Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 69: Justification – Peace with God
March 18, 2012
Intro to Romans
After finishing up the Gospels and Acts, we are now in the Epistles, a collection of letters written by the Apostles to help guide the early church.
Q Have you heard the accusation that the Bible was created by a council?
Here is what really happened: In the very first days of the church, Jesus’ followers would go around teaching. Then they started writing letters to teach.
As soon as they were written, they were copied and passed around to the other churches because they were recognized as caring the authority of the Apostles.
* The books of the Bible weren’t picked by a council, rather a council ratified what was already accepted by all.
Of these epistles, Paul’s epistle to the Romans stands out. It explains with greater detail and clarity what it means to be a Christian. We get to spend the next four weeks in Romans.
* I really encourage you to read along with us, it is just one chapter a day.
Scripture reading: Rom. 3:21-26 (Michel J.)
That passage stands as the crown jewel in Romans, explaining with greatest clarity what it means to be saved and why Jesus had to die for our sins.
* Every phrase in that passage is packed with meaning and scholars have spent years studying it.
But that is not the passage I am going to focus on; instead I want to focus on a passage that says the same basic thing, but from another perspective.
* By looking at it from another angle, I hope to help all of us understand this theology better and be more changed by it.
Theology shouldn’t be seen as academic, rather it is very practical, as it shapes how we think.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
This is amazing news, it is indeed the “Gospel,” which means Good News – through faith in Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. Yet it elicits yawns. Why?
* Either we think we don’t really understand what is means to be justified or we think we already have peace with God.
1. False peace
Many, many people today already think they “have peace with God.” Modern Americans have so weakened our view of God that we assume he is just a nice guy who wants to be our friend.
* The idea that he would be our enemy is foreign to us.
Q Is this just a modern thing?
Paul was writing to good Jews who thought they didn’t have to worry because they were “God’s chosen people.” He spends the first two and a half chapters explaining that we need God.
So Paul says to us (as much as to them):
Romans 3:10-13 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
* And he goes on another 5 verses like this; somehow I don’t think Paul would ever get invited onto Oprah!
Does this sound a bit harsh? Paul has to rouse us from the illusion of goodness. If we don’t know how sick we are, we won’t seek the cure.
* It’s like on Hoarders where they have to help the hoarder see just how bad they are.
This hyperbole: he is not saying no one ever does good – the Bible speaks of righteous men. Rather, none of us are truly righteous; all of us “fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
Q What is “the glory of God?”
It means all of his glorious perfection, the pinnacle of what should be. We are broken and miss the mark.
* The OT is filled with stories that reinforce just how dangerously holy God is, like Uzzah’s death.
It’s not just that we can’t be good enough; we don’t want to.
* At the core, we want to do what we want, and not what God wants; we are all in rebellion.
The point is that our natural state is not “at peace with God” but “enemies with God.” We have ignored our creator, done as we’ve pleased, injured and mistreated his children, and squandered the things he has given us.
So the backdrop of Romans 5 is that we can’t be good enough:
* Without being justified we cannot have peace with God.
* If we are justified, we have peace with God.
* No justification, not peace with God.
* Add justification, you have peace with God.
* But take away the justification? Then there is no peace.
Thanks to SNL for showing us how hard it is to understand even basic concepts.
Q What is justification?
* Even if you have been a Christian for a long time, this is still a good reminder.
Justification is a pretty complex word that has a lot of important connotations. One way to look at it: Being made right with God and brought into relationship with him.
* Justification means that God has dealt with all the rebellion, sins, and unrighteousness that separate you from him.
There are two sides to being made right with God, our side and God’s side:
On our side, we are justified “through faith” and “by faith,” it is not by good deeds or being good enough. In chapter four Paul explains that faith means we believe God will do as he said.
If you remember the OT story of Abraham:
* The Ishmael incident was the example of “no faith,” attempting to work it our on our own terms.
* Almost sacrificing Isaac was the example of “faith,” believing that God would do what he promised to do.
Our part in being made right with God is to simply trust him.
It’s like in “Red Planet,” when they thought they were running out of air in their suits, but there turns out to be oxygen outside – all they had to do was open their visors.
God’s part is a little harder:
Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Three times the idea is repeated: “Christ died for us,” “justified by his blood,” and “death of his son.”
* It is all wrapped up in the cross – Jesus’ part in our justification was dying for us.
But some say, why did he have to die? Atheists are especially fond of pointing this out, that Christianity revolves around a bloodthirsty God murdering his son.
Romans 3:26 ...he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
When a judge lets a killer off with a slap on the wrist, the newspapers don’t call him merciful. God cannot ignore sin without being sinful.
The whole idea here is that you don’t have the ability to be good enough to earn pardon; all you can do is accept God’s forgiveness.
2. Weak justification
Maybe you can relate to that first group. But maybe you can’t.
I think deep down, most, if not all us know perfectly well that we “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” as Rom. 3:23 says.
You are a believer, you have accepted Jesus yet you struggle to understand just how all-encompassing grace is. You may even think you understand, yet you don’t really.
Q Is there some sin you are struggling with, something you keep on failing at?
Q Right after you willfully fail yet again, do you feel like God loves you any less, that you are any less at peace with God?
If you answered “yes,” than you really miss the point of justification.
Put another way – if you were to have an affair and die in a horrible car accident driving home, before you repent, before you even feel bad for sinning, you would still go to heaven.
* You would still be justified at that point, God would still love you, and you would still be at peace with God.
What? How? Huh? Because being justified if not something that happened after you repent. It is something that has already happened to all who are in Christ Jesus.
* It says “we have been justified,” past tense (technically: aorist tense, which means it is as a completed event).
If you are a Christian, all of your sins were forgiven when Christ died on the cross. That one event, which we commemorate every Sunday with communion, was the turning point of human history, changing everything that happened before and after it.
* A street preacher asked a man if he’s been justified, then asking when – “2,000 years ago, but I found out 3 years ago.”
Not a hall pass
I am not saying willfully sinning is all fine and dandy. If you continually know what is right and refuse to even try, if you call Jesus Lord, but live in willful rebellion to him, it does profound damage to your soul.
* You will not cease to be justified, but it may be possible to walk so far in that path that Jesus is no longer Lord at all.
But that is not the topic today – next week we will be looking at how grace is not the freedom to sin but the freedom from sin.
You are loved
Because of this, you now are at peace with God; he is no longer your enemy. His son’s death is our assurance that he loves us, but not because we are saved; he saved us because he loves us.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
If God went to all this sacrifice to rescue us, we can be assured that he must really love us and that he will now want to have a relationship with us.
* He is not looking to stomp us down at the first chance.
Said another way, salvation is a means to an end:
Romans 5:11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
The goal was, and is, reconciliation, restoring of relationship.
* Like the Father watching for the Prodigal Son.
That is how God feels, he longs to restore that relationship, and has done everything he can, now it is our court, first of all to accept salvation, but also accept the peace we know have.
Hope of the Glory of God
When all of this is in place, a very interesting thing happens – that which used to frighten us now gives us hope.
As we saw in 3:23, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Seen this way, God’s glory is intimidating, is frightens us and shows us just how lacking we are.
* It is like those make up mirrors that magnify every blemish.
But now, since we have been justified:
Romans 5:2b And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Q How does that which frightened us now bring hope?
Relationship changes everything. Let’s say you have decided to take up playing the cello. It sound so cool to listen to. As you practice you find out that it is way harder than it sounds.
You practice and practice, and it still sounds horrible, but you are making progress and you have your first recital, just an informal little thing. Your friends hand out earplugs.
* Just before you start, Yo-Yo Ma, the world’s best cellist walks in.
Q How would you respond?
Would you be terrified to play in his presence, know that he can see every mistake, hear the slightest tremble?
Q But what if he was your father?
What if he is the one who has been patiently coaching you? Now all of his skill and knowledge and ability means that he has more to offer you.
* The distance between you becomes a good thing, not bad.
The glory of God used to show us how far we have fallen, now it highlights how good he is and what we can grow into with him.
To sum it all up: God is unbelievably good and holy and infinitely high above us. He sees every blemish, knows every flaw, every selfish though.
* But he loves you and through Christ has reconciled himself to you.
Next Paul will show us how this is not an excuse to sin more, which technically speaking is all about sanctification – living out justification.
But for now, you know which group you are in: Do you tend to undervalue God’s righteousness and fool yourself into thinking you are at peace with him when you are not?
Or do you struggle to believe that through Christ you are truly at peace with God, through faith, not because you have made yourself acceptable?
* Or maybe you never have really accepted God’s grace – this sermon spells out the starting point of faith.
Q & A