At the mission service we had in church last Sunday, one of the presenters who had spent some time in a third world country commented, “I realized how privileged I have been.” There are a lot of ways in which that person could have meant that. They could have meant it in terms of access to food, a complete family, access to health facilities and many other ways in which we have so much. These privileges come partly by an accident of birth and perhaps partly by our hard work. We happen to have been born in Canada to good families. If we had been born somewhere else, we may not have had all our privileges. Most people in our community have worked hard and have privileges because of the hard work.
I sometimes wonder if we realize how how privileged we are as Christians? Do we realize how wonderful it is that God has forgiven us and given us life? How have we received those blessings? Is it because of an accident of birth? Is it because we have done the right things?
These two questions, “Do we realize how blessed we are and do we understand how these privileges came to us?” are important questions. They are answered in Romans 5:1,2, which I would like to read and think about with you before we partake of the Lord’s supper.
Read Romans 5:1, 2.
First of all, I would like to invite you to notice how many times the idea or phrase, “we have” appears in these two verses. Three times a blessing or privilege is listed in these two verses.
We often think of peace as the absence of conflict and that is certainly one important way of looking at it. If there is no one who is fighting with us or has anything against us, or that we have anything against them, then we are at peace.
Most of the time that peace is broken when someone offends or does something wrong against someone else. If you insult me, or hurt me or take something from me that doesn’t belong to you, you wrong me and we have conflict and the peace is broken.
We have wronged God in a major way. Each human being has disturbed the peace we could have with God by their sin. Our rebellion and rejection of God has put us at enmity with God and we do not have peace with God.
The gospel declares, however, that God sent Jesus to remove the offence by dying on the cross. God has justified us through the blood of Jesus.
That is the background and path of thinking which appears in Romans 1-4 and leads to the conclusion in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God. It gives us the first blessing which those who belong to Christ possess and that is peace with God.
Sometimes if we wonder if we are in a good relationship with someone else, we might ask them, “Is it OK between us?” If we were to ask that question of God, His answer would be “yes!” John Toews says, “At the heart of the conclusions is the fact that there now exists a state of peace or reconciliation with God.”
If I went to Ottawa and wanted to meet Prime Minister Harper, I suspect it probably wouldn’t happen, but if I had a good reason to go and asked my friend Vic Toews to set up an appointment with him, it might just work. An introduction would make access to such an important person possible.
The second “we have” phrase in this passage is that we have access…” The word can mean access or introduction and I think it is probably best to think of it as introduction. We have someone who has introduced us to one who is holy and awesome. Without that introduction, we would have no hope of ever meeting God.
But the introduction is not stated in this passage as to a person. Rather, we have this rather intriguing phrase, “access into this grace in which we now stand.”
The access is to a relationship which is given to us only because of grace and the wonderful thing about possessing that grace is that there is nothing tenuous about it, we stand in it! Let us just think about that concept for a moment.
We stand in grace. The only reason that we can meet with God or ever hope to have a relationship with God is entirely because of grace. A moment ago I suggested that if I had a good reason why I should meet the Prime Minister, Vic Toews would probably be able to make the introduction. There is no good reason at all why we should have been granted an introduction to the God of the universe. We are far from worthy, far from having any reason or merit which would give us that access. The only reason we can have such access is entirely because of grace. We have been given what we do not deserve.
What a wonderful thing then to realize that we stand in this grace. Especially when we realize that we have no reason to commend us to God, it is doubly wonderful to realize that we stand in that grace. We can be confident of God’s acceptance of us, precisely because God has granted it by grace. It makes us confident and certain of our standing before Him. If our standing before Him depended on some merit in us or some worth in us we would always be in doubt about whether we were still going to be granted access. One day we might find that the locks had been changed and we didn’t have the right key. Because we are granted access by grace and because God is faithful and consistent, we do not have to doubt that we stand in that grace. How glorious!
The third thing we have is joy. No wonder we have joy when we realize that we have peace with God and access into His grace, but that is not what is mentioned here. What is mentioned is that we rejoice “in the hope of the glory of God.”
Why is that so great? Earlier in Romans Paul has indicated that the natural state of every human being is to have fallen short of the glory of God. The glory of God is the wonder of His presence and all the greatness of who He is. We have no hope of ever seeing that glory because we fall short of it. But when we contemplate the other two things “we have” namely peace and access, then we also know that we will see the glory of God. We will see the glory of His presence. We will see the glory of all that He has done. We will see the full glory which is hinted at in the present creation and all the works of God which have been done since the creation of the world.
The word for “rejoice” is a word that can just as well be translated “boasting.” This is not to be understood in a negative sense of vain boasting, but in the positive sense of having confidence in God. A Christian who wallows in doubt and is always uncertain of his or her standing with the Lord has not grasped the wonder of the assurance which this passage gives us. “We have!” is repeated three times. We have peace with God, we have access into grace and we have joy because of the hope of the glory of God. May we live in that hope and joy and confidence.
On earth some privileges come to us by an accident of birth and others by our effort. How does this glorious hope come to us?
That message also comes through very clearly in these two verses. Twice we are told that we have what we have “through Jesus.” Near the end of verse 1 it says, “…through our Lord Jesus Christ” and verse 2 begins with the phrase “through whom.”
We have what we have because of Jesus. People sometimes talk about something as a SS answer. The Sunday School answer is “Jesus.” I think what they mean is that sometimes people know that in Sunday School it is all about Jesus and so if any question is asked, the answer is usually Jesus. What is usually meant by that statement though is that the Sunday School answer is sometimes an answer that is not very well thought out. People just say “Jesus” but they really don’t understand how that is so.
The answer to the question “How do these blessings come to us?” is Jesus and that is no Sunday School answer. In the most profound way possible, with the greatest depth of meaning, Jesus is the answer. Jesus made a choice before the foundation of the world to become the Savior of the world. He suffered greatly when He came to this earth first of all leaving heaven to become a human being and secondly submitting to death on the cross. With this great sacrifice, Jesus has become the center of all peace, access and hope regarding a relationship with God.
Jesus is justifier, peace maker, introducer, glory bringer, joy maker, Jesus is all of this to us. It all hinges on him. Without him, nothing would be.
But the other answer to the question of how this comes to us, is also clearly present in the text and that it is by faith. In verse 1 we are reminded that we are “justified through faith.” In verse 2 we are told that we have access “by faith.”
But we need to understand what faith is. I would like to begin to define it by suggesting what faith is not. Faith is not simply the speaking of the right words. Faith is not just an intellectual apprehension of a truth. Faith is also not a work that we do for which we deserve applause for our merit.
Faith is the recognition that we have no hope and the confidence that God can give us all hope. Faith is the trust in God which rests so completely on Him that our entire life is defined by that rest. Faith is such a deep hope in God that we boldly obey Him in all things, not as a way of getting into His good books, but because we are in His good books and we know that He is the only way to live. One writer defines faith as a “continuing present.”
Although our faith is important, what is truly important is the faithfulness of Jesus who has made our faith possible.
What does this knowledge give us? It gives us assurance, hope, confidence, thankfulness and determination to follow God.