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 boast in hope of the glory of God. —Romans 5:1-2
I’m reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Many of you have read it. It’s a classic of modern American restlessness. He’s constantly on the road, going somewhere, from New York to Denver to San Francisco to L.A. to wherever, always on the go. In fact, his book has no chapter divisions, not even paragraph breaks. The whole book races along from moment to moment of experience. And Kerouac nails it. That’s how we live today – a rapid sequence of short-term hopes that keep us moving down the road. The Super Bowl party next weekend, the new flat screen TV when the tax return arrives, the trip to New York next summer, and on and on down the road. And what I want you to see today from the Bible is that God gives us a long-term hope, a God-sized hope, a bigger hope that nothing in this world can give or destroy. He gives it to us on terms of grace. We don’t deserve it. We can only receive it. But it does change us. Your future hope, whatever it is, changes how you live today. And I want to show you the hope of the gospel and how it can change you today.
We’re at Romans 5:1-2. Paul is answering a question, a practical question. He has already made his case that we’re justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from our works. But so what? Is justification by faith something that Martin Luther cared about 500 years ago because his conscience was working overtime? Or does justification by faith really matter to you and me today? If we are justified by faith, so what? What’s the practical cash value? What is justification worth to us right now? Why should we be excited about what God has done? In Romans 5:1-11 Paul answers this question. He is not advancing his argument further. He’s hitting the pause button, turning to us and saying, “Do you feel the impact of what I’m saying? Let me make it clear, because I want you to enjoy this.”
So, what have we learned in Romans thus far? Paul has explained that all our problems are basically God-problems. We tend to treat God as our problem, and we look for hope in ourselves and in things. But when we begin to see ourselves in light of the gospel, we discover that we’re more evil than we ever feared and more loved than we ever dreamed. And this goes for everybody. Loose-living pagan people are under sin (1:18-32). Circumspect moral people are under sin (2:1-16). Bible-quoting religious people are under sin (2:17-29). We are all living at the mercy of our raging desires, and how can God give his blessing to that? If God looked at you, the way you are now, and said, “Well there’s an ideal human being if I ever saw one,” could you respect him? Could you be sure he was telling you the truth? The gospel levels with us and helps us to trust God in a real way. Paul announces that God has opened a way for us to be restored to him, a way very costly to him, but a new way back to God that doesn’t even require us to clean up our lives first. God brings bad people back into his good graces through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (3:21-26). And our part? We let go of our excuses and our blame-shifting and ego and we receive his love and forgiveness with the empty hands of faith (3:27-4:25). That’s all God wants from us. He does the rest. God’s answer to our mess and guilt and pain is not what we do for him but what he does for us. He brings us back under his smile through Jesus. Now in chapter 5, Paul wants us to feel the joy of it.
The whole mood of Romans 5:1-11 is joy. What God has done for us is so great it must be enjoyed. Do you see the word “rejoice” in verses 2, 3 and 11? That’s the key word in Romans 5:1-11. But you also see the translation in the margin of the ESV: “boast.” In the New Testament Paul uses more than one word for rejoicing, and the word here is the same as “boast” back in Romans 3:27, “What then becomes of our boasting?” So let’s understand what kind of joy Paul is talking about here. Verse 2: “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Verse 3: “We boast in our sufferings.” Verse 11: “We boast in God.” Picture an Olympic athlete celebrating a gold medal, that’s the feel of Romans 5:1-11. What is it worth to us that God has justified us through Christ? It’s worth a lot of high-octane joy. Let’s find out more.
In verses 1-2, Paul reveals two ways justification translates into joy. First, “we have peace with God.” Remember how you used to feel about God? That old uncertainty, the dread, is over. We’re not trying to manage God any more. We’re not raging at him any more. We’re starting to enjoy him now.
What’s made the difference? Nothing we’ve done. God did something – justification. I know that justification can be treated like a topic for school. But the truth is, justification is food for life. It means God is with us now. It means that, whatever happens to us, we have a strong Friend. It means we have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to. God is happy about us now – because of something he has done. In justification, God acts as our Judge, acquitting us of all our guilt through the finished work of Christ on the cross. When a human judge renders a verdict, it isn’t personal. A human judge feels no personal hostility toward the guilty person standing there. In fact, a human judge tries to be impartial. But for God, our sins are personal toward him, and his forgiveness is personal toward us. Verse 10 says we used to be God’s enemies. Maybe we didn’t feel hostile toward God. Our good intentions made us feel innocent and even noble. But the truth is, our every sin is challenging God, “Who do you think you are?” It can’t get any more personal than that. But the surprise is, God loves us personally. If you want to know how our justifying God feels toward us, think of that father in Luke 15 rejoicing to welcome home his prodigal son. In justification, God gives himself to us at infinite cost and without begrudging the price he had to pay. The God we treated as an enemy has made himself our ally through the cross. The war is over. We are wonderfully defeated. We now have peace with God, from God – if we’ll receive it.
If you have received it, here’s how it changes you. When your guilty conscience digs back into your past with damning thoughts of what you’ve done and what you deserve, God says it doesn’t matter to him any more. If you are in Christ, your real moral guilt was judged at the cross. You’re free of it forever. This is the truth. Enjoy it.
So, how did that miracle happen? The Bible says, we have peace with God “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our new freedom is not arbitrary, not causeless, not due to a mood swing in God, not precarious. If we had bribed our divine Judge, things could change. But our peace with God is “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and his atoning death for our guilt was publicly certified by God as acceptable when he raised Jesus from the dead (4:25). Our justification right now is as real and solid and lasting as the Lord Jesus Christ himself. So, the way God sees it, there’s no backing out on us without betraying his Son, and what’s the likelihood of that? It’s precisely because our peace with God has been created by God and not by us that we can relax. We still sin, but we can draw near to God with all our need:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way…, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience…. Hebrews 10:19-22
The old way of being reluctantly dutiful, prodded along against our will by a guilty conscience – Jesus died to replace all that with a new and living way: a guilt-free, open entrée to a holy God 24/7. Look at verse 2: “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Another version translates, “We have been allowed to enter the sphere of God’s grace, where we now stand” – not grovel but stand. We’ve been ushered into a new social environment – the atmosphere of God’s gladness. Everything has changed. We’re in the penalty-free zone of God’s grace. That’s the first practical value of justification. The infinite distance that separated us from God has disappeared, because God has drawn us in to stay.
Secondly, “We boast in hope of the glory of God.” That’s strange. Back in 3:27 Paul said that the gospel excludes boasting. Now he’s saying it includes boasting. So in one way, we shouldn’t boast. In another way, we should boast. This is why our English versions are a little shy about translating this verb as “boast.” They use English verbs like “rejoice” and “exult” and put “boast” down in the margin. What’s going on here?
There must be two kinds of boasting, a good kind and a bad kind. If I feel that God favors me because of me, even because of my faith, I’ll boast about it with self-exaltation. That’s wrong. Grace excludes swagger. But grace does not exclude joy. There is another kind of boasting, and we can never get too much of it. Think of a football team. When they score a touchdown and win the big game, they don’t just walk off the field. They celebrate. They high-five each other. They cheer. That’s the kind of boasting here. Paul takes a risk when he uses the word “boast.” But he uses it, because the word “boast” helps us understand that justification is about our significance, our worth, our stature. The word “boast” helps us make the connection between justification and how we feel about ourselves and where our lives are going and how it’s all going to turn out. Let me explain.
Back in 3:23 we read, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s painful. You and I are no longer specimens of the ideal men and women God had in mind at the start. We fall short. We don’t measure up. But God created us for greatness and stature and impact. We long for that. It hurts to be small and petty and selfish. We don’t even want to face that in ourselves. We submerge it. We yearn for a significance that’s out of reach. We imagine it in the fantasies of our minds, because for a God-created human being to be a well-dressed fraud is painful. And eventually death cuts us down and everything we’ve achieved unravels and very soon we’re forgotten. But you’ve got to hand it to us for trying. A student takes pride in his radicalism. A businessman feels good about himself because of his success. A young woman glories in her ability to turn heads. A scholar thinks he’s somebody because of what he knows, and so forth. Everybody wants to be admired. Everybody wants to stand out. It’s what God made us for. We’ll even do silly things to distinguish ourselves. For example, Michel Lotito of Grenoble, France, eats metal and glass, according to the Guinness Book of World Records (1991 edition, pages 448f.). His diet since 1966 has included ten bicycles, a supermarket trolley, seven TV sets, six chandeliers and a low-calorie Cessna light aircraft. Okay, that’s goofy. But what if you could say at a dinner party, “I’m listed in the Guinness Book of World Records”? Everyone would want to know.
We long for glory, and our desire is not wrong. In Romans 2:7 Paul speaks approvingly of those who seek glory, honor and immortality. What’s right or wrong is not the longing but how we go about getting it satisfied. And here in chapter 5 Paul shows us that justification by faith, peace with God, opens the door to our true greatness. God has big plans for us. The very thing we’ve never got hold of now appears on the horizon as our destiny. And it changes how we feel now. It changes our self-image: “we boast in hope of the glory of God.”
That word “hope” doesn’t mean wishful thinking. “Hope” in the Bible means savoring the future ahead of time. Biblical hope is what a kid feels when he’s being tucked into bed on Christmas Eve. He’s happy – not because of what he has but because of what he’s about to have. That’s what justification inloads into our lives right now – hope of glory, even glory from God. If you are in Christ, you will become glorious – with Christ, like Christ, in resurrection immortality forever. And God wants you to savor your destiny right now.
We see ourselves, our sin and mediocrity, but we won’t always be like this. Our best days are not behind us; they’re still out ahead of us. And if you know the humiliation of sin, that’s worth a lot to you. You have been called “to obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:14). C. S. Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing . . . to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship . . . .” God isn’t out just to make you nice; he’s out to make you amazing forever.
I’ll close by speaking first to believers and then to unbelievers. First, for believers, here’s what our justification is worth to us. We have peace with God in an atmosphere of grace where we can boast in a destiny so great only God could think it up. Stop seeing yourself as God’s enemy. Stop thinking of your happiness as fragile. Stop trivializing yourself. If you’ve put your faith in Jesus, he has made you his friend and he is preparing a place for you and he is shaping you for eternal greatness. There is so much about your life you don’t understand. But God says, you are on the road to the only destination in all the universe worth going to. Savor it.
For those of us who are unbelievers, do you have a long-term hope out beyond all your short-term hopes? Do you have a destination that nothing in this life can rob you of? You know you don’t. But God is offering you the glory you were created for, and on terms of grace. Here’s the gospel. God created you and all things for a purpose of greatness. But like everyone else, you have disqualified yourself. But God is creating something new, to last forever. He’s building it out of the ruins of what we’ve become. And what God is creating, or re-creating, is big enough for all the pain we’ve made that goes down so deep inside us we don’t even feel normal without it and it just makes us want to keep moving and never face ourselves. It’s people like us that God loves. His love came down to us in Jesus Christ, and we killed him. But our sin didn’t stop God’s love; our sin proved God’s love. He took our evil onto himself at his cross. He rose again. He’s at work today, and he wants you to be part of the glory he’s building. If you’ll stop protecting yourself from him and open up to him, he promises you a destination worth living for.
Will you receive Christ today with the empty hands of faith?