Where relationships are conflicted even small things can cause fights, but where the relationships are strong and loving even major things can be handled. In Romans 5, Paul invites us to consider our relationship with God and what it means to be reconciled with him.
In May of 2004 my mother died. My father was with her, but I was still on my way to the hospital and I didn’t arrive until shortly afterward. Dad asked me to call my brother and sisters to let them know what had happened and I went to the waiting area to make the calls. When I got back to the room a few minutes later, Dad was gone. It took some time to figure out he was no longer in the hospital. When I asked him about it later, he said he had needed to get away, so rather than wait or go looking for me, he had just left, and then he said, “I knew you would understand.” I did. And because our relationship was good, it wasn’t a problem.
Not every relationship within our family is like that. Most families have a few relationships that are conflicted. Mine does, too. Some have many. Where relationships are conflicted even something small and innocent can be misinterpreted, magnified, and become another reason to fight.
It’s different where love abounds. I know a woman who came home one day to find that her husband had taken RIT dye and tried to turn their living-room carpet grass-green. It was a crazy idea and he failed miserably. But because their relationship was strong, his failure was forgiven.
Which brings us to Romans 5 and our relationship with God.
Paul begins the discussion by saying,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1.Romans 5:1
It would be easy to conclude from the suffering we encounter in this world that God isn’t fond of us or that he is out to get us. No, Paul says, you have peace with God. He considers you righteous because of your faith in Christ and Christ’s death on your behalf. There is, therefore, no reason why God would want to “get” you and you can trust him to use the difficulties you encounter for your benefit and to help you through them. Your hope in Him will not end in disappointment.
At one time mankind had largely abandoned God, worshipping false gods of their own creation. But God revealed himself to one man, a pagan named Abram. Though he was old and childless, God promised him that his descendants would be a great nation and that through one of them he would bless all the nations of the earth. Abram believed God and God counted his faith as righteousness.
Today, about a third of the world’s population honors the true God, yet every single one of us was born without knowledge of him. By birth, we were all slaves to sin and weak in the sense that we were unable to serve God and were facing certain death. This is what it means to be ungodly.
The commandments and the rest of God’s law condemned us. The commandment said, you shall have no other gods, but we did not know the true God. The law said, love your neighbor as yourself and instead we demanded others love and serve us. Instead of the truth that sets people free, we gave ourselves to myths and lies that allowed us to maintain the illusion that we were good people when in fact our hearts were corrupted by anger, greed, lust, and vengeance. Left to ourselves we would surely have died and perished eternally.
Imagine now, if God had said, like we so often say to others, change your ways and we can be reconciled. I will be your God and you will be one of my people. But first you must change your ways.
Could we do that? Could we change ourselves?
Maybe a little here or a little there, but a total overhaul? Hardly. Can a cactus produce oranges?
If it were possible for people to perfect themselves, it would surely have happened long ago. Instead each new generation sets out in hope to correct humanity’s problems only to grow old and have their children or grandchildren tell them how badly they have messed up the world.
Knowing this to be true, God chose to do something different. God made the first move. Rather than insisting that we change first, God made it possible for us to be reconciled by laying our sins upon the Son through whom created he world. The Son bore the just penalty for our sins and God was reconciled to us.
“God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by his life.”Romans 5:8-11
So, reconciliation does not depend upon our work. Rather, it depends upon God’s grace and the work of Jesus Christ. That work was done almost two thousand years ago: long, long, long before we were born or anyone other than God knew us. Centuries before we could do anything to bring about reconciliation and peace with God, the work was already done. Our sins were forgiven. God was ready for reconciliation.
Here’s a thought for you. What if we were to adopt God’s method to bring peace to our own conflicts? What if, instead of saying, “change your ways and I will love you” we were to say, “I love you and have forgiven you?”
It does, of course, take two to be reconciled. When my brother and I would get into a fight my mother didn’t really care who had swung first or who was right or who was wrong. She would just say “It takes two to tango” and send us to opposite corners of the room until we had apologized to each other and reconciled. She knew that it was the relationship that mattered and that two wrongs didn’t make one right. Though we rarely got specific, we both had plenty to apologize for and plenty to forgive.
Just as God found Abram and called him out of paganism into a faith relationship with himself, God has to come find us as well.
Through the good news about Jesus the Christ, God calls to the ignorant and the ungodly saying, I love you and have forgiven you, won’t you accept that forgiveness and be reconciled to me?
This, too, comes from grace. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul points out that although the God’s eternal power and divine nature are plainly evident from the things God has made, people refused to honor him as God and have suppressed the truth about him. Consequently, those born without knowledge of God cannot discover him. God must reveal himself to them.
Thus, if you are a believer and you know God it is because he has revealed himself to you. And if you believe that you have been justified by the blood of his son you have received grace. His Word that has created and sustained your faith and you have been reconciled to God.
That doesn’t mean you have nothing to apologize for, but it does mean you can be certain that God forgives you.
Finally, Paul adds that because we have received this grace in which we stand, we have been justified by Christ’s death and we will be saved by his resurrection and life.
Do you remember that Paul started this letter by saying he wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel because it was the power of God for salvation to all who believed? By this part of chapter 5, Paul has explained how the Gospel saves us. But he has just begun to answer the question, from what have we been saved?
The first answer is that we will be saved from God’s wrath. Paul speaks of that as being in the future because now is the time of God’s grace, not his wrath. The time for wrath will come on the last day when the earth is consumed by fire and in the judgement when the living and the dead who have refused to be reconciled to God will be cast into hell. Christ has saved us from all that.
But there is more. In the coming sections of this letter, Paul goes on to say that Christ has saved us from death, from the condemnation of the law, from the power of sin, and from ourselves.
But first he takes a moment to celebrate what God has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. He rejoices that through him we have been reconciled to God. Ungodly though we were, God has called us his own and blessed us with his love and grace. To God our Father and to Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory and praise forever. Amen.