“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity” Series
The apostle Paul's letter to the church in Rome celebrates the love that God has for human beings and the relationship that we can have with Him. Paul wrote about these truths throughout the letter, but they are first observed in the greeting. The Romans were “called to belong to Jesus Christ,” “called to be saints,” and “loved by God” (Romans 1:6, 7a). These are descriptions of love and fellowship. Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to know and to celebrate the truth that they were loved by God and that they belonged to Him. What is remarkable about this is that at one time they were not God's people. They were once haters of God, ungodly, and servants of sin. Now they are “sons of God,” “children of God,” and “heirs of God” (Romans 8:14, 16, 17). A change in relationship had taken place between the Romans and God.
Paul described the change in relationship between the Romans and God in Romans chapter five. He wrote, “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). The word reconciliation is the key word of the passage. It is certainly a major concept in the letter. The themes of God's love and the relationship that we can have with Him are bound together in this word. Reconciliation, then, is a theme that is not only at the heart of the Roman letter, it is at the heart of New Testament Christianity.
The importance of reconciliation can be observed by surveying the book of Romans. Paul had four goals in mind concerning reconciliation and the Christians in Rome. First, he wanted the Romans to know what reconciliation is. Second, he wanted them to know why everyone needs to be reconciled. Third, he wanted them to appreciate how reconciliation was achieved. Fourth, he wanted the Romans to view reconciliation as motivation for living right. These truths must not be neglected by Christians today. What Paul wrote about reconciliation benefits us. It helps us understand the “big picture.” It helps us see clearly the love of God, the depths of sin, the need for Jesus' sacrifice, and why we should live the way God desires for us to live. The four statements about reconciliation expressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans deserve our attention.
What is reconciliation? Reconciliation describes something that God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Two verses in Romans chapter five provide us with a portrait of reconciliation. Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 5:9, 10). These verses bring several ideas together that help us understand what reconciliation is all about. First, relationship language is used in this passage. We “were enemies” to God. Second, judgment language is present. Paul mentions “the wrath of God.” Third, the concept of a sacrifice is conveyed throughout these verses. Words such as “blood” and “death” should not be overlooked. Fourth, salvation is emphasized. “We will be saved” is used twice in these two verses.
We can begin to piece together a definition of reconciliation with these verses and key thoughts in mind. Reconciliation is a change in relationship between man and God that is brought about through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We were enemies deserving the wrath of God, but now we can be saved because of the blood and death of Jesus.
Why did Paul want the Romans to know what reconciliation is all about? There are two fundamental reasons. First, reconciliation is good news. The church in Rome appears to have been an active group. There were a number of Christians there who were working hard in the Lord (cf. Romans 16:1-16). They were spreading the good news to others. The message of reconciliation was the centerpiece of their teaching. They needed to appreciate that message in order to fully convey it to others. Second, reconciliation enables the Christian to rejoice. Paul wrote, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). God's love, Jesus' sacrifice, and a change of relationship with God are reasons to rejoice. Paul's portrait of reconciliation in Romans chapter five helps us better grasp what reconciliation is and why we should understand it.
Why do we need to be reconciled? The saints in Rome were identified by Paul as once being “haters of God,” “ungodly,” and “servants of sin.” This is true of every human being at some point in their life. Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is true that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). How did we arrive at this point? Paul's discussion in Romans 1:18-32 is helpful. He affirms three truths concerning our knowledge of God in these verses. First, we are in a position to know God and His truth (cf. Romans 1:19-20, 32). Second, we have all suppressed this truth (cf. Romans 1:18, 21, 25). Third, there are consequences for suppressing our knowledge of God and His truth. The consequences for doing this need to be explored because they help us understand why we need to be reconciled to God.
Our mindset will be affected when we suppress our knowledge of God and His truth. We become “futile” in our thinking (cf. Romans 1:21). Our behavior also changes when we suppress our knowledge of God and His truth. Paul described the behavior of futile thinking as foolish, dishonoring, debased, and impure. It is behavior that is self-destructive and it ruins our relationship with our fellow human beings. This way of thinking and living also effects our relationship with God. Paul described those who suppress the truth as “haters of God” (Romans 1:30). Worse, people who think and behave this way deserve the wrath of God. Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth...but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 1:18; 2:8). This is the consequence for suppressing the truth about God. The portrait of mankind in Romans 1:18-32 is not flattering, but it helps us see why we need to be reconciled to God.
How is reconciliation achieved? We need to change our relationship with God. We are haters of God because of our futile thinking and foolish behavior. How can we change our status? How can we become sons of God?
God makes reconciliation possible. He has a fierce love for us. He loves us even though we are ungodly, foolish, and faithless. He loves us even though we hate Him and have rebelled against Him. He loves us and He has shown us how much He loves us in a way that, at times, leaves us in awe. Paul wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Any discussion concerning how man is reconciled to God must begin with God and His love for us.
Reconciliation is the key word in Romans 5:6-11, but Jesus is the central figure. He died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6). He died for us (Romans 5:8). We have been justified by his blood (Romans 5:9). We are saved by him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9). We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son (Romans 5:10). Reconciliation with God is not possible without Jesus. His blood is the means by which we can be reconciled. Paul wrote, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Once again we notice a change has taken place. We were once far off but now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ. In fact, this had been part of what Jesus had taught. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He stands at the center of reconciliation.
Reconciliation is made possible by God's love and the blood of Jesus Christ. God loves everyone and Jesus shed His blood for all men. However, not everyone will be saved. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13, 14). Further, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). We have a part in this matter. We have a choice.
The Romans made a decision. Paul wrote, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17, 18). They made the decision to obey the teaching that was committed to them and a change in their relationship with God was the result. They were slaves of sin, but now they have become slaves of righteousness. Their obedience and the change in their relationship with God is highlighted in Romans 6. In fact, the very moment they were reconciled to God is pinpointed by Paul. He wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3, 4). The Romans had not been walking in newness of life before they had been baptized into Christ. A change took place when they were baptized. They had been reconciled to God.
How should reconciliation motivate us to live right? The Christian life is characterized by Paul as walking in newness of life, considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and being slaves of God (cf. Romans 6:4, 11, 22). This does not happen automatically nor is it easy to do. We do, however, have help.
Paul provided the Christians in Rome with some practical instructions concerning their new life as children of God. Many of these instructions are found in Romans chapter twelve. Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good...do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:2, 9, 21). These are solid instructions that help Christians grow in the faith and walk in newness of life.
Paul, however, made an appeal to the church in Rome before he offered these practical instructions to them. He wrote, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Paul based his appeal for living right on the mercies of God. Reconciliation is certainly part of the message of God's mercy and it should motivate us to live in a way that pleases God. We are motivated to live right when we appreciate God's love for us and Jesus' sacrifice for all mankind. We are motivated to live right when we think about what we once were and what we are now. We are motivated to live right when we are mindful that God desires for us to belong to Him. Are we having trouble walking in newness of life? Do we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God? Are we slaves of God? The message of reconciliation helps us here. It motivates us to do better and to be the kind of people that God would have us to be.
The letter to the Romans celebrates the love that God has for His creation and the relationship that we can have with Him. It shines a spotlight on reconciliation: the change in relationship between man and God that is brought about through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What is our response to this? Do we share this good news with others? Do we rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ? Are we motivated to live right because of what God has done for us? Do we respond in the same manner that Paul did? The conclusion of his letter to the Romans is appropriate. Paul wrote, “to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Romans 16:27).By Jay Taylor From Expository Files 21.3; March 2014