Coming to the fifth chapter of the epistle to the Romans, we find the apostle pausing, it would seem, before he begins the development in chapters 6,7 and 8 of his teaching about sin as it affects men and women who have embraced the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is a pause in which the writer does two things. First, in verses 1-11 he takes time to bask in the joy of peace with God which flows from the death of Christ for the ungodly. Then in verses 12-21 he expounds the connection between Adam’s sin in Eden and the restorative work of Christ. This done, we are ready to look at sin in the human heart and life, the liberation brought about by divine grace, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We have peace with God and so, as some translations of the verse suggest, let us really enjoy that peace. Having ‘gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand … rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.’ For in God’s hands suffering produces perseverance, character and hope in a holy sequence. And hope, says Paul, ‘does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’ Thank-you, Paul, for introducing at this point the beautiful subject of God’s love. Grace, righteousness, faith, even wrath, are subjects of wonder commanding reverence and awe; and we have been introduced to them all. But now, lovely words, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Note, too, that this love has not only been provided for undeserving sinners by the death of Christ. It has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit – the first mention, too, in Romans of this divine Helper, about whom Paul has much more to say later.
I imagine the Church of God in Rome paused a while at this point in reading Paul’s letter and joyfully savoured the sweetness of these words about the loving sacrifice of Christ for powerless, ungodly sinners. Let Paul’s Jewish hearers, who might be inclined to cavil at some of his teaching, be silent in the face of such glory. ‘Justified by his blood, and, saved from God’s wrath through him!’ Reconciled too, he says, to God through the death of His Son and saved through His life. Enjoying, that is, the salvation which makes us sharers in Jesus’ resurrection life. So again the apostle returns in verse 11 to rejoicing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. What else indeed in the light of such a reconciling love?
Let us take time to be clear, says the second half of this chapter that, on the one hand, sinfulness is an inheritance all men have from Adam our forefather. On the other hand, the availability of justification and imputed righteousness comes on offer to all men through the sacrifice of Christ. It is true that these verses are a bit difficult to follow as Paul carefully picks his way through his exposition of universal sin and guilt. But verse 19 sums the matter up quite plainly. ‘For just as through the disobedience of the one man [that is, Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [that is Jesus Christ] the many will be made righteous.’ Writing to the Philippian Church, Paul said of his Lord Jesus Christ, ‘He became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (2:8).
In this passage in Romans 5 the apostle speaks of God’s gift of righteousness. Adam’s one sin brought inevitable divine judgment to all mankind; but God’s gracious gifts, received by faith, are ours in spite of the awful accumulation of human sin down the years. And, we read, ‘The law was added so that the trespass might increase’ – and, we might add, be seen to increase and come to dominate human life, leading to death.
But, says Paul, ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Now, praise God, His grace in Christ reigns! It has cast sin from its evil throne.
So closes the chapter of Romans which introduces us to the incomparable subject of the love of God, and ends with His grace triumphant.
‘On such love let us still ponder,
Love so great, so rich, so free.’