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The effects of justification
Romans chapter 5, verses 1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified 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. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
With his introductory word therefore, Paul is again inviting us to see an important connection. This time it is the connection between the righteousness received from God (justification) and the effect this righteousness has in the believer’s life.
A number of times Paul has spoken of justification as being for all people. That teaching is often referred to as general justification. The universal aspect of justification, however, is just one side of the picture. The necessary counterpart to this teaching of general justification is a proper understanding also of subjective justification, that is, the need for faith in the heart of an individual to receive the blessings that objectively are there for him and for all people by virtue of God’s doing. The unbeliever who rejects Christ’s righteousness loses the benefit of what is truly there also for him.
It is the former group, namely, believers who are subjectively justified by faith, of whom Paul speaks here. There are great and grand things coming to them in their new life in Christ. The first blessing Paul mentions is peace. “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This peace is not just a feel-good kind of emotion in the heart of the believer. This peace has an objective reality. It has an existence entirely separate from the believer because it is a peace that comes from God. He created and provided it, for it is a peace that comes “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The sinner can do nothing to create that peace. Look a few verses ahead to see how Paul describes us in our natural state. We were “powerless” and “ungodly” (verse 6), “sinners” (verse 8), and “God’s enemies” (verse 10). Positive input from us was nil, and our situation was hopeless, but God reconciled us “through the death of his Son” (verse 10). Hence there is now peace because of God’s having brought about a reconciliation. Note again that this peace has an objective existence. It is there for the sinner to accept by faith.
In addition to the great gift of peace with God, there is another blessing springing from the sinner’s justification, and that is “access” to God. The believer is free to come to God’s throne of grace with any and every petition. Paul points out that all of this is possible by our connection with Christ, “through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
Instead of hostility or fear and anxiety, there is now a tranquil peace in the life of the believer, marked by continual, unhampered access to God. But that’s just the beginning. There’s more: a glorious hope for the future. Paul continues, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” What we have now is just a tiny foretaste of the unspeakably greater joy of sharing in the glories of heaven and of God himself.
This glorious prospect makes bearable the inevitable crosses and difficulties that come into every Christian’s life. These crosses, however, not only become bearable, but in the midst of them, the Christian can still rejoice. We can do so because we know that under the loving care of a good and gracious God, even suffering leads to blessings and positive results in the Christian life. Hence Paul can make the bold claim that we rejoice not only in the hope of future glory “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
A number of passages in Scripture set up a sequence, or chain, of virtues.*
(* Galatians chapter 5, verses 22 and 23; James chapter 1, verses 2-4; 2nd Peter chapter 1, verses 5-7)
The order in which the virtues are listed is not always the same, seemingly because each author has a particular point of emphasis he wishes to bring out. Here Paul wants to end with hope, which is really a synonym for faith in the sense of trust and confidence.
According to Paul’s sequence, suffering produces “perseverance,” the quality of bearing up under adversity. Such perseverance produces “character,” as seen in the reliability and dependability of the veteran who has withstood and survived some challenging situations. Hence character leads to “hope,” which is nothing other than trust and confidence.
Hope and confidence, if misplaced, can leave us in the lurch. But that is not the case with the hope Paul speaks of, for it is well placed. Christian hope “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
This hope is reliable because the one in whom it trusts is trustworthy and reliable. The object of trust is God, and he “has poured out his love into our hearts.” The form of the verb used here for “has poured out” makes the point that God has previously done this and the effect of it still continues at the present time. God sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts to bring us to a knowledge of God’s love for us. The Spirit has worked in us a faith that reflects a confidence in God’s continuing love for us.
But how can this hope be so sure of God’s love? Paul urges the reader, Take a look at what God’s love was willing to do—even under the most adverse circumstances.
Romans chapter 5, verses 6-8
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In the English language, there are widely varying levels of attachment expressed by the solitary verb love. We love God; we love our spouses; we love family and friends; we love animals; we love the outdoors; we love chocolate cake.
The Greek language had a number of verbs to differentiate, to some extent at least, between varying levels of affection and attachment. It is important to realize that the word used here for God’s love is agape, the term indicating a one-way, unreciprocated love coming entirely from God. There were no endearing qualities in rebellious humanity that moved or influenced God. It wasn’t like in human friendship where both parties bring endearing qualities to the relationship so that a mutual affection develops. No, in the situation Paul is describing, all the good things originate on God’s side of the relationship.
Note first of all the timing. The apostle says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” In writing to the Galatians, he said, “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (chapter 4, verse 4). Christ came according to God’s timetable, not in response to any human choosing or planning.
Note, furthermore, that Christ came when we were “powerless.” Even if we had wanted him to come, which was not the case, we couldn’t have done anything positive to bring it about. But the infinitely worse situation was that by nature we didn’t want anything to do with God and his promised Savior, because we were “ungodly.” And yet, for such ungodly people as us, the Father sent his Son to die. That’s one-way love, the kind one can hardly find even the faintest approximation of in the human experience. Note the negative adverbs “very rarely” and “might possibly” when the apostle writes, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.” This verse has been interpreted in several ways. In the NIV the perceived difference lies between a righteous man and a good man.
The point is that even if a person has all kinds of legal and logical reasons to expect help and support from others, only very rarely will someone step in to die for him. For a good man—that is, one whose position of power or prestige strongly argues that he should be spared for the public good—somebody “might possibly dare” to die. The message in either statement, however, is clear: Don’t expect it!
Other interpreters have chosen the linguistic possibility of substituting the meaning “cause” for man, particularly in the second instance. The point then being that very rarely will anybody die for a righteousness person, but for a good cause “someone might possibly dare to die.” Examples such as that of a soldier throwing himself on a live grenade to spare the members of his squadron are usually envisioned. Again, that might possibly happen, but don’t count on it!
Whichever interpretation one takes, the point is the same, namely, that human love generally doesn’t extend to the point of a person’s dying for his neighbor. What doesn’t happen among people, however, God did. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Do you want to know if God loves you? Look at what he has been willing to do for you. When you were not just weak and “powerless” but an “ungodly” sinner actively opposed to him, Christ died for you—as he did for everyone. That is God’s one-way love in action. It is the love that allows Paul to say that God is a God who “justifies the wicked” (chapter 4, verse 5).
Justification is a present reality, bringing the priceless blessings of peace, joy, and hope even now amid sufferings, but it bodes well also for the future.
Romans chapter 5, verses 9-11
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 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! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
From Paul’s use of the future tense (“how much more shall we be saved”), it is plain that the apostle is taking the long view. God’s love, poured out in our hearts, gives us a sure hope for the day of God’s eternal and final judgment. Paul supports that confidence with an argument from the greater to the lesser. The logic is, If God did something that’s difficult, then surely he’ll also do something that’s easy. Notice the two negative aspects in the first part of verse 10, the difficult things to work around. We were God’s enemies, and God’s Son hung dead on the cross. But God’s loving power successfully addressed both of those negatives: We have since become reconciled to God, and Christ has been raised to life. Paul reasons, “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!” As reconciled friends of God with a living Savior, we have every reason to be confident about judgment day.
Paul, however, is a very practical person, much concerned about the real problems besetting his readers in their day-to-day lives. Hence he returns once more to the concerns of the present. He points out that Christian hope is not some pie-in-the-sky future prospect, as some suppose; it brings reconciliation and life even now. He assures them, “Not only is this [hope for the future] so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now [for the present time] received reconciliation.”
Summary: Man’s unrighteousness brought death; God’s righteousness brings life
To follow Paul’s line of thought here, it’s useful to take a look at the structure of verses 12 to 21. The dominant feature of this whole section is a major comparison Paul sets up using the comparison words “just as . . . so.” The complicating feature is that the comparison, begun with “just as” in verse 12, gets interrupted. Note the NIV translators’ dash at the end of verse 12. The comparison will be picked up again and completed at verse 18. There we see that what Paul had in mind already in verse 12 was a statement like this: Just as Adam’s disobedience brought sin and death to all mankind, so Christ’s obedience brings righteousness and life for all mankind.
Fitted between verses 12 and 18 are two asides, or digressions. The first one, verses 13 and 14, speaks of a similarity, or parallel, between what Adam and Christ did. The second digression, verses 15 to 17, points out the great contrast between what the two did, with Christ’s gracious gift far overshadowing and offsetting the damage father Adam did to the human race.
Romans chapter 5, verses 12-14
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Paul asserts that through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world. Death, which is the wages of sin, necessarily followed, because “all sinned.” At this point, however, Paul is sidetracked by an objection he anticipates. Someone is going to say, Did everybody really sin like Adam? What about those people who lived “from the time of Adam to the time of Moses”? At that time there was not yet a Mosaic Law given from Mount Sinai. Wasn’t there a difference between Adam, who had a specific command from God, and those who came after? Could one say of them that “all sinned”? Paul answers in the affirmative: “Before the law was given, sin was in the world.”
He then follows with, “But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” To be sure, the record-keeping is different when there are no specific laws to measure people’s disobedience. Recall Paul’s similar evaluation at chapter 4, verse 15: “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” But quite apart from the individual infractions of specific rules, there was something else at work after the fall. That something is what has come to be called inherited sin, or original sin. With his sin Adam gave sinfulness to all people, so that all people are born in a sinful condition. King David finds it necessary to confess, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51, verse 5).*
(* See also Genesis chapter 8, verse 21; Psalm 48, verse 3; John chapter 3, verse 6.)
True, before the Mosaic Law was given, the record of individual sins may have looked different, but even so, all people were sinners. We can be sure of that, Paul argues, because all died—the penalty for sin. “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.”
What Adam did had an effect on all people. In this respect Adam is a pattern, or type, of “the one to come,” that is, the promised Messiah, the Christ. Paul is very close to resuming his original comparison: “Just as what Adam did had an effect on all people, . . .” But before he returns to completing his statement with the similarity between Adam and Christ, Paul first asserts that there are also some major differences between the two.
Romans chapter 5, verses 15-17
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
The “gift” Christ brought is not like the “trespass” Adam committed. Christ’s gift is far greater and better than anything Adam could ever do to us. Paul brings that out in the next three sentences. Basically the three sentences all say the same thing; repetition reinforces Paul’s point. But there are a few distinguishing features in the sentences that we should note. He says, “If the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!” In the original Greek, it is very apparent that in this section, Paul is piling up a variety of terms for gift and grace to emphasize God’s generosity. Note also in these sentences the use of the comparative “more” to show the superiority of Christ’s gifts.
This is also a good place to start sensitizing ourselves to Paul’s use of the terms many and all. Many simply says that the group is large; it may or may not include all. The context has to determine the scope of inclusion in the many. When Paul uses the term all, he is informing us that the total number of a certain group is being included. The total group, however, need not be large. For example, we might say, “All the 90-year-olds in our congregation are housebound.” The group in its totality may very likely be small.
Of the two terms, the more difficult one to understand is Paul’s use of many (a large group). The important thing to keep in mind is that using many does not rule out the possibility that these “many” may actually be one hundred percent of those under discussion. We have an example of that here, when Paul says, “If the many died by the trespass of the one man, . . .” With the rare exception of an Enoch or an Elijah, the mortality rate for humans is one hundred percent. Hence with his statement that “the many died,” Paul obviously means that all (the total number of) people died.
The significance of this becomes apparent immediately. Paul states that the many who died (that is, all people) are the same “many” to whom God’s grace and gift in Christ overflows. In the next sentence, Paul identifies this universal gift for all. It is nothing other than justification.
The apostle continues, “Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.” Adam and Christ bear a similarity to each other in that both did something that has an effect on the whole human race. What Christ did, however, is much greater and far superior. The legacy Adam left followed from one sin committed in the Garden of Eden. What Christ did reverses the effect of thousands of sins. Israel piled up sin upon sin in their disobedience of the Mosaic Law. Add to that the transgressions of the Gentiles sinning against the natural knowledge of God written in their hearts, and one sees tons of transgressions in the history of the world. Adam’s one sin brought condemnation on all, but Christ’s gift, following many trespasses, brought justification for the same group.
Paul adds a third sentence: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
The comparison—or rather, the contrast—between Adam and Christ moves to its highest level with the discussion of the core issue: the matter of whether life or death will “reign” in people’s lives. The wages of sin is death, and by the sin of one man, death “became king,” as Paul says literally. But that state is reversible. Death can be dislodged from its throne by the gift of God. What Adam did is serious because it put death in charge. But by God’s grace in Christ, all is not lost. Paul exclaims, “How much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
In verse 15 Paul spoke of the universal justification earned for all by Christ’s death. It is important to note Paul’s change in scope here. He does not say that all will reign in life. That would be the unscriptural teaching of universalism. Paul clearly states that reigning in life comes “through the one man, Jesus Christ.” It is believers in him “who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness.” Salvation is there for all, but only the believers in Christ actually receive it. Christ’s earnest warning remains true: “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark chapter 16, verse 16).
With this discussion of the reign of life or death for the sinner, Paul is now back to the subject matter that introduced this whole section in the first place. Thus at this point he logically completes the comparison that was interrupted after verse 12.
Romans chapter 5, verses 18 and 19
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
In these two sentences, we see why Paul has put so much emphasis on the transferred effect of Adam’s sin. What Adam did had its effect on all the world. Paul has pointed out that even without a Mosaic Law for people to break and thus incur personal and individual guilt by willful sinning, all died because all had been infected with inherited sin. Adam’s guilt was passed on to them. We could say that Adam’s guilt was imputed, or charged, to them.
The point is important for Paul’s comparison here. Just as one trespass on Adam’s part brought condemnation to all people, so there is also a blessed counterpart to that. By a similar transfer process, the righteous conduct of one man, Christ, came to be credited to that same world of sinners who had been infected by the one man, Adam. Because of what Christ has done for the world of sinners, God now looks at them as being holy and sinless.
The world of sinners has done nothing to bring about a change. They have not changed themselves so as to actually become holy. It is rather that in Christ, God looks at them as if they were holy. He declares them to be just; he justifies them. Thus, they have a new and changed status before God.
When Paul says that this is a justification “that brings life for all men,” we need to take that at face value. What Christ did for sinners truly brings life, but it is a blessing that needs to be accepted by faith. Life and salvation are there for all, but unbelief rejects what is there and thus loses the benefits a gracious God has provided.
Paul continues, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” This sentence is virtually a repetition of the previous one, with only a few variations. “Many” replaces the “all” of the previous verse, but as already stated, many simply means that the group under discussion is large. This is not in conflict with the information of the previous verse but simply states that this large group in fact includes all the world.
Referring to this whole group, Paul says, “the many will be made righteous.” Here also, “to make righteous” does not mean that they actually become holy and without sin. Rather, in Christ their sins have been paid for so that God can now look at them as if they were without sin. Being viewed by God as being righteous reflects their new and changed status before him.
Note that verse 18 introduced this section with the adverb consequently. When Paul now says that the many “will be made righteous,” he is not referring to a future time but rather to the logical consequence of Christ’s work. That consequence, or connection, is, in fact, the point illustrated and taught by the comparison Paul sets forth. Just as what Adam did had its effect on all people, so it logically follows that a similar effect, or consequence, may be expected from what Christ did. That consequence is that sinners “will be made righteous” in God’s sight.
Notable throughout this whole section is the frequent use of terms such as “more” (verses 15 and 17), “overflow” (verse 15), “abundant provision” (verse 17), and the like. All are terms highlighting the grace and generosity of our Savior-God. It is no surprise, then, that Paul one more time sets up a “just as . . . so” comparison to show that the blessings Christ accomplished by his obedience are greater and more abundant than the damage done by man’s disobedience. In this last comparison, Paul moves ahead and includes not just the sin of one man, Adam, but the guilt of everyone who has ever gone contrary to God’s holy will as expressed in his law. Adding these “actual” sins to the damning “inherited” sins increases the quantity of guilt to a frightening load. But even this poses no insurmountable problem for a gracious God. As man’s sin increased, God’s grace in Christ simply increased all the more. The apostle describes this amazing phenomenon with these words:
Romans chapter 5, verses 20 and 21
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But 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.
So great is the love of our Savior-God! So rich his grace to fallen sinners deserving of death! Where sin previously reigned in death, there grace now reigns to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. As believers in Christ and beneficiaries of his grace, we might do well at this point to break out in a doxology of praise, as Paul later does:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom
and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him
are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
(Romans chapter, 11, verses 33-36)