In just a few weeks we’ll come to the 500th anniversary of the moment that Luther nailed the ninety-five theses on the church door in Wittenberg. That date, October 31, 1517, is seen as the start of the Reformation, which we’ll celebrate in part with a big bonfire at David and Stephanie Matlock’s house in a few weeks. As we’ve seen in preaching through the first four chapters of Romans, we’re convinced that the doctrine of justification by faith alone which was recovered during the Reformation is a glorious doctrine to celebrate as we remember that we’re declared righteous before God not on the basis of any good that we’ve done but merely through faith in the work of Christ alone.
But the Reformation wasn’t simply about the issue of justification or how we’re acquitted before God in judgment. The Reformation shed light on, brought understanding to, and transformed thinking about several doctrines. And one of these was the issue of assurance. By that I mean, can the believer have assurance before God in the present that he’ll be saved on the day of judgment? Can he have assurance right now that if he were to die, he’d be with the Lord?
In a recent interview on this issue, Mark Dever spoke to this issue powerfully, noting first of all that the Roman Catholic church taught (and still teaches through it’s catechism) that one cannot have assurance of salvation before God. In fact, it is errant presumption for any believer to feel confident that he will go to heaven if he dies. How can someone, after all, be confident that he won’t commit one of the mortal sins identified by the Roman Catholic church? And even if he doesn’t commit one of those sins, there’ll no doubt be several other sins he’ll have to spend perhaps centuries or millennia working off and being purged of in purgatory. In the Roman Catholic system, the only ones we can be assured of being presently with the Lord would be those the church has declared saints.
But the Protestant Reformation was preaching something different. The Reformers taught that you could go to bed at night knowing that you’re okay with God, accepted by him, and confident that should you die, you’ll be with him in that moment. There wasn’t anyone in Europe in 1500 who could do that according to the teaching of the church. This is one key reason, Dever argues, that the Reformation lit Europe on fire, because along with the argument of justification by faith alone, it also taught that there could be assurance of salvation, which is the most precious of gifts one can have in this life.
But were the Reformers right? Are we right? Are we right to think that one can have assurance of salvation, assurance that God is pleased with us, assurance that if you or I were to die we’d be with the Lord in paradise? Well, not only do I think the answer to this is yes, we are indeed right to think this way, but I think that Romans 5:1-11 is one of the strongest texts in terms of teaching how secure our hope is in the Lord as we are trusting in him for salvation.
In Romans 5:1-11 Paul begins to develop and lay out for us the implications of being justified by faith alone. That’s why the chapter begins, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.” But the implication he begins with is the assurance we have before God, the certain hope we have of eternal life, and the comfort we have of knowing that we will be okay when the day of judgment comes. And isn’t that a glorious thought? Isn’t that an amazing thought that we can have assurance that we are okay with God, that he is pleased with us, and that he is ready and eager to receive us to himself? Well, that’s a true thought if we’re trusting in the crucified and risen Lord for salvation right now. This is what Paul wants us to see.
He orients these verses around our certain hope. So, I want to structure the sermon this morning as I understand Paul to have structured this text. I want us to see our standing before the Lord in light of the fact that we have been justified by faith, and that standing will conclude by noting our certain hope. Then, I want to give you three supporting reasons why you and I can know that our hope of being with the Lord is indeed a hope that is certain. So, first, let’s start with what Paul shows us about our standing with God. He first notes that,
We have peace with God, stand in his grace, and have certain hope of seeing his glory
Paul writes in verses 1-2, “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.”
Now, you can see three items there that are the glorious result of our justification by faith, but I want to note them one by one. First, Paul notes that we have peace with God. Paul actually begins and ends on this note. At the end of our text this morning, he writes, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (v. 11). And though the words are different—“peace with God” and “reconciliation”—the idea is the same.
The idea is that there was a time when you and I were condemned in our sin and God was against us. We see, for example, in verse 10 that Paul will note a time when we were enemies of God. And some might suggest that this means that we were against God, which was true. But that isn’t the whole story. It is also true that God was against us. You’ll remember from 1:18-3:20 Paul made the argument that apart from Christ, all of us are in our sins, and we’re storing up the wrath of God for the day of judgment when it will be poured out on us if we don’t repent. Make no mistake, God is against man in his sin. Mankind is, as Paul will note in Ephesians 2, by nature children of wrath. The Scripture will even speak of the Lamb throwing into the lake of fire those who have not bowed the knee to him.
But all of that has been changed if you’ve been justified by faith. Now, you’ve been reconciled to God by God. This is what Paul is noting in verse 10. When we were his enemies God took the initiative and did everything necessary to reconcile us to himself. He sent his Son who happily came to bear God’s wrath so that we might no longer be objects of divine judgment but objects of peace. If our faith is in Christ, we have peace with God. That’s how we start each day and how we go to bed at night, knowing that God’s stance toward us is one of peace and favor and blessing.
And Paul also mentions that through Christ we’ve “obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (v. 2). Now, Paul isn’t saying that we’ve received the grace of God, though that’s true. He’s saying something more. We’ve not only received grace but stand in grace. That’s the realm in which we continually stand. Now, perhaps the best way to think of this is to glance ahead just a bit at 6:14-15 where Paul will note twice that we’re not “under law” but “under grace.”
In other words, there was a time where we were in a place of condemnation, under the law. Every moment was a reminder that we hadn’t done enough, couldn’t do enough, and were condemned before God. That’s what it’s like to be under law. But to stand in grace or be under grace means that we’re in a place where instead of being continually reminded of condemnation, we’re in a real where we can continually be reminded that we’re forgiven, that we’re shown mercy, that we’re loved, and accepted. Basically it’s a reminder that Christ has measured up on our behalf.
It’s as if Jesus is saying, “All of those in this area over here are represented by me, and they will get to be treated with the affection and acceptance that I would.” That’s what it means to be under grace or to stand in grace. And that’s where we stand. That’s where we start each day, and that’s where we get to end each day. That’s the result of being justified by faith. And that’s not all.
Because we have peace with God and stand in grace before him, then we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Paul will use “glory” to describe the glorious state of what is to come in eternity. So, for example, Paul can say in Romans 8:18 that the sufferings of this age aren’t worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. And when he speaks of the “glory to be revealed” he means God’s glory that we’ll get to enjoy.
Now, Paul is saying that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God, which can be confusing to us because we use the word “hope” to mean desiring something that may or may not happen. But that’s not how hope is used here. Remember our last text. God’s promise of salvation is merely dependent on whether he is able and faithful. And he is certainly both. Therefore, we hope with certainty. In fact, it is so certain that Paul notes that we can go ahead and be rejoicing in that hope now, with certainty, that we will one day dwell with our Lord in glory. You don’t rejoice in what might or might not happen. You rejoice when you know what’s coming is certain. And such is our eternal hope.
So, to sum it up, what does it mean that is true of us if we’ve been justified by faith? Well, Paul says, since we’ve been justified by faith, we have peace with God, stand in a place of grace, and are so certain that we’ll be with the Lord in glory, we can go ahead and rejoice now in light of what is certainly coming.
But Paul doesn’t stop there. In the remaining verses he gives us three more concrete reasons why we can rejoice in this certain hope, knowing that we will be with the Lord. He notes in verses 3-4 that:
Our sufferings produce and give us reason to increase hope
Here’s what he writes: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (vv. 3-4). Now, you might think that suffering would do the exact opposite. I mean, isn’t that what the world thinks? If a group of unbelievers were to see us in this room, rejoicing in and singing about our certain hope, wouldn’t they be tempted to say something like, “Well, let a little suffering come into their lives, and let’s see if they’re still singing, and rejoicing, and hoping?” But Paul, interestingly, says that suffering increases, or encourages, or produces hope. How?
Here’s how it works. When you go through a time of suffering and you find yourself holding fast to Christ, by his grace, then that produces in you endurance. In other words, it’s like training for a race. If you’ve been running and felt tired at a certain point but kept pressing on past that point of pain, time and time again, then you are building up endurance. You’ll actually be able to run farther. And Paul says that this is what happens for us believers. We walk through suffering, and we build endurance. We look and say, “I can hold fast through this time because I’ve walked through other times of suffering.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Endurance produces character. In other words, after you suffer and hold fast to Christ and build endurance in holding fast to Christ, then it actually begins to change and shape you. Those around you look at you and know you’ll not shrink back. They’ve not only seen it in your practice, but they know it in who you are. You are a man or woman with proven character, and it is known. Then, as you see this in yourself, it begins to be a witness to you that you know the Lord because you’re not only trusting in Christ but watching him transform you.
And I want to bear testimony that I’ve seen this in you. I’ve seen this in us as a community. In fact, as I share how the Lord has grown and shaped us as a community of believers, I find myself, seemingly without exception, referencing tragedies in our life as a church. And the reason is because I continue to witness in these times how we grow in our hope and certainty in the gospel, hold more tightly to Christ, and walk more closely with one another. In other words, one of the most glorious things on the planet, I believe, is when we see this chain of growth described in verses 3-4 not only happen for an individual but happen in a church community, which is no doubt how Paul envisions it happening. After all, he’s the apostle who said in Ephesians 4 that when each joint with which the body is supplied is working properly, then the whole body grows in love. So, suffering actually further grounds and increases our hope and assurance that we’ll be in glory. But that’s not all. We can also say that:
The Spirit, who shows us God’s love for us, reminds us our hope is sure
After noting that character produces hope, Paul writes, “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” (v. 5).
In other words, God not only decided that he would declare us righteous through faith in the work of his Son, which is gracious. And not only does he let us know that we have peace with him, are continually objects of his grace, and can have certain hope of the coming glory, which is gracious. And not only does he use suffering in our life to ground and increase our hope in the glory to come, which is gracious. But he gave us his Spirit to dwell within us so that we might experience the love he has for us.
Now, we might not think of the Lord giving us the Spirit for this reason. We probably think that we have to Spirit to convict us when we’ve sinned or help guide us or help us to understand and illumine what we read in the Scripture. And he absolutely does all of those things. But one reason our God wanted his Spirit to dwell within us is because he wanted us to experience and feel his love for us.
Think, for example, of what Paul tells the Galatians about the Spirit being given to us so that we might know we are his sons and cry out, “Abba, Father.” That is Paul’s way of saying that the Father not only wanted you to know you are his child, he wanted you to feel it. That’s why he gave the Spirit. And now Paul adds to that. God wants you to know and feel his love for you, brothers and sisters.
And I know that for some of you, you have trouble experiencing love. Perhaps you’ve been raised in an unhealthy environment or suffered trauma that has made it more difficult to feel love. But here’s what’s encouraging. God didn’t just say, “I’m leaving this up to you to feel my love. I hope you’re able to do it.” He actually gave us himself, his Spirit, dwelling within us. In other words, when God wanted to make sure that we felt his love for us, he didn’t leave that mission to anyone but himself. It was too important to him. He poured his own Spirit into our hearts because he wanted our experience of this love not to be left to anything or anyone else.
And we’ve all known it. I don’t mean that we might not feel it on occasion. We obviously struggle with feeling God’s love at times. So, what do we do in those times? Well, we can pray, as Paul does in Ephesians 3:14-21, asking God to help us know his love. But we can also allow the Spirit to point us to how God shows his love for us in the cross, which not only shows God’s love but further grounds our certain hope.
We can know our hope is certain by looking to the work of Christ for us
In verses 6-11 Paul speaks about one of the key ways the Spirit shows us God’s love for us and reminds us that our hope is certain. He points us to what Christ has done. Here’s what Paul writes: “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” (vv. 6-8).
So, first Paul wants us to remember what Christ did for us. When we were weak, when we were enemies, he’ll go on to say, Christ died for us. And this shows (present tense) God’s love for us. So, one way the Spirit confirms God’s love for us is by pointing to what Christ did for us. I mean, perhaps a person would die for someone righteous or someone who is good to them, but Christ died for us while we were enemies, and Paul says that this shows his love for us every time we think about it. Thus, the Spirit confirms God’s love for us by saying to our hearts, “Look at what Christ did for you. There’s no greater evidence of God’s love.” Nothing shows us God’s love for us more clearly than Christ’s redeeming work for us.
But this also grounds our hope in eternity. And the reason why it does is because Paul points out that God has already done the harder thing. Here’s what he writes: “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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (vv. 9-11).
Do you see what Paul is saying here? He’s saying that if Christ shed his blood to justify us and died for us when we were enemies of God in order to reconcile us to God, then do you really think that on the day of judgment somehow you’ll bear God’s wrath or find that the living Jesus on that day won’t be enough for you? If you believe Jesus lived, died, and was raised, then why would you doubt that God can hold you fast as we wait for eternity? Isn’t that the easier thing?
Brothers and sisters, the gist is this. If you argue for justification by faith alone, like we have for weeks, but just stay there, you’re missing why Paul argued this. He wants you to rest in assurance with God. He wants you to go to bed tonight, knowing that you have peace with God, stand in his grace, and have a certain hope that if you die, you’ll be with him in heaven. And he’s done so much to help ground you in that assurance. He’s strengthened you and built you through suffering. He’s given you the Spirit to experience his love. And he continually points you to the work of Christ, reminding you that he’s already done the hardest thing possible for your salvation, and if he’s done that, rest in the fact that he’ll save you on that last day.
And if you live your life, understanding that you have assurance of salvation, then that is powerful motivation to say to the Lord, “Use me as you will.” It’s powerful motivation to say, “If my eternal hope is certain, then I can spend my life now in radical, costly obedience to the one who will certainly save me in the end.” So, let us all declare that even now as we come to the table. Amen.