Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Romans 5:1-11

Peace and Hope

     1Therefore, since we have been declared innocent through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

     6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

     9 Since we have now been declared innocent by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Over the last few days, as we’ve started working our way through Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we’ve noted a couple of adjustments in the translation that scholars like N. T. Wright have suggested for this important book.

You might remember that we said that although traditional translations of Romans say that we’ve been “justified” by Jesus’ death on the cross, the more recent scholarship suggests changing “justified” to “declared innocent.” The scholars say that’s the real point of what Paul is saying here – that God accepts followers of Jesus as though we’re innocent, even though we’re really still guilty of sin.

And there’s another important translation issue: Traditional translations of Romans say we are saved by faith in Jesus, but some scholars say a better translation is that our salvation comes from the faithfulness of Jesus. We’re saved by what he has done, not by anything we do. God has caused faith to rise in our hearts as a part of ‘declaring us innocent’ – we’re not declared innocent because we decided to have faith.

Now that we’ve reviewed those translation corrections, we can have a look at today’s reading from Romans. The apostle Paul makes several important points in this passage, but two of those points seem especially critical to our understanding of our relationship to God in Jesus.

First of all, Paul writes that we “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” And this hope, Paul says, is reinforced by God’s action in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

One of the interesting things about Paul’s letters is that in a number of places, he uses sports metaphors to illustrate various aspects of being a disciple of Jesus. He says that living the life of faith is like running a race. He says that other believers surround and encourage like an audience as we live out our faith. He says we throw off our sins the way an athlete might take off sweats. He also says we need to train for our life of faith the way a boxer shadow-boxes in his training.

It’s probably helpful to keep in mind Paul’s interest in sports when we’re thinking about today’s passage from Romans. It seems to me that the point he’s making is that hardships in following Jesus are opportunities to be strengthened in our faith. It’s common to hear athletes say, “No pain, no gain.” Paul’s using the same logic here, I think. He’s making the point that our struggles as disciples can make us stronger – better prepared for God’s service. When we face troubles in the service of God’s kingdom, we emerge from those troubles with a better grip on how much we can do in his service. We can have a stronger “Christian character,” as we might say.

The other critically important point in this passage is that Jesus died on the cross for us while we were still sinners. Our salvation – God’s verdict of ‘innocent’ on our behalf – has come to us all while we are still guilty of sin, and before we’re done anything to try to become better people as followers of Jesus. So anyone who believes they are going to heaven because they’re living “a good life” – or who says that somebody else is going to hell because they’re not – anyone who thinks that way just doesn’t understand what Paul is saying here about what God did in Jesus.

We always need to keep in mind that Paul says we’re saved by God’s grace – God’s un-earned favor – not because of any great virtue or righteousness on our part. In fact, we’re saved before we even know enough to try to live according to the life and teachings of Jesus.

There’s another aspect of this issue we need to keep in mind. If God was willing to make such a sacrifice for us while we were yet sinners, we can’t withhold our love from our neighbors until they become perfect, either. God’s gracious love is a gift we can never earn, but it’s a gift we’re expected to pass along to others as a way of expressing our thanks.

Let’s pray. Lord, help us to keep in mind that the faith in our hearts, and the new life we have in Jesus, are gifts from your grace, not achievements on our part. And strengthen us to face with courage the troubles that may come to us during our life of discipleship, knowing that each one is an opportunity to be strengthened for your service as we face it. Amen.

Every Blessing,