by Mike Ratliff
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
There is a lot of dispute in our day about the nature of Christ’s atonement on the cross. What did Christ purchase for His people that day? Many imply that our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross was not necessary. Others say that He did not die for the sins of His people, He simply suffered for them. Let us not rely on tradition or ‘feelings’ here. Let us go the source, God’s Word, to see what the Holy Spirit revealed to us about this through the Apostle Paul.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1 ESV)
In Bible study we must always be careful to maintain context because it is scripture that interprets scripture and if we pull passages out of context we are actually making the Bible say what it more than likely does not say. This passage begins with ‘therefore,’ so we must look back to see what Paul is referring to that is the thesis for the conclusion he is making in Romans 5. In this case, if we go back to Romans 1:1 and read through Romans 4:25 we see that all men are dead in their trespasses and sins. None are righteous and all are under condemnation by God. Paul makes sure we understand that Man is completely helpless to be reconciled to God based on any internal merit. No works, no matter how good they may be perceived are sufficient either. Paul makes the case that God justifies sinners on the basis of faith alone. Then we come to Romans 5 and Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. “ Here is a word for word translation of this statement directly from the Greek, “Having been justified then by faith peace we have with God through the Lord of us, Jesus Christ.” (the word “we” is implied because of the “of us”)
Paul is speaking to Christians here, those who are justified by faith. The personal pronoun “we” that we read in our English translations is not present in the Greek in verses 1, 2, or 3. Some have tried to make the case that this means that Paul is speaking to all people here not just believers. However, in v1 we see the possessive pronoun “ημων” or “hemon,” which is translated as “our.” This is speaking of “our Lord Jesus Christ.” As you saw, however, when this statement is translated word for word directly from the Greek, “our” is actually saying, “of us.” I ask you, is Jesus Christ the Lord of the unbeliever? I agree that Jesus Christ is Lord, but in this passage, the word used for “Lord” is “κυριου” or “Kurios.” This word means “Lord, Master, or Owner.” The Kurios is Master or Owner of “doulos,” or slaves. Is the unbeliever a redeemed slave of our Lord Jesus Christ or are they slaves to sin?
The clincher here, however, is Paul’s statement at the beginning of this verse, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.” Have unbelievers been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ? The Greek word that is translated here as “have been justified” is “δικαιωθεντες” or “dikaioõ.” This word’s definition takes over a page and a half of my Greek lexicon. Here is a small part of it:
“verbs which end in -oõ generally mean to bring out that which a person is or that which is desired. They do not have reference to the mode in which the action takes place. In the case of dikaioõ, it means either to bring out the fact that a person is righteous or if he is not, to make him righteous. To justify someone, therefore, means to bring out the fact that he is just or to make him just without necessarily referring to how he is made just.”
In other words, to be justified is to be declared righteous, but the the word itself does not tell us upon what basis. However, Paul tell us very clearly that those who are justified are declared righteous “by faith.” The Greek word for Faith here is “πιστεως” or “pistis.” This is saving faith my brethren. This is the core of our doctrine of salvation. This is the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone apart from any works or personal merit.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
Yes my brethren, we were saved by God. It is His work from beginning to end. He has made every provision for us, those who are justified by faith, to enable us to come to Him because we have been reconciled to Him by the work of the Son in his atoning death on the cross.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:2-5 ESV)
This could only apply to believers my brethren. We have obtained access by faith into this grace. In this grace we stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Our justification was a declaration of righteousness. It was God imputing Christ’s righteousness to our account. However, the result of our right standing before God is that we now have God’s grace working in and through us to conform us unto Christlikeness. This process, our sanctification, involves sufferings. Paul makes the incredible statement that believers actually rejoice in their sufferings. Why? It is because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope. This sure contradicts much of the teaching we hear nowadays from the Word of Faith people doesn’t it? Notice also that believers have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. What a blessing!
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but 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. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 ESV)
The phrase, “For while we were still weak,” has been misinterpreted by many to say that unbelievers are not really spiritually dead, only weak and wounded. However, the Greek word translated here as “still weak” or “without strength” in the KJV is “ασθενων” or “asthenēs.” It means, “without strength or powerless or without ability.” Paul was saying that all of the unregenerate are in this state. We were all without spiritual ability until God had mercy on us and cleansed us through the washing of regeneration, giving us the faith to believe and repent. Jesus Christ died for those who had no ability to comprehend the profundity of His sacrificial death on the cross. When I was very young boy a Roman Catholic friend gave me a picture of Jesus Christ on the cross as a birthday present. My mother hung it on my wall in my bedroom. I remember looking at this representation of a man nailed to that cross and my only comprehension of it was that it was a tragedy. Now, however, by the grace of God, I do understand that he died for this ungodly and undeserving sinner.
What were those who are in Christ saved from? Those who have been justified by His blood are also saved by Him from the wrath of God. This is the Father’s wrath against all sin. Christ’s blood covers all of our sins. Our sins were paid for at the cross. We will never stand in judgment before the Father because we have been reconciled to Him through the Son. Should we not be full of joy my brethren? What a miracle salvation is!
Soli Deo Gloria!
Addendum: I originally posted this on August 13, 2008.