While We Were Enemies…

Romans 5:1-11

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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.Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,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.

 

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. 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.

 

We are currently journeying through the book of Romans, which is the Apostle Paul’s master theological treatise. However, his purpose in writing this letter to the church in Rome was not to detail his position on every conceivable theological issue, but, instead, to clearly present the gospel. Paul said back in Chapter 1, I have intended to come to you so that I might preach the gospel to you, and I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to save all who believe. Notice, he doesn’t say, I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is really great news that you need to get onboard with. Or, he doesn’t say, I’m not ashamed of the gospel because it is a clear roadmap for how you can go to heaven when you die. No, he says, the gospel is the power of God to save. So, to that end, here is what he has presented thus far to us:

 

  1. God is holy and is diametrically opposed to sin.
  2. From the beginning of time, however, mankind has been disobedient to God and so God has given man over to his sin.
  3. God’s wrath is being and will be poured against all ungodliness.
  4. God will ultimately judge all people based on their works. If you are a Jew, it will not matter if you’ve tried to follow the law or if you’ve been circumcised. Those things cannot save you from God’s wrath.
  5. Sin is not a problem that only some people struggle with. Instead, all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
  6. God’s righteousness is seen, however, in that humans can be justified by his grace as a gift. It cannot be earned.
  7. Being justified before God means that we are saved from His wrath.
  8. This gift of grace is accessed through faith in Christ, which is a response of obedience based on evidence.
  9. The story of Abraham shows us that faith has always been the way mankind has been justified before God.
  10. Jesus died so that you might be reconciled to God and experience the justification that comes through faith.

 

Then look with me at the beginning of chapter 5, Paul gives us like this beautiful summation statement of all of that. Here is what he says:

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 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.Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,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.

 

So, the justification that we have received by faith in Christ has created peace between us and God, and it changes the way that we approach life in that it causes us to:

 

  1. Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

 

Well, what in the world does that mean? What does it even mean to rejoice? How do you rejoice? I think most of us would define that word as something like “exuberant celebration or a display of joy.” And, when we consider what Christ has done for us, it makes a lot of sense that we would respond in that way. But, in reality the Greek word that is translated rejoice has an interesting bent. The word, kauchaomai (kow-haw-o-my), literally means “to hold one’s head up high.” In fact, the word is probably derived from the Greek word that means neck, like, to hold one’s neck straight. So, that’s a little different than just joyful celebration or being in this perpetual state of excitement. It’s more about this deeply embedded state of confidence that we can walk through this life securely with our heads held high. That’s what rejoicing is. It also helps us understand how the second way that the gospel changes our life can be true.

 

  1. Rejoice in our sufferings.

 

So, like we’ve said that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re joyfully excited or celebratory in the midst of suffering. It doesn’t mean that as Christians that we are to be self-punishing with a “thank you sir, may I have another” type attitude. But, instead, that faith leads us to a state of such confidence in Christ that we can rest in the hope of Him even in the face of difficult seasons. Now, listen we’ve spent the last several months in the middle of a difficult season. And, here’s the challenge, some of us can read this and come away with the notion that if I ever deal with worry or fear or doubt or anxiety, then does that mean that I don’t actually have faith, that I’m not actually a Christian. No, two things:

 

  1. Experiencing fear or worry or anxiety is not in and of itself a symptom of a lack of faith. Everyone experiences those things. Do you think that Abraham was never afraid or uncertain or worried?
  2. A better indicator of a lack of faith is a complete unwillingness to be obedient to God. Remember we said that faith is a response of obedience based on evidence.

So, a better question is: does my faith lead me to desire to push through my fear, worry, doubt etc. And, if so, then a beautiful thing is happening within you; you are becoming more like Jesus. Or, to use the fancy theological word, you are being sanctified.

 

This is exactly what Paul was talking about when he said:

suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,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.

 

So, that’s describing the process of sanctification because suffering takes on a variety of forms. Suffering is not just pain and agony. Suffering can be loss and mourning. Suffering can be just not getting what you want. Distress, hardship, going without…this is all suffering. And, listen, while you certainly encounter those Christians who have been in such a dark place in their life that they are more than happy to abandon their former way of life to Christ, the reality is that most of us love our sin and we love the things of the world and it is a form of suffering to try to pull away from those things, yet it is what the gospel leads us towards. So, if you say, I have faith in Christ but I am in no way willing to endure suffering for His sake, then that doesn’t compute. That’s what James means when he says that faith without works is dead. If your faith doesn’t lead you to obedience to Christ, then it isn’t faith. This is why some people prefer the word allegiance or faithfulness, because those words emphasize the action of faith. Faith is not just a cognitive endeavor. Faith is not just believing something, instead faith is belief that results in action. If I say that I believe that this chair can hold my weight but I absolutely refuse to stand in it because deep down I’m really convinced that it’s probably going to break, then it doesn’t matter what I claim, I don’t have faith.

 

So, Paul says, the more that we press on in obedience in the face of suffering the more we develop that faith muscle and the more our character changes. And, that word character is interesting as well. The context in the Greek is that character is the result of something that has been tested and proven. Another way to think of this is that old saying that character is who you are when no one else is watching. So, because of our sin nature, our natural disposition is to be more hypocritical, for there to be some disconnect between what we claim and what we do. For the person of faith, though, suffering actually serves to make you more humble and real. It closes the gap between who you say you are and who you actually are.

 

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. 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.

 

So, it wasn’t necessary for you or I to have achieved a state of impeccable character in order for Christ to die for you. No, to the contrary, when you had no character, when you were an enemy of God, when you had no regard for him or his ways, it was at that point that Christ died for you, taking on the wrath of God that was due to you. Paul says, this is how we know that God is good and righteous. Remember, faith is a response of obedience based on evidence. And the evidence we have that God is good and not capricious and arbitrary is that while we were his enemies he died for us. In fact, you know what God has, character. Because what he says through Christ is “love your enemies,” and what he has modeled for us through Christ is love of enemy. His words and his actions line up. Paul’s saying, not only is he good and trustworthy, he has done something for us that most humans would never even consider. Practically no one is going to die for a righteous person, a morally upright person. Maybe, someone might die for a good person. Paul literally means, “someone who has done much good.” But, the point is that the chances of this happening are pretty slim. Christ’s love, however, is seen in that when we were neither righteous nor good, He died for us.

 

Now, I want to leave you this morning with Eugene Peterson’s beautiful paraphrase of this passage. I love what he does with the text here: And, let me invite you to close your eyes and meditate on these words as the text washes over you.

 

1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

 

3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

 

6-8 Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

 

9-11 Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!

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