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Bible Commentaries
Romans 5

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-11

Peace, Joy, Reconciliation, and Love (5:1-11)

Paul now begins in chapter 5 to speak of the results in life of "justification by faith"; and these are, as already said, results of the truths on which faith lays hold. Indeed it would be better to say that faith simply opens the door to God, letting God take over.

There has been a great deal of argument about the first verse here (5:1). Some of the best and oldest of the handwritten copies of the Greek text of this verse have "let us have peace," and other equally ancient and reliable copies read "we have peace." It seems more in line with Paul’s general thought to take this as a statement of fact: we do have peace with God. The war is over. God has come more than halfway to meet us; he has come all the way. He has offered himself to us in Jesus Christ. If there is hostility between us, it is not the fault of God, and it never was. The Battle of New Orleans was fought actually after the peace treaty between England and the United States had been signed. The battle was needless. So there is a kind of implied "let us have peace" wrapped up in "we have peace." Since God is at peace with us, let us live as men who know that this is true.

The Christian life is also one of joy. Three levels of joy can be seen here: rejoicing in hope, in sufferings, in God (5:2, 3, 11). This hope is not hope that tomorrow will be a better day, or that the law of averages will one day give us a break. It is the tre­mendous hope of "sharing the glory of God" (vs. 2). Paul seldom speaks of heaven; his word for the final stage, the future that can­not be imagined, the life beyond this one, is "glory." What it will be to "share" the divine glory our minds cannot imagine, but our hearts leap up when we think of it.

We rejoice in suffering not because pain in itself is good, but because it is the engraver’s tool with which God creates lines of beauty on the life.

Most difficult it is to rejoice in God. The least this can mean is rejoicing in what gives God joy. What can we say of a person who really does not care for any of the things God likes? If such a person is a "Christian" he will most certainly be a gloomy one. And if God seems too far away for us to understand him, then note that Paul puts in "rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs. 11). We do know, as a matter of fact, what gave Jesus joy and satisfaction. If we learn from him, we shall find our­selves more and more seeing life as he saw it, rejoicing in God through him.

We have already glanced at reconciliation in a previous section. It will do the Christian reader good to think over his own life and reflect how much of it is lived as if God were a stranger, or an enemy. Notice also that Paul does not speak of God’s becom­ing reconciled to us but of God’s reconciling us to himself. We do not force reconciliation on God; we accept his love and grace in the grace and love of Christ, who "is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14).

Verses 1-21


Romans 5:1 to Romans 8:39

The next chapters present many difficulties, but two bits of advice may help. First, in reading here or elsewhere, even if you do not understand all of it, and even if commentaries only make confusion worse, remember there is much here which is not only true but beautiful and clear. Stick to what you do understand, for the present, and let what you do not understand come later. Second, Paul is not the systematic kind of writer who lays his ideas out in neat packages, going through one at a time. His thought moves not so often in a straight line as in spirals. The same ideas come back again and again, at different levels.

What Christ Has Done for Us (5:1-21)

You will find it worth while to write down, not only in chapter 5 but through the whole letter, what is said about what Christ has done for us: "Through him we have obtained access to this grace . . . Christ died for the ungodly . . . died for us . . . we are now justified by his blood . . ." and so on. Paul seldom if ever puts all his teaching on any subject into one chapter, but this chapter gives us a good opportunity to set down a few truths about what Christ has done for us.

Christ’s life, death, and resurrection were for us and not for himself. If you want one word for it, Christ’s life and death were vicarious. This is partly true of all good human lives; su­premely true of Jesus.

What Christ has done is what God has done in him. God sent Christ; God was in Christ. It is not true that Christ by his mercy warded off the anger of God. God’s mercy produced Christ; Christ did not create mercy in God.

Justification (God’s approval, the verdict that sets sin’s prisoner free) is possible because God sees us in Christ. As Paul grew older he used the expression "in Christ" more and more often. It has been said that "in Christ" is the typical and central idea of Paul. God looks at us as if he were actually looking at Christ himself.

None of this is anything we can achieve; we can only accept it. A phrase often used in the Church is "the finished work of Christ." There is a finished and an unfinished work of Christ. Some babies have been born since you started reading this page. If any of them become Christians, Christ will be at work in them. That work has hardly been begun, much less finished. Christ’s work in you is not finished in your lifetime. But Christ’s work for you is finished. There is a once-for-all-ness about Jesus. There was only one of him; there was only one miracle of Christmas, only one Life, only one Death, only one Resurrection. And this is for us—if we accept it. Even if we do not accept it, it is still for us; but it has no more saving effect, without acceptance, than if it had not happened.

At this point let us stop for an important parenthesis. The Christian faith is founded on fact, but facts alone do not make Christian faith. A fact, in the scientific sense, is something ex­pressed by a proposition that cannot reasonably be doubted. "Christ died" refers to a fact. It was a visible fact; no one has Over doubted it—except those very few who doubt that he even lived! But when Paul says, "Christ died for us," he is doing more than stating a fact; he is interpreting a fact. Now both the fact and the interpretation are vital. The interpretation is mean­ingless without the fact. If Christ did not die, then of course his death could not be for us. But if all we can say is that he died, then his death means no more than the death of anyone else. Rut "for us" is not a fact in the scientific sense, and we should not either pretend that it is or mourn because it is not. Indeed It is the "for us" or "for me" that faith accepts. Accepting the mere fact of Christ’s death is accepting a "vital statistic" and has no religious value. But to accept as true the interpretation "for us," can change life.

But how do we know that it is true? Can truths never be tested, as facts can? Do we have to take them or leave them? Truths can be tested, or many of them can be, but in quite a different way from facts. A fact can be checked in a laboratory, or by eyewitnesses. A truth is not checked in a laboratory; it is tested in life. Truths are such large things that a laboratory is too small a place to test them. A statement of a fact, such as "two and two make four," can be tested on a small piece of paper. A statement of more complicated fact, such as what coal is made of, can be tested in a laboratory. But "two are better than one" is a truth that needs the breadth of life for testing, and indeed some truths are so great as to need not only this life but the life everlasting to give us the complete demonstration. Do you believe that Christ died "for us"? That we are reconciled to God through his death? The way to test this truth is to live by it and at last to die by it.

Verses 12-21

Adam and Christ (5:12-24)

Part of Paul’s originality, and what makes reading him interest­ing, is his gift of seeing a resemblance where no one else would think of it. Adam and Christ—how unlike they are! How can we compare Christ to poor, ignorant, stumbling, sinful Adam? Paul can see the contrast and indeed underscores it. Adam brought death into the race of man; Christ brought life. But all the same, Paul sees in Christ a Second Adam. Each is the beginning of a race; the first Adam the father of all the sinners of the world, the second the "first-born" (Romans 8:29) of all the new humanity, the true sons of God. Indeed, it has been pointed out that if we want to know what man is, it is much more profitable to look at Jesus than at Adam. Adam was the human being who cracked up (and "everybody’s middle name is Adam"); Christ is the Human Be­ing who did not crack up. Adam was the man who fled from God; Christ is the Man in whose face we see the light of the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). In more prosaic language, Jesus is the truly normal—that is to say, standard—human being. To become like him, to belong (if one may say so) to his family rather than to that of Adam the First, is not to become freakish and ab­normal; it is to discover what being human really is.

Freedom from Sin

Paul has been accused, in his lifetime and ever since, of saying some things he never said, or meaning what he never meant. There have been, for example, people who have totally misunder­stood his teaching about "faith" and "grace."

Their argument goes something like this: If it is true that we cannot build a ladder to heaven out of good deeds, what is the use of being or doing good at all? And if it is true that God’s grace is free, and that he is gracious because he is good, why not keep on committing sins, to give him a chance to be gracious? "God will forgive; that’s his business," said a mocking Frenchman. (See the section on "Anti-law ’Christianity’ " in the Introduction.)

But God is not a vast forgiving-machine. There is no such thing as justification all by itself. To use another technical word which is also a Bible word, justification when it is real always is welded to sanctification. It is a good thing the Letter to the Ro­mans did not end with chapter 4; if it had, there would have been some excuse for misunderstanding Paul. In chapter 5 it begins to be clearer, and in chapter 6 it becomes clear beyond any mistake, that justification is not a mere legal fiction; there is some­thing vital, powerful, about it. The courtroom word is useful but it is not nearly rich enough to express the whole truth about the Christian life.

In grammar, the indicative mood states facts, the imperative mood gives commands. If chapter 5 gives some indicatives of the Christian’s life-in-grace, chapter 6 gives some imperatives of grace.

Before Paul comes to these imperatives, he gives us some more indicatives. He uses odd language, for he is dealing with life as it is in God, and this is far from commonplace. Observe: We were buried with Christ by baptism; we were united with him in a death like his, we have died with Christ; but as Christ was raised, so it is with us. (Paul shows that he knows that the full and final reality of this is yet to be.) We left sin behind us when we died; the Christian life is a new life. It is the life of heaven brought to earth. This is a long way from courtroom thinking. It is thinking in an entirely new dimension.

Perhaps we can understand it if we think about what we may call the principle of "identification." We see it in everyday life. "Any friend of yours is a friend of mine" is one example of it. True sympathy is another. A mother suffers when her children suffer, she feels shame if they are disgraced, she rejoices when they are praised. That is identification.

It is interwoven with the Christian life; indeed, apart from identification, the Christian life dries up to something powerless, something merely formal—a matter of words, not reality. We can see three different but interlinked identifications in the whole proc­ess of the Christian life. One is the identification of Christ and God; they are never precisely the same, yet they cannot be sepa­rated. We have seen that Christ’s life and death was God’s act, not less than Jesus’ own. The love and the grace of God are not to be thought of as different from the love and grace of Christ. The second is Christ’s identification of himself with sinners. Beginning with his baptism and going right through the Crucifixion, he made himself one with sinful men. Then there is one more identification without which the first bears no fruit: the identification by the sinner of himself with Christ, or rather the acceptance of this identification which Christ has made. A Christian life may begin at a deep level when a person looking at the Cross feels and knows: "This is for me. I belong there; he took my place." But the Christian also looks at the risen Christ, and says, "There am I." Christ was tempted before his resurrection; never afterward. He had passed beyond sin’s gravitation; he was already in the orbit of heaven. So it is with the Christian.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 5". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/romans-5.html.
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