Studies in the Epistles of Paul
In the first four chapters of Romans, Paul announced that the gospel is a message about the righteousness of God being given to people because of Jesus Christ. First, Paul described the problem: Everyone deserves to die because we all fall short of what God wants.
Then Paul described the solution: The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is a gift, not a result of us keeping laws. In chapter 4, Paul proved this with the example of Abraham, who was declared righteous by God on the basis of faith before the laws were given. Salvation is by grace and faith, not by law or works.
Faith, hope and love
In chapter 5, Paul explains a little more — and in the process, he says a few things that have caused questions for centuries. We will discuss these and notice the main point that Paul makes. He says in verse 1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith” — that’s the main point of chapters 3 and 4 — “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV used in chapters 5-16). The problem between us and God has been fixed.
Before, we were sinners, enemies of God, and unless something was done, we deserved to be punished. But since we were powerless to do anything about it, God took the initiative — he sent his Son to bring us peace. In legal terms, we have been declared righteous, and in relationship terms, we are given peace instead of hostility.
It is through Jesus, Paul says in verse 2, that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” We enter grace, or forgiveness, by faith in what Christ did. When Paul says that we stand in grace, he implies that we can remain in this state. Because of God’s grace, based on what Christ did in the past, we rejoice in the hope that this gives us for the future—confidence that we will share in the glory of God. This hope is not just a wishful thought—it is guaranteed by what God has done for us.
This has practical results in our lives: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (verses 3-4). We rejoice not only in hoping for future glory, but we rejoice now, even when things are not going well for us.
We may not rejoice because of our sufferings, but we can rejoice in them. Trials and difficulties help us grow in determination to endure, and in our character, our consistency in doing the right thing even in difficult circumstances. If we stay on the right path, we can be confident that we will get to the goal. Our source of confidence is not in ourselves, but in what Jesus is doing in us.
Paul says more about hope in verse 5: “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We do not hope in vain, because even in this life we have benefits in Christ, such as the love that God puts into us. Our ability to love is increased because God begins to put his own characteristics into our hearts, and that includes love.
By doing this, God lets us know that he loves us, and he helps us love others, through the Holy Spirit living in us. God gives us something of himself, so we are changed to be more like he is. Through faith, God gives us hope and love. He is changing our outlook on life and the way we live.
Saved by his love
Paul then tells us what he means about God’s love: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (verse 6). Who are the “ungodly”? We are! No matter how ungodly we have been, Christ is able to save us. He didn’t wait until we repented; he did not wait until we deserved it. No — he died for us while we were powerless. He helped us when we were helpless.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die” (verse 7). It’s not likely that we can die for someone else, though some people do risk their lives to save others. This rare situation provides a contrast to Christ: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (verse 8). He had to do it while we were sinners, because sin is what we had to be rescued from. So God took the initiative, sending Christ to die for us, and this demonstrates God’s love. He is good to us even when we are rebels; he gives generously even when we deserve nothing.
The action of Christ demonstrates the love of God, because Christ is God. They have the same love because they are one. When we have trials, we can look to Jesus as evidence that God loves us. His willingness to die for us should reassure us that God wants to help us, even at great cost to himself.
Paul draws a conclusion in verse 9: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Because of what Jesus did in the past, we are now forgiven, and on the day of judgment we will will not be condemned—we will be counted among the righteous.
Paul explains his reasoning in verse 10: “For if, while 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!” If God did this much for us when we were enemies, we can be sure that he will accept us now that Jesus has reconciled us, and he now lives for us.
Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (verse 11). We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and we rejoice in our sufferings, but we especially rejoice in being reconciled to God, because he is better than all his blessings put together. We will spend eternity with a good relationship with God.