A Theology of God’s Love: The Blessings of Justification in Romans 5.1-11

constable4We come to the fifth chapter of Romans and in this magnificent chapter we will take away truths that will transform life and culture and I would say that the very idea of government and democracy and literature and all of Western Civilization could rest on this one chapter. For in it we find the unconditional love that has shaped our understanding of common commitment, of sacrifice for one’s family and country, of representative government and federal headship, and of a grace that has produced the very gentility and civility, which must mark a free people. All of this and more I could link to Romans chapter five.

And these are based upon doctrines derived from the Word of God. But we have heard it said that doctrine divides (and it does divide between truth and error). Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), one of my favorite of the 20th century essayist and authors, like her friends CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, had quite a bit to say about doctrine. In fact, she wrote a book about the importance of the centrality of it and called it Creed or Chaos. It was a rallying cry for her own Church of England ministers to stand up and speak the truth to the world. She wrote these very robust words about doctrines:

Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious — others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him? We do Him singularly little honor by watering down till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.

And so we must never be ashamed of the doctrines of the Word of God. There are areas where men of good will disagree, but on the whole most Christians can agree on most of the doctrines of the Bible. And Romans chapter five is a veritable tree loaded with precious life-giving doctrinal fruit.

But I have only a short while with you and so let us look at one aspect of this chapter and it may be one that we often overlook: love.

One can hardly talk about love without thinking about Hollywood. I like the old Irene Dunne and Cary Grant movies like Penny Serenade (my favorite), My Favorite Wife, and The Awful Truth. But the Hollywood love of those movies finally went the way of the movie code of conduct. And in its place came something else. Love was no longer leading to assumed life long commitment in marriage, but love that was undefined, and often disconnected to marriage, and thus lacks meaning other than the most fleshly and base emotions. Thinking of CS Lewis’s Four Loves in which he compares and contrasts the Greek words for love (3 of them in the Bible, and 1 in Greek literature), Hollywood love went from Eros love (romantic love) connected to agape love (covenant love) to Eros without agape.

And theology can be like that. Doctrine and can become disconnected from what we think of as God’s love or God’s blessings. But true divine love is grounded in God’s revelation of Himself and His plan of salvation.

What we are going to learn today is a theology of love in Romans Chapter Five. The love of God comes from a commitment He made to us and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He said that He would do what we could not and that he would give us a heart of flesh instead of hearts of stone. And so we let us look at Romans chapter 5. You will notice that there are three “therefores” in the text. One if at verse one, another at verse 12, and yet another at verse 18. These serve as divisions in the movement of the passage each referring to a previously put thought and working it out further. So the passage, and indeed, the first “therefore” builds on Romans 4.23-25:

“But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4.23-25 ESV).

So from this anchor verse we move into Romans 5. There I would draw your attention to what I believe is the active bonding agent that is holding these three major divisions of thought all together and it is as I have said, “love.”

  • Romans 5.5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
  • Romans 5.8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

What I want us to see this morning is that God’s love is active, moving, breathing forth blessing to those who have believed and thus been justified. You might also call this whole chapter “The blessings of Being Put Right with God.” But I will stick to “A Theology of God’s Love.”

–  Read Romans 5.1-11

– Prayer of Illumination

Gracious God,
we do not live by bread alone, but by
every word that comes from your mouth.
Make us hungry for this heavenly food,
that it may nourish us today
in ways of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ, 
the bread of heaven. Amen.

Introduction to the Message

I believe that Dr. John Guest (who preached at my inauguration and is the Rector of Christ Church at Grove Farm in Sewickley, PA) was absolutely right when he wrote that the greatest thing that people still need to hear in our world is that God loves them.

I believe this is so because religion teaches that God is austere and hard to please and unapproachable. Thus if have sinned, we are in the situation of a child who has a severe parent and it becomes easier to lie or to deny sin than to admit it. But God’s love will break through such religion and break through such wrong notions if this Romans 5 is set loose.

I believe that this is so because there are those who have been so hurt by someone that they have transferred this to God and believe that He doesn’t love them.

I believe that this is so because there are those who have been trapped by the devil and deny the very spirit in them and the stars in the heavens and deny that there is a God. They therefore cannot know of any such love as the God we have in Jesus Christ.

And so let us see and experience (can we just study this without being moved?) Romans chapter 5.1-11 as a theology of God’s love which flows from the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, that everyone needs to hear, to believe, and to receive.

To be justified by God is then to joyfully affirm the blessings of this unfathomable mine of God’s agape love. And I believe that this could be called An Affirmation of God’s Love. Note five articles of this great affirmation of doctrinal love in Romans 5.1-11:

1.         First in a theology of God’s love (in verses 1-11) I now affirm that God is on my side

This is an all-encompassing article of the affirmation of God’s love but could anything be more clear? Here we come to see that being justified with God through Jesus Christ places us in a position where the wrath of God is removed. This one thought is repeated in each of the other articles. And let us move quickly to see them. And as we do we come to the second affirmation of God’s love:

2.         Second, this theology of God’s love tells me that I have peace with God (1, 6-11)

No writer in the New Testament deals with reconciliation (11) like St. Paul. It is the breaking down of the wall of separation between God and Man through Jesus Christ.

  • Romans 5.11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Romans 11.15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
  • 2 Corinthians 5.18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
  • 2 Corinthians 5.19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

But exactly what is going on in this? I once saw this depicted through a drawing of a canyon between a mountain called man and a mountain called God. The bridge dawn over the pit, was called Christ. Christ had reconciled the two. But in the Bible the theology is more precise that this. It is that man’s fall has offended God and it is not that a bridge exists between two equally distant parties. The truth is that one of those entities, Man, is essentially unconcerned about it. It is not until God builds a bridge to Man and crosses it Himself and comes and leads Man across the bridge to God. For left to ourselves we would just make up a religion on our own little island.

It is not popular preaching but today all over the world the wrath of God is poured out over a human race that is against God. But in Christ God has come to those who have despised him. In fact, while we were still in our sins, God sent His Son to die for our sins.

You know I once had a quarrel with my wife. It was all my fault and it always is. But I felt terrible. But when I came to her she had already forgiven me. I was accepted by her before I ever came to her.

And God is not an angry sulking Deity hoping you will make up with Him and demanding justice. He is your Heavenly Father who created you, and who sent His Son to take your sins, to atone for your sins with His own blood. And He comes to you. When you finally say “Yes” to Him, you see that He had made up with you before you ever came. Strange theology I know. It is literally out of this world.

That you can affirm today. You have peace with God.

But there is more here:

3.        Third, a theology of the love of God tells me that I have access to God (2)

This love of God has come into my life and I can come to him through faith and through the condition of grace in which we now stand. Hearkening back to the explanation of justification in Chapter four Paul now says that this established a way for all of us to God (for he says “we” and surely he is meaning here that access is not through Jewish ritual or through Gentile superstitious works but only through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ).

In the Old Testament there were types and shadows given in order to show how we could approach God. But no man could see God and live. No man could approach God except Moses and the High Priests through the sacrificial system. Certainly common man could. But Jesus is our High Priest and thus we are told in Hebrews to come:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10.19-22).

I will never forget a friend of mine who is now 80 years old who is an heir to a food giant in our country. He used his inheritance in wicked and unwise ways. And he was known in Chattanooga as a partying man. But just the other day his wife reminded me that he came to me in tears, which she said that she had never seen over anything to do with God, and told of how he never thought he could come to God because he could never do enough to make up for the sin he had committed. But I didn’t have to say a thing because he told me that he had now heard of God’s covenant of grace and that he believed and that his sins were forgiven. He wanted to go and tell the session and he said I not only want to take vows to join the church I want to say something. Well he came to the session and what he said was something like this,

“You all know me. You know my sin. You know my horrible reputation in this town. I am ashamed. But I did not know about God’s plan of saving me through Jesus taking my sin and giving me his life. Well I have received that. I now am a child of God. He accepts me. I guess I have come to ask, ‘Will you accept me too?” There wasn’t a dry eye in the session room. Well after he was received as a member, he went before the congregation and said to them, “You don’t know me, but I have lived my whole life in rebellion against God. I am a sinner. But I now know the way to God. He loved me. Jesus took my sins. I just wanted you to know that if he could save a filthy sinner like me he can do it for anyone. Thank you.”

And he sat down. Some did not know that this man was listed as one of the wealthiest man in the state. But his wealth did not buy him access to God. Only grace could bring Him to God and free him from his guilt.

And that is a story for all of us and any of us who feel far from God. It is not what we do. It is quite simply what God has done for us that gives us access to Him.

But here is a fourth affirmation:

Still in verse two, the Apostle Paul says that we not only have access to God through faith but

4.         A Theology of the love of God tells me that I have a hope because of God (3-4)

“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” What does that mean? How do we rejoice in the glory of God?” Because as we see from the sentences that follow, the glory of God comes down, and God’s power goes to work in your life working all things together for good. You can hope because God will now take everything and, as Dr. Kennedy put it in a book, Turn it to Gold!

In God’s glory suffering cannot stop God’s plans. Look at Jesus. He endured and so will we. The cross became the grave and the grave gave way to resurrection! Thus all of our sufferings from now on must be subjected to the glory of God that is at work in our lives as believers. The new motif for living in our lives is resurrection. That is why I believe that we ought to be the most optimistic of people! Nothing can stop the Gospel and nothing can ultimately stop the Gospel in your life!

Now there is a hope that says, “I hope the Detroit Lions win on Thanksgiving Day and I don’t fall asleep” but the truth is they will likely lose. They tend to do so each year. Not much hope there. But when I talked this week to three families who lost, in two cases their mothers and in another their father, I talked to them as people of hope. They hurt but they hoped. For in Christ thought we die yet shall we live. Even the grave cannot stop our hope. And it is a certain hope, not a groundless hope. Our hope is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Finally, we mus affirm this:

5.         A Theology of the love of God tells me that I have God’s love in my heart (5)

What a beautiful picture here. The theology of justification leads to God’s love being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. But consider His love in you!

I was at the bank this week and doing some business. There was a new lady there I had not seen before. We were introduced and she helped me and suddenly she stopped me and said, “I sense the love of God here.” And I said that it was not me but Jesus who lived in me. And I told her that I bet she said that because she too was a follower of Jesus. And she said she was. What had happened was this: The Holy Spirit inside of her had recognized His own life in me. And in turn the Lord who lives in me attested to His life in her. We were suddenly aware that we were brother and sister in the Lord. Then she made a mistake in my account and had to call me to fix it! But she is still my sister in Christ.

Wherever you go on earth, you may not be able to speak the language of the person you meet, but if they have the love of God in them through Jesus Christ, you will know.

God’s love is in the world today. It is in the world through His Body, the Church. We are the incarnation of His love as through faith in Jesus, His love has been poured into us.

How filled are you with His love? Perhaps the answer is in admitting how empty you are of self. That is why we are to die to self so that God’s love can begin to live inside of us.

6.         Sixth, A Theology of the love of God tells me that I have the gift of the Holy Spirit (5)

As we have just seen, we have something more: We have the Holy Spirit. Paul is saying that God is alive inside of us when we receive Jesus. Therefore, Paul will say later, we must walk in the Spirit. John says that we are sealed by the Spirit. Jesus says that the Spirit is our comforter. In short, the life of a believer is life in the Spirit.

And the means of grace, whereby we encourage His life in us is through devotion to Jesus. The more you focus on Jesus the more the Holy Spirit is awakened in you.

God is on my side. This will be stated very clearly by Paul in chapter 8 when he says “If God is for us who can be against us” but I am already seeing here that if you are justified by faith alone in Jesus’ finished work alone, something happens. God’s agape love, which is the word used here, is the love that knows no limits, a love that is has no conditions, and a love that will last forever.

Billy Graham said in his book on the Holy Spirit that the absence of an assurance of salvation was one of the greatest problems he had seen in the lives of believers.

Calvin connected the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives with our adoption and with our assurance of salvation:

“The Spirit of God gives us such testimony that when he is our guide and teacher our spirit is made sure of the adoption of God; for our mind, of itself, without the preceding testimony of the Spirit, could not convey to us this assurance.”  Comm. Rom. 8:16

May I share something with you about this one article of our affirmation from Romans 5? You can live your life as a believer and miss this truth. Now He is still with you. But you can, as we now, quench the Spirit, and I am afraid one may ignore the power of His life in you. Whenever I accepted this call to come and lead this seminary, my whole weekly cycle of life and ministry was disrupted. My life centered around not only preaching but living in hospitals and nursing homes, with families in joyful times and sorrowful times. And I know that this is the man God has made me. I had to learn how to transition into a new pastoral role. But in that disruption, I began to spend more time with God. I began to understand the work of the Holy Spirit more in my life. I sought to listen more to Him than just to tell others about Him. I began to recognize Him.

Maybe you have had that in your life. Maybe it has come through illness, or the loss of a loved one, or a move. But you find yourself in a place where the busyness has ceased for a moment and you learn that Someone was always there.

The Holy Spirit is a gift that God has sent into your life.

Galatians 5.25 tell su that “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

Conclusion

I hope this hasn’t been a fire hose of truth. But I do hope we leave seeing that doctrine matters. And that doctrine brings blessing. And that justification by faith alone in Christ alone bring enormous blessings:

1.     Knowing that God is for you

2.     Peace with God

3.     Access to God

4.     Hope in God

5.     God’s love in your heart

6.     The gift of the Holy Spirit.

This past week I had three different people die from my former congregation. While I was delivering a message in Providence Rhode Island on textual criticism and expository preaching, I was on the phone off and on with several family members. And one of them had lost their mother, Miss Helen, as I called her. I last saw Miss Helen on New Year’s Day when I had heard that she had been sent to a rehabilitation center in Chattanooga. I sat with her and we talked. She hated to see me go but said she could see God’s work in this. 40 years earlier, the congregation had called their pastor and he had declined. But  Miss Helen was a woman in whom the doctrines of God came alive in a real way. She prayed and believed that this man was to come and be their pastor. So the minister, who was at another famous church, had prayed that he would only go if the Lord showed Him clearly in a letter that he should leave. And Miss Helen, who didn’t know that, wrote him that letter. And so he came. But then again she (and he) were people who kept in step with the Spirit. She was always smiling. And so she smiled as I walked out the door. “You are in God’s will Mike but I will never forget you. I loved your preaching Mike. You were such a blessing to me. Thank you. I love you.” And I walked out. As I talked to one of her sons this week I told him about that. He said that the children gathered around her. There were no tears from her. She said she was ready to see her Lord. And she seemed to know that He was there to take her hand. And she was smiling when He came. The blessings of God’s love follow us all the way home. And Justification has its benefits. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bibliography

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.REFLIST <![endif]–>Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit (Nashville: Word Pub., 1988), p. xvii, 301 p.

John Guest, In Search of Certainty (Ventura, CA, U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1983), p. 166 p.

Alvin L. Hoksbergen. “Shedding Light on the Prayer for Illumination.” In Reformed Worship: Resources for Planning and Leading Worship. Grand Rapids: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, June, 1999.

Dennis James Kennedy, Turn It to Gold: (Ann Arbor, MI: Vine Books, 1991).

C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves. 1st ed: An Hbj Modern Classic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991), p. 141 p.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?:Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995).


Notes

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Sayers</Author><Year>1995</Year><RecNum>1695</RecNum><record><rec-number>1695</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1695</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Dorothy L. Sayers</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>Creed or Chaos?:Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster </title></titles><dates><year>1995</year></dates><pub-location>Manchester, NH</pub-location><publisher>Sophia Institute Press</publisher><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote><![endif]–>Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos?:Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1995).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Lewis</Author><Year>1991</Year><RecNum>1694</RecNum><record><rec-number>1694</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1694</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Lewis, C. S.</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>The four loves</title><secondary-title>An HBJ modern classic</secondary-title></titles><pages>141 p.</pages><edition>1st</edition><keywords><keyword>Love Religious aspects Christianity.</keyword></keywords><dates><year>1991</year></dates><pub-location>New York</pub-location><publisher>Harcourt Brace Jovanovich</publisher><isbn>0151329168</isbn><call-num>Jefferson or Adams Bldg General or Area Studies Reading Rms BV4639; .L45 1991</call-num><urls><related-urls><url>http://www.loc.gov/catdir/description/har041/91004033.html</url></related-urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote&gt;<![endif]–>C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 1st ed., An Hbj Modern Classic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

Storge (στοργη), philia (φιλια), Eros (έρως), and agapē (αγαπη).

A prayer for illumination taken from the Source Book of Worship Resources, Volume 2, published in 1996 by Communication Resources, Canton, Ohio, as quoted in <!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Hoksbergen</Author><Year>June, 1999</Year><RecNum>1699</RecNum><record><rec-number>1699</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1699</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Electronic Article">43</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Alvin L. Hoksbergen</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>Shedding Light on the Prayer for Illumination</title><secondary-title>Reformed Worship: Resources for Planning and Leading Worship</secondary-title></titles><periodical><full-title>Reformed Worship: Resources for Planning and Leading Worship</full-title></periodical><number>52</number><dates><year>June, 1999</year><pub-dates><date>November 22, 2008</date></pub-dates></dates><pub-location>Grand Rapids</pub-location><publisher>Calvin Institute of Christian Worship</publisher><urls><related-urls><url>Shedding Light on the Prayer for Illumination</url></related-urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote><![endif]–>Alvin L. Hoksbergen, “Shedding Light on the Prayer for Illumination,” in Reformed Worship: Resources for Planning and Leading Worship (Grand Rapids: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, June, 1999).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Guest</Author><Year>1983</Year><RecNum>1697</RecNum><record><rec-number>1697</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1697</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Guest, John</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>In search of certainty</title></titles><pages>166 p.</pages><keywords><keyword>Apologetics 20th century</keyword></keywords><dates><year>1983</year></dates><pub-location>Ventura, CA, U.S.A.</pub-location><publisher>Regal Books</publisher><isbn>0830709193 (jacket)</isbn><call-num>*Main Stacks (circulating) BT1102; .G93</call-num><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote><![endif]–>John Guest, In Search of Certainty (Ventura, CA, U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1983).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Kennedy</Author><Year>1991</Year><RecNum>1698</RecNum><record><rec-number>1698</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1698</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Dennis James Kennedy</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>Turn it to Gold: </title></titles><dates><year>1991</year></dates><pub-location>Ann Arbor, MI</pub-location><publisher>Vine Books</publisher><isbn>978-0892836505</isbn><urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote><![endif]–>Dennis James Kennedy, Turn It to Gold: (Ann Arbor, MI: Vine Books, 1991).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

<!–[if supportFields]> ADDIN EN.CITE <EndNote><Cite><Author>Graham</Author><Year>1988</Year><RecNum>1700</RecNum><record><rec-number>1700</rec-number><foreign-keys><key app="EN" db-id="pa2ptw9wassw0deavd7vt2rf9p5pvs05f99f">1700</key></foreign-keys><ref-type name="Book">6</ref-type><contributors><authors><author>Graham, Billy</author></authors></contributors><titles><title>The Holy Spirit</title></titles><pages>xvii, 301 p.</pages><keywords><keyword>Holy Spirit.</keyword></keywords><dates><year>1988</year></dates><pub-location>Nashville</pub-location><publisher>Word Pub.</publisher><isbn>0849942136 (pbk.)</isbn><call-num>Jefferson or Adams Bldg General or Area Studies Reading Rms BT121.2; .G69 1988</call-num><urls><related-urls><url>http://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0608/00268379-d.html</url></related-urls></urls></record></Cite></EndNote&gt;<![endif]–>Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit (Nashville: Word Pub., 1988).<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>

See his commentary on Romans quoted in a study on Calvin and the Holy Spirit (http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/course/John%20Calvin/the_theology_of_john_calvin123.htm).

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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