PEACE WITH GOD
Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The first word of this mighty chapter is ‘Therefore.’ And it has been well said that Paul’s ‘therefores’ are there for a purpose. This one marks the transition from the past and what happened in the example of Abraham’s trust in God, to the day that Paul wrote this letter to certain people. Dr. Barnhouse describes this ‘therefore’ as the stone rolled away from the tomb of Christ declaring all the blessings that come to us by the living Saviour. You see it? The last phrase of Chapter 4 is, “He was raised to life for our justification” and the first phrase of chapter 5 is “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So something had obviously happened to this constituency, the people to whom Paul was writing, those men and women with whom the apostle Paul was pleased to identify himself with, the ‘we’ of our text. He stands in total solidarity with them. “Something has happened to all of us,” he says. ‘We’ have been justified by faith, and so ‘we’ have peace with God through Christ. Who are the ‘we’? This letter is not addressed to the whole Roman Empire, but to one small gathering, a congregation in the heart of Rom, the church of Christian men and women, people who have all gone to God through the person they and Paul refer to in our text as ‘our’ Lord Jesus Christ. This bonding of letter writer and letter readers was very personal bonding. Here are a people who are different from the Emperor Nero, and different from the senate of Rome, and different from the multitudes who walked the streets and lived in the houses of the greatest city of the world at that time. They were different not because they lived perfect lives but because this constituency, the ‘we’ of our text, these people to whom Paul was writing, had come to freely acknowledge that they had two basic problems, the problem of their personal guilt from their bad behaviour, and the problem of the corruption of their hearts. Everyone of the ‘we’ acknowledged that.
Do you understand that it was not a sense of guilt they had? We can be driving along in the car and a police car with flashing blue lights comes up behind us and we start to pull over. We are panicked by guilt feelings; we’d seen no 30 mph signs; we are in trouble. But in fact the traffic cop just wanted to pass us in a hurry. “Move over!” he was saying. He has no gripe with us. He was flying by in order to go to a place where he was needed urgently. What we felt when we saw the blue lights behind us were guilt feelings, but there was no guilt. We had not broken the law. And without the law there is no sin.
The Christians in Rome and the apostle Paul had real guilt because they acknowledged they were guilty in the sight of God. They’d had other gods but the living God. They had made idols of people and things, they had laced their speech with foul execrations, they had not given a day a week to God, they had dishonoured their parents, they had been violent, they had indulged in sexual sin, they had lied and stolen and coveted, and so they were guilty. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and so all alike are guilty, whether they have feelings about it or not. The whole world is guilty before its holy Creator, and again, all find their hearts are corrupt. There is a willing, fertile seed-bed within all men and women where thoughts and desires and imaginations can flourish and produce corrupt fruit.
God is light and we are darkness; God is holy and we are sinners; God is straight and we are twisters, and so where God is we’re not! There is separation between us; there is alienation. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against us and against everything that contradicts what God stands for as the loving and merciful one. But Paul and these people were different. In what ways?
1. THESE PEOPLE WERE JUSTIFIED.
Here in chapter 5 of Romans are people who have been rescued from that state of divine condemnation. It is not that they’d become religious and so no longer had guilt feelings. No! God had declared this people (the ‘we’ of our text), to be justified, in other words, no longer to be depraved rebels in his estimation, but righteous believers. God has taken it upon himself to deliver these people from their guilt and corruption. What they could not do he had done. They couldn’t save themselves, no matter what, and so he had provided a Saviour for them, and that Saviour was his only begotten Son, a Son who was as fully God as he himself. The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, and these three are one God. The Father sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.
God saved us, and the way that he saved us was by the righteous life of the man Christ Jesus, his doing what we’ve failed to do. God saved us by his Son taking the judgment we deserve because of our sins. He died in our place, as our substitute, bearing our sins in his own body on the cross, suffering the judgment that should come upon us. We are saved by another, not by anything that we’ve done but by everything that the God-man has done for us.
Because of Jesus Christ’s life and death all who are joined to him have been justified, that is, they have all been declared righteous in God’s sight because their sins are now as though they’ve never been, their sins no longer are controlling or modifying their relationship with God today. God laid on him the iniquity of us all and he has dealt with them all, once and for always. It is the righteous Lord Jesus Christ who determines that. In Christ they are as righteous as he is. They are justified before the only court that matters, the supreme court of heaven. “Righteous!” declares our Judge, as another pardoned believing sinner stands before him, “Righteous!” declares the Judge, and another repentant trusting sinner comes, one whose only hope of pardon lies in what Jesus Christ has done, “Righteous!” says God, and on and on, the same word spoken to this incalculably vast company for all of whom the Lord Christ died.
“Therefore,” Paul says, that is, “in the light of what Jesus Christ has done – all by himself – in clearing all our debts then we have become the incredible beneficiaries.” He paid the price and we are rich! We have been declared righteous. Who among us? The specially holy and mature ones – are they the ones declared holy? No. People for whom thousands of masses have been said by priests for many decades or even centuries – have they eventually been declared righteous? No. Is it dead people, who have been prayed to and these dead people in the after-life have answered the prayers that was directed at them, so that people with cancer have been healed because they had prayed to these people who once had lived a good life in this world, and now because someone has been healed those people in the after-life are declared to be ‘saints’ and declared righteous and can enter heaven. No! No! It is not that at all, though millions believe that error. How then were these people declared righteous by God? We come to our second point.
2. THESE PEOPLE WERE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH IN THE LORD CHRIST.
The only qualification for being justified is that they have believed in the Lord Jesus. They have faith in him. “I am trusting Thee. Lord Jesus, trusting only Thee,” they’ve said. In other words all their hope of going to heaven and being justified by God lay in what Jesus Christ had done. They have believed into him and they have believed everything about Jesus Christ. They believe his claims to be the Creator of the heavens and the earth; they believe that before Abraham was he was; they believe that he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to God except through him; they believed in his equality with God, that he and his Father are one. They believe that when he said on the cross that it was finished then all Jesus’ saving and propitiating work was all perfectly complete. All their hopes of peace with God lie in one person only in the Lord Christ.
They can bring nothing with them to this Saviour. They can purchase nothing from him. They can’t bargain with him that if they do some things then he will reward them with justification. All they can do is bring themselves, poor, ruined, defiled people, and entrust themselves into his great saving name. They come as weak people to the one who is strong. They come as fallen men and women to the holy one. The voice of faith cries, “You must save me. You alone! Have mercy on me!” Have you heard the gospel? Do you understand it? We are not justified by love because the best loving actions we’ve done have been tarnished by sin. A man loves his wife and has always been faithful to her, but she develops dementia and she becomes repetitive in her questioning and she drives him to despair. At times he loses his patience with her and shouts at her. He does not say to God, “Justify me because I loved my wife in a blameless way.” He is ashamed of the impatience he has shown his wife. He is glad that his friends and family have not seen him in despair over his failure to love his wife more tenderly. What does he say to God? “Justify me because of the Lord Jesus. Christ loved me and lived a blameless life in my place and died in my stead on the cross.” That is the voice of faith. So Paul says here, “Therefore we are justified by faith,” that is by the faith that focuses itself on the Son of God.
Listen to these grand words of Dr. Lloyd-Jones on this verse. “We would probably stop there: but not so the Apostle Paul. ‘Through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ He feels that he can never say that too frequently. He can never mention the blessed name too often. What a wise teacher he is. He knows how ready we are to forget; so he is determined that we shall not forget this. Every time he mentions these glorious blessings he persists in telling us that we get them ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ,’ that they cannot be obtained apart from him, and that any man who thinks he knows God, or is blessed by God, except in and ‘through our Lord Jesus Christ’, is deluding and fooling himself. There is no other way. He is the only way. And if we but saw it as the apostle saw it, we, too, would delight in this, as he does, in the mentioning the complete title of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’. Let us note this as we pass – not that the apostle will ever allow us to forget it. But let us not foolishly fail to take notice of what he does, and skip over it. Let us underline it, let us look in amazement at it; and let us ask ourselves whether we are as fond of the name as the Apostle Paul was, whether we like to repeat it as he did. How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear, and note, not just ‘Jesus’, but ‘our Lord Jesus Christ‘. Do you like repeating it? This is one of the best tests of our whole position as Christians. There is nothing without him. It is all in him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning, the end, the all and in all. Let us give him the glory – ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans; Exposition of Chapter 5, Banner of Truth, p.8).
I come to you today with a message that centres on him. I am calling on you to believe in Jesus Christ, in the perfection of his life, the extraordinary relevance of his teaching to your daily living and to us all, and that you trust in his atoning death. I make this offer of salvation to you, that if you receive Jesus Christ into your life as your Lord and God and your prophet and priest and king then you will be saved. Of course there is more to faith than a mere decision! It is not mere historical faith that I am calling you to display – the devils have such faith. They all believe that Christ is God and that he came to earth 2,000 years ago. Justifying faith demands you confess him with your lips, that you own him as the one you trust totally, receiving the truth about him with worship and adoration, putting your faith in his living person and the merit of his sacrifice, totally and exclusively, and surrendering yourself to his Lordship with loving obedience and following in his steps all your days. This is the faith that justifies us. We are sinners but God has sent a Saviour to deliver us and by trusting in him we are justified, declared righteous by God. So Paul begins this mighty chapter with the words, “Therefore being justified by faith . . .” Abraham once heard the wonderful promise that God made to him of what I call Three ‘L’s’, a great land he would give him, and a wonderful lad would be born to him and Sarah in their old age, and a glorious Lord who would be one of his descendants through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham believed the Lord’s promises of the land, the lad, and the Lord, and Abraham was justified in believing God. God declared him righteous through his trusting in the good news that he heard.
3. THE PRIME BLESSING THESE PEOPLE KNEW WAS PEACE WITH GOD.
What does he say? Look at what is There right before you. Therefore being justified by faith we speak in tongues? Not at all. Therefore being justified by faith we get lots of money and live in perfect health until we’re a hundred? Not at all. Does he talk about fame and fortune becoming ours as we put our faith in Christ? No! Do we get power if we have faith in Jesus Christ? That is not his emphasis here. What does he say? He tells us that the prime and glorious benefit of being justified by faith is that we have peace with God.
This is the consequence that the apostle puts first. He will go on in the next verses to tell us of other blessings that we get from God through the Lord Jesus Christ. But they follow after peace with God; they are clearly secondary in importance. This is put in prime place – “peace with God.” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones emphasizes this so much. Let’s interrogate him and find out why. He will tell us straight away. “Why am I emphasizing that? I do so for this reason, that there are many people today who put the blessings first, and invite people to ‘Come to Jesus’ in order that they may get this or that or the other blessing, without saying a word about ‘peace with God’. ‘Don’t worry about repentance now,’ they say, ‘that will come later. Do you want a Friend ? Do you need help ? Do you need comfort ? Do you want happiness, peace and joy?’ These are the things that those evangelists put forward and emphasize, and so Christianity is made to look like the religion of the cults, and to appear to be in competition with them. Evangelicals often start with man, and man’s various needs and troubles and problems and his various desires, and then they invite him to ‘Come to Jesus’ as the One who can satisfy such needs. The cults say much the same thing, the only difference being that their particular teaching is, they claim, the thing that produces the desired result” (op cit, pp. 8&9).
But we are called to stick to the Book, and show the uniqueness of the Christian message, and the primary blessing that we must emphasize that comes from faith in Christ is ‘peace with God’. Why is that? Let us interrogate Dr. Lloyd-Jones again. Listen! “For the simple reason that we can have no blessings from God until we first of all have an access into God’s presence and are reconciled to him. We cannot pray to God as we are and if we desire God to bless us, the first question we have to face is this – ‘How can I have an entry, how can I have access to God, how can I have an audience with God?’ If you are anxious to obtain some benefit from the Queen of England, the first thing you have to discuss is this, how can I get into Buckingham Palace? See the police there and the guards marching up and down between their sentry boxes armed with their rifles. What have I to do to gain admission to her majesty? How do I approach this great personage? It is an obvious problem in that realm, and yet we pay no attention to this when we seek blessings from God. We go to God and we expect to get all that we ask for immediately. But that is impossible. All blessings come through our Lord Jesus Christ; and so we must first be at peace with God by believing in Christ” (op. cit. p. 9). That is the answer the Doctor gives as he emphasizes the very first thing that a man or woman must be sure about if he or she goes to God and knows that all is well between him and God, that there is peace, so that he or she can say, “Oh the bliss of this glorious thought that all of my sins, not part of them, but all were laid on Christ’s cross and remembered no more. There is therefore peace between me and God.”
So we must start with ‘peace with God’. Before we come to consider any blessings we must always consider the whole question of our standing and status and position before God. It is almost baffling to understand how anyone can miss this. So let us ask Dr. Lloyd-Jones again to explain this to us, and he is anxious to make it very clear. This is what he says, “We are all interested in blessings, and in our future in this world, but we should start with the realization that we may not be alive tomorrow. There is nothing wrong in seeking blessings, and we should thank God that he gives us such glorious blessings; but a man who starts with the blessings is a fool, for the reason that he may not be here to enjoy the blessings he is seeking. Our whole position is uncertain. ‘Your life is but a vapour’, as James reminds us, and the first question is our standing before and our relationship to God. I am bound to start there for every reason. How can I ask God for anything if I don’t know how to come into his presence? Before I begin to think of what I’m going to do when I’ve got blessings, I should surely face the possibility that I may not live to receive them. I may suddenly die and have to stand before God in the judgment. What then? So I must start with that. The first thing, for every reason, is my relationship to God. Is it well between me and God? Everything else follows that, and is dependent upon that” (op. cit. p. 10).
Are we quite clear about this? Again let Dr. Lloyd-Jones make things clearer. He tells us, “The primary business of the Christian gospel is not to give us blessings. I emphasize the primary purpose. Its primary function is to reconcile us to God. It is ‘to bring us to God’. It is to put us into the place in which we can ask God for blessings, and God can bless us. Nothing must ever be put before that. All this teaching that repentance does not matter, and that it does not matter whether you have a sense of sin, and whether you realize your need of forgiveness, and that all you have to do is to ‘Come to Jesus as you are’ is utterly unscriptural, indeed it is illogical. You can go to your bed at night and sleep soundly as the result of some teaching you may have espoused – such as ‘the power of positive thinking’, or Christian Science, or what you will. You may have lost all your worries and be no longer troubled. The tragic delusion in following such teachings lies in the fact that they do not help you in the most vital matter of all; indeed they conceal it from you and encourage you to forget it. They do not help you if you should suddenly die. They will not help you in the Day of Judgment. You will have been lulled into a false sense of peace, and your position will actually be worse than it was before, because, thinking that you have got all you need, you will no longer be seeking. What a dangerous thing it is to fail to notice the order and the arrangement in which things are stated in the Scriptures, and to reverse them! “Being justified by faith”, the first result is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (op. cit. p.11).
4. WHAT WAS THIS PEACE WITH GOD KNOWN TO THESE PEOPLE?
Some of you older ones may recall that the American evangelist, Billy Graham, wrote a book entitled Peace with God sixty years ago and it must have sold over a million copies, and I am sure than many people were helped by it. There is that gripping title – the very words of the Bible – bringing together these things, our peace and the living God. What is meant by this ‘peace with God?’ Let us start with the negatives.
i] What we have here is not just ‘peace’, it is ‘peace with God.’ The world is crying out for peace. People are miserable and unhappy and what they are seeking and longing for is peace, peace of mind. They are in turmoil, and unhappy. They are looking for peace, and they do not care very much how they may get it as long as they get it. Some turn to drink, some take drugs, some rush into pleasure, some turn to the cults – they are all out for ‘peace’. That is not your primary need, says Paul, as does the Christian gospel everywhere. What you need is ‘peace with God’, and it is by this method of justification by faith, and by this alone, that you can get that peace. The Christian church is not one of a number of, or in competition with, the many agencies that are offering people an end to their frayed nerves, and various other ills. This is biblical theology, this is Christian doctrine, this is God’s eternal truth. Its fascination is not with peace as such, but in ‘peace with God’. Then there is another point, and again I am indebted to the Doctor.
ii] This is peace with God not the peace of God. This second negative is most important. What Paul says is not that we have ‘the peace OF God’, but that we have peace WITH God. He is not talking about the peace of God that is the fruit of the Spirit, that peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. That peace is something that pertains to an entirely different situation from the one with which the Apostle is dealing here. “The peace of God which passes all understanding” is something that a man needs when he is surrounded by problems and difficulties and trials. He is in grave danger of succumbing to anxious care and worry and anxiety. We are all often tempted in that way. When the apostle wrote those unforgettable words he was dealing with people who were well established in the Christian life, not beginning to enter into that life. But here we are considering something quite different; here we are not considering how to stand up to problems and trials and difficulties and tribulations; here the question is, ‘How do we stand before God?’ What we need at that point is not the ‘peace of God’ but ‘peace with God’ – that all is well with a holy God. Our guilt is all removed; our sins are all forgiven and we can address God as our Father.
“We shall never know ‘the peace of God’ until we first have ‘peace with God’. It is most important that we should understand that here the subject is not how we stand up to the trials of life, but rather, how do we stand up to the Law of God, and to the Judgment, and to the righteousness of God ? Indeed, Charles Hodge himself very rightly points out that a better translation here would be, ‘Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace in regard to God’, not peace with regard to trials and tribulations and difficult circumstances, but peace with regard to God. ‘Peace with God’ is mainly an objective matter of our relationship to God and our standing with him. The peace of God is entirely subjective; it is the way I overcome the fatal tendency to anxiety and anxious care. Here in Romans 5 the subject matter is essentially theological; in Philippians 4 it is essentially practical and pastoral.
“The apostle is reminding us that through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by means of justification by faith, we have peace with regard to God. He means that by justification by faith those obstacles which exist between God and the sinner are removed, have ceased to be, and that there is an entirely new relationship. There was formerly a barrier, there were the seraphim with the flaming sword and we were prevented as rebel sinners from going to the tree of life. There was a state of enmity and estrangement. There was a state of war and antagonism; but being justified by faith, all that has gone, and a condition of peace is established between God and the man who believes that God raised Jesus from the dead, ‘who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification’. The first thing that enables me to know that certainty that we have peace with regard to God is that this is the great accomplishment of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (op. cit. p.13).
Do you understand the significance of this? You often hear of men of whom we are told that they made their peace with God. Poor clods of the earth! They made their pece with the Creator of the universe? They did something? They laid down the terms and entered into negotiations with God. They said to God that they were aware that they hadn’t been perfect and if they had offended him in any way they were sorry. So they thought that that was what a real big man does an they did it. They made peace with God. They were sadly and sinfully mistaken.
When you come to God in your way and dictate terms to him concerning the way he has to accept you then you provoke him to further wrath. You must come in the way he has made. The way is Jesus Christ, the new and living way. “I am the way,” he says. There is only one way that your sins may be forgiven and that there be peace between you and God and that is that you fling yourself onto the promises of God. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Go to Jesus Christ as a restless sinner and find his mercy, his easy yoke and his light burden. There is no other way to peace with God. None whatsoever! The loving Saviour has made peace with God by his life and death, and the way you become a beneficiary of it is to entrust yourself to him, body and soul for time and eternity.
Here is a cruel and vicious terrorist army called ISIS and it is guilty of the most terrible crimes, beheadings on line of innocent men, crucifixions, rape of young girls, murders. Now let us say that they decide they want to have a break in their devilish activities and so they offer peace terms that they spell out to the nations they have been fighting. They will keep the lands and cities and oil wells that they have captured. There will be no reprisals and no trials for war crimes. They want their prisoners released and they will then release the prisoners, men and women whom they have captured. They acknowledge that they might have gone over the top once or twice . . . but that’s war isn’t it? Would any just democracy agree to peace on those terms? No. It has to be a just peace, and murderers, torturers and rapists have to be punished as guilty of war crimes.
So it is with God. He has made peace at unbelievable cost to himself. He has given up his Son even to the death of the cross and spared him not. That is the price of peace with God, and he is prepared to forgive you your sins against him if you really repent of how you have defied him for years of your life, and you flee from your guilt and shame and plead only the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ as the basis of any hope of God being at peace with you, God not revealing his wrath from heaven against you for your ungodliness and unrighteousness, And that is what you must do today. You must go to God now! If you wait until you have more faith or until you have made yourself a better person you will never go to God at all. You may never be as close to God as you are at this moment. Entrust yourself to Jesus Christ! He is inviting you to come. He is promising rest to you if you come. He will help you to come. Speak to him about your condition. Tell him how you need him and keep talking to him, and saying sorry to him and thank you to him until you know he has heard and given you rest.
My old friend, Douglas Higgins of Sheffield, in his recent autobiography, speaks of his first experiences in the Christian life. One evening after a Christian Endeavour meeting he went home and to his bedroom, kneeling at his bed and saying this; “If you are god in heaven, and have any love for me, then you must do something about it, or you can put my name down for hell, and I’ll be there as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.” What happened next? This is what he says, “Immediately I felt a sense of relief, such as one might physically feel after being held down and then released. I saw nothing, I heard nothing but this: there is a God and he has made himself known to me.” (Douglas Higgins: Autobiography of a Yorkshire Christian, Banner of Truth, 2014, p.8). Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near.
12th October 2014 GEOFF THOMAS