[After taking a few weeks off, weekly pastor’s notes are back. This one is a recap of the Romans series and so is a bit longer than usual.]
Romans Recap of chapters 1-4
As we continue our journey through Romans this summer, it’s fair to say Paul has taken us through rough patches so far: “no one is righteous;” the consequences of denying the Creator are very real; everyone, left to their devices, dishonors God in some way or another. These are not ‘feel good’ texts, but as Tim Keller says, sometimes you have to hear the bad news before you can appreciate the good news. After the severe pounding of Romans 1:18-3:20, the sky turns clear and blue in Romans 3:21-26. By faith alone, the standard of divine justice can become ours. The verdict of the final judgment at the End has already been rendered now: we are standing in the right with God. But it’s never going to be our righteousness, morality or good actions that is going to get us there (“no one is righteous” 3:10-11). Instead, we stand before the judgement of a Holy God by faith in the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:11; Acts 3:14). We can stand before God because of Jesus, no one else.
As Paul continues his argument to bring enemies to a place of peace and reconciliation, he carefully shows that righteousness (through which we can obtain this peace) is not something one does (“works”) but a heart attitude of trust, much in the way that Abraham took to star gazing one night. He actually believed he and Sarah would conceive in their nineties which would result in a family tree numbering myriads of descendants (Genesis 15:1-6; Romans 4:1-25). This sense of heart-deep trust in God’s power and promise becomes ours as well. Now we trust in the One who rose from the dead for “our justification” (Romans 4:25).
Romans 5:1-11 “Peace between sworn enemies”
There are some memorable moments in Romans for sure, but if you ever wanted to answer someone who asks you: where is a good summary of the Gospel? Romans 5:1-11 is a good place to start.
The Gospel means reconciliation between sworn enemies. In the charged atmosphere of ethnocentrism and codified discrimination under Roman Law, Paul rips through these assumptions and essentially says: it’s no longer “us vs. them” (godless immoral Romans and Greeks vs. righteous Law-abiding followers of Yahweh), but it’s all of us. We are all in this together. The Gospel is a unifier, not a divider, even as it calls everyone of us to turn to Jesus. There are consequences to rejecting Christ so in that, it does divide, but the aftermath of believing in Christ brings us all together by faith in Him. We finally have obtained peace with God.
The Gospel is the culmination of God’s love for us (Romans 5:5). That we get it is going to take no less than a supernatural intervention in our hearts: “through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Second, the recipients of this love consists of four groups, actually all one and the same “we” (including Paul himself):
The “weak” (those who are helpless, incapable, spiritually disabled); the “ungodly” (the morally corrupt); the “sinners” (those who fall short God’s standards); and leaving the best for last: the “enemies” (Romans 5:6-10). Those in need of peace with God are God’s own enemies, the ungodly who have no regard for God nor His law. They have no peace simply because they are not interested in pursuing it. The word “enemies” Paul uses in the Greek in Romans 5:10 is used 420 times in the Greek Old Testament. They are everywhere: Pharaoh (Exodus 15:9), the enemies in the Psalms, etc. This is one major category of people in biblical history. But here in one fell swoop, God brings peace terms to the bad guys. Reconciliation is “the termination of enmity” as one commentator puts it.
How do we obtain this undeserved –actually unwanted– peace? “Christ died for us.” It’s at the cross that God’s love is made manifest. It’s in the sacrifice for (‘=instead of’) us by Jesus, God the Son, that we obtain peace. The sheer repetition of this idea in Romans 5:5-11 makes it powerfully clear (“Christ died for us” [twice]; “by his blood;” “by the death of his son”). Peace comes from the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. He covers for our sins and removes the consequences of our unrighteousness (judgment). God Himself knew we couldn’t cover for our own sin so He Himself covered it through His perfect sacrifice.
The “when” of all this is also telling: “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Usually we reconcile with people after the relationship has been restored. Usually friends who are at odds with each other reconcile (though not always). Enemies rarely reconcile. But with God, it’s different. He offers reconciliation “now” (used three times), while we are still His enemies. He takes the initiative to provide terms of peace. Let this sink in when you and I recount the estranged relationships we have had in our lives. With God, He takes the initiatives and makes it right even while the other party has not even begun to consider reconciliation.
So the language of peace (Hebrew Shalom) is primarily speaking of our relationship with God. It’s the language of the temple, not the palace, the market place or Roman Law. Peace is a vertical category. By faith, the success rate is 100 percent because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. We will be reconciled with Him. This is the promise of the good news: “we will be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).
Our own immediate assumption is that peace with God will inevitably lead to peace and reconciliation with one another (the horizontal dimension to peace). In theory yes, but in reality the success rate drops and the track record is uneven. In fact, Paul himself injects some caution to the idea: ‘if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). In this pursuit of peace, Paul ties in the sufferings of this present evil age (Romans 5: 1-4). Our struggle with tribulations points to the hope of Jesus’ return to establish His Kingdom. True and everlasting peace will prevail in the new Heaven and new earth (expounded in Romans 8; see Isaiah 2:1-4). In the meantime, as we wait for that Day when peace on (the new) earth with finally prevail, we shouldn’t try to avenge ourselves (Romans 12:19). Here also we follow in the footsteps of Jesus as He suffered in His life and on the cross. Instead, just like God has compassion, we should have compassion and love for our enemies: “feed your enemies” and “give them water” (Romans 12:20). The real litmus test whether we ‘get’ the Gospel or not is precisely in the kind of attitudes we have toward those who don’t like us, who have rejected us, who have wronged us. Jonah blew it big time (Jonah 4:1-11) and I suspect we are not immune to falling into the same kind of thinking. Nevertheless, this is our true calling: we are messengers of reconciliation in the Gospel. We too keep reaching out to those who are hostile to us and to God.
“God […] through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)