Romans 5:1–5 (NRSV)
Results of Justification
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
This week’s passage is filled with ideas from which the study of theology grow. There are several key words. Words like Justified, peace with God, grace, and glory. Theology is a word many of us tend to shy away from. It a big scary word with deep implications. It is the study of God.
For most of the history of Friends we have said that we do not have a theology, which is to say we do not wish to debate finer aspects of theological points of view. But we do delve into theology all the time. Because theology is the study of God. Who is God, how can God relate to me and how can I relate to God are all theological questions. To be honest every time we engage in prayer we participate in some sort of theological quest. I say this because theology and relationship are connected.
These words that Paul speaks to the Romans are saturated with relational and theological meanings. “Since we are justified.” Let us sit with this for a moment. To be justified is to be declared righteous. This term or concept is from the legal aspects of society, because it is linked to justice. To be declared righteous means that the sentence has been fulfilled and the debt is paid. If then we are justified that means we are the ones who have had the charges filed against us, judgement has been declared, and justice has been restored. We have been justified, meaning we are guilty but somewhere along the way someone took care of the sentence for us.
We have been declared righteous, yet we are the ones standing guilty before God. We have opposed His ways and turned our backs on Him, yet as he pronounces our sentence he continues to speak saying he no longer has anything to hold against us because all debts have been paid. We are declared to be right with God.
Simple as that, Paul says in one short phrase that all penalties and judgement are over, we are at peace with God, through one thing faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting how he words this, because it speaks volumes. We are justified, declared righteous, and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Did you happen to catch that? All the justification and peace is made through Jesus, and we have access to this through our faith in Him. And Paul includes a title with this statement Lord. This is a word we through around in church, but do we really know what it means? To be a lord, we have authority and power, and the means and as well as the position to exercise that power. We at times struggle with this term because we live in a culture based on democracy and equality. Of course this is not always practiced but it is the central idea of our society. We have a voice in our culture because we are a people who have decided that every individual has within them the right endowed by our Creator. This system of government has not been widely practiced in the world. Throughout most of human history only a few people were given the authority to speak. And if you had an issue that needed justice you would go before those few people and they would make an appeal on our behalf.
Paul is telling us that we do not have the authority or the means to stand before God on our own merit. No matter how righteous we think we are, not matter how strong we perceive ourselves to be, before God we have nothing in ourselves. We can be the greatest person on the earth at this particular moment yet before God we are nothing. That is unless we have an advocate speaking for us.
But Jesus has the means to speak on our behalf. He knows the realm of Heaven because he came from it to the earth, He also knows the earthly realms because he walked among us. He is the only one that is fully God and fully man. He can speak both languages, he understands where both are coming from, and because of this He can speak on our behalf. But there is more to that than a simple translation. We are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus we have justification and peace with God. When Jesus was born he took the entirety of humanity onto himself. He became mankind. He is not only a good example of humanity, He is humanity. He is the fullest expression of mankind to us as well as to God. So He speaks on our behalf not just to say I have your back but He stands before God the Father as us. He takes our place for us so literally the Father says there is peace because all of humanity stands in Jesus.
This is all wonderful right. We are nothing before God, unless Jesus stands for us, but does that really help? Jesus did not only become human for us before God but He is the embodiment of God to mankind. I have been listening to a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as I travel to and from work. It is a fascinating story of a man who pursued theology with great passion and then attempted to live according to the things he observed. Bonhoeffer emerged into the field of Theology during a time where the vast majority of people in the field took a stance that Christianity was simply a great moral ethic and not much more. Bonhoeffer did not agree with this stance. Most of the theologians of his day were looking at the church through the eyes of man, and the conclusion that they came up with was that there could be no real God. Dietrich said for the church to exist there had to be a holy other and for us to even begin to know this holy other it would have to reveal itself to us because we do not exist in the same dimension as it. Jesus reveals God to us.
So if we want to know God, if we want to have any intimacy with Him, we must look first at Jesus. In Jesus we get a glimpse of the character of this Holy Other we know as God the Father. Jesus shows us that God is not a wrathful being of vengeance seeking to blot out humanity if we give him a chance. God is a merciful God that does not wish to destroy but to redeem. We see this countless times throughout the Gospel: Jesus Heals the lame man, He speaks to the woman at the well, He heals the servant of the Roman Centurion, and He turns the crowd away from the woman caught in the very act of adultery. Mercy followed by Mercy, he listens and he acts. But he does not leave them where they are but encourages them to embrace a different life and lifestyle.
God is merciful as we see in Jesus. God wishes to walk with humanity and enjoy the very creatures he created. He loves us to such a degree that he sent his son to us. God came to humanity through Jesus, and Jesus is humanity before God.
This tells us a great deal. It speaks to us and gives us a glimpse of the reality of who we are. But God is not done. If God became man, and if man became God in Jesus all we have is hope for life to come. This does not help us in the here and now. Jesus came to reveal God to us, but he also came to show us who we are as well. He became human so that we could become human. This is where the hope of the Glory of God comes in.
When our first parents fell, the reality of what happened was that we lost our identity. When we turned our backs on God we did die, just as God said we would. This means we as humans lost track of who we were created to be. Jesus came to become mankind to God, to restore that relationship between the creature and the divine. He also came to bring God back into relationship with humanity. That in itself is amazing, but it is not the full Gospel. Jesus also brought humanity back to humans. He came to show us and become the embodiment of humanity in the truest form. This is the glory of God.
Redemption, Justification, Grace and sanctification are all loaded theological words that attempt to explain and reveal something quite simple. All of these attempt to reveal the Glory of God. That glory is the restoration, or the return of all of creation back to this holy other so that we can again live in communion. These are all loaded words that simply state God created us out of his overflowing love and wants to restore us to that state again. Or as Jesus put it, “your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
What all this boils down to is this. God loves you, God want you to live your life to the fullest, and to find what that means we need to return to Him. To make this possible He stepped out of Heaven and took on human form so that we could be lifted into that glory which comes through faith in Jesus. Not just faith but the entrusting belief that our lives are fully left in the hands of Jesus our Lord. All of theology, the meaning of life and everything boils down to one thing, Jesus.
Are we willing to allow Jesus to be Lord? The early Friends made it a point that they did not have theology, but they instead sought to see and encourage that of God in all people. They believed that Jesus was our ever present teacher and guide, who would speak to us directly if we would stop and listen for His leading. We listen by reflecting on the life of Jesus as revealed to us in scripture, all of theology from the beginning of time to the end is wrapped in Jesus. All of our understanding of ourselves and of God comes through the relationship we can have with the one who came down from heaven to live among mankind. Are we willing to listen to him? Are we willing to contemplate on His life and seek how that would look in our world today?
Paul says that we will share in His glory, but not only that but we will boast in our sufferings, knowing that though our suffering we will have endurance which produces character which produces hope, and hope will not return empty because God’s love has been poured onto us through the Holy Spirit. Paul like the early Friends and so many other religious orders encourages us to look at Christ. To follow him, to walk his pathways. To eat and drink with our greatest teacher. To take on his lifestyle or worship, prayer, and service to others so that we can share or experience true life with God. Are we willing to let Jesus be Lord? Are we willing to let him stand for us both on earth as he does in heaven? Will we take his lifestyle on in our own lives so that we can be declared justified and at peace with God? Or are we going to stand for ourselves? As we enter into this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends let us consider Jesus. And who we are in Him.