God’s people often worry whether they remain safe and secure in his favor. When you first came to Jesus, you probably knew only confidence. Your experience of grace was overwhelmingly positive and you wondered that anything could dim the dazzle of his beauty. As a result, progress in the faith was everyday evident.
But like last week’s birthday balloons, we now lie limp. Instead of a buoyant, contagious faith, sin and suffering leave us defeated and dispirited. Sin deflates us by piercing a hole in our faithfulness to God; suffering, pricks a hole in God’s faithfulness to us. But God is not defeated, and these two disparate difficulties merge for one grand solution in Romans 5 which preaches to our souls: we can believe in grace! [Read Romans 5.1-11. Pray.]
Dr. Bryan Chapell, President of Covenant Seminary, tells of a local news story in St. Louis a few years ago: In the yard (of a home in the city) was a sign with these words on it: “Mom On Strike.” Her name was Michelle, and she was tired of the whining, the back talk, and the lack of cooperation from her family. So she stuck the sign in the ground, “moved” into the tree house in the backyard, and vowed she was not coming down until things changed.
A local television station asked her husband what he planned to do. He said, “I’ve told the kids to cool it with the back talk. I’ve told them to do their chores again. We’re doing everything we can to get her to come down.” (Holiness by Grace, 17-18). His solution makes perfect sense. When we offend someone, when we do something wrong, we try to “make up for it.” Better words and actions atone for past wrongs. Isn’t that what we believe? Better words and actions atone for past wrongs.
But what if God goes on strike? If God abandoned us for a “tree house” in the sky, how shall we bring him down? When we fail or frustrate him, what spiritual discipline or sacrifice will “make it up”? I want his blessings, but how do I get God down when his standards are so high? Is there any hope?
The answer is that the grace which saves also sustains our relationship with God. God does not flee from our problems. Instead, he supplies grace upon grace, that we might continue and increase in joy and obedience, even as fallen people in a fallen world. God does not want you defeated or deflated. He want us full of the Spirit, full of confidence, filled with hope—believing that, “If God is for us, none can stand against us.” Five promises are given in Romans 5 to fill us with sustaining grace.
1. Buoyant Faith Believes that Justification Includes Peace With God (Romans 5.1)
Two truths especially to note. First, be aware that the following promises are for Christians. Paul begins: “since we have been justified by faith….” There is always a danger, when reading the extravagant promises of God, that some will presume upon his favor who have no claim to it. Christianity is not a universal religion because God is not a universalist. Not everyone enters heaven.
R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, “The prevailing doctrine of justification today is not justification by faith alone. It’s not even justification by good works or by a combination of faith and works. The prevailing notion of justification in Western culture today is justification by death. It’s assumed that all one has to do to be received into everlasting arms of God is to die.”
It is likely that some here today are not right with God. You assume either that God will save you because you are good (at least better than others), or that a loving God would not consign anyone to destruction and damnation. Neither is true. Instead, the Bible reveals that all are already condemned, guilty both by the failure of our first representative (Adam), and by our own lack of conformity to God’s law. Only Jesus’ righteousness makes one acceptable to God.
In fact, Paul writes later in Romans that the Jews are not saved, precisely because they insist on coming to God with their goodness. Sin separates us from God, but good works keep us from him — for “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10.4). If your hope of acceptance is based on anything other than faith in Jesus, then it is misplaced and you need to become a Christian.
The second truth is the promise of peace between God and his people.
I would hate to have the job of someone like Dr. Condoleezza Rice. She is obviously a brilliant woman, an able diplomat, and a sincere and diligent worker. Yet she is trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East. What a hopeless task. As soon as a moment of stability is obtained, all “walk on egg shells,” hoping to “preserve the peace.” Of course, fighting soon resumes.
Maybe you think of your relationship with God similarly. Jesus negotiated a cease-fire, but now you must be on constant guard lest the peace be broken. Rather than friendship characterizing your feelings toward the Father in heaven, fear does. You are afraid you will reopen hostilities and the sovereign Lord will again be against you.
I am sure you have found from your own experience that fear does not motivate much good behavior. When we worry that someone is angry with us or that a misstep or misstatement may provoke their ire, we withdraw, we are tentative and cautious, we hold back and protect ourselves.
The same is true in our walk with God. Those who fear a renewal of God’s displeasure end up pushing God away. The more we determine to obey, the more painfully aware we become of our continuing struggle with sin, the more we fear his wrath, and the further we grow from God. But look carefully at the text. “Since we have been justified….” That is a past tense, something which has already happened. “Since [in the past] we have been justified…we [now, in the present] have peace with God.”
John MacArthur: “The present tense verb indicates something that is already possessed. Many of a believer’s blessings must await his resurrection and glorification, but peace with God is established the moment he places his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Leon Morris: “The justified person is no longer tormented by questions of his relationship with God arising from the fact that he is a sinner. Sinner though he is, he is at peace with God because of what God has done for him….”
The first pump into our balloon of faith comes from believing that Christ Jesus secures lasting peace.
2. Buoyant Faith Believes that Justification Includes Standing In Grace (Romans 5.2a)
None of you parents toss out your children when they fail to obey. Their compliance with your standards neither causes nor deters your love and acceptance (cf. Chapell, Holiness by Grace, 104). Our children stay and stand in the family — why? Because they are our children. And though discipline is (sometimes) a part of the love of a wise parent, assurance of unlosable love is what promotes confidence and obedience.
In a similar way, this verse insists that our standing with God, our continuing in the same relationship that we had when we were first converted, depends as surely on God’s grace as did justification. Just as I cannot make myself right with God, I cannot keep myself right with God.
John MacArthur: “We are not saved by divine grace and then preserved by human effort…. Believers often fall into sin, but their sin is not more powerful than God’s grace. If no sin a person commits before salvation is too great for Christ’s atoning death to cover, surely no sin he commits after salvation is too great to be covered.”
A. A. Alexander: “To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done. But Christians cannot but be lean and feeble when deprived of their proper nutriment. It is by faith that the spiritual life is made to grow; and the doctrine of free grace, without any mixture of human merit, is the only true object of faith. Christians are too much inclined to depend on themselves, and not to derive their life entirely from Christ. Often a Christian is found struggling in his own strength and, failing in his expectations of success, he becomes discouraged first, and then he sinks into a gloomy despondency, or becomes in a measure careless. At that point the spirit of the world comes in with resistless force. Here, I am persuaded, is the root of the evil; and until religious teachers inculcate clearly, fully, and practically, the grace of God as manifested in the Gospel, we shall have no vigorous growth of piety among professing Christians.”
Here is where many Christians have difficulty believing the gospel. Having begun by the Holy Spirit’s new birth, I seek to hold God’s love by my efforts. Jerry Bridges calls this the “legal mode” of sanctification.
Jerry Bridges: “A legal mode of thinking actually gives indwelling sin an advantage, because nothing so cuts the nerve of the desire to pursue holiness as much as a sense of guilt. On the contrary, nothing so motivates us to deal with sin in our lives as does the understanding and the application of the two truths that our sins are forgiven and the dominion of sin is broken because of our union with Christ.”
Our balloon begins to float when we believe that we stand by the same grace which justifies.
3. Buoyant Faith Believes that Justification Includes Confident Hope (Romans 5.2b-5)
In the early church, there were occasions when Christians so wanted to die as martyrs for the faith that pastors had to warn against the practice. Today we grasp the other extreme. We certainly cannot imagine a Christian seeking to be persecuted for her faith. But more than that, most people in our culture cannot stand the thought of suffering at all.
How strange to our ears is Paul’s connection of suffering and rejoicing. In the introduction I suggested that our faith is like a balloon. We begin filled by the Holy Spirit and a deep faith in God’s grace. But two needles in particular deflate our faith. First, sin, which pricks a hole in our faithfulness to God. Second, suffering, pricks a hole God’s faithfulness to us (at least it feels as if it does). But note well that suffering inflates Paul’s “balloon”! How can these things be?
It is because Paul knows that with justification, Jesus also brings God’s unlimited power to work all things for our good. Suffering is no longer thought of as a punishment of an angry and arbitrary despot, but is itself a gift of God’s grace. As a silversmith places the ore into the fire to purify and beautify, so God uses the furnace of affliction to bring us closer to Jesus and make us more like the Son of God. So in verse 5, Paul points out that the presence in the Christian, both of God’s love and of the Holy Spirit, gives assurance that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Therefore we have hope for the future; therefore we can rejoice in suffering. Future oriented hope inflates our faith, making it contagious and attractive.
4. Buoyant Faith Believes that Justification Includes Certainty of Deliverance (Romans 5.6-10)
Dickens wonderful novel, A Tale of Two Cities, culminates with the sacrificial death of Sydney Carton in place of Charles Darnay. He says, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Carton is a drunkard, full of self-pity, and bit of loser, but he redeems himself by laying down his life for a friend. Darnay, on the other hand, was a good man.
Such love for a good friend, though rare, is understandable. But Paul hurries to remind you that such is not the love of Jesus. Christ died for sinners, not for good people. We were enemies with God when he went to his guillotine.
Now follow his argument. We were God’s enemies when Jesus went to the cross to justify us; how much more, now that you are God’s friends, will not Jesus save you on that final day? He has already done the greater work of making peace between a holy God and a rebellious people; saving us on the last day is cakewalk!
Charles Hodge: “If God loved us because we loved him, then he would love us only so long as we love him, and on that condition; and then our salvation would depend on the constancy of our treacherous hearts. But as God loved us as sinners, as Christ died for us as ungodly, our salvation depends not on our loveliness, but on the constancy of the love of God.”
I might even say (though it is too open to misinterpretation) that some of you worry too much about your sins. Don’t, for your deliverance is certain. He has already take care of making you who were God’s enemy into his friend; savings his friends in their continuing struggle with sin is easy! In fact, however, maybe some of us think way to highly of our repentance, imagining that grace denies the need for repentance. Such is not the case; in fact, grace enables repentance. Our repentance is never sufficient; only grace assured and grace applied enables repentance to be acceptable to God.
Romans 5.6-10 insists that your deliverance is certain; your balloon is nearly full!
5. Buoyant Faith Believes that Justification Includes Joy in God (Romans 5.11)
Paul has twice mentioned rejoicing. But before you consider this mere repetition, note well the source of the joy.
In verse 2, we rejoice in “hope of the glory of God.” When a person becomes a Christian, they understand that the final revealing of God’s glory guarantees that all things will turn out good. That gives hope for the future and present joy. Then, in verse 3, we learn to rejoice in “our sufferings.” We cannot escape difficulty in this life, because we are sinners in a world of sin. Problems come, but the Christian knows that every struggle is a means of grace to make us more like Jesus.
In verse 11, we rejoice “in God.” Here is the conclusion, the culmination of buoyant faith. Unfortunately, many Christians secretly imagine God as grumpy, a stern and angry judge who reeks with disappointment over your failures. The Bible disagrees with you. It says that God is perfectly happy, fully delighted that nothing comes to pass apart from his sovereign will.
Zephaniah reminds us that God rejoices over us with loud singing and Psalm 16 that in his presence is fullness of joy. When we know that the work of Christ ends with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, we cannot help but have a contagious faith.
Pastor Stephen Andrews tells of the time when his daughter brought home a chocolate teddy bear from a gift exchange at her school. The next day mom opened the daughter’s bedroom to find her 3-year old son in his sister’s room, caught red-handed, chomping down on his sister’s chocolate teddy bear. The boy backed against the wall like a cornered criminal, knowing that there was no hiding his guilt (or his chocolate covered hands and cheeks!). He immediately began to sob a confession. His mother told him that, in spite of his tears he would still have to tell his sister what he had done when she got home from school.
That afternoon was torture for the boy, as each passing minute seemed like an hour of wondering how his sister would react to his crime. When she arrived home, the boy ran to the door. The anxiety building all day behind the dam of his guilt burst forth in a torrent of tears and confession: “Sally, I’m so sorry, I ate your teddy bear.” He was a sorry sight, standing there sobbing in his guilt. But his sister was wise beyond her years, hugged him in her arms and said, “It’s okay, Johnny, I will love you anyway and always.”
Though he was still crying, the little boy began to giggle. Tears were still running down his cheeks for shame, yet at the same time he was laughing for joy. With a vigor made more strong by the joy the tears made deep, he hugged his sister with all his strength.
Bryan Chapell: “When we face the reality and seriousness of our sin, we are rightly broken to the point of tears. This degree of desperation only makes our joy more deep, however, when we recognize that our God is still willing to say, ‘Do not despair, Child; I will love you anyway and always.’ The love and gratitude that such a gracious pardon generates then becomes the motive for embracing our Lord and his purposes with all the strength of our being…. Thus the joy that beacons through the tears of repentance moves us to a new and more empowered obedience…. This is a different kind of religion from that of the guilty oppressiveness that motivates so many Christians and mires them in an unrelenting slavery to fear of God’s disapproval.”
Surely you realize that this little boy will never again sneak into his sister’s room and eat her candy. Grace, joy and forgiveness have mingled with sorrow and repentance, making both more real, deep and true. You think about that, as you strive to believe in grace.