Romans 5 is a fantastic summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, I’d like to look at it in more detail and step through the verses.
First, St. Paul begins by noting that we are justified by faith. What does it mean to be justified? It just means to be “made right,” like when you justify text in a word processor, you’re making it right and aligning it the way it should be. Paul, of course, is not talking about typing, but rather about being made right before God. And who makes us right before God? It is “our Lord Jesus Christ.” He justifies us before God and we receive this justification as our own, simply through faith. And what is faith? It’s just believing that this is true. Another way of thinking about it is that it is simply taking God at His Word when He says that Christ died for your sins, rose from the dead to defeat sin and death, and then ascended back into heaven to justify you before your Heavenly Father with his blood. Therefore, faith is just believing God when He says this. Faith is not something we do to earn God’s forgiveness, for this has been given to us freely already. We just receive it by trusting that it is so, and this faith then justifies us because we believe that God’s forgiveness through Christ is for us.
And since we are justified, “we have peace with God.” What does it mean to have peace with God? It means that we are no longer his enemies and estranged from Him. The sin of Adam and Eve separated all humanity from God, and we add to this separation with our own sins. So we are doubly condemned already – by our inherited sin and also by our own actual sins. This is why Jesus mentioned in John 3:17-18 that he didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but to save it; we were already condemned, so Christ came to remove us from this state of condemnation. So, to have peace with God means that the war is over. We are no longer opposed to Him and separated from Him. In fact, we have been made His children and thus can go before Him as children before their loving Father. And your Father is very loving and very gracious for having done this for you by making you His children. Us earthly fathers are sinners, as are all people; we fail, we struggle, we are not always kind and gracious or – at times – even present for our children. But, our Heavenly Father is not like us. He is perfect.
Paul then says that we “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” What is the “glory of God?” Well, we get a hint from the verses that follow when Paul mentions that we also “rejoice in our sufferings.” We suffer in this present life, we are disappointed at times by ourselves and by others, we get sick, we decay, we die. But, at the resurrection we will be restored; when Christ returns he will raise up our bodies and reunite our souls with them. Then, we will be glorified as he is glorified as he brings us into the restored creation. This is our ultimate hope. So, in this present life we can be content with the things Paul mentions. That is, the fact that “suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” And this hope is a sure hope and won’t disappoint, because God has poured His love “into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
This is all great and wonderful and is why we call all this the “Gospel,” which just means “Good News.” And what makes it truly Good News and not yet another burden with which we have to contend or goal we have to achieve is the fact that “while we were yet weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” That is to say that when we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us so that we would no longer be the enemies of God or held captive to sin, but instead that we would receive justification, peace, hope, and the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. This is the depth of God’s love for us: Christ died for us sinners, the righteous for the unrighteous. Paul makes the point that we would not do this; we may risk death for a righteous person, but would not willingly die for someone in their place. But, we were unrighteous when Christ not only died for us, but was also forsaken by the Father as the result of our sins and therefore felt and suffered as we ought. He did this because he loves you, his creatures, and loves his creation and is restoring it. He did this so that you would no longer be the unrighteous, but instead receive Christ’s righteousness as your own.
So, Paul makes the point that since Christ died for us while we were still enemies and then reconciled us sinners to God, therefore we can be sure that – now that we are justified and God’s children – we will be saved. Christ died for all people, because all people were and are sinners and were condemned to eternal death because of this. Death reigned over us, but Christ has removed us from the reign of death and brought us into the reign of God instead so that we may be made righteous and be given eternal life. Neither the Law nor any of our own works could justify us, because we were held captive by sin, death, and the devil. But, Christ set us free and brought us into fellowship with God so that we may receive eternal life.
This, then, is the summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul expounds upon it in Romans 5. I think it brings up a few related questions then.
First, what – or who – is the Church? Well, the Church is all those who have faith that this Gospel is true. The Church believes God and takes Him at His Word. The Church is centered around Christ. This means, then, that all the Old Testament faithful are also part of the Church with us (or perhaps it might be better to say that we’re part of the Church with them so that everything’s not always from our point of view). They were looking forward to the Christ who was still yet to come. But, they are also justified by Christ’s death and resurrection, just as we are; his death and resurrection is for all people of all times and all places. Related to this, then, is the fact that the Church is composed of all tribes, nations, and languages – as St. John sees in Revelation. In this fallen world we often separate ourselves along these lines – but it is not to be so in the Church. We are all one body in Christ.
Second, what does this Gospel mean in the midst of this fallen world? Well, I think anyone – even those outside the Church – can look around and see that the world is broken. Things are not as they should be. Kids should not be killing other kids. Adults should not be neglecting their duties as parents and as guardians. Civil government, although it is good and God-ordained, should be more conscientious in fulfilling its duties. So, even people without faith can see that things are wrong. And they may even feel a sense of brokenness or alienation within themselves. Yet all our man-made programs and laws can, at best, attempt to keep evil at bay, but they cannot remove evil from the world or make the darkness into light.
The Church, though, is the light of the world. It’s God-given mission is to “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” until the day that Christ returns (cf. Mathew 28:28). And Christ is with us in this mission. So, the Church brings Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation into a broken, fallen world. The Church battles back evil with the Gospel of Christ. The Church reveals to people just why this world is broken and then shows them the One who is restoring it and who has already defeated the evil we see in the world. The Church says that, yes, there is evil in the world, but Christ has overcome the world and is returning to remove evil from it so that we may truly enjoy the peace which he has given us.
Perhaps it’s time for the Church to be the Church. The world lashes out at the Church for praying for those affected by evil. The world seeks more laws to hold evil at bay. But, the world cannot deal with this evil without the Church showing the world just what is wrong and bringing Christ to them. We can love in the midst of hate, pray in the midst of scoffing, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a world that is hurting but doesn’t know why.
(Image: A dove with an olive branch, Catacombs of Domitilla, Rome, By Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32603350 )