Commentary on Romans 5:1-11
Last week’s study of Romans 1:1-17 highlighted how our response of faith joins us to a story that has come before — the story of God’s long fidelity to the people of Israel.
Today’s passage picks up with our being brought into the story through faith and propels our vision to the future, when we will enter fully into God’s own glory.
Romans 5:1-11 weaves together themes of faith, love, hope, and glory, threading them through the story of the Christ event, the past work of God on our behalf, our current standing as God’s beloved children, and the future God holds in trust for us.
Faith, hope, and glory (vv. 1-2)
Verse 1 passes the baton from the courtroom metaphor of justification to images that reflect on our ongoing relationship with God. Faith is not simply a matter of a one-off response to the gospel message. It places our entire life on new ground.
Having been justified by faith, we have peace. Peace with God.
Here we catch our first glimpse of an aspect of salvation that will become a main theme over the next four chapters: alienation from God is not merely a matter of breaking some rules, it is a signal of cosmic warfare. Humanity has joined its cause with hostile powers arrayed against God and God’s purposes for the world.
In Christ, the hostility has ended (see vv. 10-11).
The state of peace with God now creates a sure hope of sharing in God’s glory in the future — one that we can boast about.
This idea of boasting has appeared before in Romans. In fact, the last time Paul addressed it he claimed that salvation by faith excluded boasting (3:27; 4:2) because justification is not by works of the Law that a person might boast in.
The problem, as it turns out, was not boasting per se. The problem was boasting in the wrong thing. The confidence we have about entering God’s final glory comes not from what we do, but from Jesus’s death and resurrection on our behalf.
Cross-shaped love (vv. 3-5)
In light of the way that v. 2 grounds boasting in the justification that comes from Christ, it appears paradoxical that Paul would then find another source of boasting in the experience of suffering.
Though Paul speaks of the believer’s personal experience of suffering, this boasting is not ultimately a statement about finding security in ourselves. As the chain unfolds, he says that suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).
But hope is only as valuable as the object on which it rests. And here, the object of hope is not our own suffering, but the sufferings of Christ on our behalf.
Suffering produces a hope that rests on God’s love. This love is manifested in nothing less than Jesus’ death on behalf of sinners (Romans 5:8). The hope that does not disappoint is a Christological hope. And, it is a cruciform (cross-shaped) hope.
Why is suffering a cause of boasting? Because it drives us to trust in, and experience, the suffering of Christ on our behalf — which is nothing less than the love of God.
This cruciform experience of the love of God infects our hearts through the work of God’s Spirit. The same Spirit who declares Jesus to be “beloved son” through the resurrection (Romans 1:4), the same Spirit whose power both raises Jesus and brings salvation (Romans 1:4, 16), the same Spirit whose presence attests that we are beloved children in the crucified Christ (Romans 8:14-15) — this Spirit brings God’s love to bear in our hearts so that we know that our hope is not in vain.
The love of God and the work of Christ (vv. 6-11)
Verse 6 with the word “for,” showing us that these statements about Christ dying on our behalf provide the reason for our hope of glory. It works together with v. 8: Christ died for us while were still weak; God demonstrates his love for us in having the Messiah die for us while we were still sinners.
“Sinners” here is not merely a statement about the things we have done. Paul is preparing to launch into a full-scale exposition of the state of the cosmos as being enslaved to sin and to death. “Sinners” denotes those who are captive to the power of sin, and arrayed against God in the cosmic conflict of good versus evil, of life versus death.
In other words, God sends the Messiah to die for us, and thereby rescue us, not merely when we had offended some cosmic law, but when we had taken up arms against God in the great cosmic war (see Romans 6:11-18).
This is why the need for peace with God (Romans 5:1) is so urgent.
Verses 9-10 are parallel statements. Verse 9 looks back to the discussion of Jesus’s death as bringing about justification (Romans 3:21-4:25), v. 10 engages the newly introduced metaphor of reconciliation.
Both the “judicial” declaration that someone is part of the righteous people of God (i.e., justification, v. 9), and the relational transformation in which comic hostility has been replaced through being rightly related to God (i.e., reconciliation, v. 10) are effected through Jesus’ death.
Jesus’s death is the representative human act of faithfulness to God through which humanity in Christ is enabled to live, now, as God’s righteous people.
These verses state compactly that present standing as a justified and reconciled people creates a sure hope for the future. Here, as always in Paul’s letters, our sure hope for the future is inseparable from Christ’s resurrection.
Our hope is for resurrection life; its basis is the resurrection life of Christ.
A sure outcome
Past, present, and future create a storyline with a sure outcome, because the love of Christ demonstrated in the past on the cross is the same love of God that comes to us now, marking us out as God’s people, and that will usher us into eternal life.