"We Have Peace With God"
You can make that statement, brother or sister, with the full authority of the Word of God! Not on the basis of feelings - though God often warms our hearts and fills our spirits with the sense of blessed peace as well (Rom. 5:5; 15:13) - for feelings sometimes change with the outward circumstances or with the rising and falling of our faith (4:18,20). You can make the statement on the solid basis of faith in the gospel itself, for it is nothing other than the core of the gospel expressed in terms of one of its results (Rom. 5:1).
How do we have peace with God? Paul tells us in the same verse (Rom. 5:1). It is the result of standing right with God on the principle of faith, or trust. The great Dutch Christian lady, Corrie ten Boom, whose example and testimony have blessed so many, put it like this: "Look around and be distressed; look within and be depressed; look at Jesus and be at rest." She hit the nail on the head.
We do not find peace with God through our own efforts at obedience, our own study and memorization of texts, per se, or our own membership or identity with a particular religious group or movement. Peace with God comes not by our trying but by our trusting - in the only One and the only work which is solid enough to withstand the anxieties and assaults of life and fiery trials of judgment to come.
Paul shows us this One in the verses following. While we were helpless, Christ died for the ungodly (5:6). We could not save ourselves, so Jesus came down to save us - just when we needed him the most. While we were sinners, Christ died for us (5:8). Who would think that God even loves those who fail to obey him, who always come short of his will even when they try the hardest? Yet he does -and He gave his Son to prove it!
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came down to save us and who died for us sinners, actually set us right with God by what he did on earth. This was possible because of what Jesus came to be: not only a teacher, not only an example, but a Savior. He came as our substitute and proxy, our representative before God, our high priest. And because Jesus stood in our stead in all that he did and all that he suffered, we were set right with God through the perfect doing and dying of Jesus.
This is Paul's point in verses 12-21 which follow. Just as all mankind suffered many horrible consequences as a result of the representation of Adam, so all who are finally saved will enjoy eternal life and every spiritual blessing as a result of the representation of Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Notice what Paul says happened because of the single sin of the first Adam. Through the transgression of that one man (who stood for all mankind and was, at the time, the only man there was): sin entered into the world and death through sin (5:12), many died (5:15), condemnation came (5:16), death reigned (5:17), condemnation resulted to all men (5:18), the many were made sinners (5:19). And Paul is careful to point out that these evil things occurred, not because of the individual sins of each human being in turn, but because of the particular sin of Adam who was our first great human representative and proxy. This is the point of his words in verses 12-14. Even before the Law was given, Paul explains, death came to each person. Yet God does not impute sin apart from law. The only solution, says the apostle, is that the sin of Adam resulted in death for all his descendants.
But Paul's main point is not the one about Adam (which all his original readers already accepted and understood), but the counterpoint Paul makes alongside that. Just as Adam represented us all - for bad, Jesus represented us - for good! But what Jesus did in our place and stead and in our name resulted in "much more" good than the representative conduct of Adam had originally lost. So Paul uses the expression "much more" and "all the more" three times in telling this story (5:15, 17, 20).
The conclusion is this: because of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ our representative, we whom he represented have been freely set right with God ("justification," 5:16), given the free gift of righteousness, received an abundance of grace, and reign in life (5:17, 18, 19, 21).
If we wait until we have obeyed God perfectly ourselves to have peace with God, we will never have peace with God. For we all have sinned, and continually come short of the glory of God (3:23). But we do not have to wait until then, for Jesus Christ has come to be our Savior and he has accomplished what he came down to do. By his perfect obedience and death, his perfect doing and dying, God has been satisfied - both as to the righteous demands of his character and law, and as to the penalty and consequences of sin.
When one looks at Jesus' obedience, one sees that no unkept command stands between that perfect record and the absolute obedience God desires from his human creatures. When one looks at the death of Jesus, one sees that sin has no venom still kept back or reserved - it all was spent on this Sinless One who died in place of sinners like you and me. There is nothing, in other words, which now stands between the holy God and his human creatures - when viewed in light of Jesus Christ. Whoever participates in the representation of Jesus Christ is in right standing with God. And if God loved us so much while we were rebellious and helpless sinners that he sent his Son to die for us, Paul cannot even imagine how much God must love us now that we have been forgiven and set right with God (5:9-11).
How does one gain the assurance of this peace with God? For Paul, there is but one answer. It comes through trusting in Jesus Christ alone, and in no other way than that. "Having been justified (set right with God) by faith, we have peace with God," Paul says (5:1).
We often become confused at this point because we think of faith as intellectual understanding or personally-held doctrines. For Paul, however, this saving faith is better expressed by the word "trust," or "reliance" or "dependence." It is by trusting in what Christ has done that we find peace. It is through reliance on Jesus alone that we know the blessed assurance of God's love. It is by dependence on the perfect doing and dying of Jesus, our representative, that we lose fear of judgment and gain the confidence that God who loved us so very much as to give his Son up to death for us will certainly continue to love us now that we are trusting wholly in his Son our Savior.
And so, with confidence in God's Word, with reliance on Jesus our substitute and proxy, with trust in his perfect obedience in our stead and death in our place, we have peace with God (5:1). By the same faith-trust, we have obtained our introduction into the grace we now stand in, and this faith-trust causes us to "exult" in the glory of God (5:2).
Even tribulation - the tensions and pressures that those who are following Christ feel in this world bound for destruction - cannot take our joy away, for God shows us the result of tribulation and it, too, is our betterment and future glory (5:3-4). Meantime, whatever goes on around us on the outside, God is filling our hearts with His own sweet love through the indwelling Holy Spirit whom he has given us (5:5).
Do you know this peace with God? If you do not, it is likely that you need to ask another question. In what are you trusting for right standing with God? On what do you depend for his favor? How would you describe your reliance for God's approval in the day of judgment?
If the answers to these questions point to your own ability to obey God acceptably, or your church membership, or your correct understanding of doctrines and issues, there is little wonder that you lack peace with God. None of those things can ever bring peace with God.
If you see, by God's grace, that Jesus was your representative and substitute, however, and that what he did counted as if you had done it, then peace with God will surely result. For, in an objective sense, it is already an accomplished fact. What remains is your subjective enjoyment of it. And the old song told the truth about that when it said: "Believe. Obey. The work is done!"
It is done - outside of us, but for us, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, almost 2,000 years ago. Whoever believes that, finds peace with God. And only the person who has peace with God can enter into the kind of obedience God truly desires and has planned for his people.
Praise God, who has set us right with himself and has given us peace!