God’s love poured out
- Main Text: Romans [3:28-20] 5:1-11
- Accompanying text: Matthew 11:28-30
What this passage means to us
“…Romans, the longest of the letters, introduces Paul and his gospel to the churches in Rome…Many themes from earlier letters are here taken up and reshaped into a large-scale narrative of salvation. The opening four chapters focus on the human condition of sin, and on God’s glorious act of justification in Christ” . Paul continues his inclusive approach to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s not just the Gentiles that have sinned, but all have sinned, including those who practice the Old Testament laws. Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles can therefore boast in anything save in Christ alone. Paul, by his own admission “a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5), knows there is no salvific advantage to law-keeping per se: “What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ (Romans 3:9-10).
Not only are we all included under sin, but, more importantly, because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and because of the miracle of the resurrection, for us “God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:23-24). Justification for all is gained through what Christ has done for the whole world.
Paul continues to explain the effects of this justification in chapter 5. All have sinned, all have been forgiven and justified in Christ, all made right before God, and therefore all people, whether Jew or Gentile, may have peace with God. All are recipients of grace, and therefore all have the hope of glory. Paul then proceeds to discuss how this provides triumph in face of suffering. In all of this Paul speaks out of his own personal experience. At the same time, he would have understood to some extent how the Roman saints faced persecution and hardship. When, in effect, we were powerless enemies of God in that we had rejected God just as Adam had in the beginning of the human story, in God’s love for us Christ died for our salvation even though we had done nothing to merit such salvation. How much more, then, even though we may be surrounded by problems and difficulties, do we have the assurance that we are and will be saved by the life of our Risen Lord? This same love has been poured out to overflowing in our hearts by the fullness of the Spirit whom God has given to us. In Paul’s way of thinking, this is cause for rejoicing and a pathway to spiritual growth through the Spirit. “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling short-changed. Quite the contrary — we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3-5 MSG)
Context and Story-line
Whenever we read his writing Paul’s own personal context is never far from the surface. He had been overwhelmed by the grace of God in Christ. God’s love had been poured out on him personally, and it changed his heart. He knew that this grace was undeserved, and that it was not based on any concept of moral, ethical, racial, ritualistic or behavioural worth. He had been justified — made right with God — not by dint of his own effort, but because Jesus was crucified for him and had risen from the dead for him. “If his persecution of the church, which he thought was 100 per cent right, was in fact 100 percent wrong, and if God revealed Christ and called Paul despite such a fundamental sin, it was clear that God’s grace was not given on the basis of human worth” .
He wanted to bring these ideas about God’s love and God’s justification of us not only into the context of the Roman church but also into the lives of the individual believers. It would affect how Christ was preached and how Christians would live in Christ. No longer would believers have to live out their lives in an effort to prove themselves to God and thus achieve justification — they were already recipients of God’s love and had been already justified! And we too are already justified, made right with God. “Justification is a completed reality awaiting disclosure. It is important to see that all of this is spoken of in the New Testament in the past tense, for justification is not a process. It is a finished work…In Christ Jesus we have been resurrected, made alive; we are already justified, sanctified and redeemed for he has been made our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption” .
How did Paul’s teaching on justification impact the church in Rome? We don’t know fully, but we can speculate. The Roman church appears to have been a loosely-knit association of small groups. How it was established is not clear, and perhaps some of the “visitors from Rome” (Acts 2:10) had returned after Pentecost and had begun to spread the good news about Jesus. There had been persecution and we know that Aquila and Prisca were among those expelled from the city by Claudius in 52 AD (Acts 18:2). The story of the church in Rome had been “reported all over the (Christian) world” (Romans 1:8). It was in his capacity as “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13) that Paul assumed pastoral care for the believers there. We can, therefore, surmise that they may have been composed partly of Jewish believers but mostly of Gentiles who were conversant, either as Jewish proselytes or as Christian converts, with the Old Testament Scriptures, which Paul referenced freely in his letter to them. Paul reminds them of Abraham, who was not a Jew and who was not under the Law, and who, against all probability, believed in the promises of God, and whose unwavering faith was accepted as righteousness. Abraham was justified without reliance on any system of works. Thus, Abraham’s faith becomes a pattern for theirs, and for ours. This would have been liberating for the Romans, whose background in pagan religion as well as in Judaism would have implied that justification came through worth achieved by works. As Paul explained later to the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
What we do know is that Phoebe was sent with this encouraging message to the saints in Rome (Romans 16:1-2), and that, when eventually Paul arrived under armed guard in Rome, Luke wrote, “The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they travelled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged” (Acts 28:15).
- Galatians 2:11-21
- Psalm 53:1-3
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- John M G Barclay, Paul: a very brief history (London, UK: SPCK, 2017). 21.
- Ibid. 8.
- Thomas F Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, edited by Robert T Walker (UK: Paternoster, 2009). 134-135.