“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations 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…”
Justification by faith is misunderstood in terms of a court of law where one is found guilty of crimes deserving death, but declared innocent, on account of a trusting state of mind. But in fact justification by faith is all about covenant loyalty and specifically it has to do with Abraham’s covenant or as Paul frequently puts it, the Promise. God’s promised Abraham a son and Abraham believed God and that was the beginning of our redemption. Salvation turns upon the fact that Abraham believed God’s promise and God reckoned him a faithful son of the Covenant. Justification by faith first has to do with Abraham’s faith, not our faith and if we are being redeemed it is because was have entered into that Covenant. That Covenant, the Promise, was completed, realized, brought to fruition in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the True Seed of the Promise. That is, the Promise has been made really present for all of us through the faith of Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ it is now identified as the New Covenant. So the possibility of our membership in the Covenant was initiated by the faith of Abraham but it was realized by the faith of Jesus Christ who transformed into the New Covenant. This is what the writer of Hebrews refers to in chapter 8 when he wrote:
“But now He (Jesus) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises …”
First, lets once again examine what is meant by faith? Faith is not a merely trusting state of mind. The faith of Abraham and the faith of Jesus, their trust in God was and is unconditional; it is a joyful devotion to the promise of God and his omnipotence. Jesus, in all his trials and in the moment of his greatest personal darkness, firmly clung to God’s faithfulness. This is the faith that saves us, not our own faith, but the faith of Jesus and the unchanging faithfulness and power of God. This New Covenant is embodied in we call the Church, the Body of Christ, the family of God, “the blessed company,” a “holy fellowship.” The New Covenant is between God and potentially all of humanity and it is utterly reliable, holy and true not because of our faith, but because of the faith of Jesus Christ and his promises. What promises?
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand…”
Whereas in Judaism, or any other religion for that matter, salvation is always uncertain, St. Paul declares that we have assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ. The word “peace” here does not mean a tranquil state of mind, but rather a state of being – Christians are in a state of grace, of covenant fellowship with the God who is God. The phrase that Paul uses, “wherein we stand,” refers to the historical triumph of Jesus Christ over his enemies and knowledge of that stance certainly ought to effect our state of mind; but the peace we possess is not merely psychological, it is ontological and Paul sees it as characteristic of the Christian life: There is no longer any strife with God. We are safe and secure under the dominion of Jesus Christ. Whereas in chapter 1, 2, and 3 St. Paul summed up the human condition as one characterized by wrath, at the beginning chapter 5 he declares an end to that wrath through the conquering faith of Jesus Christ. And now in light of all this, St. Paul calls upon us to fully invest our selves, our souls and bodies as loyal and faithful sons and daughters of the New Covenant without fearing anything or anyone. And as always, Paul cites a specific behavior that is evidence of our intentionality, our investment and participation in the New Covenant. And what might that be?
“(We) rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations worketh patience; and patience, experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed…”
There are two words in this Scripture that describe the mark of Christian behavior and those two words are “rejoice” and “glory.” But hold on. There is more. These two words mean exactly the same thing in the Greek, signifying one Christian behavior that is evidence of our participation in the New Covenant. And what is that behavior? Boasting – that’s right! Boasting! In both cases the exact English translation should be rendered “boasting.” We boast in the guarantee that we have in Jesus of the glory of God and furthermore we even boast in our tribulations, our infirmities, and our weakness. But what does it mean to boast in our hope of the glory of God? I will get to that in a moment, but first lets look at what it means to boast and specifically to boast in our tribulations and infirmities.
In chapter 1, St. Paul listed boasting as one of the sins that is a manifestation of the wrath of God and later on he criticized the Jew whose trusted and boasted in the Law. Boasting is a revealing behavior and none of us like to spend much time around a boastful person especially one who is always boasting about himself or herself. But in the Old Testament boasting is a basic factor of human existence and even an expression of human worth and dignity. And just because of that boasting is frequently distorted by boasting in the wrong thing. For St. Paul existence has meaning because of Jesus Christ and therefore the Christian’s basic understanding of his existence is expressed by boasting in Christ and God. A person declares to whom he belongs in his boasting. In a fallen, unredeemed state he will boast in himself, his own powers and virtues, which is an expression of creature worship.
Think of Goliath boasting in his own strength and the might of the Philistine army and their cavalry and machinery of war:
“I am a Philistine… I defy the armies of Israel (and Israel’s God) this day…”
And think of David boasting not in the might of the army of Israel, but rather boasting in God:
“You come at me with sword and spear and javelin… But I come to you in the Name of the Lord of Hosts… for this battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hands.”
Later on David would sing in Psalm 20:
“Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed… Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.”
Your boasting reveals your heart of hearts; it reveals what you basically believe about our existence. If you believe that Jesus Christ trusted in God even though that led to the Cross before it led to the empty tomb, then you will boast in the trustworthiness and faithfulness of God. So what is it that St. Paul says Christians will boast in? Two things:
“ (We) rejoice (we boast) in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory (we boast) in tribulations also…”
First, what does it means to boast in tribulations. Tribulations may well be a reference to infirmity and weakness, but that is not likely the case right here in chapter 5. We will certainly examine the Christian attitude toward infirmity later on in Romans, but I think we are dealing with another kind of tribulation here and note as well that it is a tribulation that opens us up:
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulations 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…”
The experience of tribulations produces patience and patience produces character and character continues to unfold as we experience hope. The word used for hope had long lost the meaning of a possibility that might happen and it had taken on the meaning of a prospect that was already fully certain. Thus Christian character develops through the experience of tribulations – tribulations that can only be endured by calling forth our faith in the faithfulness of Jesus and his Father. In light of this existential crisis, St. Paul calls upon us to fully invest our selves, our souls and bodies as faithful sons and daughters of the Covenant without fearing anything or anyone. But what is the existential crisis?
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”
The wrath that Christians are being saved from is the very wrath that is discussed to in Romans chapter 1:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness…”
Remember that the vices and sins that St. Paul lists in Romans 1 do not call down the wrath of God; they are the wrath of God already present in our life. This is the wrath of God: permitting man to break free of God and to live on his own. That is wrath in the present tense, but there is a future tense as well, in which we may be more and more deformed by sin and separation from God and in the last day lost in finality. When St. Paul writes that “we shall be saved from wrath” through Jesus, he has both tenses in mind. We are being saved now from sin, from the disordered behaviors that manifest God’s wrath and we shall also be saved ultimately, in the last day, from the finality of sin by the grace of God in Jesus.
Many of the Roman Christians once lived in a manner Paul typified as darkness, deceit, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, strife, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, pagan, which amounted to creature worship and idolatry. They understood exactly what he was referring to in chapter 1 because that described in many ways their social world. That social world in which they moved would include public acts of emperor worship. And always looming large would be the Pax Romana, which was and still is in competition with the Peace of Christ. The emperor Augustus frequently used the word that we translate “gospel” or “good news” to describe the gift of peace that Rome brought to the world. This mix of Roman social connections and expectations adds up to a way of life, relations, life projects, loves and habits – this mix is the existential crisis of the Roman Christian that Paul is addressing as “the tribulations.” These are tribulations brought on by baptism into Christ.
So imagine this – that we have here a whole way of life given up for the love of Christ. It isn’t hard to see how real human sorrow and heartache, as well as recriminations from former friends and relations would be experienced as tribulations as newly baptized Christians stepped out of darkness and futility into the light and love of Christ. If we are consciously, intentionally, investing our selves, our souls and bodies as loyal and faithful sons and daughters of the New Covenant without fearing anything or anyone then you will see it in changed behavior and the growth of genuine selfless love for Christ and the good of others. Thus being constantly sure of his love for us we will praise him in the midst of persecution and recrimination as well as sorrow and heartbreak. We are children of the New Covenant, not left to ourselves and not at the beck and call of those who think themselves to be powerful. We are the free children of the Covenant and even in our tribulations, we boast in God, because we are weaned from death and nurtured on his life of God is the meaning of verse 2:
“ (We) rejoice (we boast) in hope of the glory of God.”
Even in the midst of that travail we belong to Jesus and we boast in Jesus who is transforming us back into the image of God that Adam lost.