Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let us return again to this mighty chapter and its opening verse. Here we learn that the chief blessing of all who are justified by faith is this, that they have peace with God. And I want to begin by asking the question how anyone is able to tell whether he genuinely has peace with God. What are the marks of true peace with God? The most god-fearing and useful men and women throughout church history have testified that throughout all their days on earth doubt and the devil would perforate their lives and this issue of their being justified by faith would be the key issue that they’d be facing constantly in Satan’s attempt to shake them. We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices and we know how to answer him. So let us begin today by considering the basic evidences for being justified sinners. Again I have found much help in this sermon in the message on this text given by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his sermons on Romans chapter 5. I have taken his whole approach finding it so true to my experience and observation, and I have used much of his material, too much to keep wrapping in quotation marks, but I have used my own illustrations. I thank God for drawing my attention to it. What are the marks of a man whom God has declared righteous? Is there a more important question for us to ask than that?
- THE EVIDENCES OF TRULY POSSESSING PEACE WITH GOD.
i] We are at rest about our relationship with God. In other words we understand the revelation of God that is here in the Bible, about how God declares righteous the man whose trust and hope is wholly in what Jesus is and what the Lord has done for him. Such a man has first acknowledged his sin and has been awakened to his sense of need, but then he has understood how God sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. And then God made his own Son to be sin for us – the one who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
There is no peace between man and God until a man grasps this doctrine of justification. It is the only way of peace. And it is something that comes to our minds, it is doctrine, it is teaching. In other words we are not just told, ‘All is well, do not worry. All will be all right in the end; the love of God will cover you.’ That is not the Gospel. It is all stated here fully in this letter to the Romans in remarkable detail, and it comes to us as truth coming to our thinking. The first thing that happens is that the mind is enlightened, and a man says, ‘I can see it. It is staggering in its immensity, but I can see how God himself has made me righteous with God. He has sent his own Son and he has punished my sin in him. His justice has been satisfied concerning my sinful living, and so I can see that God can forgive me because of the Lord Jesus, though I am ungodly and though I am a sinner.’ The mind is satisfied to learn what God has done.
You will never have true peace until your mind is satisfied. If you merely get some emotional or psychological experience (or speak or sing in tongues) it may keep you quiet and give you rest for a while, but sooner or later a problem will arise, a situation will confront you, a question will come to your mind, perhaps through an English tutorial group or through reading a book or in a conversation, and you can’t answer it, and so you lose your peace. Your high feelings are not a help to you then. There is no true peace with God until the mind has seen and grasped and taken hold of this blessed doctrine, and so finds itself at rest. Then there is a second mark of those who really have peace with God
ii] We trust God loves us in spite of the fact that we are sinners and go on sinning. Before we became Christians we wondered how was it possible for God to know all about us and still to love us. Then we became gripped by what God in justifying mercy had done once and for all in imputing to Christ our sin, and his righteousness to us. The justified man, as he looks at Christ dying on the Cross, buried, and rising again, he says, ‘I know he loves me. I cannot understand it but I know he does. He has done that for me.’ It is not mere sentiment or feeling, he has solid facts of history to prove that God loves him. God does not merely tell us that he loves us, he has given the most amazing proof of it in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle goes on to say that, and to prove it, in this very chapter, from verse 6 to verse 11. Nothing is more wonderful than to know that God loves you; and no man can truly know that God loves him except in Jesus Christ and him crucified. Then there is a third mark that we really have peace with God.
iii] We are able to answer the accusations of our own conscience. Donald Cargill the martyred covenanting preacher in Scotland had learned to do this. He once said, “I have been a man of great sins, but he has been a God of great mercies, and now, through his mercies, I have a conscience as sound and quiet as if I had never sinned.” How did Donald Cargill get to the happy state? By understanding the truth of justification through faith in Jesus Christ, that all our sins, past, present and future had been laid upon the Lamb of God and his righteousness has been credited to us.
The man who has been justified by faith, and who has peace with God, can answer the accusations of his own conscience. It is essential that he should be able to do so, because thoughts will arise within, which will suggest to him, ‘This is impossible, how can you be at peace with God? Look at yourself, look at your heart, look at the plague of your own heart. How can it possibly be the case that God has forgiven you, and that God loves you?’ These accusations arise within our minds and consciences. If you cannot answer them you are obviously not clear about being justified by faith, and if you cannot answer them as they try to shake your confidence, you will again be miserable and unhappy; and there will be no peace with God. But the truly justified man can answer them, and so he retains his peace. John Owen the greatest English theologian, said, “Nothing can give perfect peace of conscience with God but that which can make atonement for sin. And whoever attempts to find peace of conscience in any other way except by virtue of that atonement will never attain it, in this world, or hereafter.”
iv] We are also able to answer the accusations of the devil. I chose a hymn on John Newton’s for us to sing today. It is the hymn, “Approach my soul the mercy seat, where Jesus answers prayer,” and there we read these mighty, wise words which have been our solace since we first sang them;
“Be Thou my shield and hiding place,
That sheltered near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died.”
In the last 36 years I can tell you that we have sung these words on 38 occasions on Sundays. Consider the fact that there are evangelical churches who only know Newton’s ‘Amazing grace.’ What impoverishment to their worship! John Newton was a wicked man who lived the life of an immoral sailor, and as the ship’s captain he was a man of power over his crew and particularly over the women slaves he transported from Africa to Europe and the West Indies. There wasn’t a sin he hadn’t committed. So when he became a Christian the devil’s strategy was to bring these sins to his memory and challenge him. “How can you be a Christian and be at peace with God when you have done this and that?” But John Newton had his answer, an answer that can silence the devil. He says in effect in that verse, ‘What can I tell him? I can’t tell him that I am a good man. I can’t tell him about my past or even my present. There is only one way of silencing him; “I can my fierce accuser face, and tell him thou hast died”, for me and my sin.’ But it is only the man who believes in the doctrine of justification by faith who can do that. The man who believes vaguely in the love of God cannot do so, for the devil will not listen to him. The man who says, ‘I feel happy’ will soon be made unhappy by the devil, for he is more powerful than we are. There is only one thing that the devil can never answer and that is the argument of the blood of Christ. ‘They overcame him’, says the book of Revelation, ‘by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony’‘ (Rev.12:11). Their testimony was a testimony concerning the finished work of Christ. It is the only way. Can you do that? Can you do so with confidence, and in spite of what you may feel momentarily? If you can and do, then the devil will have to be silent, he will leave you alone. In fact he will flee from you. He will come back again, but you will always be able to silence him, and then continue in a state of peace. But there is another mark of truly possessing peace with God . . .
v] We have overcome our fear of death and judgment. There are times when a Christian will be troubled with a severe pain. He lies in the darkness of his bed and he wonders if this is the end. Is this a heart attack, and in five minutes will he be dead? That can create real fears and then we start to overcome them. God is in control of my life. He appointed my first birth and my second birth; he appointed my first breath and my last death. Not a single shaft can hit till the God of love sees fit. Then I must face the judgment of God and I go there as a sinner, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ. The judge is the one who bore all my sin and condemnation on Golgotha. Will God require payment a second time for those sins that he has already judged in the death of Christ? Was I not joined to him when I died there in him? Then
“The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do.
My Saviour’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgression from view” (Augustus Toplady)
Then I know that if I think like that then I have peace with God.
vi] We can do all the above when we have fallen into a sin. We can go through all these powerful arguments with ourselves even when we have fresh guilt and shame. Dr. Lloyd-Jones says that he finds this approach to be the most helpful when he is speaking to people who have lost their assurance after experiencing a moral fall. He asks them, “Can you do all that I have been describing even when you’ve fallen into sin? It is understandable that a man should be fairly untroubled in mind and conscience when he has been living a fairly good life; but what happens when he falls into some grievous sin? A sudden temptation overtakes him and before he knows what’s happened he’s fallen. Here is the question. When this happens to you, can you still employ the argument I have been describing? I find that many are caught by the devil at that point. Because they’ve sinned a conspicuous sin they query and question their salvation, they doubt their justification, they wonder whether they’ve ever been Christians at all. They lose their peace and they may be in a torment and agony. They have gone back, and have started doubting their whole standing in the presence of God because of that one sin.
“Any man in that position is just betraying the fact that, for the time being at any rate, he is not clear about the doctrine of justification by faith only. Because if he believes that a single fall can put a man out of a right relationship to God, then he has never seen clearly that hitherto he has been in that right relationship, not because of anything in himself, but because of the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect work. When a man says, ‘Because I have sinned I have lost it’, what he is really saying on the other side is, ‘I had it because I was good’. He is wrong in both respects. In other words, if we see that our justification is altogether and entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified, we must see that, even though we fall into sin, that is still true” (Lloyd-Jones, Romans 5, pp.21&22).
- POSSESSING THE ASSURANCE OF PEACE WITH GOD.
My great-grandfather was a very earnest Christian man. I never knew him. I have a little book of his hand-written messages and my father inherited from him a compass which he passed on to me, and which I gave to my grandson Rhodri and I expect one day it will be Gwilym’s. You know the principle of the compass, that its needle is always drawn to the magnetic field of the North Pole. It invariably points north, however you can interfere with it by using a small horse-shoe magnet. You can touch the edge of your compass with a magnet and immediately the needle will be drawn to that. But once that little magnet is removed then the needle will re-orient itself and point once again to the North Pole. You can shake it about as children do, and try to get the needle spinning. There may be violence and agitation for a time but the needle settles and then it goes back pointing to the Pole.
Now that is true of our faith. We may be passing through a bout of very severe troubles and disappointments. We may find ourselves drawing away from God, doubting the love of God, or even the very existence of God. Our assurance that we are saved men and women can be shaken. We may have to struggle and bring out those six arguments and go over once again the whole Christian teaching that God is our great Creator, permitting the fall of man, sending his Son into the world to teach and live and die and rise again. Then we remind ourselves again of the way of salvation; “we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus Christ because he loved us bore our sins in his own body on the cross,” and we speak to our affections and also to our minds such truths and then, slowly, rest in the Lord returns. We rediscover our assurance of the peace of God; we regain the inner witness of the Spirit; we find that the needle of faith is pointing again to our loving heavenly Father. We get back on course and know again our purpose in living. We again seek to glorify and enjoy God.
By God’s grace I have been a Christian for over 60 years and I believe that I have lived a normal life as a believer. I can’t think that there has been a single day in those decades when I wasn’t perfectly aware that I was a Christian, even when I was behaving in a totally non-Christian way I knew that it was as a Christian I was behaving badly like that. So I have not had the nagging problem of lack of assurance of salvation in Christ. But what I have been aware of has been the realities of a time of strong faith and a time of weak faith throughout my life. There’s a pattern to my week, and by Saturday I am longing to go to church again. I feel the need of some renewal and revival, of deeper trust and good assurance. I have faith in Christ and I know it, and that faith has brought to me the righteousness of Christ and forgiveness, but what I need is the enjoyment of that justification, and that is what a full sense of forgiveness brings. As I climb all those steps behind the organ up into the pulpit on Sundays my desire is that I sing myself back into confidence, and pray myself back into comfort, and preach myself back into a fuller assurance of faith. I’ve never lacked assurance that I am a Christian, that I know God, and he is my sovereign Lord who is working all things together for my good, but the comforts that that knowledge should bring into my life do vary. Some days they are stronger than others.
- THERE IS THE DANGER OF FALSE PEACE
In other words there are those who think they are at peace with God but who are deluded. There are those who will say to the Lord on the Day of Judgment, “We prophesied in your name, we were with you in the streets, we cast out demons and did many mighty works,” and it was all false peace. I must make some comment on that phenomenon. I wish that it weren’t necessary, but I think that what I am going to say is going to help and strengthen you, and that it will not disturb Miss Little Faith. You will remember the behaviour of those people whom John mentions in his great epistle, chapter 2 and verse 19. “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” Here are people like those who once I baptized and they worshipped with us for a time, but then they stopped attending church. It was obvious that they were the kind of people Jesus describes in the parable of the sower, stony ground hearers who initially showed some enthusiasm and growth but when the first trials came they fell away and their faith died. They once possessed a false peace. What are the characteristics of false peace?
i] The man who has false peace thinks that trusting in Christ simply means believing, and assenting to certain propositions and truths. That, we may call, ‘system faith,’ belief in a certain Christian system. It may have been presented to you in a certain Christian course you have taken, or in a baptismal class, or confirmation class to which you have been encouraged to respond, and you said “Yes, I believe those things, that God created all things, man fell and Jesus is the Redeemer who rose from the dead.” “Then you are a Christian,” you were told by the one in authority – and who knew better than him what is Christianity. So because of his words and because you believe some basic teachings you believed that you were now enjoying peace with God. But all may not be well. You can subscribe to the truth, and give an intellectual assent to it, and yet not really be safe because the devils believe like that. There are men who have a form of godliness but they deny its power by a lifestyle that is no different at all from someone who makes no profession to be a Christian. Faith is not only a matter of intellect; it is deeper. There are the affections, growing sorrow for sin and a battle with the flesh, and a growing love for the Lord, and for his Word, and for his people and for his Day. Where are these in your life? So false peace is not simply believing certain truths.
ii] The man who has false peace is resting on his believing rather than resting on Christ and his work. The person with false peace is really looking at his own faith rather than at Christ and what the Saviour and Mediator has done for him. He says, “I have strong faith. I now believe, therefore I must be all right;” so he persuades himself. Such people are not looking to Christ; they are looking to their own faith, and they turn faith into a kind of work on which they rest. “Keep the faith baby” is an American slogan of superficial religion.
iii] The man who has a false peace is never troubled by doubts. But that is where the devil makes a mistake. The counterfeit is always too precious, too wonderful, the counterfeit always claims much more than the true experience. The devil gives a man a false peace counterfeiting the true peace, he creates a condition in which the man is never troubled at all. He is kept in a psychological state. He doesn’t truly face the truth of the Christian warfare, so there is nothing to make him unhappy. Let me put this in the form of very practical question. Can you sit in an evangelistic service without being made to feel uncomfortable at all? If you can then you’d better examine yourself seriously. I am assuming, of course, that the Gospel is being preached properly, that it is the true evangel which starts with the wrath of God and man’s helplessness. It matters not how long you may have been saved, if you’re truly justified you’ll still be made to feel unhappy, you may even be made to feel miserable temporarily, and finally you will thank God again for the righteousness of Christ and for a justifying Saviour. But intellectual believers are never troubled at all, they are always perfectly at ease, without a doubt or in any trouble. They say things like this, ‘Ever since I was received into the church I’ve never had a moment’s trouble’. Such talk is always indicative of a very dangerous condition. It is always very suspicious because it is too good to be true.
To put it in another way I say that this kind of person is always much too ‘healthy’. The people who have this false, counterfeit peace are much too glib, much too light-hearted. Compare them with the New Testament picture of the Christian. The New Testament Christian is ‘grave’, ‘bearing his cross’, ‘fighting against the rulers of the darkness of this world,’ and when he approaches God it is with ‘reverence and godly fear’. But the people with the false peace know nothing of those things; they are perfectly healthy, all is well, and they are supremely happy. Nothing like that mentality is found in the Scriptures. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul speaking in that manner, with such glib clichés falling from his lips? His speech is, ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men’, and ‘I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling’, and ‘work out your salvation in fear and trembling.’
iv] The man who has false peace is only interested in forgiveness and not in righteousness. The religious interest of the person who has false peace is focused on forgiveness. Certainly he does not want to go to hell; he wants God’s pardon, but he hasn’t stopped to think about being positively righteous, he’s not concerned about being holy and walking in holiness before God, so he is careless about his life. He doesn’t pursue holiness. He doesn’t heed that exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Fol1ow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebs. 12:14). He is an Antinomian, only interested in forgiveness, and negligent with regard to living the Christian life.
v] The man who has false peace who falls again into sin takes his forgiveness for granted, much too lightly. He is not like the person I’ve just been describing whose faith is shaken by Satan when he falls into sin. This man says almost as soon as he has fallen, “It is all right’ it’s under the blood of Christ” And up he gets and on he goes as if nothing had happened. You can’t do that if you have any true conception of what sin means, and what the holiness of God really is. This man with a false peace heals himself much too quickly, too easily, too light1y. It is because he takes sin as a whole too lightly. Those are five marks of false peace.
- THE STRENGTHS OF TRUE PEACE.
What are the strengths of true peace ? They are the exact opposite of what I have just been describing.
i] The man who knows peace with God is never glib or superficial. The man who is a true Christian is a man who’s had a glimpse of hell, and he knows that there is only one reason for the fact that he is not bound for it. Jesus Christ’s saving love for him. That is always present with him, so he is never a chinwag, never frothy, never a know-all.
ii] The man who knows peace with God is someone who is always filled with a sense of wonder. When he writes a hymn about the grace of God saving him he begins, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” he can’t get over the love that homed in on him and delivered him. Or he writes these words;
And can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me who caused His pain;
For me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, should’st die for me? (Charles Wesley)
This seems to me to be an inevitable response to understanding the grace of God. The man who has true peace with God is a man who never ceases to be amazed that God’s love came and changed him, amazed at the fact that he’s ever been justified at all, that God has ever looked upon him and called him by his grace. You say to such a man, “How are you” and his reply is, “Better than I deserve.”
iii] The man at peace with God is characterized by humility. Go through the New Testament and you will always find that the most notable characteristic of the Christian is that he is ‘poor in spirit’ – that is the first of the beatitudes – he is like his Master ‘meek and lowly of heart’. He realizes the truth about himself – a rebel – and about God that he is abounding in mercy. He is only too aware that he owes everything – from each breath he breathes on earth to the glories awaiting him in the heavens above – to the Lord Christ. So he is a humble man; he deems others much better than himself. “How can they endure me?” he thinks. His sense of gratitude to God and to our Lord is always prominent. There is no better index of where we stand than the amount of thanksgiving that characterizes our lives and our prayers. Some religious people give their Thought for the Day on the radio in the mornings at 7.50. They make their statements and comments and it is all so restrained, very rational and reasonable and muted, but this man, having realized something of what God in Christ has done for him, is full of doxology. He is thanking God; he is always praising God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such a response is inevitable and incontrovertible. Guilt, and grace are always followed by gratitude. That is always the sequence. The man who truly realizes his position is characterized by a sense of ‘wonder, love, and praise’. Consider the memorial stone in Calcutta where the body of William Carey lies. It reads simply “William Carey, born 17th August, 1761; died 9th June 1834.” Then Carey requested these two lines of a hymn of Isaac Watts be added; A wretched, poor and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.
iv] The man at peace with God is a man who is always careful about his daily life. Not that he may be justified as the result of the carefulness; he’s a careful man because he’s been justified. Again this is quite inevitable. He doesn’t fall back on works and try to justify himself; his position is that because of all that Christ has done for him he wants to show his gratitude to him. He’s seen the terrible character of sin and he wants to leave it, and in addition he is anxious to be holy and to go to the holy Heaven. “He that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:3).
The Scriptures are full of this. Let me remind you of some great statements of this truth. I Timothy 1:19,”Holding faith and a good conscience”. You not only hold faith, you hold the good conscience as well, “which some having put away, concerning faith have made shipwreck”. What a terrible statement ! “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” Hymenaeus and Alexander claimed to have faith, and peace with God; but they did not “ho1d the good conscience” and so became godless blasphemers making shipwreck of their lives. Then 1 Timothy 3 and verse 9 we read of those, “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” Faith is something which you carry about like you carry your i-pad, taking care not to mishandle it, not to drop it, because it is such a precious and wonderful machine. Carry it carefully, says the Apostle, “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience”. And then a final quotation from Titus 3, verses 8; “stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” What has he been talking about? Being justified by God’s grace. The man who is not careful to maintain good works is a man who is proclaiming that he has got a false sense of peace. The man who has the true peace is a man who is always careful to maintain good works. He carries his faith in a pure conscience, he holds not only the mystery of the faith but he also holds at the same time this conscience, this good conscience.
There, it seems to me, are the characteristics of true peace. Do you possess peace with God? Have you got it? How can one maintain it?[A] Make sure your hope is really and constantly in Jesus Christ, his person and his work [B] Don’t neglect the public means of grace. Sit under the best preaching you can hear. [C] Develop and encourage your reading of the best books. [D] Share with Christian friends your encouragements, questions and various issues. [E] Esteem the value of Christian conferences, camps, missions and C.U. Meetings. [F] Never cease doing good works. Where is there a need? How can you help people? Visit and call them. Write to them
19th October 2014 GEOFF THOMAS