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Romans 5:1-5

Reading (and preaching) Paul often comes as a challenge to me. Paul sometimes goes from one thought to the next so rapidly that his argument gets lost to me. (That very well may be only my problem – other people with quicker brains might not have that same issue.) I have found it helpful to outline passages of scripture (any scripture, but especially Paul) to try to follow the argument and the flow. This is how I outlined this passage (with a few of my own notes, from the CEB):

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access …into this grace in which we stand by faith through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory (a future hope).3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems (current situation), because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope (back to the future). 5 This hope (in future glory) doesn’t put us to shame (despite our present problems), because (even now) the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

In looking at the outline of the passage, several thoughts come to mind. If I were preaching this passage, I might go in one (or more) of these directions:

  1. Being Trinity Sunday, I might look at the way Trinity works in this passage. Each person is mentioned here, working together, to bless us, grant us peace, give us access, expose us to God’s love, etc. So, if I wanted to talk about Trinity, I certainly could. I would avoid trying to explain the Trinity of course: I tend to think that as soon as we begin to “explain” the Trinity we are sure to speak heresy. Better to simply confess the Creed. But we wouldn’t need to explain anything, just point out how Paul talks about God in three persons. Somehow – and I’d be careful to leave it a mystery – the one God is triune.

  2. The idea that God makes us righteous. “Being made righteous” is a passive verb. It happens TO us, it is not something we do. That idea is worth exploring. We, in “holiness” traditions, tend to fall into the mistakes of legalism and imagining righteousness something we obtain by not doing certain things. This (and other passages like it) are a needed corrective for many of us. Righteousness is passive. It happens to us.

  3. Even as I insist that God makes us righteous (it is passive on our part), this passage gives us the idea of partnership: God works and we work. In this passage, God does it (makes us righteous) AND we do it (develop Character through enduring hardship). But even here, on our part, character and endurance are enabled is through God and the Holy Spirit.

  4. We could also focus on the idea of faith. The CEB interprets the “faith” in verse 1 as God’s faithfulness, but in verse 2 it looks like our faith. In many translations it is “our” faith through which seems to do the trick. I like how the CEB confuses the issue (rightly so) because focusing on God’s faith first is the right order. God is faithful. Through God’s faithfulness, we might have faith, by which we have access to God through Christ.

  5. John Wesley sees these verses as summarizing all of Romans 1-8. He writes, “Being justified by faith—This is the sum of the preceding chapters, we have peace with God—Being enemies to God no longer, (ver. 10) neither fearing his wrath, (ver. 9.) We have peace. Hope, love, and power over sin, the sum of the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th, chapters. These are the fruits of justifying faith, Where these are not, that faith is not.”[1] As connected to my item 4 above, we might look at how faith (ours and Gods) works to do all these things.

  6. Here’s another option: to flesh out the idea that the love of God in us and the Holy Spirit in us are gifts now that make life worth living, even through trouble. How can we live in days of trouble? The love of God in us and the Holy Spirit given to us. How can we endure…? How can we keep going when we want to give up? How can we listen when we want to win? How can we love when we want to fight? The love of God in us and the Holy Spirit given to us.

  7. Future hope comes in two ways in this passage: God’s promise and our own growth in character. This is a particular benefit of living the life of faith in Christ: we have hope. Part of that hope is simply believing what we have been told (“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”) and part of it is that when we continue in that hope, our own character is developed which somehow gives us hope, too. They work together to make us people of hope. All of this reflects that truth that Christ’s kingdom breaks into our present.

  8. At the beginning of this passage we see three benefits of God making us righteous through faith (either God’s or ours or both): (1) Peace (with God), (2) access (to God), and (3) pride (in the hope of God’s glory – the renewal of all things). Note: this boasting and pride is “pride like my mother has and not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad”.[2] That would outline to a nice three point sermon, if you are into that kind of thing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). We could spend our sermon rejoicing in these gifts of God: peace, access, and pride.

I have provided eight possible ways to approach this passage and there are probably hundreds of other legitimate ways to preach it. However you come at this text (or which ever text you end up using), I pray that God will speak through you, that the love of God will be made known through you, and that the Holy Spirit will enliven faith in those that listen to you.

[1] John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Fourth American Edition.; New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 385.

[2] The Avett Brothers, “The Perfect Space,” I and Love and You, 2009.