17. Romans 5:6-11
Reconciled and confident
Paul follows his discussion of how our suffering produces Christian maturity in us with a recapitulation of how God saved us. In this passage he stresses that the timing of Jesus' coming was God's design, that God demonstrated his love for us through Christ's death, and that we are reconciled to God through Jesus' death and also through his life. Paul shows that God's sovereignty is responsible for every part of our rescue from the curse of sin and death.
Paul begins his recap of our salvation with an assertion of God's sovereignty: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly." (v. 6) The idea of a "right time" established in eternity occurs several places in the New Testament. The book of Mark introduces John the Baptist proclaiming the "good news of God." He told the crowds, "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe." (Mark 1:14-15) No human knew the right time for the Messiah to come. God alone knew when Jesus would change history and establish His kingdom. Paul reiterates this idea in Galatians 4:4-5 and also in Ephesians 1:9-10. To the Galatians Paul wrote, "When the time had fully come, God sent his son." In his letter to the Ephesians he stated that God made known the "mystery of his will according to his good pleasure." God will put this will into effect "when the times will have reached their fulfillment." The end result of this plan of God's is "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."
The birth of Jesus, his death and resurrection, Pentecost and the birth of the church, Jesus' second coming and his physical reign on earth-all these things are established in God's plan, and their timing has existed from eternity. Jesus told his disciples that no one, not the angels in heaven nor even the Son, knows the time of his return. (Matthew 24:36-37) This lack of knowing, however, does not mean that the timing of the event is open-ended or negotiable. The timing for every event from Creation to the call of Abraham to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, to his second coming and reign on earth is written in God's plan. He alone knows when the time is right, and He will bring the future to pass the same way he brought the past into existence-at just the right time.
These passages underscore the presumptions arrogance which many of us used to embrace-the notion that we can influence God's timing. Contrary to our former understanding, God is not waiting for us to "finish the work" so he can come back. Rather, God has already established the timing of Jesus' return. He calls us to obey him and to do his work in the meantime, but we do not have power over God's timing. He is sovereign, and he establishes his own work.
Sacrifice for the Hostile
The remarkable things about the "right time" for Christ's death is that it was not at a time when humanity was "spiritually mature" enough to appreciate this divine sacrifice. Rather, the "right time" occurred when we "were still powerless" and "ungodly". Paul emphasizes that perhaps very rarely one person might be willing to die for another if that other were seen as a good man. Jesus, on the other hand,, died for us when we were completely flawed and sinful with no goodness to suggest we were worthy.
John 3:16 summarizes this good news by stating that God gave his only Son the give eternal life to everyone who believes in Him. Jesus revealed his own love and commitment when he said that a man has no greater love than that demonstrated by laying down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) He declared that his flawed, doomed disciples throughout the ages were his friends, and he died for all of them (and us) because he loved them.
Romans 3:10-12 establishes that all men, even those of us Jesus calls his friends, are unrighteous. No one seeks God on his own; all people have turned away from God to their own perverted ways. Every person is intrinsically worthless and devoid of good works. We are all "objects of wrath", yet because of his love for us, God made us alive in Christ and even seated us "in the heavenly realms" in Jesus. (Ephesians 2:3-5)
Peter also emphasized that Jesus died for our sins once for all, "the righteous for the unrighteous". John summarizes the singular act of Jesus dying for us by saying this sacrifice is how we know what love is. (1 John 3:16) Love, he says, does not flow from us to God. True love is the reality that God loved us first and sent his Son as "an atoning sacrifice" for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
What Jesus did on the cross defies all human explanation. No person could have mustered the compassion that would have driven him to die for hostile people. Jesus-his incarnation, death, and resurrection-was the physical demonstration of God's eternal and consuming love for us.
Jesus' sacrifice not only justified us, Paul says in verse 9, it saves us from God's wrath. The mention of God's wrath often conjures visions of judgment, fire, and destruction, and those things are the final fate of the unrighteous. God's wrath, however, involves more than simply final destruction. Romans 1:18-32 identifies God's wrath as something that affects the unrepentant now. "The wrath of God is being revealedagainst all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness," Paul writes. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 he further identifies God's wrath as "the coming wrath" from which Jesus rescues us. This wrath, he explained to the Colossians, is coming against whatever is from the sinful nature. (Colossians 3:6) Moreover, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul warns them not to be deceived by "empty words", for by such deception people become disobedient and thereby receive God's wrath. (Ephesians 5:6)
John the Baptist also referred to God's wrath as he preached in the Judean countryside. "Whoever rejects the Son will not see life," he said, "for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36) Furthermore, the author of Hebrews identifies God as the judge who will avenge wickedness and asserts, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:30-31) Even in the last book of the Bible John describes Jesus as judging and making war justly. (Revelation 19:11) He paints a word picture of Him carrying a sharp sword in his mouth with which to strike down nations. (Revelation 19:15)
God's wrath, like his kingdom, is both "already but not yet". He gives people over to their lusts, perversions, greed, and narcissism now when they do not surrender themselves to Jesus and accept his salvation. The unrepentant reap in themselves the desperate consequences of their persistent sin and destructive indulgences. They suffer broken relationships, chronic anxiety, emotional and psychological aberrations, ill health, and spiritual bankruptcy as the results of their persistent sin. The future, however, will reveal the full extent of God's wrath. His holiness will destroy all evil, and the unrepentant will experience not only internal destruction but total destruction from outside themselves.
When we humble ourselves before God and acknowledge our hopeless brokenness and ask him to fill our wounded places with his Spirit, we become born again and pass instantly from our positions as objects of God's wrath into eternal life. After our new births, we are no longer abandoned to our desperate cycles of sin and deepening destruction. In Christ we are no longer slaves to sin because we have living spirits inhabited by God's Spirit. God no longer gives us over to our habitual sin. Instead, he gives us new desires and convictions, and he begins to cleanse us from our natural self-destruction. He also puts the living hope in our hearts of our certain salvation and of His promise to spend eternity with us.
Reconciled and Rejoicing
One of the greatest surprises of our rescue from doom is that Jesus reconciled us to God while we were sinners. The word "reconcile" means "to put an end to hostility." It would seem at first glance that the hostility between God and man would be God's anger judging our persistent sinning. The great miracle, however, is that the hostility Jesus came to tear down was our hostility, not God's. While God's holiness cannot tolerate the presence of evil, still the alienation between humanity and God came from man's rebellion, not from God's anger. In fact, God sent Jesus because he loved us (1 John 3:16) and wanted to restore intimacy with us. We would never have initiated reconciling ourselves to God. In our natural states, we are incapable of even wanting to be close to God.
Paul told the Corinthians that God was reconciling "us to himself through Christ,"(2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Furthermore, he told the Colossians that God reconciled "to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians 1:20) It was never God who had enmity for us; even when we were in full rebellion and resistance to him, God loved us. Jesus was God's love in action, drawing us from our alienation and self-absorption and giving himself as the ransom to save us from ourselves.
Paul stresses that our reconciliation with God involves not only Jesus' death but also his resurrection life. " For if, when 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!" (v. 10) Jesus' death paid the price for our sins, but his life is what gives us the hope of eternity. In chapter 8 of Romans Paul tells us that Jesus is "at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us."(v. 34) Hebrews 7:24-42 also emphasizes that Jesus now has a permanent priesthood and is therefore "able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." Jesus' resurrection life is what gives us the promise of living eternally in our own glorified bodies. Further, his resurrection life is what gives us the security of our salvation. He is at the Father's right hand, interceding for us, and nothing can separate us from his love-not even death! (Romans 8:35-39)
Jesus also assured us before his death that his sheep-those who embrace him and are adopted into God's family-know his voice, and "no one can snatch them out of his hand."(John 10:27-29) His death and resurrection also demonstrate his promises that all who believe on the Son shall have eternal life, and Jesus will "raise [them] up at the last day." (John 6:39-40)
Jesus' resurrection further guarantees that when the Spirit who raised him from death lives in us, he will "give life to [our] mortal bodies through his Spirit." (Romans 8:11) We can know that Jesus will complete the good work he has begun in us. (Philippians 1:6)
Jesus' death paid the penalty for our sins, but his life is what changes us, sanctifies us, and guarantees our own eternity.
Jesus' resurrection also facilitates the fact that we are now children of God. Because he died and rose to sit at the Father's right hand to intercede for us, we can now approach God directly, covered by Jesus' blood, because we put our faith and trust in Jesus. Whereas we were born objects of God's wrath, when we surrender to Jesus and accept his sacrifice, we become born again as God's children. (John 1:12-13) We receive the Holy Spirit and find release from fear. Through the witness of the Holy Spirit, we become confident of our status as God's children, and we call him "Father".
This new relationship with God also means that "we are God's workmanship". We are literally products of God's regenerative power, and what we are when we are born again is different from what we were before. Instead of being spiritually dead, we are spiritually alive, and we are literally new creations. Further, our new creation means that we now receive the work that God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10) Before we were born again, God ordained the ministry and the work that he wanted us to perform. Part of our salvation is the redeeming of all the past experiences of our lives. God heals us and uses those experiences to equip us with e the insight and compassion and knowledge we need in order to fulfill God's eternal plan for us.
Because of Jesus we can personally enter the presence of God directly. Our spirits, brought to life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, puts us in the presence of God-a reality that was not possible for anyone who lived before the cross. Jesus' broken body is the curtain that was torn in two, revealing the Most Holy Place to humanity. We can enter that Most Holy Presence by the "new and living way" of Christ's blood. (Hebrews 10:199-22)
Our ability to rejoice in our intimacy with God is unique. Such a relationship was not possible before Jesus died and paid for our sins. We, the body of Christ, are set apart as a special "race" in the universe. We are the only creatures for whom God sacrificed himself in the way he did. To creatures outside of time, our relationship with God is visible. Our living spirits are perceived as different from the dead spirits of those who have not received Jesus. The seal of the Holy Spirit in us clearly marks us as God's children in the spiritual realm. We have a relationship with God through Jesus in which we can rejoice; He has come to us, died for us, and he lives for us. The object of our worship became our sacrifice. He lives again as our King of kings and Lord of lords, and we rejoice because we are one with the eternal, sovereign God.
God is calling you to embrace your full inheritance as his child. He died for you and accepted you for his own while you were still a sinner, but he doesn't want to leave you bound by your weaknesses and sins. Your Father, through the firm prompting of the Holy Spirit, will begin to bring to your attention the things in your life he wants you to release to him. Jesus will show you the sins, attitudes, and wounds that have warped and crippled your life. He wants to heal you in the places where you carry pain and shame, and he wants you to trust him to uncover them and to give them up to him.
Jesus will not leave you to suffer alone in your pain and addictions and self-deception. He will, however, show you the brokenness in you. You will experience pain and risk as you accept the truths he shows you about yourself, but Jesus himself will carry you as you move through the secrets of your heart toward the freedom of forgiveness and healing.
Jesus is calling you to trust him to help you know what you need to know, change in the ways you need to change, and grow in the ways you need to grow. His call to you is not easy, but it is full of hope and the promise of freedom and joy.
Ask Jesus to reveal to you the things he wants you to know and to heal you of the wounds in your heart. Ask you Father to be your strength and to hold you together with his love as you walk into the truth He reveals. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you and to protect you from evil and deception, to give you the mind of Christ and the courage of Jesus.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for the reality of your new birth, for your new identity as God's own child, and for the confidence that he will complete the work he has begun in you!
The "right time"
Paul has established in the previous five verses that since we have peace with God and have been brought into relationship with him, we now find meaning and hope through our suffering. God has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we will not be disappointed. Now Paul recaps again the process of salvation that has given us this peace and hope.
1. "At just the right time," Paul says, "Christ died for the ungodly." What does this phrase, "the right time," suggest about God's sovereignty, the kingdom of God, and the establishment of the church? (see Mark 1:14-15; Galatians 4;4-5; Ephesians 1:9-10; Matthew 24:36-37)
2. How do these texts stand in contrast to what many of us learned regarding how Christ's return is determined?
3. Paul contrasts God's commitment to humanity with normal human loyalty by pointing out that only rarely would any person be willing to die for another, and then only if that other were remarkably worthy. What is remarkable about Jesus' saving of us? (see John 3:16; 15:13; Romans 3:10-12; Ephesians 2:3-5; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 3:16; 4:10)
4. What is "God's wrath" from which we will be saved? (see Romans 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; John 3:36; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; Hebrews 10:30-31; Revelation 19:11, 15)
5. "Reconcile" means "to put an end to hostility." Whose, God's or man's, is the hostility that must end, and who bears the enmity for the other when we are in our natural state, God or man? (see Colossians 1:20-22; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
6. Notice the parallel in verses 9-10: verse 9 says we have been justified by his blood and shall be saved. Verse 10 says we have been reconciled through his Son's death and shall be saved. Justification and reconciliation are closely related; Jesus accomplished both by his death. Now that we are justified and reconciled, we can be saved. This salvation is accomplished through Jesus' resurrection life. How is Jesus' life, not just his death, linked to our salvation? (see Romans 8:27; 34; Hebrews 7:25)
7. Of what do Jesus' death and life make us sure? (see Romans 8:33-39; John 10:27-29; 6:39-40; Philippians 1:3-6)
8. Why is it so significant that through Jesus Christ we now rejoice in God? (see John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15-17; Ephesians 2:3-10; Hebrews 10:19-22)
9. What hostility or personal "rights" are you still rationalizing in yourself, unwilling to give them up?
10. You were saved in your sins, but God spends the rest of your life with him transforming you. Of what sins or habitual behavior is God making you aware, asking you to give them up and to trust him instead?
11. Of what truths about your life and your experience is God reminding you, perhaps traumatic or shameful things you had forgotten or want to forget, causing you to "know" them so he can heal your heart?
12. Ask God to help you know what you need to know and to embrace the truth about yourself and your life. Thank him for already making your salvation secure and for his sovereign timing that knows exactly when you are ready to know and to heal from the wounds in your life. Ask him to make your heart willing to know the truth and to relinquish your coping mechanisms to him. Ask God to guard you heart and your mind in Jesus and to fill your heart with his peace and his joy. Praise God for his commitment to transform you and to heal your heart.
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