Standing secure, looking forward

“Through him we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)

As I purposefully arm myself with the truth of the gospel against Satan’s attacks, I find Romans 5:1-11 to be particularly helpful.  In this passage there is a powerful list of reminders about the gospel and its implications for me.  In this verse, there are at least two.

First, I stand in grace.  My justification by faith does not usher me into a state of tenuous obligation.  It is not my job to sustain God’s kind intentions toward me.  Certainly, I am obligated to obey the Lord.  But that obligation is not smuggled into my life inside the otherwise good gift of the gospel.  It is a good part of the gospel itself.  Through the finished work of Christ and my union with him, I can now “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).  That, along with my perfect acceptance before God, is what grace gives to me.

Second, I can gladly and confidently look forward to a full experience of the glory of God.  Sometimes I’m too vague in the way I envision this experience.  The glory of God is not just a light so bright you can’t quite look at it.  The glory of God is the combined expression of everything that is good about him (in other words, everything that is true about him).  My enjoyment of the kindness, intelligence, attractiveness and abilities of others in this life serves as a tiny spark of what it will be like to enjoy the glory of God.  I will spend eternity benefiting from his inexhaustible kindness (Eph. 2:7), being impressed by his unstoppable power, and unpacking the intricate wisdom of his plan to redeem his people.

Yet my experience of God’s glory will not only come through observation.  It will be even more personal than that.  I have sinned, and in my present state, I fall short of the glory of God.  I fail to glorify him by failing to be glorious like him.  I don’t live up to his glorious character.  But in eternity, that will no longer be the case.  When Christ is revealed, I will be revealed with him in glory (Col. 3:4).  From that point on and forever, I will be unhindered in my expression of the righteousness of Christ that I have received through the gospel.  I will no longer fall short of the glory of God.

Assurance by faith alone

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

This is a statement of profoundly confident assurance.  This assurance is not based on an examination of our Christian growth, or on any other thing about us.  It comes from looking entirely away from ourselves to Christ.  That is what “by faith” in “justified by faith” refers to.  When we believe, like Abraham did, God’s impossible promise to bring death out of life, God credits righteousness to our account and treats us as totally acceptable.

At the point of justification by faith alone, even before noticeable sanctification happens, we can confidently say “I have peace with God.”  And that peace is complete.  It is not a state in which God, though he is legally obligated to accept me, still harbors some personal animosity toward me or frustration about me because of my ongoing sin.  Rather, he is altogether for me.  He is never angry with me.

God is comprehensively aware of the sin remaining in my attitudes and behaviors.  He hates that sin, and is not content to leave it in my life.  As a result, he works in a variety of ways – often painful for me – to remove that sin.  Yet even when he brings this discipline into my life, he does so with sovereignly kind intentions toward me.  He frowns at my sin, but he smiles at me.

It is only when I hold on to this understanding of God’s disposition toward me that I can move on to the further promises of Romans 5, and the deeper assurance of hope that comes from proven character (v 4).

Why should we not sin?

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”

– Romans 6:1-2

If our acceptance before God is based entirely on the righteousness of Christ, and consequently not on our performance, then why should we not sin? If we were just to let ourselves do whatever we wanted, wouldn’t that relieve a lot of pressure? And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the reason we sin is because we enjoy it. So why not relax a little and get the best of both worlds?

There are many good and valid answers to this question. The one that’s most compelling to me is that when we sin, we don’t get the best of both worlds. When we sin, we force ourselves to miss out on the greatest possible experience of the greatest possible good. In its place, we get something that is both infinitely less valuable and that by its very nature keeps us from that which is best. Any way you cut it, that’s just not worth it.

God is infinitely more valuable than anything that is not God. He is our greatest possible good. And as a Christian, you get to experience this good through the most intimate of all possible relationships: God living through you. You cannot get any closer to God than that. You cannot experience God in any more significant way. To have God express Himself through you is the greatest possible way to get the greatest possible gift. That’s what it means to “walk in newness of life” (v 4). We get to do that! People who haven’t died to sin are “free in regard to righteousness” (v 20) – that is, they are free from life. All they get is what’s left over when life is taken out of the picture, which is a rotten deal.

Grace is God’s gift of himself to sinners. When we see that sin keeps us from what’s best, and that we have been freed from sin so that we can have what’s best in the most profound, personal, intimate way possible, then the idea that we should sin to increase grace becomes self-contradictory. Sin keeps us from enjoying what grace gives us. The nature of sin is such that you cannot enjoy both God and sin at the same time. When we’re faced with temptation, we’re faced with a choice: the easy, temporary, God-excluding pleasure of death, or the difficult, eternal, death-excluding pleasure of life.

What shall we say then?