A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 5:1-21
In the first chapters of Romans, Paul has been making the case that the only way to obtain salvation is to be justified by grace through faith. Now, in the first half of Romans 5, he tells us that there are many benefits of being justified by God’s grace that goes beyond what happens in the afterlife!
In the second half of Romans 5, Paul describes the spread of sin throughout humanity because of the “work” of Adam and contrasts this work with the work of Jesus. This is another important chapter that is so foundational to our understanding of the truth of the gospel!
The Benefits of God’s Grace
Paul begins by telling us what benefits we experience by receiving God’s mercy and grace in the present.
Verse 1 begins with a reminder that we have been made right in God’s sight by faith. The New Living Translation (NLT) uses the phrase ‘made right’ but most other translations use the word justified: to be justified by faith. To be justified speaks of a legal decree.
Romans 1:18-3:20 found all of us guilty before the court of God’s law, God’s glory, and even our own consciences. But through our faith, God’s grace transforms our guilty sentence into justification, and we are pronounced innocent and good.
This legal decree of justification causes two things to happen:
- we have peace with God
- and we have a right standing by grace.
Peace With God
The peace spoken about here, is not referring to the peace of God, such as in Philippians 4:7, but rather a peace with God. We were once God’s enemies, battling against him. But because the price of sin was paid in full by Jesus, God’s justice towards us has been forever satisfied.
Some may not know that they were ever out of peace with God – that they are in trouble and don’t even know it. Peace with God is only made possible through Jesus Christ. In fact, Ephesians 2:14 tells us that Jesus is our peace.
Now the Bible doesn’t say that we will have peace with the world, or even with sin. Life is still a battle for Christians, but it is no longer a battle against God. Instead, we are fighting for him.
Right Standing By Grace
What does a ‘right standing by grace’ mean? It is by grace (God’s underserved favor towards us) that we receive salvation in the first place, but it is not simply the beginning of the Christian life. It is also the basis for the continuation in the Christian life.
Many Christians begin in grace, but then think that they must go on to perfection and maturity by their own good works and obedience to the law – the idea of earning and deserving. But we are forever covered by God’s grace. It is still God who is making us right in his sight, not us. Paul spoke of this again in Galatians 2:2-3 and Galatians 5:1-4, where he warns Jesus followers not to get caught in up in the law, trying to become perfect by their own human effort.
Standing in grace reassures us that God’s attitude towards the believer in Jesus is one of favor – seeing us in terms of joy, beauty and pleasure. He doesn’t just love and accept us, he likes us! We can call him friend because we are in a relationship with Jesus. This means that we don’t have to prove we are worthy of God’s love. The door is always open to him. We always have access to him, even when we fail. Especially when we fail!
Living Under God’s Grace
Living under God’s grace is often a foreign concept for people. Author William R. Newell in Man Under Grace, wrote that living under God’s grace looks like this:
- believing and consenting to being loved while unworthy.
- expecting to be blessed, though realizing more and more our lack of worth
- having certainty of the hope we have in God.
Seeing ourselves as under God’s grace – being declared righteous no matter our past and even current state – means we need to stop living in regret, disappointment or discouragement about ourselves and others! If we have faith and have accepted God’s free gift of salvation, God declares us worthy, good and loved!
A Future Hope
Verse 3-4 talk about how we not only have a future hope, but we also have a present hope as well.
The word hope is used a lot in this chapter, and so I wanted to clarify what kind of hope Paul is talking about. It’s not the kind of hope which is uncertain – such as “I hope we have nice weather this weekend!”, but rather it is a joyful certainty – a certainty in God’s promises for the future, and a certainty that we will experience of God’s presence in the here and now!
Paul was telling us that we can experience God’s goodness and hope in the present even through problems and trials. Paul knew more than most what a life full of trials and tribulations was like. God promises to give us his peace and joy in all circumstances as he guides our steps.
No one wishes for problems and trials in life, but Paul is telling us that they are good for us! They help us develop endurance, which develops strength of character, and which in turn produces hope. Another word that could be used here is faith. Just as Abraham’s faith grew stronger (as we learned in Romans 4) our faith can grow stronger when we endure problems and trials.
Problems & Trials Help Us Grow in Faith
A good illustration of this is a runner training for a marathon. That runner must be stressed to build endurance. Trials, especially for a Christian, are a part of life. I cannot count how many times I have gone through trials and hard times. Of course, I wouldn’t have wished for them, but looking back now at how God has shaped my life and changed me, I wouldn’t change a thing!
In fact, living under God’s grace means viewing trials, and even God’s rebuke, as positive experiences brought about because of God’s kindness. Seeing the results of God’s refining and shaping and knowing that it is good for us and ultimately ends in good, can lead us to always rejoice in him!
It would be nice if God could just pour his endurance, character, and hope over us while were sleeping, and that it wouldn’t take work to gain those character traits, but it just doesn’t work that way!
Evidence for Hope
Verse 5 gives evidence for hope: we know how dearly God must love us, because he gave us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. God has also proven his intention to complete his work in us by giving us the Holy Spirit. The New King James Version uses the phrase ‘the love of God has been poured out in our hearts’. Some Christians live as if it was only a trickle of love, but God wants us to know the outpouring of his love.
Understanding God’s Love for Us
Verses 6-8 describe God’s love towards us. One might wonder at God’s timing. The Jews waited for the Messiah for centuries. But verse 6 says that Christ came at just the right time, when we were utterly helpless. God’s timing is always the perfect timing! He knew when people would be ready to receive Jesus. Not only was the world prepared spiritually, but it was prepared economically, linguistically, politically, philosophically, and geographically for the coming of Jesus and the spread of the gospel.
God’s love for us is beyond even the best love among humans. A good man might die for a good person, but Jesus died for even the worst of people. How many of us would be willing to die for someone? Our child maybe? Our spouse? A friend? An acquaintance? A stranger? A criminal? Jesus died for all these people.
Verse 8 talks about how God demonstrated His love for us. But one might ask, how does sending his Son to die demonstrate his love for us? And some may question the amount of sacrifice this took on God’s part, especially since Jesus would die and be raised back to life.
God Loved Us Even When We Hated Him
Some believe Jesus to be a man, although a good man. Some believe Jesus to a lesser God since he is the Son of God. But Jesus was God – God the Father and God the Son, along with the Holy Spirit make up the Triune God. They are One God. 2 Corinthians 5:19 tells us that God the Father is one with God the Son, and he died to reconcile the world to himself. God himself died to pay for man’s rebellion against him.
And the ultimate demonstration of God’s love is not so much in that Jesus died, but in who he died for: undeserving sinners, self-declared enemies of God, a world full of hatred and disdain for God. A world not even wanting a Savior.
We Can Rejoice About What We Have Been Saved From
Verses 9-11 remind us what we were saved from, and that is, from God’s wrath and condemnation. We were once God’s enemies and now He calls us friends.
Verse 10 gives us such amazing hope! If God showed such dramatic love for us while we were His enemies, think of the blessings we will enjoy once we are reconciled with God!
Verse 11 says that we can rejoice in our wonderful relationship with God because through Jesus our relationship has been restored!
How Sin Entered the World
Verse 12-21 is when Paul changes the discussion and starts to talk about how sin entered the world through Adam.
In verse 12, sin entered the world through one man: Adam. Adam’s sin brought sin and death to everyone. God had made it plainly clear that the punishment for disobedience was death, yet Adam ate the fruit anyway. Now although this introduced physical sickness and death into the world, what the Bible is most concerned about here is spiritual death: separation from God for eternity.
We may not like the fact that we were made sinners because the work of one man. We may protest it. But once sin was unleashed, it could not be stopped. We may have inherited Adam’s sinful nature, but we go on sinning. In fact, those of us that protest and say that we never chose to have Adam represent us, identify with Adam the moment we commit our first sin. We are just as guilty. We can’t help ourselves.
Now we come to verse 13-14. In Romans 4 we learned that the root of sin is not in breaking the law, but rather breaking trust with God. Adam disobeyed God’s command to not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and broke trust with God. Because Adam and the rest of mankind have been imprinted with God’s moral code, we know right from wrong. It’s built into our consciences and hearts.
Why Sin Exists
Verse 13 tells us that sin existed before the law was given. Sin existed for two reasons: 1) Adam deliberately disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the world. 2) We are born with sinful natures because of Adam, but we are made in God’s image with His moral code imprinted on our consciences. Even without explicit laws to break, we know right from wrong. Because of our sinful natures, we are inclined towards doing wrong. We know when we do it, and we are without excuse.
But it says that God did not count it against anyone because there was no law to break. He had not explicitly given them laws, so He did not hold their sinful behavior against them! How can you deny God’s goodness when you think of it this way!
Verse 14 tells us that still, everyone died because of sin in the world.
The Work of Adam Versus the Work of Jesus
In verses 15-19 Paul begins to contrast between Adam’s work and Jesus’ work:
- Adam gave an offense against God which had consequences for the entire human race. Jesus gave a free gift that also had consequences for the entire human race.
- Adam’s work brought death. Jesus’ work brought grace.
- Jesus’ death brought life and triumph over sin for all who believe it. Adam’s one sin brought condemnation for everyone.
- Because of Adam’s disobedience, the many became sinners. But because of another man’s obedience, many will be made righteous
God’s Law Points Out Our Sinfulness
Verse 20 tells us that God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they really were. The law was not given to prevent sin and death. It was already too late for that. But verse 20 also tells us that although mankind kept on sinning more and more, God’s wonderful grace abounded even more! That’s not quite what we would expect is it! If the wickedness in the world was becoming worse and worse, you might expect God’s anger or judgment, rather than more and more grace – underserved favor!
The Rule of Sin is Overcome
And finally, verse 21 tells us that just as sin ruled over all people, God’s grace now rules instead, for all who believe in the work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus was simply a man, his death would have been useless.
A sinful man could not have paid for the price for all of humanity’s sins, being a sinner himself. Only someone who was perfect and sinless could accomplish this!
Because of Jesus’ work we can receive the benefits of God’s grace: we have a future and present hope, peace with God, and a right standing in grace!
Peace with God: The Secret of Happiness by Billy Graham – Billy Graham wrote this book for ‘thirsty’ people. People searching for some nameless thing that is more important than anything in life. People seeking answers to the confusion and emptiness found in this world. All of humanity is crying out for guidance, for comfort, and for peace.