MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 30, 1998 FROM ROMANS 5:1-2
As we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we come to chapter five this morning. From the middle of chapter three we have been looking at, with varying levels of intensity, one of the cardinal doctrines of the church, justification by faith. Paul begins to explain this in depth in chapter three beginning with verse 21 where he says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” In chapter four, Paul gives a case study of this doctrine. That is, he uses the case of Abraham to prove that God has always placed his stamp of divine approval on people NOT on the basis of their works, as if a person could EARN favor with God, but on the basis of faith. As Paul shows in the case of Abraham, God imputes a right standing on a person when that person believes God and His promises.
Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 with respect to Abraham, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” God credits righteousness--gives a right standing before him on the basis of faith alone, not works, so that no man can boast. As we said last week, in basing salvation on faith alone God preserves His glory by ensuring that salvation is attributable ONLY to Him. No human can do anything to merit salvation. If a person could earn or merit or contribute to their salvation, that would make God a debtor, obligated to the person who had earned a righteous standing. This, He will never do.
Paul, in chapter four concludes his defense of the doctrine of justification by faith. When he opens chapter five he moves from explaining and defending the doctrine to celebrating it. He has analyzed it in chapters 3-4. In chapter five he revels in it. As we move into chapter five, we are going to spend some time deliberately soaking in the glorious grace of God seen in the justifying work He has accomplished through His Son. Our intention in basking in this grace, as Paul’s treatment indicates we should, is not to simply focus on the gift that is ours, but to continue to allow the wonder of the gift to magnify the Giver. As we celebrate the justification which is the birthright of all true believers, we want it to fuel the fire of our worship to God. That is our prayer as we enter into this section.
Paul begins this celebration of our justification before God in verse one where he says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ...” In this section, its as if Paul holds this diamond of justification by faith up to the light, and the blessings pour out of it like the rainbow from a prism, emitting a manifold expression God’s glory. The first blessing Paul treats as a result of justification is “peace with God.” This is such a beautiful expression--peace with God. Just those words alone have brought comfort to my soul dozens of times when the violent storms of life were swirling around me. Billy Graham sees this benefit of justification important enough to title his main evangelistic tract, “Steps to Peace with God.” What does it mean to have “peace with God?” This morning, by God’s grace we are going to look at part of what it means to have peace with God.
Biblical writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have a way of using powerful, compact words and phrase which have more than one meaning. “Peace with God” is a wonderful example of this. When Paul says that, because we have been justified with Christ we have “peace with God,” he is pointing to several blessings which are wrapped up in this one phrase. This morning, we will look at two of these. The first aspect of having peace with God is this: Having peace with God means that God is no longer at war with you, the hostilities between you and the Lord have ended. The most basic understanding of “peace” for most people is simply “the absence of war” and that is part of the biblical understanding of “peace with God” as well. This idea presupposes that those who have NOT been justified by faith in Christ are in a war with God. In order to appreciate what it means not to be at war with God, let’s first support briefly the idea that God is at war with sinners.
This is the lesson of the Bible from beginning to end. Those who are not secure in a covenant relationship with God are at war with God. In the Old Testament, God waited hundreds of years for the Canaanites to repent of their sin and when they refused to turn from their idolatrous, murderous sin, He declared a Holy War on them. When the Israelites invaded the promised land and drove out the Canaanites, they were at one level, simply the agents God used to defeat His enemies. It was HIS war, not primarily theirs. We see this in this account of the destruction of Jericho in Joshua 6:17 where God says about Jericho, “The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord.” The word “devoted” is sometimes translated “utterly destroyed” and is the Hebrew word “herem.” It is a term used to communicate that God has declared a holy war against a rebellious people.
We see that God is at war with sinners because sinners, through their rebellious sin against him, have declared war against Him. David makes this point explicitly in Psalm 2 where he says beginning in verse one, “Why do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One.” David pulls back the veil of the natural world and exposes the spiritual opposition waged against God. Here is a world at war with God. God’s response is classic, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” God, far from being intimidated by those who sinfully rebel against Him, laughs in derision at their measly attempts to oppose Him. God and the sinner are at war with each other because Satan long ago declared war against God and who is the spiritual father of sinners? If the father is at war with God, then the children, who share their father’s evil inclinations will also be at war with God.
When you move into the New Testament, this idea of God being at war with sinners and sinners being at war with God is carried through. In Colossians 1:21 Paul is speaking of the state believers were in before they were justified and says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” The sinner is not simply ignorant of God, or following a different path than God wants, he is in an adversarial relationship with God--at war with Him. Paul makes the same point later on in Romans 5. In verse ten he says of their pre-conversion lives, “For if while we were enemies,...” Those who have not been justified are enemies of God, opposed to Him and enemies of the cross.
The way God is currently waging war against sinners we saw in chapter one. God’s “wrath is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.” We saw that this wrath is being poured out as God gives people over to the “sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, for the degrading of their bodies.”(v.24) He is waging war, revealing his wrath by giving people over to (v.26) “exchange natural relations for unnatural ones.” He is waging war against sinners by giving them over (v.28) to “a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” God knows that the power of sin, when allowed to proceed unchecked in a person’s life, is a wrecking machine that chews people into little pieces. He wages war against rebel sinners by simply refusing to stop the devastatingly destructive power of sin which is at work to destroy the sinner. It is war and God is waging it right now against the sinner. Those whom God has chosen for His own will, by His grace, wave the white flag of surrender and bow to His holy allegiance, but others will go down to merciless defeat, shaking their fist at God all the while they are slowly retreating down the road leading to the fire of hell.
Now, it doesn’t take a brilliant theologian to figure out that the WORST place in the universe to be is to be fighting a war with God. The ultimate picture of utter futility must be that of a sinful, finite, mortal creature standing in opposition against the holy, infinite, eternal, omnipotent Lord of hosts. There is no hope for those people apart from what God, in His initiative, in His grace can do for them. And this is the beautiful picture of justification by faith. God, in justifying sinners has mercifully signed a permanent peace treaty with those who he is at war with and he has used as ink on that treaty, the blood of His Son. The hostilities are ended. If we have been justified, God isn’t at war with us. An eternal peace has been purchased through Christ. We don’t EVER have to fear the wrath of God. In love He disciplines His children, but we will never have to endure his holy wrath. We will never have to drink the cup of his fury. Jesus did that for us on the cross. While God is at war with the world, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is one reason why it is such a travesty for a person who has been justified, made right with God, to then turn around and act like an enemy of God. Christians who are in idolatrous, unrepentant sin in one sense have re-declared war with the God who signed their peace treaty. James says to believers in James 4:4, “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Here is a Christian, at peace with God thanks totally to the work of Christ. This person, because of friendship with the world--watching the same television as the world, paying to see the same movies, read the same books as the world--sharing the same value system of the world--this person, who has been granted peace with God is actually disrupting the peace and re-arming against the God who saved him. This is treason in its purest, most vial form. How can we re-arm against an omnipotent God who, under absolutely no obligation and totally on HIS initiative has declared a state of peace between us? How can we finite, forgiven, intensely weak creatures rebelliously re-commence hostilities against Him? We have been blessed with peace with God. Let us enjoy and bask in that blessing for His glory--not dare to renew a fight he paid to end with the blood of His Son.
The first aspect of having peace with God is God is no longer at war with us, the hostilities between us and Him, at his gracious initiative have ended. A second aspect of what it means to have peace with God goes beyond this first idea. The idea of being at peace with God means more than simply the absence of war. The concept of peace with God also includes a very positive aspect. Not only are the hostilities between us at an end. God has also cleaned us up, He is healing the war wounds of our rebellion against Him and He has brought us into his palace where we sit with His Son. He has adopted his former enemies into his family and made us his own--given us the royal seal of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He sees us as having the righteousness of Jesus. He has brought us into a place of harmony and fellowship with Him. This second aspect of peace with God incorporates the understanding of peace as well being and harmony. This is also a biblical concept of peace and is a much warmer concept than simply the absence of war. To have peace with God in this sense is to have harmony and a sense of well being in our relationship with God.
So many Christians, born again believers do not experience this peace. Their God wears a fairly permanent scowl. If they were to be painfully honest and transparent, they would admit that many words describe their relationship with God, but peace--shalom isn’t one of them. The idea of intimacy with God is little more than a fairy tale. Maybe you can meet yourself in this letter which came across my desk nine years ago when I was in Minneapolis, working in a church down there. It says, “Dear Pastor, I have a problem I feel like giving up on. I was wondering if you could help me with it. My problem is living the Christian life. I became a Christian many years ago and I have what seems to be a deep desire to serve the Lord and be pleasing to Him. I am active in my church and some people even look up to me as being a fairly spiritual person, whatever that means. My trouble is that this abundant life I have heard about so many times and have wanted for so many years seems to escape me.
I see certain people who seem to have learned the “secret” of the Christian life and I am jealous of their experience with God. I have read devotional books and have heard many great preachers speak, but I still live a life of defeat. I have rare moments of extreme joy when I feel so close to God, but I have to admit they are the rare exceptions. Most of the time, I feel discouraged and think that God is disappointed in me. I try so hard to please Him, but I always seem to come up short. The same sins plague me again and again. I confess them, but I wonder if God isn’t just tired of hearing the same sin over and over and even if I can be forgiven for committing the same sin over and over again.
I sit in church and sing those hymns which speak of the wonderful life in Christ and often the words ring hollow in my ear. I feel like a hypocrite singing words I haven’t experienced. I leave church feeling only guilty most of the time, but even guilt is better than feeling nothing, so I cling to the guilt as a sign that God is still at work in my life. I have such a deep desire to serve the Lord, but it seems I just keep beating my head against the wall. I’m hurting. Please help me.
Let me ask you, is that person enjoying peace with God? Frankly, I have no doubt that this person is a believer, but they don’t experience well being and harmony with God. Phrases like “I feel discouraged and think God is somehow disappointed in me,” “I try so hard to please him, but always seem to come up short,” and classifying their Christian experience as “I just keep beating my head against the wall”--those expressions hardly reflect a relationship with God marked by warmth and harmony. Now, there are many reasons why I suppose, a Christian can fail to know the peace of God. Unrepentant sin will do it every time. But the man who wrote that letter was missing God’s peace because, although he was justified through Christ’s work, He was living as if his justification--his right standing with God was dependent upon himself. Satan, or his own self-righteous flesh has come along and whispered the lie that he wasn’t good enough, that he needed to work just that much harder for God to love him--to be accepted. And he bought it hook, line and sinker. Of COURSE, we aren’t good enough--that’s why Christ, who WAS good enough came and bought us this new righteous status with God and the peace that comes with it.
Remember, our peace with God is dependent upon our being justified by faith. If we have been justified by faith and we understand what that means in our head and in our heart, we will not struggle as this person did with a lack of peace--at least not for this reason. We can have peace with God because of what HE has done in Christ. HE has declared that we are in harmony with Him by virtue of Christ’s death on the cross. HE has done all the work necessary to establish peace in the relationship--the peace we have in Christ is not dependent upon us--WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN THIS PEACE ALREADY--it is ours if we have been, by God’s grace declared righteous through the finished work of Christ.
The author of this letter has forgotten that the ink was dried on their peace treaty with God 2000 years ago. We stand in a context of peace with God if we have been justified. We don’t HAVE to work for it--it is ours. We HAVE peace with God. We have well being with God. We have harmony with God. God isn’t mad at us any longer. Jesus took all of his anger. God isn’t disgusted with us any longer. He poured all of his disgust for us on His Son.
Our trouble is, we really don’t believe that we have been justified by faith and not works. And because we don’t believe that as fully as we need in order to enjoy the freedom and liberty it offers, we spend years of our Christian life trying to measure up to a standard in our flesh, a standard Christ has already satisfied for us in HIS life and death. He lived a perfect life that is ours by faith. Do we really believe that? If we did, I guarantee you we would experience this peace with God. Do we live as though our peace with God is dependent upon Christ’s finished work on the cross, or do we live as though our peace with God is dependent upon our performance? If we do practice the latter, its no wonder we don’t have peace.
We don’t want to be those kind of Christians who adulterously re-arm against God through unrepentant sin and love for the world. That is treason. But neither do we want to forfeit our peace with God by not believing the good news of the gospel that our peace with God is based NOT on our performance, but in His work on Calvary. If the enemy can’t steal our peace by tempting us to love the world, he will try to rob it by tempting us to believe that our peace with God is dependent upon our performance for God. If sin is breaking your fellowship with God, then repent of it and move on. But don’t forfeit your peace by making the mistake the author of that letter made. I know the pain of that myself because the reason that letter crossed my desk nine years ago is because I wrote it. And there are days nine years later when I could write the same letter. But we must fight, by God’s grace to, on the one hand renounce any love for the things of this world and on the other, renounce our own abilities to achieve peace with God apart from the finished work of Christ in justifying us. May God give us grace to walk that line in the power of the Holy Spirit and manifest the glorious peace of God which is our birthright.
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