Romans 5:1–8 is part of the lectionary readings for the second Sunday after Pentecost, which is June 14th. In 3:21–31, we learn about the Father’s provision of righteousness through faith in the Son (Rom 3:21–31).
Paul argued that long before the advent of the Messiah, Abraham and David were justified by faith (4:1–8). The apostle clarified that faith was also the basis for the covenant between God and His chosen people (vv. 9–15).
Indeed, God’s promise of grace extended to all Jews and Gentiles, whose faith in the Creator was like that found in Abraham. Though he was exceedingly aged, and Sarah was past childbearing, Abraham still believed God’s promise that he would have a son through Sarah.
Because of the patriarch’s unwavering trust in God’s ability to do what seemed impossible, God credited righteousness to Abraham (vv. 16–22). Paul noted that the words “it was credited” (v. 23) to Abraham were not just written for the benefit of the patriarch, but also for all who believed in God (v. 24).
Paul closed his argument by reflecting on the central role of the risen Savior in our justification (v. 25). He was delivered over to death on account of our sins, and He was raised to life to make us right with the Creator (Isa 53:4–6). Jesus, as the spotless Lamb of God, paid the redemptive price for our iniquities (see John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19).
Just as Abraham, our spiritual ancestor (Rom 4:11–12, 16), was pleasing in God’s sight on the basis of faith, not pious deeds, so are we. Also, just as Abraham was declared righteous due to his trust in the Lord, likewise are we. The Creator, who is able to do whatever He promises (v. 21), does not hesitate to give us eternal life when we believe in the Messiah (John 1:12–13; 20:31).
In many respects, Romans 5 is a point of transition for Paul’s entire letter. In the first four chapters, he explained how repentant, believing sinners were acquitted in God’s sight. Then, beginning in chapter 5, the apostle discussed how Jesus’ followers were to live as God’s redeemed and forgiven children.
On the one hand, we learn that Jesus delivered us from punishment. On the other hand, we discover that He also saved us to a full and abundant life (John 10:10). It is like being released from death row in a maximum-security prison and being invited to move into a governor’s mansion.
For Paul, justification was not only a one-time event that put believers in a right position with God. Justification also had practical, lifelong implications for believers.
First among these benefits is the enduring “peace” (Rom 5:1) believers experience with the Father as a result of the Son’s atoning death at Calvary. Because of sin, we were estranged from God and were objects of His wrath (1:18–3:20).
Yet, due to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (3:24–26), not only did believers avoid receiving the wrath they deserved, but also they enjoyed a state of peace with God (John 14:27; Eph. 2:14–15). They expected fury, but received grace. Formerly, they were God’s enemies, but now they were His friends (Col 1:21–22).
A second benefit that results from justification is the believers’ ongoing, direct “access” (Rom 5:2) to God’s “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). At one time, because of sin, they were barred from coming into the Creator’s sacred presence.
Now, as a consequence of the new life believers received, they had full and unrestricted “access” (Rom 5:2). The underlying Greek noun means “privilege of approach,” which was available through faith in Jesus.
In usages outside the New Testament, the term sometimes pictured individuals being ushered into the royal court of a monarch. Hebrews 4:14–16 teaches that the Son opened the door for believers to approach the Father’s “throne of grace” without hesitation.
The Greek noun rendered “access” (Rom 5:2) could also indicate a safe harbor or haven for ships. This likewise fits the biblical concept of believers finding refuge with the Father through their baptismal union with the Son.
Verse 2 points to a corresponding blessing, namely, God’s provision of “grace,” on which His children took their “stand.” Because believers were cleared of guilt, they lived in the sphere of God’s undeserved kindness. It was also in this realm that they enjoyed “every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3) in union with the Son.
The gift of grace was the basis for believers exulting in the “hope” (Rom 5:2) of experiencing the Creator’s “glory,” from which they previously fell short (3:23). In particular, divine grace enabled believers to be “conformed” (8:29) to the “image” of the Son (1 Cor 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2) and anticipate dwelling forever in glorified, resurrection bodies with the triune God (Isa 60:1; 62:2; Rom 8:17–18, 21, 30; Rev 21:3, 22–26).
Paul did not want his readers to conclude that their being at “peace with God” (Rom 5:1) would result in tranquility for them during the course of daily living. Rather, they would encounter “sufferings” (v. 3), in which the underlying Greek noun could also be rendered “afflictions,” “distresses,” or “pressures.”
These are broad words that encompass all kinds of situations that could go wrong. Some people had financial pressures; some had health afflictions; some had job-related distresses; and others struggled with broken relationships.
Whatever the nature of the difficult circumstance, believers could have joy amid their hardships. Also, in baptismal union with the Son, they had the power to choose the way in which they responded to their conditions, no matter how burdensome the situation felt.
It’s clarifying to note that believers rejoiced “in” (v. 3) their sufferings, not “because of” them. This was an important distinction.
Paul was not exhorting believers to be superficially happy when life seemed overwhelming. Instead, he was urging Christians to make their troubling situations the object of joyful confidence, especially when they recognized the beneficial outcomes God produced from their privations.
Verses 3 and 4 record a series of interconnected outcomes: suffering fostered perseverance (steadfast endurance under pressure); perseverance led to tested and proven character; and character produced hope (a confident expectation about the future). (Progressions such as this, called concatenation, were a common literary device used in ancient times.)
So, believers could maintain a jubilant attitude in the midst of afflictions because they knew that God was always at work for their eternal good and would vindicate their unwavering commitment to Him (8:28). Instead of being pointless and frustrating, distressing circumstances could produce Christlike fruit, including perseverance, character, and hope.
Paul affirmed that the believers’ “hope” (5:5) would not lead to disappointment. The underlying Greek verb refers to bringing shame, dishonor, or disgrace on someone.
The idea is that the believers’ confident expectation in the Creator (along with His covenant promises) would result in everlasting splendor, not embarrassment, for Him and His children (Pss 22:5; 25:3, 20). God’s unconditional love for believers is the basis for their inner fortitude and joyful anticipation of future glory.
The idiomatic expression translated “poured out into our hearts” (Rom 5:5) depicted the Spirit inundating the innermost being of Christians with the Father’s tender mercy (Isa 32:15; Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28; Zech 12:10). The Spirit, who indwelt all believers (Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Tim 1:14), was also the agent who expressed God’s love in and through the believers’ hearts.
Such inexhaustible compassion enhanced the hope of Jesus’ followers, for its provision did not hinge on circumstances. Even when life threw God’s children a punch, His grace continued to flow through their hearts to heal their bruises.
Of the 53 times the Greek word for hope appears in the New Testament, nearly one-fourth of those occurrences (13) are found in Romans. Throughout the letter, Paul made several observations about hope:
Abraham believed in “hope” (4:18); we are saved in this “hope” (8:24); we can be joyful in “hope” (12:12); through the endurance and encouragement that come from the Scriptures, we can have “hope” (15:4); the Lord is a God of “hope” (v. 13); and the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to “overflow with hope” (v. 13). Furthermore, Paul often linked hope together with faith and love (or charity), making hope one of the central virtues of the Christian life (1 Cor 13:13; Col. 1:5; 1 Thess 1:3; 5:8).
Previously, in Romans 3:21–31, Paul explained that the Son’s atoning sacrifice at Calvary was the historical, objective basis for the Father acquitting repentant, believing sinners. Then, in 5:6, the apostle pointed back to Jesus’ crucifixion as the foremost example of God’s love for the lost.
Before, in 3:23, Paul declared that everyone was guilty of sinning and failed to live up to God’s perfect moral standard. Now, in 5:6, the apostle indicated that at one time all believers were “helpless” (morally weak and powerless) and “ungodly” (irreverent evildoers).
Despite all this, the Father did not hesitate in permitting His Son to go to the cross (v. 6). This was not a haphazard decision, but one that God initiated at the perfect “time” in salvation history.
For centuries, the Mosaic Law had been in operation—provoking and exposing sin, along with showing people their need to be reconciled with God. Yet, now the occasion had come for the Messiah to be born, at just the right moment in God’s plan of redemption (Gal 4:4).
Furthermore, Jesus became our representative and substitute on the cross. We deserved to die for our iniquities, but He took our place and was offered on our behalf as our sinless substitute. What an amazing act of love the Savior performed!
Paul admitted that people seldom, if ever, gave up their lives for the upright. Occasionally, there might be someone heroic enough to die for an exemplary benefactor or a noble cause (v.7).
Yet, as the apostle revealed, no one was sufficiently virtuous to merit God’s favor. Even so, the Creator was forthright in providing incontestable proof of His love for “sinners” (v. 8).
The Father did so by sending His Son to the cross. Put another way, the sinless Lamb of God literally died for the “sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2), that is, people characterized by insurrection and alienated from the Creator.
The contrast between the one who laid down His life and those for whom He died is stark. Such an act of self-sacrifice could only be motivated by unfathomable love. Just as remarkable, this compassion was publicly displayed at Calvary (Rom 3:25–26).
Romans 5:9–11 continue to build on Paul’s teaching concerning justification by faith. We learn that Jesus’ shed “blood” is the basis for repentant, believing sinners being declared righteous.
As disclosed in 3:25, Jesus’ sacrificial death must be appropriated by “faith.” Paul reasoned that since this greater point was true, the lesser one was just as valid (being a less difficult endeavor to achieve), namely, that through the believers’ baptismal union with the Son, they would be rescued from experiencing the Father’s eternal punishment (5:9; see Rom 1:18; 12:19; 1 Thess 1:10). Expressed differently, since believers have been made positionally right with God, they would certainly not be abandoned to await a verdict of condemnation (John 5:24).
In Romans 5:10, Paul again argued from a greater to a lesser truth. Specifically, the Father “reconciled” His “enemies” (His hostile opponents) to Himself as a result of His Son’s “death.”
Reconciliation refers to bringing two alienated parties into harmony. It is the establishment of peace in a relationship once marked by separation and hostility. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is the basis of a restored fellowship between the Father and His children (2 Cor 5:20–21).
With God having accomplished the more arduous task, there was no doubt that at the end of the age, He would deliver believers from the “second death” (Rev 20:14) because of their baptismal union with the One who lives and who literally holds the “keys of death and of Hades” (1:18).
Paul’s point was that since the Creator no longer looked on believers as His “enemies” (Rom 5:10), the basis of their salvation was complete, having been obtained by the Messiah. The reference to Jesus’ “life” went beyond His earthly sojourn to His post-resurrection existence in heaven.
An example of Jesus’ present ministry to believers was the way He lived to make intercession for them from God’s sacred throne (Heb 7:25). The Son was their “advocate” (1 John 2:1), who pleaded with the Father on behalf of His children.
In summary, the believers’ acquittal was brought about through Jesus’ crucifixion. Also, their sanctification and glorification were made possible through His resurrection life (Rom 8:29–30).
In 5:11, Paul explained that not only did believers have future provision in baptismal union with the Messiah, but they also exulted in the present moment because of what the Father achieved on their behalf through the Son.
To reiterate, the Creator, by sending Jesus, made peace with repentant sinners. Consequently, instead of being God’s enemies, they were now His friends.
The believers’ peace with God is not a truce. A truce is passive. It is cease and desist. Peace, however, is active.
God wanted His children to be mindful of the activity of His peace in their lives whenever they felt anxious (Phil 4:6–7), afraid, or discouraged (John 14:27). Their peace with God impacted their peace with each other, and peace became one of the guiding rules of conduct in their relationships (Rom 12:18; 1 Thess 5:13).
Key ideas to contemplate
Being baptismally united with the Son by faith brings us eternal benefits. Though these have already been described, it is helpful for us to rehearse them again. This time, however, let’s apply them to how we live out our faith.
1. Our peace with God. We have peace with the Father because of the Son’s reconciling work. It is not an external peace, but rather an inner peace that comes from knowing that the Son has made us right with the Father, and that no matter what else might happen to us, our lives are committed to His tender care.
2. Our access to God’s grace. We have access to the Father’s grace because of what the Son did for us on the cross. He took our sin, guilt, and shame upon Himself and died in our place. What a picture of divine grace! The whole human race is offered God’s unmerited favor, and those who receive it by faith will be eternally saved (John 1:12–13).
3. Our hope in God. From the beginning, God wanted us to be with Him in eternity. However, because of our sinful nature, and because He cannot allow sinfulness into His sacred presence, we were forever separated from God.
Yet, because the Father loves us so much, He provided a way, through the sacrificial death of His Son, for us to be reconciled to Him. Also, because we are reconciled to the Creator, our hope of living out our destiny with Him for all eternity is assured.
4. Our sufferings. All humanity lives through some degree of suffering. Yet, as believers, we realize that our suffering has a purpose.
God promises to use the trials that we experience to help us grow in endurance, which in turn will help us to grow in character, which in turn will help us to grow in hope. Through all our experiences, God is watching over us and is ready to use those experiences to strengthen us spiritually.
5. Our reception of the Spirit. According to Romans 5:5, the Spirit carries out a dual work in our lives. First, the Spirit convinces us of God’s love for us, and encourages us by letting us know that God’s love is being “poured out into our hearts.”
Second, the Spirit enables us to live as the Father’s forgiven children. Just as we can never live up to the standards of the Mosaic Law by ourselves, neither can we live as witnesses to God’s love by ourselves. We must have the help of the indwelling Spirit to truly live like Christians.