7. Standing in Grace

Amazing Grace by John Montgomery Boice 1993

Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. ROMANS 5:2

Have you heard this classic put-down of someone who has been acting arrogantly? “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”

I think of it as we move from Romans 3 to Romans 5 because I know that a person might read what I have written about justification by grace and ask: “If justification is as great as you say it is, why aren’t Christians rich?” The answer, of course, is that Christians are rich spiritually. It is what the fifth chapter of Romans is about. Romans 5 tells us that our standing in grace has swelled our spiritual assets by giving us: (1) peace with God, (2) union with Christ, (3) a transformed response to suffering, and (4) a confident hope of our ultimate glorification.

Standing in This Grace

Romans 5:2 is the pivotal verse for understanding these benefits of justification, but it is not easy to understand, since its key

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words — access, faith, grace, and standing — can all be used in different ways. It is not immediately clear how they go together in this sentence. So we should begin by defining each of these key words:

1. Grace.

Grace is “God’s unmerited favor,” sometimes rightly strengthened to read “God’s favor to those who actually deserve the opposite.” In this sense, grace is what lies behind God’s plan of salvation. That is why Paul can use it in writing to the Ephesians, saying, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But this is not the precise meaning of the word grace in Romans 5:2. One clue that Paul is giving grace a slightly different meaning is that he prefaces it with the word this. “This grace! It indicates that he has a specific grace in mind. Another clue is that Paul speaks of it as the grace “in which we now stand.” What grace is it in which we now stand? In the context of Romans, it is clear that it is our state of justification. It means that, while before we were “under wrath,” now we are “under grace” if we stand before God as justified men and women.

2. Faith.

Faith also has a variety of meanings. It always means “believe God and acting upon that belief.” But the emphasis can be upon our conduct (being faithful), believing (taking God at his word) or what we are called upon to believe (the faith once delivered to the saints). Since faith is linked to the words this grace and since this is the grace of justification, the faith referred to here must be the faith in Jesus Christ through which we are justified.

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3. Access.

The Greek term behind this word is prosagoge, which means “right to enter,” “freedom to enter” or “introduction.” Since it is used of the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer in Ephesians 2:18, it has been said sometimes that the Holy Spirit “introduces” us to God.

The important thing to see about its use in Romans 5:2 is that it is preceded by the verb “have gained” and that this verb is in the past perfect tense. The New International Version reads “have gained” to emphasize this tense. But the word is actually have, and in the past perfect tense the proper translation is “have had.” Paul is saying that we “have had our access into the grace of justification.” Paul uses this special past tense to show that the justification in which we stand is something that has been accomplished for us and into which we have already entered.

It has a present significance, too. But the reason it has a present significance is that it is something that has already happened to us. We have been justified; therefore we remain justified. We have had our access, and it is because we have had it that we still have it.

4. Stand.

The final key word of Romans 5:2 is stand. By now we can see how it should be taken. By the mercy of God we have been brought into the grace of justification, and that is the grace in which we now have the privilege to stand. Before we were standing outside the sphere of God’s blessing, as children of wrath. Now we are standing within that sphere, as sons and daughters of God. The point is that we have been made secure in Christ, and that forever. We have entered into grace and now stand in grace with an entirely different status than we had before.

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Peace with God

This new state has several important features marked by the other key words in the first half of Romans 5. The first is peace. It occurs in verse 1 in the phrase “peace with God.”

This is a military metaphor, and it points to the fact that before our justification we were not at peace with God. We might say, as Henry David Thoreau is quoted as having said, “I am not at war with God.” But we are lying when we say that. Jesus said that our responsibility is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and that the second is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37, 39; cf. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). But we do not love God in our unsaved state. We actually hate God, hate others, and hate ourselves. Someone has said that we would murder God if we could, we murder others when we can, and commit spiritual suicide every day of our lives.

However, having been justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, this state of spiritual warfare has been changed to one of peace. We now have peace with God, make peace with others, and experience a new measure of personal peace within ourselves.

Yet it is not only that we are at war with God in our natural state. God is also at war with us because of our ungodly behavior (cf. Romans 1:18). The word Paul has been using is wrath, saying that “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (v. 18, italics mine). Having shown what this means and having answered the objections of those who feel that this may be a right description of the condition of other people, but not of themselves, Paul reveals what God has done to satisfy this wrath against us in Jesus Christ. Christ bore the Father’s wrath in our place. He died for us, and we receive the benefits of

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his atonement by believing on him and in what he has done. This is what we were studying in the last chapter.

But where does this lead? Obviously to peace with God. For since we have been justified by faith, the cause of the conflict is removed and peace is the result. Peace has been provided from God’s side, for God has removed the cause of the enmity through Jesus’ death. Peace has been received on our side, for we have “believed God” and have found the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ to be credited to us as our righteousness.

Union with Christ

The second benefit of standing in the grace of justification is union with Christ, which is discussed extensively in the second half of Romans 5, though it is found in these earlier verses as well. Verses 1-11 teach that justification is important — immensely important. But in addition the passage also teaches that we are united to Christ in what theologians call “the mystical union.” This means a union with Christ that we do not fully understand but that God has revealed to us.

Paul mentions this first in verse 10, which speaks of our being “saved through his life!” In the Greek text the last three words are “in his life.” So the argument is: If God has saved us through the death of Christ (through faith in his atonement), he will certainly save us by our being “in him.”

Here are two important points to keep in mind.

First, the union of the believer with Christ is one of three great unions in Scripture. The first is the union of the persons of the Godhead in the Trinity. Christians, just as much as Jews, speak of one God. Yet on the basis of the revelation of God in Scripture, we also believe that this one God exists in three persons as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

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We cannot explain how these three persons of the God-head are at the same time only one God, but the Bible teaches this and we believe it.

The second mystical union is of the two natures of Christ in one person. The Lord Jesus Christ is one person. Nevertheless, he is also both man and God, possessing two natures. The theological formulation of this truth at the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) said that Jesus is

to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into persons, but one and the same Son.

If you understand that completely, you are a better theologian than I am. But although I do not fully understand it, I believe it since it seems to be what the Bible teaches.

In the case of the union of believers with Christ, we may never fully understand this relationship either. But it is an important truth, and we should hold onto it and try to gain understanding.

Second, the mystical union of the believer with Christ is not something that was invented by the church’s theologians or even by the apostle Paul but rather was first taught by Jesus and then was built upon by Paul. Jesus taught it by analogies, which also occur again later in Scripture. Let me list a few.

1. The vine and the branches.

Jesus said,

I am the true vine . . . Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1, 4-5)

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The emphasis in these verses is upon the nourishing power of Christ working itself out through his disciples. Paul builds on this image when he speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

2. The Lord’s Supper.

On the same evening that Jesus spoke about himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches, he gave instructions for observing the Lord’s Supper, saying, “This is my body” and “This is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26, 28). The elements symbolize our participation in the life of Christ. In the same way Jesus discoursed on the bread of life, saying, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). He also challenged the woman of Samaria with the words, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

The emphasis in this image is on our becoming so closely joined to Jesus that he is as much a part of us as something we eat.

3. A foundation and the structure built upon it.

Jesus introduced this image when he spoke of himself as the right foundation for building a life:

Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25)

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Paul added to this image when he told the Christians at Corinth, “You are . . . God’s building . . . No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:9, 11) and when he wrote to the Ephesians, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). In the next verse the building becomes a temple: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (v. 21). It is only because we are “in Christ” that this is possible.

This image shows that, being joined to Christ, we are at the same time also joined to one another. We are part of the church.

4. The head and members of the body.

This was one of Paul’s favorite images. “God placed all things under his [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Again,

He . . . gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . . Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

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From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11-12, 14-16)

In these verses the emphasis is upon two things: (1) growth, and (2) the proper functioning of the church under Christ’s direction. In 1 Corinthians Paul uses this image to show that each individual Christian is needed if the church is to function properly (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

5. Marriage

The greatest of all illustrations of the union of the believer with Christ and of Christ with the believer is marriage. It is found in the Old Testament, in Hosea, for example, where God compares himself to the faithful husband who is deserted by Israel, the unfaithful wife. Jesus used it when speaking of a marriage supper to which guests are invited (Matthew 22:1-14). Paul develops it in what is probably the best known passage from Ephesians, mixing it with the image of the church as Christ’s body.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself … This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:22-28, 32)

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In this doctrine we are dealing with our security in Christ. But the question we must ask ourselves is: Am I really in Christ? Am I a Christian?

How can you know? Use the marriage illustration. Ask yourself: Am I married to Jesus? If you have taken the vow, promising to “take Jesus to be your loving and faithful Savior, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for this life and for eternity,” and if you are living for him, you are. God has solemnized the marriage, and what God has joined together no one will ever put asunder.

Joy in Suffering

You have probably heard the tired atheistic rebuttal to Christian doctrine based upon the presence of suffering in the world. One form of it goes like this: “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do what he wished. But his creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both.” That objection is insulting in its simplicity, for it assumes that absence of suffering is the only ultimate good and that the only possible factors involved in our quandary are the alleged benevolence and alleged omniscience of God. The Christian knows that there is more to suffering than this.

Still, the problem of suffering is a big one, and coping with it is not always easy. How should Christians respond to their trials? How can their response strengthen confidence that they are truly converted persons?

Paul says that because Christians stand in grace they are able

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to respond to their trials by rejoicing in them, however strange, abnormal, or irrational this may seem to unbelievers, and that this is another evidence of their salvation. His exact words are: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Each of the major words in these verses is important, but if someone should ask, “What is the most important word?” I would answer that it is the word know in verse 3. The phrase reads, “because we know . . .” Know is important because knowledge is the secret to everything else in the sentence. Christians rejoice in suffering because of what they know about it. These verses state several important truths they know.

1. Suffering produces perseverance.

You may notice another word used to translate this idea in your Bible — if you are using one other than the New International Version — because the word seems to most translators to call for a richness of expression. Some versions say, “patience,” others, “endurance,” still others, “patient endurance.”

The full meaning emerges when we consider it together with the word for “suffering,” which occurs just before it in the Greek text and which is the thing Paul says produces “patience.” There are a number of words for suffering in the Greek language, but this one is thlipsis, which has the idea of pressing something down. It was used for the effect of a sledge threshing grain, for instance. The sledge pressed the stalks down and thus broke apart the heads to separate the chaff from the grain. Thlipsis was also used for the crushing of olives to extract their oil or of grapes to press out wine.

With that in mind, think now of “perseverance.” The word

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translated “perseverance” is hypomon. The first part of this word is a prefix meaning “under” or “below.” The second part is a word meaning an “abode” or “living place.” So the word as a whole means “to live under something.” If we take this word together with the word for tribulation, we get the full idea, which is to live under difficult circumstances without trying, as we would say, to wriggle out from under them. We express the idea positively when we say, “Hang in there, brother.” It has to do with “hanging tough” when the going gets tough, as it always does sooner or later.

This separates the new Christian from one who has been in the Lord’s school longer. The new believer tries to avoid difficulties and get out from under them. The experienced Christian is steady under fire and does not quit his post.

2. Suffering produces character.

Other versions translate this word “experience.” But it is richer even than these two good renderings. The Greek word is dokim, which is based on the adjective dokimos, meaning something “tested” or “approved.” It suggests this image.

In the ancient world silver and gold coins were roughly made, not milled to exact sizes as our coins are, and people would often cheat by carefully trimming off some of the excess metal. We know they did this because hundreds of laws were passed against defacing coins. After they had trimmed away enough metal, the people would sell them for new coins, and when coins had been trimmed for a long time, they eventually got so light that merchants would no longer take them. When that happened, the coins were said to be adokimos, “disqualified.”

“Disqualified” is a negative form of what Paul is referring to in Romans 5. He is saying that the pressures of trying to live for Jesus in this world produce endurance that proves we are qualified to be his servants.

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I think of it this way, too. A disapproved coin is a light coin, and we become spiritually “light” when we draw away from God. We become more and more weightless. But when we suffer and therefore draw close to God and he also to us, we become spiritually and morally weighty, as he is.

Ray Stedman tells of a time he once asked a nine-year-old boy, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The boy said, “A returned missionary.”

He did not want to be just a missionary, but a returned one — one who had been through the fires, had them behind him, and was shown to have been of value in God’s work.

3. Suffering produces hope.

Hope means confident expectation of our final glorification, as in “hope of the glory,” the phrase with which we will end (v. 2). It is further evidence of our new status in Christ since it proves that we are identified with him.

Some years ago Dr. Jonathan Chao gave an address on the suffering of Christians in China, showing that it was the suffering of the church that produced its character. He told of an American student who came to Hong Kong to study the Chinese church. Before he had left America a friend had asked him, “If God loves the Chinese church so much, why did he allow so much suffering to come upon it?” The student confessed that he had no answer at the time. But after he had traveled to China and had made extensive and meaningful contacts with a number of Chinese Christians, he discovered an answer, which he put like this: “I am going back to America and ask my friend this question: If God loves the American church so much, why hasn’t he allowed us to suffer like the church in China?”

It was a good answer since, according to the Bible, suffering is not a harmful but a beneficial thing. It is beneficial because it accomplishes the beneficent purposes of almighty God. It is part

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of those circumstances all of which work “for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Hope of Glory

Paul wrote the fifth chapter of Romans to teach those who have been justified by God through faith in Jesus Christ that they are secure in their salvation. We have already seen several ways he has done this. He has spoken of the “peace” that has been made between God and ourselves by the work of Christ, our mystical union with Christ, and the different way you and I are able to regard suffering because of our knowledge of what God is doing with us.

Paul spoke of “the hope of the glory of God.” By this term, he meant our glorification, our ultimate destiny as believers. So the phrase is an anticipation of the statement in Romans 8:30: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Justification leads to glorification because if God has justified us, he will also glorify us.

Here are two important points about glorification.

First, this glorious culmination of our salvation by God is certain. We have seen many facets of this throughout this book, but it is necessary to emphasize it here especially because of Paul’s use of the word hope. In our day hope is a weak word. The dictionary defines it pretty well with the words: “desire with expectation of obtaining what is desired,” “trust,” “reliance.” But in common speech we usually mean much less than this. We speak of “hoping against hope” or “hoping for the best,” which means we are not really very hopeful.

This is not what hope means in the Bible. In the Bible hope is a certainty, and the only reason it is called hope rather than certainty

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is that we do not possess the thing that is hoped for yet, though we will. Here are some examples of how hope is used.

Acts 2:26-27 — “My body . . . will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 — “These three remain: faith, hope and love.”

2 Corinthians 1:7 — “Our hope for you is firm.”

Colossians 1:27 — “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Titus 1:2 — “Hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.”

Titus 2:13 — “We wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 6:19-20 — “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.”

1 Peter 1:3 — “God … has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

In each of those passages hope is a certain thing. For even though we do not possess the hoped-for thing yet, we are certain of it since it has been won for us by Christ and has been promised to us by God, “who does not lie.” Clearly, those who have been justified are to look forward to their final and full glorification with confidence.

The second and last point is this. In 1 John 3:2-3 the apostle is speaking of the return of Jesus Christ and of the fact that when he appears, we shall be like him. He calls this our “hope.”

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But this is not something having to do only with the future, says John. It has a present significance too. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Our hope that we will be like Jesus motivates us to be like him now. It leads us to live as pure a life as possible.

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