Can I Trust that God Accepts Me? (Study of Romans, Part 3: Romans 3:21–5:21)

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 3rd part of this study, we consider, can I trust and believe that God accepts me? This is the 3rd of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Key Thought: We can grow in joy, peace, and hope by learning to see and trust that God accepts us.

Introduction to the Virtue of Faith
What will govern how we feel? How we see. How we perceive reality is how we will feel. If we perceive that we will have opportunities and successes, then we will feel hope. If we perceive that we will have no opportunities or successes, then we will not feel hope. If we see people as basically against us, it will be harder to feel love for them. If we see people as made to connect with us, then we will find it easier to love them.

When it comes to people, there is an element of faith in our relationship. I can’t literally “see,” for example, the love my wife has for me. However, in her greetings, her actions, and her talks with me, I can “see” it, in a manner of speaking, with my eyes.

With God, the element of faith is greater. We can’t see Him face to face. We can’t see with our eyes that He is present with us. We may not see that He loves us.

So, how do we find a way to “see” Him? We develop faith. Faith is the virtue or excellence of the soul that enables us to see God. It is what we read in Hebrews, Moses “persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27).

Faith sees God and trusts that He is who He says He is, will act in accordance with who He is, and will do what He says He will do. Faith is what enables us to receive the righteousness from God that we could not have on our own. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).

Now, Paul was writing to the Roman Christians. He believed they already had this righteousness from God. They did not need to receive it. But they needed to learn to see it better and more clearly. That’s one of the big reasons he wrote this letter. It was not enough for them to simply believe once and be done with it. Faith is a virtue or character trait that needed to be developed. They needed to learn to see God more and more clearly. That was how they were going to return to joy, peace, and hope in their lives lives. So, it is for us as well.

In particular, Paul describes two things that we to “see” by faith that will enable us to experience joy, peace, and hope: justification and sanctification. We will consider justification in this post and sanctification in the next one.

Part 1 – Justification (Romans 3:21–5:21)
The Meaning of “to Justify”
Paul uses a word that is slightly difficult to translate to explain what God has done for us. It is a little bit of work to understand this word, but once you do, the wonder of what God has done in Jesus really opens up.

Paul writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). “All have sinned . . . but are justified freely by His grace” (Rom. 3:23 and 24). What does he mean by “being justified”?

“To justify” means “to declare righteous.” When you justify someone, you declare that they have done what is right. You don’t make them just or righteous. You say that they are. That is justification. The opposite of “to justify” is “to condemn.” So, if there is no condemnation, then there is justification (see Rom. 8:1).

One way to help someone understand this is to ask, can you justify God? To some people that seems strange. But, if “to justify” means “to declare righteous,” then you can certainly declare God to be righteous. Not only that, you should justify Him! That’s what the Bible says. Luke 7:29 tells us that the tax collectors and sinners justified God. How? They said He was right in saying they should repent. The Pharisees did not justify God. They said God was wrong when He told them to repent. Indeed, we can almost say that to be justified by God you must first justify God, but that’s just something to think about.

How God Justifies Us
Once we grasp the meaning of the word, we have a problem. How can God justify us? We are wicked and sinful. For God to say that we are righteous would seem to be a lie. Paul calls God the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). How can that be? It would seem like we should be condemned, not justified. It would seem that God is lying. How can He justify ungodly people? That is, how can He say that wicked, murderous, adulterous, immoral people are righteous?

God can justify us because God does not declare us righteous in ourselves. He declares us righteous because of what Jesus has done in His life and death and resurrection. Note well, “we are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). We are justified as a gift, but it is a gift because Jesus has paid.

Paul is aware of this tension. He indicates that there was a question of how God could be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). How can God do it? He sent Jesus as an atoning sacrifice. He took the wrath that the law demanded so that we would not have to experience it. Jesus was a true substitute.

How do we get what Jesus did for us applied to our account? We accept it as a gift by faith. We see the gift and say that we want it. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22).

Paul goes back to the Old Testament to shows that this is true. Abraham was justified by faith. David was forgiven freely by faith (Romans 4:1–8). Forgiveness is a close synonym to being justified. It’s just a slightly different angle. Anyone who is justified is also forgiven of anything in the past. That’s the way that God has always done it. Adam brought in condemnation, but Jesus brought in justification (Romans 5:12–21). Where sin abounded; grace superabounded (Romans 5:20, see the original Greek).

The Result of Being Justified
And what is the result of all this? We have peace with God. It is a fact that God’s wrath is turned away. This is the foundation of our peace. Our conscience may condemn us, but justification tells us that God loves us, is for us, and forgives us.

By faith, we can have a sense of God’s love that transcends all our circumstances. As Paul put it so powerfully, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39). If we can truly perceive this by exercising the virtue of faith, then it will produce joy, peace, and hope.

I have had this experience innumerable times. I remember one time not too long ago that I was experiencing some real losses in my life. But then I read Romans 5:1, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I realized that I could have received the wrath of God, but God justified me instead through Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. This is the most important thing. Everything else is just gravy. That is a foundation for joy, peace, and hope, no matter what happens. The better we can see this through the eyes of faith, the more we will feel joy, peace, and hope. Paul wrote at the end of his letter, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me . . .” (Romans 15:14-15). Reminding ourselves of these things daily, hourly, and moment by moment will also grow our faith. It will enable us to have a foundation that is completely secure in the instabilities of this life. That’s the virtue of faith.

But that’s not the only thing we need to see by faith. We need to see that God is transforming us into something absolutely glorious. That’s what we will consider in the next section.

Outline to Construct Your Own Teaching on Romans 3:21–5:21

  1. What is the meaning of the word “to justify?” Do a careful study.
  2. Why is it such a problem to say God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5)?
  3. How is it that God is able to declare ungodly people righteous?
  4. How do we get the righteousness of God applied to us?
  5. What is the concrete result of being justified?
  6. How do we experience and perceive better the results of being justified?

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you understand what it means to be justified by faith and not by works?
  2. Have you been justified by faith in Jesus Christ?
  3. How are you doing at believing in your justification?
  4. What could you do to help you “see” it better?

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