Romans 5 and 6: Living the Christian Life
In this article, I shall direct our attention to the results of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, as they apply to Christians, and to the new way in which Christians should live because of their call to discipleship. These topics St. Paul deals with in the fifth and sixth chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. With this article I shall conclude my series of articles on St. Paul’s exposition of the Gospel in his Epistle to the Romans.
The first great outcome of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is that we have peace with God, as we are now in a right relationship with him (Romans 5:1). This peace we have has been established through the Lord Jesus Christ, by his death on the cross and his resurrection. Let us consider this peace for a moment. The peace of God replaces enmity with God, separation from God through sin, fear, futility of purpose, and many other sorrows, without which God intends us to live. This peace is “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27a). The peace of God means that we have received God’s forgiveness and grace, and that God looks favorably on us, as a father on his children when they obey him and do his bidding.
Also through the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians have gained access to the grace in which they now stand (Romans 5:2), and they have the hope of sharing in God’s glory. To stand in God’s grace, means that, since God has placed us in the Lord Jesus Christ by our Baptism and by our faith in Him, we enjoy all the love, support, strength, kindness and goodness of God that we need to live the Christian way of life so as to please God in every way.
The hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2), which we have received by being adopted as God’s children through Baptism, points us to the wonderful future in God’s kingdom promised to all who love Him. In his Epistle to the Colossians, St. Paul refers to “theriches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27, KJV). The very presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the faithful is their hope of glory. This hope is the firm conviction in the hearts of God’s people that they will one day share in the fullness of God’s splendor, and see Him as He really is. This is called the beatific vision, or the vision of God in which the blessed (Latin, beati), the saints who have persevered to the end, will share.
Yet, as we have this wonderful hope given us because the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in us through the Holy Spirit, we must not only look to the future, but also make sense of the present. Here, a very profound change of attitude must take place. How do we view the trials and tribulations we suffer on account of our faith, or just the trials that we encounter in life, that do not result from people’s opposition to our faith or from persecution of any kind. St. Paul shows us the proper way in which Christians should approach their trials:
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope:And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
(Romans 5:3-5, KJV)
The faithful, then, must rejoice in, or take pride in, their tribulations. To what purpose should they do so? Tribulations bring about virtues in their lives, virtues which bear fruit. Tribulations effect endurance, or patience, and patience brings about experience, or proof of character. This experience itself leads to and strengthens hope. The very endurance of trials produces proof of character, or experience, which in turn strengthens or produces hope in God. This hope does not put Christians to shame, but is a virtue over which we should rejoice, because it is the very virtue that reveals that the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit God has given us.
The hope in us that is strengthened by endurance and experience of trials leads us into thankfulness to God for his love poured into us through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to us who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. This reminds us of the love God demonstrated to the world by Christ’s death for us who were weak, for us who were ungodly (Romans 5:6 & 8). Not only have the faithful been justified, or set right with God, by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they will also be saved from the wrath of God, or judgment of God (Romans 5:9). This thankful remembrance of the great salvation God has given us through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, leads us beyond our trials, to rejoice in God himself through the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been reconciled to God (Romans 5:11).
All the above causes of joy in God result for the great salvation we have received through the Lord Jesus Christ, and should transform our attitude to life itself, to Christ, to God, to our trials, and to our future in God’s everlasting kingdom. But what about our attitude towards sin in our own lives? Some may think that an initial period of repentance, or change of heart against sin and against tolerating it within ourselves, was necessary at our conversion, or at our Baptism, or at our Confirmation, but since we have now been saved, sin is permissible, as there is so much grace available to cover it. St. Paul combats this error in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Holy Baptism represents spiritually a death to sin:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
(Romans 6:1-4, KJV)
By being identified with Christ through Baptism, we have become united with him spiritually in his death and resurrection. The old man, the sinful nature, was crucified with Christ and died with him (Romans 6:6). The moral consequence for the way Christians ought to live now is expressed in Romans 6:11. It is the principle that the faithful are to consider themselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ. Therefore we must no longer allow sin to rule in our mortal bodies. We must no longer obey our sinful impulses, but present all the parts of our body (including our minds) to God as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13). Anyone whom we are leading to Christ must clearly realize this. The fact that Christians are under grace, and not under law, is no reason to continue in sin, since whatever we yield ourselves to, will master us (Romans 6:15-16). Now that Christians have been freed from sin, they have become servants of God, and the fruit of such a life is holiness, leading to eternal life (Romans 6:22). At the end of this chapter, St. Paul presents us with a dynamic picture of opposites in an antithetical parallelism:
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Romans 6:23, KJV)
God calls us to celebrate this free gift of God, eternal life, by living a life completely given to Him. The words of this prayer reflect this goal:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(p. 832, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979)