Commentary on Romans 5:1-11
“Therefore,” the opening word in Romans 5:1, signals a turning point in Paul’s message of God’s plan for reconciling humanity with God’s self and with one another.
On the basis of God’s acts through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the human predicament is only on the grounds of faith (verse 1), and not human initiatives. The theology of reconciliation covers the entire Pauline message and the 21st-century church is called to proclaim the benefits of the cross and resurrection. The proclamation of the gospel as God’s story of offering salvation to all humanity seems to be the clarion call of Paul in Romans 5:1-11. In a world hungry for peace, justice, love, and reconciliation, the apostle Paul radically removes human initiatives as the prerogative of salvation and instead, faith becomes the only avenue through which human beings can have a relationship with God and with one another.
While salvation is many things to many people, nationalities, ethnicities, and tribes, Paul calls all people to rejoice over what God accomplished through the cross and resurrection. Simply, what God achieved is a reversal of humanity’s separation from the Creator. Having been reconciled to God, all humanity is free from the bondage of sin and now freed to be participants in God’s creative movement.
As God established and seeks peace with all humanity, the church and its practitioners are called to manifest, share, and spread peace in the world. However, the question of “peace with God,” in verses 1-2, is still a far-fetched dream for most people in the global world. With HIV/AIDS, hunger, wars, immigration, oppression, suffering, and many other human-created ills, it is impossible to speak of peace.
The world is indeed under the grip of sin and sin is not just falling short on God’s mandates but in terms of failing to love as God loves. Holistic love is still a dream in the lives of the human family and Romans 5 invites humanity to crossroads, where clergy leaders and lay people must pause, look around the world, and ask tough questions in relation to the nature, purpose, role, and function of Christianity.
In Paul’s commentary and perspective, Christianity, unlike any other religion, is one in which love of humanity outmaneuvers all cultural ideals and if that is the case, the Jesus whom Paul encountered on the Damascus road is the relationship-oriented Messiah. Therefore, the grounds on which humanity stands with God and each other is on the basis of relationships.
Romans as a whole is about Paul’s appeal to new relationships, of which human beings fail to extend to others outside of their cultural circles. While theologies and church doctrines have shaped and guided churches, Paul’s letter to Romans, especially Romans 5:1-11, seems to confront theological and doctrinal perspectives.
On the other hand, Paul shapes our humanity under the gracious and outpouring love of God, through which we are all saved. In a world of technology and affluence, most Christians tend to have their faith in the material world and then call upon God when materialism fails. A reorientation of Christian and spiritual priorities is called for in Romans 5, and to welcome human suffering and trust in the outpouring of God’s love on the cross as the center of human life.
From a suffering point of view, verses 3-5 stands out as unique in that the believer is assured of God’s presence in suffering. The key to all that we do as Christians lies in our capability to believe and through belief, life is guaranteed even when one goes through any form of suffering (Romans 5:3-4). Thus, the love of God and the promise of the Holy Spirit are two guarantees to sustain us in seasons of persecution (Romans 5:5).
Even if the belief and teaching of the Holy Spirit seems to be a lost legacy in most churches, Paul is reminding believers that without the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians cannot make it through challenges. Decline in church attendance may be a sign that believers are not reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, especially when suffering comes.
The question in any suffering situation is summed up in the following question: How does God assure me of being present with me? If, as Paul says, believers are taught to believe and be aware of the ever presence of the Holy Spirit, then suffering becomes an easier thing to go through. With experience comes practical knowledge and the apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering, and as he writes Romans 5, it is possible that his experiences are part of his faith and belief in God.
While we as humans have always been aware of each other’s anger, Paul calls believers to a new form of understanding “God’s wrath,” and we all have been saved by God’s first step of love and reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11). In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for humanity to have a new start on life and now the obligation is on all believing humanity to extend love even to their enemies, or else they will fall short in terms of embodying the gospel.
As God’s love is not theoretical, so a believer’s or the church’s love must be authentic as God demonstrated in and through Jesus Christ, and as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. In and of ourselves as human beings, we cannot rescue ourselves from the clutches of sin, but at our point of desperation, God is able to manifest the highest form of love.
In the midst of our suffering and human alienation, the church at every age is called upon to count on God’s love, the love that was shown before we’re even forgiven of our sins, and now we have come to experience that love. The call to ministry has been emphasized, but the call to love has suffered and is urgently needed in the 21st century. The question in this chapter is: In what ways can the church and its members be an embodiment of God’s love as Paul articulates it in Romans 5:6-11?