June 16, 2019
You all know how I enjoy word play. Years ago I heard in a bible study that whenever you see a “therefore” in scripture, you need to study and see what the therefore is there for. And that's what I want to do today. We are looking closely at Romans 5: 1-5 and in particular, 5: 1, which begins of course with therefore. I will be using a resource the church got some years ago and is in our church library if you are led to study the book of Romans for yourself. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote a series of books on Romans and this four volume set was given the church in memory of Aaron and Anna Mae Barrick; Dwight's parents whom some of you remember.
And so I turn to our scripture for today. I don't think I will get past the first verse so let's look at what that says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And so we need to ask, what is the therefore there for? Barnhouse addresses this in this way, the therefore “opens the door from our past into our glorious present and wonderful future with Christ.” The past is addressed in Romans in chapters 1 thru 4; specifically the first 2 ½ chapters teach us that sin is a part of every individual's life. None of us escapes the tempters snare, none is perfectly holy. God is a holy and righteous judge and the wages of sin is death. But the next 1 ½ chapters reveal that redemption is possible; but only by the work of God carried out in Christ.
We are sinful, God offers salvation, therefore we can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. A wonderful promise, but if you are following closely, you noticed that I skipped a bit, “since we have been justified through faith.” This is a key concept in any serious study of God's salvation; being justified, the doctrine of justification. Do any of you who were in our Bible studies over at Bethany remember the simple definition I gave for justification? Justification means God looks at us “just as if” we've never sinned.
Justification, a big concept in theology. Many thick books have been written about it. I can't cover all the intricacies in one sermon but I do believe it helps us all in our faith journey and in sharing with others to have a basic understanding of doctrine.
As I said, our God is holy and righteous. God has no connection with unrighteousness. So for us to be judged worthy of heaven, it must be because we are judged righteous. Justified and righteous are two forms of the same Greek word and so it maybe makes Romans 5: 1 more understandable using this alternate choice of a translation: “Therefore, since we have been made righteous by faith, we have peace with God.” Note what Paul didn't write, “since we are righteous or justified.” No, we have been made righteous. We have been justified. And who can make a sinner righteous? Only God who is judge and jury.
We were babysitting a week ago Monday and Allie, Elijah and I got our bikes out and were tooling around on the front driveway. Then we decided to set up a traffic light—that was me. I'd hold my arm out for red light and drop it down for green. When they would break a law—speeding, squealing brakes or going through a red light, they'd go to traffic court. I was also the judge in court. They broke the law, I charged them and I judged them. And when they were guilty, they went to traffic jail. As judge, I had the option to show mercy or to throw the book at them. They thought it was fun to go to traffic jail so that's what I usually did. But God, in his “court”, when a follower of Jesus comes in to be judged--and remember every one is guilty--God sees only the righteousness of Jesus. We break God's law, we are charged with sin, God judges that sin; but when we are justified by faith in Jesus, God sees not our sin but the righteousness of Jesus. No traffic jail for those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ—if we look ahead a bit, verse 9 says “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” The church tends to shy away from speaking of the blood of Christ, but it is there. But we understand when we study this doctrine, it isn't in fact the blood proper that saves us, but the blood represents the sacrifice of Jesus. That sacrifice included giving up his glory in heaven to come to earth as a human being as well as giving up his life here on earth in order to bring us eternal life.
There is another part of this injunction I haven't touched on yet, justified “by faith”. Now, it might be suggested that faith is our own doing; we figure out if we will believe in God, it is our good sense that brings us to faith. But scripture is clear on this, even our faith is a given us by God. More? Barnhouse describes saving grace as “the water of life” and says that water “comes to us by the channel of faith. But we are not to think that we have dug this channel, for even faith is the gift of God.” No, we haven't dug the channel, God has done it all.
So if you have recognized this gift of God, this faith that leads to justification, Paul says we “have peace with God.” Many of us recognize this phrase as kind of the calling card of evangelist Billy Graham. His book that explained his understanding of salvation is titled, “Peace with God.” He teaches that we can have this peace with God through faith. But like many teachings, this has been misunderstood by many. Have you ever heard the question asked to someone who is dying, “Have you made your peace with God?” In other words, have you got your life in order so you can face God. And this is not what peace with God means. Peace with God is about understanding that God's grace is what puts our lives in order. We don't make peace with God, God gives us peace. Jesus made that clear when he appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. Remember, from John 20, “Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” His first words were not questions to them about their cowardice or their faith. He didn't ask if they understood his atonement or sanctification or even justification. His first words were about the gift of God, “Peace be with you.” Peace is given; not earned, not made.
We are given peace. We are justified by faith. We are judged righteous. All because of God's love. As I worked on Arlyce's funeral message, I chose a passage from Romans 8 which deals with this same subject and since it is fresh in my mind, I share a portion of the passage now. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The love of God is more powerful, more eternal, than anything we can conceive of. And that love plays out in justification which we also read about yesterday in that same passage, “Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”
So does this mean we can just sin without consequence? Paul asked that same question. But then he answered it a few more paragraphs ahead, “just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” By the way, this was also part of Arlyce's funeral readings. Paul addressed the question of sinning without responsibility, Jesus challenges us to live a responsible life in response to God's love. Author Philip Yancy puts it this way, “Jesus deliberately 'raises the bar.' If you look at the Sermon on the Mount, he keeps raising the ideal, so high that no one can meet it. You don’t murder—do you get angry with your brother? You don’t commit adultery—do you lust? He raises the bar so high that no one can meet it, and then provides the safety net of grace. We don’t have to gain God’s approval by jumping over the bar. Indeed, when we fail, grace is there to rescue us.” We don't cease trying to jump over the bar, and that process is sanctification, another theological term for another day. But let's not be satisfied merely bumping into that bar over and over. Let's live lives of love because that is what we have received at the hand of Jesus.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Our next hymn is a Trinity hymn, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stanzas each highlight a member of the Trinity. Since we've looked specifically at the redemption offered us in Christ today, we note verse 2 says, “We're so glad that You've redeemed us, precious Jesus”. Each member of the Trinity has a job; creator, Savior and sustainer. We celebrate that today. But mostly we recognize that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Jesus offers us forgiveness as we come to him in faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord” Jesus Christ. And that is what the therefore is there for. Amen.
Hymn: Holy, Holy 140 PH