Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Romans 5:1-11
We will also be continuing our “deep dive” into the book of Romans we are spending the next two weeks looking at the key spiritual teaching that Paul highlights in his letter … that we are saved by faith. This week we will be exploring the teaching of “justification” but more importantly being open to the profound free gift of God’s grace to us. Our minister Phil loves preaching on Romans and will undoubtable be passionate as he explores this great chapter of the bible – Romans 5.
Last Sunday Kevin started our journey into this book of Romans where we are going to spend 8 weeks exploring … which sounds like a long time to spend on one book of the Bible but Romans is a very theologically dense book … there is a lot in it.
Kevin last week gave us a summary of the structure of Romans and I would like to value add to what he said last week by giving some of the context that this letter to the church in Rome was written.
Some quick questions to being with…
Who wrote this letter of Romans? The Apostle Paul?
Anyone know when it was written? Around 57 AD – one of the last letter written by Paul.
Who was it written to? The church in Rome. But this is where it becomes interesting. The church in Rome is unique from most of the other early churches around the Mediterranean because it was not set up by Paul or another of the Christian missionaries. Rather it was most likely set up by Jewish Christians who were at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:10 tells us that there were visitors from Rome there, and we assume that they were part of the 3000 people who were saved that day, and ultimately went back to Rome and set up a house church there.
Paul had never visited the church in Rome but wants to. He writes numerous times that he is planning to visit them and if you know your church history ultimately does, but not on his own accord but a prisoner of the emperor.
From putting pieces of the bible together, the original church leaders were Priscilla and her husband Aquila (told you that women in leadership were coming). Initially this church in Rome would have been made up of mainly Jewish people but as it grew some non-Jews became followers of Jesus and joined the church. (And would have had the same issues that we learnt that Peter had to address a few weeks ago)
BUT something happened in 49AD which turned the whole church in Rome upside-down. The Emperor Claudius, out of total frustration in having to deal with squabbles with the Jewish population, expelled all Jews from Rome for a period of time. As Acts 18:2 tells us, that included the church leaders of Priscilla and Aquila.
The church in Rome survived as new non-Jewish leaders stepped forward to take up those roles … but it would have been a very different place as these new leaders shaped the church. Then the Jewish people were allowed to return and
you can just imagine the tensions that were in the church as the old leaders and the new leaders clashed over practice and theology. This is the background into which Paul wrote his letter.
I find that the book of Romans is basically in two sections … split by Romans 12 verse 1. Different versions say it slightly differently but verse 1 starts … “Therefore, in the light of everything we have said so far, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to…”
Romans chapters 1 – 11 goes in deep detail about the theology of God’s mercy; of God’s free gift of salvation that comes to us through Jesus. And then in Romans 12 verse 1 it switches to saying in the light of God’s mercy … this is how you should live in response to all that God has done for you.
Romans … two sections …
- Chapters 1-11 Understanding God’s mercy
- Chapters 12-15 Living in response to God’s mercy
Making sense so far?
If we can through the early chapters in Romans leading up to our bible reading today we can see that Paul is methodically putting together this teaching about God’s grace.
- 1:5 – Through Jesus we received grace…
- 1:15 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believe
- 3:20 – No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
- 3:23,24 – … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
- 3:28 – …we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law
- 4:7,8 – “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
- 4:23,24 – God will credit righteousness for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
These first four chapters of Romans are full on … but at the same time Paul is being abundantly clear – A person is not made right with God by perfectly following the law but only by accepting God’s grace given to us.
Paul often uses two religious words a lot in Romans – Righteousness and Justification – let me just clarifying what these two words mean.
Righteousness is the process of being made right with God. Paul’s theology is that when we sin (or fall short of the glory of God), that this separates us from God, we are not right with God. Righteousness is the process of becoming right with God again. The Old Testament would say that righteousness (being made right with God) comes by following the law. Paul would argue that no-one (other than Jesus) is perfect and can be made right that way … so righteousness can only be given through God’s grace. God chooses to make us right again.
Justification is similar but different. Being Justified is having your sins forgiven, given a clean slate, being washed clean, or made pure. Justification is part of the process of being made righteous. You would have heard the saying before … Justified … “Just-if-I’d never sinned”
Or very simply:
- Righteousness is being made right with God
- Justified is having our sins forgiven
Same, same but different.
So … we get to today’s Reading from Romans 5 … let’s see how Paul brings this all together.
Verse 1 & 2 – Therefore, since we have been justified [our sins have been forgiven] through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Paul does take a lot of words to say what he could say in 10 words … but Paul is just repeating again what he has said in the first 4 chapters of Romans. Through faith, our sins are forgiven and we have been made right with God. But then Paul goes out on a little tangent.
Paul says that just as we celebrate God’s grace, we should be ok with those times of suffering too. Because suffering produces perseverance which produces character that ultimately leads to hope.
Have you had this experience? You probably couldn’t see it in the moment, but looking back in hindsight – can you see that those difficult moments in your life has helped you to grow. You wouldn’t ask for suffering to happen, but in those times when it has, that you find a strength within yourself to keep going (perseverance), that is can shape you to be a better person (character) and that you find in a way beyond our understanding that our faith does indeed give us hope. What Paul is writing is true.
But that is enough for Paul’s tangent – he snaps back to his theology lesson with some interesting time-line analysis. As Paul had already explained, all of us have fallen short of God’s glory and are in need of God’s grace
So how does this work…
Is God’s mercy a compassionate response to our shortcoming and pleas for help? No … God’s love for us in unconditional. God has loved us from the beginning. Before we even thought about the fact that we were sinning, God was working on a plan for mercy and reconciliation.
Paul is being totally clear … righteousness and justification does not start with us. It starts with God and God’s love for us. It is all about God, it is all instigated by God, it is all paid for by God … we are just the recipients of it.
God demonstrates this unconditional love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
BUT – if it is all about God and not really dependant on us, then isn’t this grace and mercy open for people to take advantage of it? If we don’t have to do anything other than just receive it – then a person can live a life of sin and godlessness and as long as they ask for God’s forgiveness then all will be ok? Is that the way it works? Come back next week for that answer as I will explore the loophole of Grace and how Paul address this in Romans chapter 6.
But for now – I just want you make sure that you have heard the good news of Romans chapters 1-5.
That God has always loved us. And while our connection with God might have been broken at different points, God’s love for us never changed. It is not dependant on whether we are right or not – God just loves us.
And so, before we can even think about what we might need to do to try and fix this separation, God – driven by God’s love for us – was already at work. Before we even began to consider what we could do, Christ died for us. We are offered this free gift of mercy and grace! God offers to reconcile us, to make us right again with God, to justify us and through the resurrection of Jesus, give us life … all we need to do is accept it.