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TEXT: Romans 5:1-2
SUBJECT: How Vast the Benefits Divine
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
For the last few Sunday afternoon services our brother has slowly and carefully worked his way through Romans 5:1-5. I liked his study so much I'm going to preach it myself today, but with far less detail. I'm doing this-not because he got it wrong or left something out-but because I want every believer in this room to know what he has in Christ, and for every unbeliever to know what he can have in Christ, if only he confesses his sins to God and puts his faith in the Lord Jesus.
What do believers have in Christ? In a word, everything. A bit later in the New Testament, Paul says all things are yours. He means spiritual things, of course, but not only spiritual things. As the children of God we are also His heirs, and if all things belong to our Father (including material things) all things belong to us. Our Lord was not using a figure of speech when He said, in His best-know Beatitude-
The meek shall inherit the earth.
There's no such thing as a poor Christian. The believer who doesn't know where his next meal is coming from is, at the same time, immensely rich, for whatever he lacks here and now, he has-as a present possession-
An inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fades not away, reserved in heaven for [him].
When you come across the word, 'heaven' in the Bible or elsewhere, the first letter is seldom capitalized. But a generation ago, a popular Catholic writer started spelling it with a capital 'H', wherever it was in the sentence. When asked why he did it, he replied,
Because it's a real place--like Scranton!
If heaven is a real place-like Scranton-the inheritance we have in heaven is also real. As real and solid and lasting as the Promise of God.
If everything belongs to us by Promise, some of them belong to us by Possession. This is what Paul is getting at in the first paragraph of Romans 5. Preachers and commentators have numbered them in different ways, but, by my reading, Paul ticks off three blessings that belong to every Christian. They are:
Before we get to his teaching, however, let's take a moment to note Paul's assumption.
He assumes something about his friends in Rome. He assumes that they-and he-have been-
Justified by faith.
To justify is to 'declare righteous'. It's a legal term, used-then and now-in courts of law. Who makes the pronouncement? In most trials, the defendant does-'I wasn't me he says-'It was somebody who looked like me!' The defendant can justify himself long and loud, but his word has no authority in court. In court, the only word that carries weight is the judge's word. He has the final say, and if the court is high enough, his ruling cannot be reversed. It doesn't matter what the spectators think; what the prosecutor thinks; not even what the defendant thinks! In the courtroom, what the judge says goes.
This is how the Bible describes our justification. It is God who justifies, and when He does, we are justified, for no one-not the devil or our enemies or even we ourselves can overturn the decision. To challenge a ruling, you've got to appeal to a higher court. But what court is higher than God's? Paul picks up this theme near the end of Romans 8, where he dares anyone to condemn the Christian-
Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies!
Let's get this straight: Justification is not a process, which can start well and end badly: it's an act, a one-time act, which, when done is done! Justification is also not a human act, which, like other things we say or do can be forgotten or gone back on (like a marriage vow). It is a Divine Act, and the One who makes it-
Is not a man that He should lie,
Neither the son of man that He should repent.
Has He said and shall He not do it?
Or has He spoken and shall He not make it good?
If this is what it means to be justified, how are we justified? Paul says we are justified by faith. The object of saving faith is not faith, but Christ. The human spring of faith is the heart, and not the mouth. It's not saying we believe in Christ, but sincerely believing in Christ. Since the word, 'faith' is so vague in its use today, maybe we should find another word for it, and if we did, the word would be trust.
You are justified by trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone who does is. If you trust Jesus Christ, you are justified-even if your life is a train wreck. If you don't trust Jesus Christ, you are not justified, even if you have peace of mind and a wonderful family life.
Paul does not say the blessings of justification belong to everyone, but only to.whom? To those who are justified! This means, if you want them, you can have them: everyone can have them, but you can only have them one way: by faith in Christ alone!
Let's me say it as clearly as I can: The blessings of justification are not only for mature Christians, Christians who know their Bibles backward and forward, Christians who grew up in Christian families, or Christians who stand out in holiness. They are for everyone who is justified, and this means they belong to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ!
In v.1, Paul says we have these things. This means both he and they had them all. Now, Paul was an exceptionally godly man, and so it's no wonder he had them. But what about the others? Were they of the same caliber he was? Read the whole Epistle and you'll see they were not.
Most of the Roman Christians were Gentiles who, before hearing the Gospel, had lived abhorrent lives (read chapter 1). Some were Jews, and while they were not as abandoned as the Gentiles, they were hypocrites (and in light of our Lord's teaching, this was not a mild criticism).
As for now, they were Christians, and no longer lived in the same excesses they used to. But, by reading Chapters 12ff., you'll find they had the same temptations we have-and gave into them as often as we do too.
A justified person, therefore, is not sinless or nearly sinless. In the words of Martin Luther, he is
Righteous yet sinning.
But, in spite of their failures and follies, they still possessed the blessings of justification. As does every other Christian.
PEACE WITH GOD
The first blessing Paul names is-
Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Note the reality or solid nature of this peace. It is not 'peace of mind', which is all in your head and comes and goes with the weather. It is a real peace between real persons: you and God!
I have heard a great many sermons on 'peace with God', and most of them use the image of the battlefield. 'We used to be at war with God, but now a truce has been signed and the former combatants are now friends'. While I have no objection to this way of putting it, I wonder if it couldn't be made more.personal.
The New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright has done just this. In his Paul for Everyone, Romans: Part One, he says:
I recently heard of a famous comedian who had been a familiar figure on radio and television for many years. His quick wit and endless jokes guaranteed him a big audience. But when he died, the published obituaries told a darker story as well. He had fallen out with his father when he was still a young man, and the quarrel had never been made up. Then the tragic pattern had repeated itself. One of his two sons had fallen out with him and been cut off.
Coming as I do from a happy and supportive family I struggle to imagine what that must be like. Imagine knowing that there is someone there, only a telephone call away, who is one of your closest blood relations.and yet he won't speak to you, and you don't want to speak to him, or to see him, or to have anything to do with him. And imagine that going on for years and years. There is something deeply disturbing about the whole picture-and yet I know that not only the man in question, but a great many people live exactly like that in relation to someone close to them with whom they have fallen out.
There is an even greater tragedy, A great many human beings live exactly like that in relation to God.
If being estranged from your father on earth is bad, how much worse is it to be separated from your Father in Heaven-to be cut off from His love and from the happiness you were meant to have in His company? Like hatred in the family, it's a gangrene on the soul, poisoning your whole life and, every day bringing you closer to eternal death?
What if that separation could be bridged? What if the old enmity could be removed and replaced with love? Wouldn't it be delightful to be reconciled to your Father in Heaven?
Through Jesus Christ you are reconciled. All of your past wrongs have been forgiven-and forgotten. Like the Prodigal's Father, He has run to you in love, put new clothes on your back and new shoes on your feet. These are pretty much the necessities of life. But wait: the story says more: the father provided his slaves with the basics. But a son gets more than the basics! He gets a ring on his finger-which is probably a family heirloom and means: 'You're back in the family!', and then, in case the boy wasn't too bright, the musicians were called for, the fatted calf was killed, and the biggest party you ever saw was thrown for the son you used to be dead, but now is alive; who used to be lost but now is found!
That is what Paul means by-
Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
All believers have this peace-whether they feel it or not. And since it is yours-objectively yours-why not feel it? If you believe in Christ, you are justified, and if you're justified, you have peace with God. This may ruin the life of self-pity you have chosen to live, but that's the price you'll have to pay for having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
ACCESS TO GOD
If the justified person's first blessing is peace with God, the second is even better: access to God-
We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we access by faith in the grace in which we stand.
By faith in Christ-Paul says-we have access to God's grace, which means His favor. Our Peace with God is not a kind of Cold War, where no shots are being fired, but no love is being given either. No, it's not like that at all. This peace with God is a positive thing, and brings us His favor.
This means, for example, He listens to us when we pray, and He gives us what we ask for-or something better. The favor of a miser is worthless. But God is no miser! He is reckless in His generosity! The Psalmist says-
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Not a drop here, a dab there, but the whole creation is bursting with His love. If the whole world receives His favor, will His beloved children go without? Paul answers this decisively in Romans 8:32-
He who spared not His own Son-but delivered Him up for us all-how shall He also no with Him give us all things?
The Apostle is arguing from the greater to the lesser. If your dad gave you a new car, would you expect him to say no to a stick of gum? Of course not. If your Father in heaven has given you His Son, what will He hold back? Nothing you need.
This is the surface of the blessing Paul names in v.2, but that's all it is: the surface. For the access he has in mind is not so much to God's grace, as it is to God Himself. The Lord is personal; He doesn't put blessings in an account we can draw from when we need them: He gives them to us Himself! In Person!
This means, through faith in Christ, we can go straight to God--and get in to see Him! This favor must have staggered the pious Jew. For, though the Lord lived with the nation, He was also separated from them. Fences and walls and curtains separated the Lord from His people. The average man could get no closer than the court; the Levite got closer; the priest closer than he. But only the High Priest could come into the Presence of the Lord, and only once a year while he was in office. And, even this Presence-as awesome as it was-was only a reflection or a shadow of the Real Thing.
Before the coming of Christ, access to God was strictly limited. But not any more! The author of Hebrews says, with His ascension to heaven, our Lord went through the curtain which separates God from man-and took us with Him!
Through faith in Christ, the newest convert has an entrée with God that the holiest High Priest could only dream of having! But we have this-not may have it if we behave ourselves-but we do have it-
We have access into this grace.
The third blessing is joy in God-
And rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Faith in Christ makes you happy, Paul says--not because it takes away all your current problems-but because it gives you hope for the future. It is often said, 'the future is unsure'-and if fate or chance or the free-will of man is in charge of the future-the saying is true. But if God controls the future, then it, too, is sure.
What is the believer's future? It is the glory of God. This means the glory God has the believer will have as well. What does that glory look like? In God the Father we cannot tell, for we cannot see Him. But we can see His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and by way of His human nature we can get some inkling of what it means to be draped in the glory of God.
There is a physical side to it. In I Corinthians 15, Paul says it is mortality putting on immortality and corruptiblilty putting on incorruptibility.
In the Resurrection, broken bodies will be put back together. Blind eyes will see! Crippled legs will leap! Amputated arms will grow back! Deranged minds will be made sound! Best of all, the bodies, which even when healthy and young, are dying every day, will be placed over and above death!
Both Paul and John say the resurrected Christian will resemble like our Lord Himself, and have no pictures of Him, we can gather from Revelation 1 that He must be awesome. John knew Him well when He lived in Israel, but seeing Him after He rose to glory, John-
Fell at His feet as a dead man.
This is a poor sketch of the physical side of God's Glory. On the spiritual side, my sketch is even worse. John says We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. And 'He is' what? Light-
God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
Light is both a visible quality (which shines from God), and also a metaphor for holiness. To share in the Glory of God, therefore, means to be holy-not relatively holy as we are now-but to be as holy as humanity can be: in a word, as holy as Jesus Christ is according to His human nature.
This is the believer's future and the future works backward, first to hope, and then to joy!
What do we have in Christ? We have peace with God, access to God, and the joy of God! This means, whatever else comes our way, we ought to be always thankful, content, and cheerful.
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