While We Were Still Sinners
Passage: Romans 4:13– 5:11
Well, Romans 5 is a chapter that is packed full of incredible things, some incredible truths for you and I to rest in and be encouraged by. We can not move away from this passage without seeing that central to Paul’s letter to the Romans, is His desire to draw their attention towards how much God actually loves His people.
There are a few things that I try to really instill into our students week in and week out. I think the thing that I tell them the most often is, “In Christ, there is nothing that you can do to make God love you more or make God love you less.” And the second thing that I am always reminding them is of Westminster Shorter Catechism question and answer number 1. The Catechism asks “what is the chief end of man?” I usually ask them “what’s the highest purpose that we can ever have?” And hopefully they remember that we exist to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God loves his people a lot, and he gives them peace and joy in their salvation. He gives us righteousness and he gives us gifts to enjoy him deeper.
Robert did an amazing job last week helping us think through justification, and he showed that justification is given to us because God loves us, not because we earned it or deserved it. He showed that when we get this wrong, we miss out on joy. Misunderstanding our justification means we misunderstand how we can enjoy God.
So today I want to argue that because justification is based in God’s love for his people while they were still sinners we receive two really important benefits when our status is changed by God.
This section is kind of the hinge that attaches the door to the door frame. Romans 1-4 and 6-8 doesn’t make sense without Romans 5. So to zoom out real quick and kind of remind us where we have been…Romans 1-3 and the beginning of 4 show us that everyone is unrighteous, even the Jewish Christians don’t have any special advantage because they had the law, and that righteousness comes from faith not the law. Romans 4 shows us that because righteousness doesn’t come from the law but from faith, it has to be a gift of grace and chapter 5 is going to show us that this gift of grace, it was given us to show God’s great love for us. In Romans 6-8 we are going to see Paul develop his argument by showing that because we have died to sin, we now live for God, but we don’t feel dead to sin sometimes, and Paul then uses chapter 8 to remind the Romans that they now live in the Spirit and not their flesh. Obviously, this is a bit reductionistic but I want us to be thinking through Romans 4 and 5 with where we are going in mind.
Now, like Robert graciously didn't want to steal any thunder from my sermon, I don’t want to take away from what Clark will do in two weeks and Jim after that. But it is good to have an idea of where we are going. Part of not losing the forest for the trees is having a good map to help us get through the forest. So in the next parts of Paul’s argument to the Romans we will see Paul show us how being saved by grace impacts the way we live our life, he talks about what it means for us that we are saved by grace and not the law.
Today, I want to show us how God changes our status. And then two benefits he gives us within that status change that affect the way that we move through our day to day life and look forward to eternity.
So first, the status change. Point 1 - The Status Change: Justification is God’s way of making peace with a sinful people with whom he loves. Robert explained this last week, but the truth is here in this half of Romans 4 too. The one who is justified before God is the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. There is a different focus in this passage than there was last week now though, Paul begins talking about how justification is tied to resurrection. In this section Paul is emphasizing the all-powerful nature of God’s life-giving verdict in our justification.
Let's walk through the end of Chapter 4 and look at how Paul shows that Abraham is an example for us to look at and see a loving God making peace with a sinful people. I think there are three lessons that we can learn from how Abraham was justified.
Number one - why does this matter for any of us today? Abraham is a model of faith for us today because he had hope in Christ, he trusted God’s promises and his hope was counted to him as righteousness. But Paul goes to lengths to show us that our faith is also counted to us as righteousness for those who believe in Jesus. This is exactly what 4:23 and 24 say, “that the words ‘counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.” So this does matter for us as well, because the promise of righteousness comes to those who believe in faith. Like we saw last week, we are saved the same way that Abraham was saved. By the grace of God in faith. So these truths about Abraham’s justification matter for you and I because we are justified the same way.
Two - We know that our righteousness is not counted to us through adherence to the law but rather our faith in what Jesus has done. Romans 4:20 says that “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God…” But when we read Abraham’s narrative in Genesis we see a few times where it seems like his faith wavers and he slips into some really bad situations because he has made decisions. It looks bad to tell people that your wife is your sister, it looks really bad to do it twice.
So how does Paul say that Abraham’s faith doesn’t waver even when he seems to stumble? I think that Paul is making an argument that is comparative and contrasting. It’s kind of like when you look in your mirror and you see “Ambulance”, but when you look at an ambulance and read the print on their hood it says Ek-Nal-Ubma.
Starting at 4:18 and going all the way to 5:10, Paul is showing us how we can say that Abraham never wavered and how it will also be said that we did not waver. Romans 4:22 is quoting Genesis 15, when the Lord makes a covenant with Abram. In Romans 4:20, Paul says he didn’t waver in his faith, but was strengthened and gave glory to God. I think Paul alludes to the sacrifice of Isaac when he says that Abraham was strengthened and gave glory to God which happens later in Genesis.
Abraham was justified and declared righteous even though he wasn’t perfectly obedient. He messed up and lied, and didn’t perfectly trust that the Lord would bring about a nation from Him. But eventually, Abraham grew in strength and obedience. So that finally when the Lord gave him and Sarah their first child Isaac, who they knew the Lord would make a nation from, and the Lord told Abraham to go sacrifice his son, Abraham trusted God and His promises SO MUCH that he went to go do it. He was confident, without wavering, that the Lord could raise His son.
So he looked forward in hope that the Lord would raise his son, and we look backwards knowing that the Son has also been raised. This is why Paul then says “the words ‘it was credited to him as righteousness but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”
We are declared righteous before we were ever obedient. This passage is so clear that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. But we don’t hope towards the future for a sacrifice to be provided, hoping and trusting that the Lord would raise a Son. We know that He already has. Paul ends chapter 4 by saying, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
Our justification is secured in the fact that the Lord has been raised to life. So us, with him too, are raised to life! So sure, Abraham wavered but not in the way that we think about how one wavers. Paul isn’t trying to make any sort of claim that as soon as Abraham was declared righteous he never messed up again. Paul even says this because he said that his faith was strengthened. You can’t strengthen something that is already perfect. Jesus said that faith, even the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. Small faith doesn’t disqualify you from the Lord using you however He pleases. Our justification is not based on the size or the quality of our faith but on the resurrection of the Son.
No amount of good work can change our status. Just like no lack of or presence of doubt will change our status. It is what makes Paul say that Abraham did not waver. In Christ there is nothing that we could do to make God love us more. Having faith in Jesus changes our status from “guilty” to “righteous.” Faith in Christ is counted to us as righteousness. We can look at the cross, we can look at Jesus and his life and death and resurrection and we too can know that in faith in Christ we have our faith counted to us as righteousness.
This is why we can confidently say that Abraham is a model for any believer, Paul says that the promise is for Abraham’s offspring, not only the Jews, but Abraham is the father of all gentile believers too. Paul is reaffirming that anyone who looks to Christ for justification will receive that justification.
Okay, the third thing Paul teaches us about justification through Abraham is that justification and resurrection are inseparable. Often when we think about the act of justifying, we think about it being done through Christ’s sacrificial death for his people. But in verses 24 and 25 of chapter 4 Paul seems to make an argument that righteousness is counted to us because we believe in Jesus that Jesus was raised from the dead, delivered up for our trespasses and then raised up for our justification. Paul’s argument is that our justification is not in just his death, but also his resurrection. At its very core, justification is bringing us back to life. Justification does not stop with removing punishment from us, justification is often defined as making it, “just as if I’d never sinned.” So what is true of us if we had never sinned? We wouldn’t be dead! We would be alive. Christ died for our sin and he was raised for our life. To bring us back to what we were designed for and created to be, which is with him and like him.
We see this in Abraham and in Christ. Abraham considered himself as good as dead. And this isn’t some sort of faux humility. They were 100 years old and childless! Anatomically speaking, there was no chance of babies happening! The text says that “In hope he believed against hope” … I read one commentator that said it like, he believed inwardly in hope when all was outwardly hopeless.
Christians and Abraham, we have the same hope of resurrection. If Abraham trusts God to raise a son out of his dead body, then we can trust God to make living sons out of our dead bodies! Abraham's hope of resurrection does correlate to our hope of resurrection, and Christ is the connection point between the two. Paul is introducing the concept of spiritual life and sonship coming from dead people, not through the flesh but through the Spirit. In other words, you and I have every reason to look at our bodies and count them as good as dead like Abraham did. But we have as much reason and more to hope that God will bring life and sonship out of them anyway.
So Abraham and Sarah, they didn’t take their barren womb and age to be the living death that their counterparts would have or even what the Jews of Paul’s age would have, they trusted the promises that God made and it was counted to them as righteousness. They have peace with God! We have peace with God when we have this justification through faith! It’s great news! But there is more given to us and this is where Paul goes next. In Christ, we are given more than justification, because he loves us and has peace with us, he gifts us the assurance of salvation in the face of sin.
Point 2 - The First Gift: Because he loves us and has peace with us, he gifts us assurance in the face of sin. Three times in the last 6 verses of chapter 5 does Paul say when Christ died for us. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This is incredibly good news for us. He has loved from the beginning of time. To say it another way, there has never been a time where God did not love you and intended to send his Son to die for you. It matters that there was never a time where God didn’t love you, because it means that there will never be a time where God doesn’t love you! This is a beautiful assurance that we will be loved, despite our sin and despite our shortcomings, we are loved in Christ.
Paul’s argument goes, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Two things should stick out and they are rooted in having a robust theology of justification. We are saved by Jesus’s life, and we rejoice in God’s reconciliation. The fact that we are saved by Jesus’s life means that we have no other hope of salvation. We can’t add anything to Jesus and expect it to change our status, we can’t subtract anything from Jesus and still have the Salvation that Paul talks about here. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection is how we are justified.
And because we are justified, we rejoice in God’s reconciliation. Our justification is a source of joy in our lives. It’s something that should cause us to enjoy God. And it causes us to enjoy God because it comes from a God who loves us. God doesn’t just put up with us or offer Himself up for us so that He can love us, but instead, he died for us while we were still enemies of God! He loved us when we were far off and didn’t love Him. Our God is not a Father who provides for us, but then He turns and holds it over our heads. He’s not a kind of Father who doesn’t really try to be near us and spend time with us, or the kind of Father who we aren’t really sure if he loves us or not… instead, all throughout Scripture we read about a Father who deeply cares for, loves and intimately knows His creation.
And all of this comes back to the fact that we can be assured in our salvation even in the face of sin. So if your theology of justification is so thin that it can be summarized as God merely being compassionate to remove wrath from you then you can’t understand Paul’s argument for your assurance of salvation.
Ok say a stranger rear ends me and I forgive him. He’s thrilled that I would choose not to call the cops, I don’t take his insurance, I say we are good. He’s relieved that he isn’t on the hook to pay for my repairs and his premium isn’t going up. But at best he thinks of me as an unusually compassionate stranger.
If one day I have a son, and my son backs into my car and I forgive him, he better know it’s not just because I’m a nice guy, it’s because I love him. And I hope he knows that even if he does it again I’ll still love him. At a certain point I may take his keys, but I’m not going to kick him out of my house. He’s my son. His assurance that I’m not going to press charges against him isn’t that I’m just forgiving, it’s that I love him and he belongs to me. “For if pwhile we were enemies qwe were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by rhis life.” Paul is going to go on in Romans 8 to explain that “his life” has not only given us life, but given us sonship. In other words, justification is an argument for the assurance of salvation, because it shows God’s love for you. And if he would justify an ungodly sinner, how much more will he be sure to save a son?
We can be assured that He will still love us because there was never a time where He didn’t love us. Our justification is a gift from the Father because he loves us. And this assurance is something that offers us deep joy.
Keller says that joy is the great marker of a justified person. Our joy does not depend on our circumstances or our performance. If it did, I don’t think any of us would be a very joyous person! Legalism is a thief of joy because it distorts our view of the Gospel, more than a distortion, legalism is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. Sinclair Ferguson explains that legalism is rooted not merely in our view of law as such but in a distorted view of God as the giver of his law. God becomes a magnified policeman who gives his law only because he wants to deprive us and in particular to destroy our joy. The “lie” that we now believe is that “to glorify God” is not, indeed cannot be, “to enjoy him for ever,” but to lose all joy. We know that God has given us himself and desires for us to enjoy Him! He doesn’t just tolerate us, and He doesn’t want us to just tolerate Him either.
But we know that in Christ there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more or make God love us less. And so the beauty of the Gospel is not that we are made right, not that we get to go to Heaven, not that life is sunshine and giggles, the beauty of the Gospel is that we get God!
We get to be with God, we receive the Spirit of The Lord while on this Earth. We have a joy that can’t be taken away from us no matter the circumstances that will arise or the performance that we put out. We have God. So rest in your assurance if you are in Christ, and know that God loves you as much as He did before he justified you, even right after you sin. In Christ, you are loved by God. And through God’s word you can be assured of that. Because we can be sure that our hope won't put us to shame, that God will restore us, that he isn't angry with us, that trials aren't evidence of his wrath, then we can have joy in spite of trials.
Point 3 - The Second Gift: Because he loves us and has peace with us, he gifts us joy in trials. Paul shows that we are given more than justification, but because we have been justified by faith, we are given the gift of going through sufferings and being able to rejoice. Each gift that Paul shows us that we have received, it leads us to enjoying God more.
Paul starts chapter five by encouraging believers to remember that they have peace with God through their justification by faith. Because we have peace with God we also have access to God and we rejoice in the hope that we have through God. But not only do we have these things, we can rejoice in our sufferings.
When we go through trials, when we face sufferings of any kind, we can have joy in them. We can rejoice in them because we have peace with God! He loves us and wants the best for us, he isn’t out to get us. He doesn’t want to beat you down, God has peace with his people through Jesus Christ.
Maybe you grew up in a house where there wasn’t peace in the household. I hope this is encouraging for you to hear that when we face suffering today, God is not mad at you, God isn’t angry at you, He doesn’t want to squash you or break you down. Instead, we know that suffering is normal, it happens to everyone, and suffering is a result of the fall. Suffering is proof that the curse of sin is still embedded in everything around us. And unlike an earthly dad who we might not have peace with, our heavenly Father is already at peace with us, and he does not lash out on us from a short temper.
Instead, our heavenly Father, because we have peace with Him, when suffering hits, He does not leave us on our own, He does not turn His back from us. He gives us this ability to go through our suffering and rejoice in them. We have this ability because we are in Christ, we suffer with Him!
Now I want to track Paul’s argument that he makes for why we can rejoice in our sufferings. But first I want to say that some of you are in the thick of really hard things. And this might seem hard for you because you don’t feel like you are rejoicing in your sufferings and you aren’t sure if you ever will. Here’s what I want to say, your suffering is hard, your pain is valid, and your faith is not weak if you aren’t currently rejoicing in what you’re going through. So keep looking to Christ, keep looking to Him to hold you, remember that the suffering you are walking through, the pain you are feeling, the loss you are grieving, it isn’t punishment from God, remember that you have peace with God through Christ. He suffered so that you could. I pray that one day you are able to rejoice in this suffering, and that at some point you see that good that has come from that situation.
So to pick up Paul’s argument, he shows us that we can rejoice in our sufferings because they produce good things within us to bring about a hope for the future. First, our sufferings produce endurance. We have an example again in Abraham here. Abraham was fully convinced that God would do as He had promised. Through the sufferings of Abraham’s life, God was faithful to Abraham, and he never stopped hoping.
I ran Cross Country in High School, and I still run today, albeit much slower than I did and less frequently. But the great thing about running is that the frequency and the quality of your running is completely related. To oversimplify it, the more that you run, the better of a runner you will be. The best way that I can illustrate that our suffering produces endurance is by thinking about the Saturday morning Summer runs we would take at Wekiva State Park. They were always Long Slow Runs, which would mean that we would go at a slow pace and we would run out and back, we would run out for 50 minutes and then we would need to be back in 45 minutes or something like that. So the whole run was usually just over 90 minutes and was usually about 12 miles. These runs were awful! But they were so fun and we knew that we were working towards the common goal of being a top team in the state by the end of the season. And we were a pretty good team, because we suffered together hoping that it would produce endurance. There is another point to make that we actually really enjoyed being around one another and running together because we had suffered together and spent so much time together. We pushed one another and encouraged each other, our suffering is a connecting thing for Christians. It would have been so much harder to finish those long runs if not for my friends next to me.
Christians should bear one another’s burdens and help those in pain around us make it through the valley. Even though we might be uncomfortable asking for help and feeling too proud to invite others into our sufferings, it is how we are designed to suffer. We are saved into a family and into a community.
So our suffering produces endurance, and Paul says endurance will produce character. And character is the thing that produces hope. Hope just like Paul says Abraham has in the chapter before. But why does character produce hope? Because moral transformation is evidence that someone has had a heart that has been changed by the Living God. So we can know that our hope of future glory, is not an illusion, but it is something that the Lord will truly bring us to, and something that He has already accomplished on our behalf.
Suffering well, rejoicing while in trial, is given to us as a gift because God loves us. Paul says that our hope does not put us to shame, in verse 5, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. It is in love, not that we suffer, suffering is an effect of sin, but it is in love that we can rejoice in our suffering.
I love the Charles Spurgeon quote, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” This is rejoicing in our trials! We can look at the storm that is swarming around us and making us feel like we are drowning, and we can kiss the storm, kiss the wave because it throws us against the Rock of Ages. Instead of being thrown into a rock that will cut us and batter us, a Christian’s storm throws them against the Rock of Ages, the Lord. Christian, your suffering is not purposeless, and it is not in vain, it is throwing you against the Rock of Ages who loves you so much.
St. Augustine has a prayer, “You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” In Christ, do we truly find rest because we have been made to be at peace with God and in Christ are we assured of that rest. Tim Keller says that “we can look forward with cast-iron certainty to our home in glory; and we can enjoy a foretaste of it–an OR DERVE before the main course–as the Holy Spirit works in us to give us that subjective knowledge of God’s love for us.
So our status has been made as if we had never sinned before God, and that should cause us to enjoy Him. We have been brought into his family in love, and that should cause us to enjoy Him. He has given us joy, even in the midst of our trials, and that should cause us to enjoy Him. He has given us assurance, even when we sin, and that should cause us to enjoy Him.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.