Romans 3:28-30; 5:1-11
(watch here: https://youtu.be/VL5Rp5Os9Ac)
28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and 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.
6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
The opening verse from the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter, “therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” reminds me of the one about Mrs. Youngston. Well, for the umpteenth time, Mrs. Youngston came to her pastor one day to tell him, “I’m so scared! Joe says he’s going to kill me if I continue to come to your church.” “Yes, yes, my child,” replied the pastor, more than a little tired of hearing this over and over. “I will continue to pray for you, Mrs. Youngston. Have faith – the Lord will watch over you.” “Oh yes, he has kept me safe thus far, only…..” “Only what, my child?” “Well, now he says if I keep coming to your church, he’s going to kill YOU!” “Well, now,” said the pastor, “perhaps it’s time to check out that little church on the other side of town.”
Faith can be a tricky thing to have sometimes! It can get a person into quite a jam sometimes as poor Mrs. Youngston illustrates. It takes courage to have faith. That’s because faith can lead a person into some pretty unusual situations. I look back on my own life and recall many decisions I made along the way that were grounded in nothing but my faith in our loving and protective God. God would never let me go into a situation alone and vulnerable. He equips me and guides me throughout whatever situation life places me in. I am never alone and God always goes before me and with me, of this I am sure.
Yes, faith is a tricky thing to rely on sometimes but the rewards of faith are comparably great. All throughout his letter to the Romans, Paul repeatedly lifts up a variety of rewards for living a life of faith including sanctification, reconciliation, righteousness, salvation, glorification, and justification to name but a few. Through faith, we are made right and holy before our God. Our sin debt is canceled and we reclaim our status as beloved children of God. Is it a faith and belief in anything that rewards us so greatly? No, of course not, it is our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that imparts upon us these rewards. Because we believe in what Jesus said and did, both in life and in death, and because we believe that he was raised from the dead and continues to walk with us today, guiding us and protecting us…because we claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we receive incomparable, eternal rewards.
I warned you last week that Paul’s letter to the Romans is arguably his densest, most spiritually mature letter. As a fellow theologian of his, it’s hard not to try and explain difficult aspects of the Christian faith. Sanctification, reconciliation, righteousness, salvation, justification…these are difficult concepts to understand! Last week, we wrestled with Paul’s understanding of salvation. This week, I think our reading wants us to focus in on the reward of justification. So what does it mean to be justified to God? In our bible study earlier this week, we explored how the meaning of the word in its original Greek text came from the courts of law. Imagine a prisoner standing before a judge and is found guilty. The judge is sure of the guilt and the prisoner is sure of his own guilt. But for whatever reason, the judge declares the prisoner innocent, or “justifies” him. Is he thereafter innocent? Or is he guilty? His guilt remains but he’s no longer punishable for it so in essence he is innocent. This is not unlike how God justifies us. Our crime…our sin and sinfulness…remains yet we, through our faith in Christ, are no longer punishable for it so we are in essence innocent. We are ‘justified.’
I like the illustration used by the American pastor, Warren Wiersbe, who once wrote:
My friend Dr. Roy Gustafson has the finest illustration of justification I have ever heard. It seems that there was a man in England who put his Rolls-Royce on a boat and went across to the continent to go on a holiday. While he was driving around Europe, something happened to the motor of his car. He cabled the Rolls-Royce people back in England and asked, “I’m having trouble with my car; what do you suggest I do?” Well, the Rolls-Royce people flew a mechanic over! The mechanic repaired the car and flew back to England and left the man to continue his holiday. As you can imagine, the fellow was wondering, “How much is this going to cost me?” So when he got back to England, he wrote the people a letter and asked how much he owed them. He received a letter from the office that read: “Dear Sir: There is no record anywhere in our files that anything ever went wrong with a Rolls-Royce.” That is justification!
For whatever reason, the good people of Rolls-Royce don’t want to acknowledge the troubles of that man’s car. There were even willing to send a mechanic, free-of-charge, to make the necessary repairs so no one else might become aware of the troubles of that man’s cars. Likewise, the Father sent his Son to fix the troubles of his broken creation and once fixed He went about his divine responsibilities as if no troubles had ever occurred. Our broken relationship was made whole again, not because our sins and sinfulness were removed but because they were no longer punishable. Hence, we were “justified.”
In his letter to Titus, Paul writes, “so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (3:7) It is because of God’s good grace that we have been justified. Nothing we did caused the Father to send his Son to live and die and be resurrected on our behalf. It was a most gracious gift to us. And it was a gift meant to instill hope in us. We heard in reading for today how sufferings eventually lead to hope. Aside from love itself, there is no greater gift than the gift of hope. Hope enables all things to be possible and in justification there is great hope. Who wouldn’t be hopeful if their sin was no longer punishable?!
Yes, there are several rewards of faith but none quite like the reward of justification. This is because justification enables us to receive all the other rewards. God is able to see beyond our sins and sinfulness and thus able to impart all the rewards of faith. Justification is the first step to forming a rich relationship with God. Let us go through the Easter season rejoicing in this reward. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.