A sermon by Rod Benson
God planned it. Abraham experienced it. David worshipped in the light of it. Jesus paid for it. The Holy Spirit applies it to us. And we enjoy its unique benefits.
I’m talking about justification, the big word Paul uses for a central aspect of salvation, where God declares a person “righteous,” and in doing so makes them righteous, and ready for heaven, by virtue of the reconciliation that has been achieved between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
In Romans 5:1-11, Paul reveals three benefits of justification, three things every true follower of Jesus can claim as their permanent possession. Listen up, because this is so important.
If you understand this passage, and internalise its message, it will prepare you for anything coming your way that threatens your serenity and security in Christ.
First, we have peace with God (v. 1). Since birth, a long unwinnable war has been raging between you and God, a long war and countless battles which you cannot hope to win: moral battles, ethical battles, battles of the will, spiritual battles.
And God comes, in mercy and grace, and brokers the peace through the death of his Son. The strivings cease, the battles are over, the state of hostility between you and God comes to an end, and you emerge into a new experience of peace with God.
Peace with God! It’s a gift to you from the heart and mind of God, the greatest of all possible beings, the most holy and most loving person imaginable, who loves you and wants to adopt you into his family.
Peace with God is an objective blessing that I experience as a Christian when I am calm and untroubled, but also when I am at my worst, feeling far from happy and secure. “Peace with God” is an objective state of being that depends entirely on Jesus, and what he has done for me, and not at all on me and what I have done for him.
The “peace of God,” to which Paul refers in Philippians 4:7, is different from peace with God. The peace of God is “peace with regard to the cares of the world” – “a calm and satisfied heart in the midst of troubles and pressures.”
The peace of God is a subjective gift. It comes and goes, according to changes in my circumstances, brain chemistry and emotional state, as well as my spiritual vitality and other factors, and it is therefore subject to fluctuations in presence and intensity.
Not so “peace with God.” No fluctuations here. No changes in presence or intensity. Peace with God is not something we feel, and it is not something we achieve through training or ritual, giving or morality.
It is a gift from God, received by grace through faith, and it brings about our salvation.
The second benefit we have through justification is access to grace (v. 2a). If justification delivers peace with God, it also enables friendship with God.
This is symbolised by the tearing of the great curtain in the temple in Jerusalem, which had separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple precincts. On the death of Jesus, at the very moment when his life expired, the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom (Mt 27:51).
Direct access to God was now open, no longer mediated by human priests and animal sacrifices. A new day was dawning; a new era had commenced; God himself was at work, making all things new.
Through faith in Christ, we have access to the grace in which we stand. We possess the freedom to develop a personal relationship with God.
Through union with Christ, and nothing else, we gain access not into the secret place at the heart of the temple in Jerusalem, but into the royal throne room of heaven itself, of which the Most Holy Place in the temple was a shadowy prototype.
As Horatius Bonar put it in his hymn, “Done is the work that saves”:
The gate is open wide;
the new and living way
is clear, and free, and bright
with love, and peace, and day.
Into the holiest now we come,
Our present and our endless home.
Third, we have hope of heaven (v. 2b). Paul was always looking forward, toward the goal, toward God’s grand unfolding purpose in creation and redemption, toward the end of history, and the consummation of the age, and the coronation of the King.
It is sometimes said, “Where there’s life there’s hope; and where there’s hope there’s life.”
Through Jesus, in light of the good news he brought from heaven, by way of the redemption he purchased in his death on the cross, and as a fruit of his glorious resurrection and ascension, we have eternal hope: the settled conviction and certain anticipation of nothing less than sharing in the future glory of the eternal God.
What moved Paul to mention hope here, along with peace with God and access to grace? Tim Keller explains:
the more we experience our peace and access with the Father, the more desirous we are to see him face to face, and the more certain and thrilled we become about the prospect and glory of heaven. By itself, ‘heaven’ can be an abstract and unappetizing idea. But if you come to taste ‘access’ with God and realize how intoxicating it is just to have a couple of drops of his presence on your tongue, you will desire to drink from the fountainhead. That desire, focus and joyous certainty of the future is called ‘the hope of glory’ …
In Christ we have been freed from our past … ; we are free in the present to enjoy personal relationship with God; and we will one day most certainly experience the freedom of life lived in the full, awesome presence of God’s glory.
These three past, present and future benefits of justification are not mere theoretical constructs, or mythical ideas. They are real practical benefits that have the potential, as we come to understand and own them more deeply, to bring radical change to our thinking, our feelings, and our actions (read vv. 3-5).
Yes, we will encounter suffering in this life. Yes, we will experience grief and loss. For some of us, we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death, disability, trauma and pain.
But in the midst of it, in the midst of the darkness or the flames, or the loneliness, we also experience real joy. There is no joy in the suffering, but we know with spiritual insight that our trials will have beneficial results. Again, Paul identifies three:
First, suffering produces perseverance (v. 3). Suffering focuses us on what is most important in life. It draws back the curtain and reveals what really matters, what really lasts, what it is really worth fighting for.
Suffering removes distractions and helps us to realise our priorities as Christians to promote God’s glory and extend God’s kingdom through prayer and action.
Second, perseverance produces character (v. 4a). What is character? In this context it is a personal quality of confidence and maturity that comes from having been through a bracing experience, and learned some important life lessons.
Perseverance produces character in a person. We see it all the time in those we admire and respect and look up to.
Third, character produces hope (v. 4b). By this Paul means a deeper assurance of peace with God, and a stronger confidence in access to God through Jesus, and in the future glory God has promised to all his faithful children.
When we encounter real suffering, especially overwhelming or chronic suffering and terminal illness, it “drives us to the one place where we find real hope, real confidence and certainty: God.” And this peace, access and hope puts us profoundly in touch with the love of God “that has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (v. 5b).
Such love! Such mercy, grace and generosity! In verses 6-8, Paul reminds us of the depth of God’s love for us: how God sent his Son to die as a sacrifice of atonement to redeem us, justify us, regenerate us, sanctify us, and ultimately bring us to glory (cf Rom 8:28-30). Was Jesus once here in our world? Did he die? Did he die for us, while we were still sinners? If the answer is yes (and it is!), then we begin to understand the vastness, the scope, the unimaginably great extent and power and efficacy of the love of God for us.
But can I be sure I have been justified? Can I be certain that this amazing plan of redemption applies to me? Can I be confident, without the shadow of a doubt, that I belong in God’s family, that I have been united with Christ, and that the eternal hope and the eternal home that Christians speak of so glowingly are actually my inheritance, my hope, my home?
Verses 9-11 help to confirm the assurance we can have of our salvation through the objective saving work of Christ – past, present and future. Note the verb tenses in these verses.
And if that is not enough, let me remind you of the words of Jesus in John 10:3-4:
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
He knows your name. Do you listen to your Shepherd’s voice? Do you follow him because you recognise his voice? Then you are one of his spiritual sheep, one of his redeemed people, and nothing and no one can take that identity and security away from you.
As I close, let me ask: what evidence is there in Scripture that God has saved you? What evidence in your experience is there that the benefits of justification – peace with God, access to divine grace by which to enjoy fellowship with God, and a certain hope of heaven – are yours?
Sermon 753 copyright © 2017 Rod Benson. Preached at Lithgow Baptist Church, Australia, on Sunday 12 November 2017. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
 Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 for You (UK: Good Book Co., 2014), p. 109.
 Ibid., p. 111.
 Ibid., p. 113.