Categories
Podcast Reflections Sermon Sunday Worship Worship

Sermon for Trinity 1

Listen to or read the first of a series of sermons on Romans, by the Revd Aron Donaldson

Welcome to the beginning of a series of sermons on Romans. Over the next 7 weeks we will follow the lectionary through the 4 chapters that form the heart of this letter: chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8. In addition to a sermon each week I’m planning to write a mid-week reflection on each passage, exploring different themes and engaging with any questions or responses you may have. I’ll also be doing Bible-studies on these passages on Fridays via Zoom. If either of those things interests you please send me an email.

When I saw we had the possibility to go through Romans, I got quite excited. It’s not often we get an opportunity like this. Usually we hear sermons on the Gospels – and it is always good to become familiar with the narrative of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – but it is texts like Romans that explain what those events mean in greater detail. Specifically, it is texts like Romans that articulate what the gospel is – in a detailed and pithy way. In many ways, letters like Romans are the key to unlocking the essential message of the Christian faith.

But don’t just take it from me, here are what prominent theologians of the church have said about Paul’s letter to the Romans:

The message of Romans is ‘the purest Gospel’ said Martin Luther.
John Calvin wrote that ‘if we have gained a true understanding of [Romans] we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture.’

English Puritan Thomas Draxe called Romans ‘the quintessence and perfection of saving doctrine’

John Stott presented Romans as ‘the fullest, plainest and grandest statement of the Gospel.’
And our own Tom Wright described Romans as ‘Paul’s masterpiece’ and ‘a work of massive substance.’

It seems then that if one wishes to understand the Gospel and unlock the message of the whole of scripture then one must get to grips with Paul’s letter to the Romans sooner or later.

And so, with all that said, let’s turn together to look at chapter 5, verses 1 to 11. If you have a bible to hand, please do open it to Romans 5 or if you don’t, you should be able to see it on the website. Please feel free to put me on pause as you do so – I’ll be going through the text verse-by-verse so hopefully you can follow along and see where I’m going and what I’m talking about.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,

4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—

8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

10 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.

11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1–11

Now, before we zero-in on the individual verses of this chapter let me provide you with a brief overview. Romans 5, 6, 7, and 8 is primarily about hope. It is a hope that every person who is united to Christ by faith can look forward to and enjoy – even in the darkest of situations. This hope we have is based on a theme that will be the basis of all the chapters in this series: it is based on the reality of two realms existing side by side. As we read through this chapter and the chapters that follow in the coming weeks we will see that there are two realms that exist simultaneously in our lives. One realm is typified by sin and death, the other is typified by grace and life.

As we will see, the life of the one who is united with Christ is one that has passed into a new era: of blessing, grace and everlasting life. But don’t be mistaken; Paul is not naive. He knows that the life of a Christian isn’t one of plain sailing (He himself was literally shipwrecked while he was on his way to preach the gospel). Paul is fully aware that although this hope of a new era is dawning on the horizon, there are still vestiges of the old era both within our hearts and around us in the world we live in. After all, we all know that sin, death, sickness, injustice and pain very much remain in this world. Indeed, Paul mentions in our reading that there are sufferings a Christian must be prepared for. However, the message of Christ is that we do not struggle in this world as people without hope. We find in our hearts the presence and work of God as we are slowly restored in His image – partially in this life, and completely in the life to come. While we live in this age of sin and death, we catch glimpses of the grace and life of the age that is to come. We find ourselves on an upward trajectory.

Because these two realms exist side by side, reading this passage from Romans is like putting on spectacles. When we look at the world through the lens of the gospel we will see the reality of a new realm breaking into the old world. Just as night vision goggles show us things that our eyes cannot see – so this passage (and indeed the bible as a whole) shows us that a new reality is present amongst the old. It could be perhaps right in front of our faces…

So let’s put our spectacles on and look closely at the first verse given for us to consider: Romans 5, verse 1.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 1

Whenever we see the WORD ‘therefore’ it is always good to ask what it is there for. In the previous chapters, Paul has outlined how a person is acceptable to God by faith and not by works. To try and illustrate our status before God, Paul has borrowed the legal term ‘justification.’ Now, this concept is rich in meaning and could be the focus of a sermon in its own right! But to put it very simply, to be justified in the ancient world is to be declared righteous by a judge at the end of a trial. The justified person can walk out of the courtroom feeling free from accusation and free from the threat of punishment. In a similar way, Paul has argued in previous chapters that those who trust in Christ are freed from the accusations of sin and are freed from the threat of punishment.

Because of Christ’s work for us on the cross we are justified; because of Christ we are in good standing with God. The following verses expand on what blessings follow-on from that good standing. Specifically:

  1. We have Peace with God (verse 1)
  2. We are standing in Grace (verse 2)
  3. We have a Hope of Glory (also verse 2)
  4. We can rejoice in our Suffering (verses 3-4)
  5. We are the objects of God’s Love (verses 5-8)
  6. We are Saved through Christ (verses 9-10)
  7. And We Rejoice in God (verse 11)

When we layer these things on top of each other: that we have Peace with God, that we are standing in Grace, that we have a Hope of Glory, that we can rejoice in our Suffering, that we are objects of God’s Love, and that we are Saved through Christ, we can begin to understand the hope we have and therefore we can Rejoice in God here and now.

So, in verse 1 we see that we have peace with God. As we will see further in verses 9 and 10, this peace consists of a ceasing of hostility between God and human beings. Human beings are described as being enemies of God who oppose Him directly. And God is described as being opposed to the sin, evil and injustice that emerges from such an opposition. Through faith in Christ’s work-for-us-on-the-cross, that hostility is dissolved and peace infuses our relationship with God. We have peace with God.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God

Verse 2

Now we see that we are standing in grace. We are standing in grace. By faith we are given a privileged position of acceptance. By His grace we now have access to God; we can approach Him with our concerns and requests, confident of a hearing.  We are given the unspeakable honour of being able to stand in the very presence of God. ot only that but we have a hope of glory. We have a hope of glory. Looking to the future, this glory gives us many reasons for hope. It not only refers to the promise of Christ’s return, but also of our own restoration from sin (from age, sickness and death). It also refers to the renewal of the whole creation as it is liberated from the bondage of decay and brought into perfection. The glory in which we hope reaches from the tiniest neurons of our brains to the vast reaches of the oceans and beyond. We have a hope of glory.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Verses 3 and 4

We can rejoice in our suffering. Nowhere is the existence of two realms more stark than these two verses. As we have just seen in verse 2, we have great and weighty blessings of grace, access and the hope of glory. However our hope is still tinged by the old era that is passing away. We will still experience suffering.

But in these verses, Paul doesn’t let that suffering have the last word. He turns it around and co-opts it towards our good. We do not groan in anguish under the dead weight of meaningless suffering – we rejoice because that suffering is working for our good. We find that, thanks to the grace of God working in our hearts, suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope.

In 1560, John Calvin wrote this in the context of a refugee community in Geneva; a community that was experiencing persecution and disease. Calvin writes:

Believers experience the truth of the Lord’s promise of help in time of trial when they endure patiently, upheld by his hand – something they could never do in their own strength. [Endurance] thus provides the saints with proof that God supplies his promised help whenever it is needed. By this means, too, they are encouraged to hope, because it would be gross ingratitude to doubt God’s faithfulness in the future, when in the past they have found him firm and immutable.

In other words, in times of suffering we are forced to lean on God’s strength and in so doing we learn of his faithfulness to us. Relying on His help, we are then able to hope because if God can be relied on now, he can be relied on in the future. We rejoice in our sufferings because they transform us into people who can hope in God.

and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Verse 5

Now Paul begins his pivot towards the love of God. We are the objects of God’s love. We can hope in the midst of our suffering because we who have been justified by faith have the Holy Spirit living within us, through whom God has poured His love into our hearts. Through the Holy Spirit we know in our innermost being that God loves us. How God loves us is described as follows in verses 6, 7 and 8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Verses 6–8

Here we see the apex of human love. It doesn’t get much more extreme than dying for someone else. Throughout history has been moments where human beings have laid down their lives for those whom they believe are good and valuable. But what human being would be prepared to die for a person who was bad to them? Who would die for their enemies? Here we see just how different God’s love is. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It is astonishing who Christ died for: in verse 6 they are described as weak and ungodly, in verse 8 they are described as sinners, and in verse 10 they are described as enemies of God. The word translated as weak in our text means an incapacity for good, and ungodly refers to one who refuses to worship God. The picture we have of our human state before knowing Christ is a bleak one: we were enemies of God who refused to worship Him, and from the perspective of God, were unable to do anything good; to do anything pleasing to Him. And yet – and yet – He loved us to the point of death. What that means for us is that none of us can stray beyond the reach of God’s love. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We are the objects of God’s gracious love

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

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.

Verses 9 and 10

Last of all, we see that the love of God is not just a positive disposition; not just idle good intentions – the love of God changes our future. We are saved through Christ, We are saved through Christ. That word ‘saved’ appears in both verses. We are saved. But what does that mean? What are we saved from? Verse 9 puts it clearly (if a little bluntly): We are saved by Christ from the wrath of God.

Mercifully, Paul doesn’t elaborate much on what this wrath is or what shape it will take. It is enough for him to say that it exists.

Now, some people struggle to accept the idea of the wrath of God. They think it is somehow contradictory to God’s love and patience. But Paul sees no such contradiction. As we have just seen, Paul has just been celebrating the depths of  God’s love: God shows his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us (verse 8). So how can love and wrath exist side by side?

First of all, we must clarify that this wrath is not unjust, nor is it uncontrolled. It is God’s settled, righteous opposition to all that is unjust, sinful and evil. Some elements of this holy wrath can be seen in the responses to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a group of American police officers. We are rightly outraged when we see evil and injustice. However, I think most of us feel uncomfortable with wrath when we see the fallen ways in which humans act-out this instinct for justice. For example, most people I have talked to agree that it is right that the officers involved in the death of George Floyd need to be punished for what they did, but on the other hand it is not right to loot shops and kill police officers in protest.

God’s wrath is not like human wrath. God never loses control of Himself. Nor does He commit injustice as a result of His anger. God always does the right thing, and part of His role as judge of all creation necessitates the just punishment of all that is unjust, sinful, wrong and evil. Sadly for us, we all fit in that category to a greater or lesser extent; and therefore we need a saviour. In the courtroom of God’s perfect justice we need justification. We need saving. Thankfully we are justified by Christ and reconciled by his life. Christ died on the behalf of us who are united to him by faith. The union we have is profound. We are so united with Christ that His death is a death on our behalf; we are so united that his eternal life is our eternal life. We are so united that we share the trajectory of Christ’s life.

Because of the hope we have in Christ, we can rejoice. Paul rounds off this passage with verse 11:

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Verse 11

And with Paul’s encouragement to rejoice in God, I return to the theme of viewing the world with new spectacles.

  1. When we learn of the Peace we have with God,
  2. that we are standing in Grace,
  3. that we have a Hope of Glory,
  4. that we can rejoice in our Suffering,
  5. that we are objects of God’s Love,
  6. and that we are Saved through Christ,
  7. we can begin to understand the hope we have and therefore we can Rejoice in God here and now.

For when we have hope in the glory of God, we can rejoice in all situations, even in our sufferings because we know we are justified-reconciled children of God who have unshakable access to our father in heaven.

And so I pray that God would put this hope before our eyes. That we would learn to rejoice in all the good things he has done for us and look forward to all the things that await us in the age to come. Amen.