Christ.  

There are a couple of ways we could understand what it means to have peace with God.  We could understand it subjectively, so that it refers to our inner peace and the tranquility of our hearts.  “Peace with God” in that sense would be that tranquility of heart that comes from knowing that we are in a right relationship with God.  However, though we shouldn’t completely rule that out, the apostle is almost certainly referring to peace with God in an objective sense.  That is, we are at peace with God in the sense that, being justified, God is reconciled with us and the alienation that existed between us and God no longer exists.  Of course, we cannot separate these two aspects of peace with God because the experience of this peace in our hearts is only meaningful if we have this objective peace with God.  However, thank God that the reality of peace with God does not depend upon our experience of it.  On the other hand, just because you feel okay, and think you are right with God doesn’t mean that you are.  According to the apostle, that only comes to those who are actually justified through faith in Christ.

The second result of being justified by faith is access by faith into the grace of God.  A lot of ink has been spilled over exactly what Paul is referring to by “grace.”  I think since the apostle doesn’t specify it, we shouldn’t either.  All of God’s grace belongs to the believer in Christ.  God is gracious towards them and gives freely of his riches to those who belong to him through his Son.  God’s grace does not end at justification; in some sense that is just the beginning.  We have access into this grace – the doors of God’s mercy and grace are continually opened to the believer.  A good commentary on this are the words of Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  That’s the idea here – the ability to draw near to God and draw from the bank of God’s riches in Christ Jesus.  All that belongs to those who are justified by faith in Christ.

Then the apostle says that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  We have already spent a bit of time expounding on the meaning of this, so I won’t repeat that.  

However, the main thing I want to point out in these verses is that all these things depend upon what Jesus Christ has done for us.  We have these things because we are justified.  But again, how are we justified?  We “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).  And the faith by which we are justified is faith in Christ alone, not in any work of our own.  

And then how do we have peace with God?  Is it not “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (ver. 1)?  He is our peace (Eph. 2:14).  And how do we have access into the grace of God?  Is it not “through him” (ver. 2) – that is, through Jesus Christ?  Therefore, when the apostle says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, we should understand that the foundation of this hope, which rests upon justification and peace with God and access into God’s grace, ultimately rests upon the work of Christ.  His substitutionary death for us on the cross, his atonement, is the foundation for our hope in the glory of God.  The foundation of our hope is not in ourselves.  It is not in our works.  It is not in our goodness or glory.  It is in Christ and what he had done for us and in our place.

It is important for us to understand this because the Christian will lose hope when he or she takes their eyes off of Christ and look only at themselves.  Now I’m not saying that sometimes it is not good to do some self-evaluation.  But if you look only at yourself, you are not going to find much to rejoice in.  Our boasting and the reason for our hope is in the grace of God for us in his Son.  If you are going to be the kind of person who rejoices in the hope of the glory of God, you must have a firm grasp of the gospel.  And to have a firm grasp of the gospel, you need to see clearly what Christ has done for you in his life and death and resurrection.

The production of hope in the glory of God (ver. 3-4)

A question that might have occurred to you by this point is, But how do I become like this person?  I mean, how many of us are really characterized by rejoicing – and more specifically, to be characterized by rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God?

But Paul’s answer to this is a little surprising.  In fact, his answer isn’t something a lot of us are going to like.  But there it is.  He says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (3-4).  He says we don’t only rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.  Wait a minute – we rejoice in what?  Suffering?  Why?  No one rejoices in suffering!

Now I think it’s important to note the obvious fact that Paul doesn’t say that we rejoice in spite of our suffering.  That’s what a lot of us would say, but that is not what the apostle says.  No, he says that we rejoice in our suffering.  If you want a picture of what this looks like, consider the example of the apostles in Acts 5.  We are told that they were beaten, and after they were beaten they were let go.  Then we read these words: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).  How do you become like that?  And why would Paul say that we rejoice in sufferings along with hope in the glory of God?

To understand the answer to this puzzle, you have to see that rejoicing in our sufferings and rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God are inextricably linked.  You can’t do one without the other.  The reason why we become the kind of person who rejoices in hope of the glory of God is partly because of the sufferings we endure in this life.  You see this at the end of verse 4.  What is at the tail end of suffering?  It is hope.  Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  What hope is that?  It is hope in the glory of God.  The reason why we know this is because Paul goes on to say in verse 5, “and hope 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.”  This is a hope which is buoyed up by God’s love and makes us want to experience  the fullness of that love in his very presence.  So we don’t rejoice in our sufferings because we like suffering.  We rejoice in suffering because suffering makes us the kind of person who values the supremely valuable, namely, the glory of God.

Our problem is that we are people, even if we are saved, who are so easily entranced with the trinkets of this world.  We tend to value junk, things that are ultimately worthless.  I’m not talking about what you might pick up at the flea-market.  I’m talking about our investments and our successes and our earthly comforts and pleasures.  The ultimate problem is that we too often mistake God’s gifts for God and end up replacing God with his gifts.  That doesn’t necessarily make the gifts bad in themselves, but they become poisonous when we embrace them in the way that we should only embrace God.  It’s the perennial problem of idolatry.  And often the only way we end up seeing things clearly and for what they really are, is by suffering.  It’s why the psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67).  And, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71).  Why?  Because “the law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Ps. 119:72).  My friends, it was suffering that gave him that perspective. 

I think this is what the apostle means when he says that suffering produces character.  Suffering produces character in ways that few other experiences can.  It has a way of making you more godly, more humble, more patient, more kind.  Above all, it makes you more God-centered and less self-centered and therefore more focused on what is more important and valuable.

Of course it depends in some sense on how you respond to the suffering.  Sometimes people come out worse on the other end.  That is because suffering really does two things: it not only refines the saints but it also exposes the hypocrite, those whose faith is not firmly planted in Christ.  Remember what our Lord said in the Parable of the Sower?  Speaking of the rocky ground hearer, he says, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (Mt. 13:20-21).  That doesn’t mean that it is possible to lose your salvation; it just means that if you respond this way you were never really saved to begin with.

And that leads to the second way that suffering produces hope.  It not only makes us the kind of person who values the supremely valuable, but also confirms to us that we are genuine, that we are not like this rocky ground hearer.  You never know until you are tested, do you?  Is my faith real?  Will I endure?  But when suffering comes and produces endurance, that ultimately produces hope.  We come through on the other end having experienced God’s grace holding us up and keeping us – and we know it was God because it was certainly never ourselves.  And that gives us hope.

I think a third way that suffering produces hope is that it causes us to trust in the Lord in ways that we would never do apart from such trials.  It is so easy in times of plenty and comfort to think you are trusting in the Lord when really you are leaning on the world and loving it.  But then affliction comes and takes away every support and you are left with nothing – except the Lord!  If you can trust in the Lord in that situation, then you know your faith is real and your hope is real.  It’s what the psalmist was getting at when he penned the 46 Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (1-3).  Can you trust in God in times like that, when the very earth under your feet seems to give way?  At times like that, faith responds in the words of the hymn:

His oath, His covenant, His blood, support me in the whelming flood,

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.

The vindication of hope in the glory of God (ver. 5)

However, thank God that he does not leave us to ourselves to work it all out.  He himself comes to us and testifies in the hearts of his children that they belong to him.  Paul will expand on this in chapter 8.  Here the apostle simply explains that the reason we can know our hope is not futile and that it will not disappoint us or put us to shame is because God’s love has been shed abroad and poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  It is the distinctive ministry of the Holy Spirit to make us aware of God’s love for us.  This may happen in different ways and in different measures by different people, but the Holy Spirit is “given” to all who are justified by faith in Christ.  If you are a Christian, then you have been given the Spirit who testifies to the love of God in your heart.

However, the main point of this verse is not the ministry of the Spirit but the fact of God’s love, which is the ultimate ground of all our hope.  How do those who having faith in Christ know that they will be finally saved?  It is because God loves them.  How do we know that we will persevere to the end?  We will do so because God loves us: he will not fail to complete the work he has begun (Phil. 1:6).  How do we know that we will not give out in the midst of suffering?  Because God loves us.  The love of God is not some fickle thing like human love.  God’s love is unchanging.  It is saving.  It is a keeping, preserving, protecting love.  As Paul will say at the end of chapter 8, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

Now there is a place for exhortations to perseverance.  There is a place for warning those who might fall away from the faith.  The book of Hebrews is filled with such warnings and exhortations.  But we also need to understand that the love of God which gave us his Son and which brings his elect to Christ will also keep them to the end.  They are completely secure in Christ because God loves them.  Your eternal security ultimately does not depend upon your love to God, but upon God’s love to you.  Yes, we must love God.  But if we love him, it is because he first loved us and it was his love that brought us to faith in Christ and will keep us in faith.  There is nothing more sure and steadfast than the love of God.  How often that phrase is repeated in the OT!  The “steadfast love of the LORD abides forever” (Ps. 117:2).  

May the Lord make us people who rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, (Baker, 1998), p. 255.
[2] John R. W. Stott, Romans: God’s Good News for the World (IVP, 1994), p. 217.

The Seals of the Scroll (Rev. 6)

Most of us have experienced disillusionment as the result of false promises of help. Perhaps this is one reason why the whole Charlie Brown ...