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Romans 5:1-8

Since the 1970s Pauline studies has been split between what has been known as the “Old Perspective” and “New Perspective” on Paul. Much of this debate is due to the work of Krister Stendahl, E. P Sanders, and J Louis Martyn. It asks the question, whose faith brings justification?” In Galatians 2:16 Paul writes “a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” I intentionally used the CEB version because it is quite different from the NIV which reads: ‘a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” On the one hand we are justified by Jesus’ faithfulness. On the other, we are justified according to our faith in Jesus. Where we land on that debate ought to influence how we read and teach Romans 5:1-8. The pericope begins by saying, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”[1] As we read this, we must ask ourselves whose faith justifies us? Are we justified because of our faith, or are we justified because of Jesus’ faith? “Therefore,” with which this chapter begins, tells us to go to the preceding verses. In Chapter 4 we read Paul giving an example of Abraham being justified according to faith. This seems to indicate that “faith” in v1. Refers to our faith. We are to be like Abraham who was considered righteous because of his faith. The logic which follows is Abraham trusted God and was considered righteous. Because Abraham is our example, we too are to be faithful and we will be considered righteous. If we read chapters four and five this way, however, we ought to recognize an embarrassing conclusion. Jesus is irrelevant.

If Abraham is capable of attaining faith which recons him righteous before God without the law, then why do we need Jesus? Abraham did not have the law, he merely trusted God. Can we also merely trust God? Then why Jesus? Why not merely have some moral exemplar atonement theory with Abraham as the example? Because that is not what Paul wrote. Romans 4 is not the full argument for justification by faith, rather it, itself, is an example of justification by faith. Therefore to understand the conclusion found in Romans 5:1 we need to understand the scope of the arguments from Romans 1-4. In The Deliverance of God, Douglas Campbell convincingly argues that chapter 1-4 are Paul’s argument against some “Teachers”[2] who are proclaiming a gospel which requires Gentiles to become Jews following the whole law.  Paul marshals the psalms, the prophets, and even Abraham to prove that human beings cannot earn righteousness through geneology, bodily mutilation, or perfect obedience of the law. What we need is Jesus. This is what leads Paul to saying that  “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”[3] Justification, being reckoned righteous by God is a gift. It is not an accomplishment. It is not something which we earn through our faith. Justification comes by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. If this is true, then the faith which justifies in Romans 5:1 is not human faith in Jesus, but rather, Jesus’ faithful response to God. This fits in with the rest of the passage for this week because Paul locates the peace we have with God in the work of Jesus who, while we were still weak, died for us. Because he did that, we can boast in our sufferings. Jesus’ faithful act which enables us to be declared righteous before God. Our righteousness is not located in our will power, in our intellectual assent, or even our ability to trust. This is good news. For if our righteousness is located in our own fidelity we have underestimated the sin sickness and we are damned. We cannot place our hope in our own faculties. We must place our hope in Jesus Christ who died for us at the right time proving God’s love for us, God’s fidelity towards us, God’s allegiance to us. Allegiance could be the word which helps make sense out of Romans. In Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew Bates argues that the word grouping “pistis” often means allegiance. He translates Romans 5:1 as saying, “Therefore, since we have been justified by alleciance, we have peace with God through out Lord Jesus the Christ.” [4] Allegiance is a double entendre built from Romans 3. Bates translates 3:21-25 as saying,

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through the allegiance of Jesus the Christ for all who give allegiance. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of god, and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in the Christ Jesus, whom put forward as a propitiation by his blood, through his allegiance. [5]

God has proven God’s allegiance to human beings. God is for us. [6] Because of this action, we can give God our allegiance and we can live in Christ no longer being controlled by the sinful nature. And it does not stop there, but God even lets us know about God’s love for us through the giving of the Holy Spirit. So we can boast about God’s glory and we can boast about our sufferings because they signal a sharing in God’s work. What we see in Romans 5:1-8 is a transition from Paul’s argument with the teacher to establishing his gospel. This gospel teaches us that our inclusion in the already but not yet Kingdom of God is contingent on Jesus’ faithfulness and our union with Jesus. While we are made righteous because of Jesus’ faithfulness, it is not effective unless we commit out allegiance to Jesus, that is made effective by being in Christ through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power. You might not be able to preach all of Romans in 1 week. To preach this well, however, you may want to do a series. Or you may want to write a better sermon than this essay. You may want to start with the transition. Or maybe you start from a different point. Perhaps you ask your congregation if their suffering brings them hope. Maybe you live into the cultural moment and you point to the ways in which we all seek to secure our identities in things other than Christ. You could show how ineffective ethnicity, circumcision, or legalism is to gaining God’s favor. Perhaps you point them to the perfect work of Jesus who recognizes our suffering, identifies it, and bears it on his body as evidence of God’s love. This passage is one of the greatest in all of scripture for it recognizes that Jesus died for us while we were evil. No one is beyond hope. The most evil person we can think of, Jesus died for and we who have faith are swearing allegiance to a King who dies not for good people, not for righteous people, but for sinners. He is faithful so that we can have hope and faith in God.  [1]  Romans 5:1-2, NRSV [2] Romans 2:20 says “a teacher of children” and it is easier to refer to a person or a group by this noun than the litany of descriptions found in chapter 2.  [3] Romans 5:23-25 [4] Bates, Matthew. Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2017. 81.  [5] Bates, 81.

 [6] Romans 8:31